I love undertaking some DIY upholstery projects, and I’ve ventured into making anything and everything under the sun from fabrics for upholstery, clothing, and home decor. With some great fabrics, I can make bags, pillows, slipcovers, drapes, lampshades, tie-backs, curtains, and more.
The only problem is finding fabric that I can afford. If it’s a small item I am making, then the fabric price isn’t really a concern, but when I am making new curtains or a window scarf for my guest room, then I need to find cheap fabric since I’m buying so many yards of it.
6 Secrets to Sourcing Cheap Fabrics for Upholstery
I love walking through fabric stores, but I rarely buy anything. The cost of a great fabric might be $20 per yard, which isn’t bad. However, if I need 10 yards, that’s $200! There are cheaper and better places to source great fabric for upholstery from.
1. Go to a Cheap Chain Store
You may not think you can buy a few yards of cheap fabric for upholstery at a store like Lowes, Dollar Store, or Target, but you can. While these stores rarely have a section dedicated to fabric for upholstery, they do have other sources of great cheap fabric that are also budget-friendly.
Consider table cloths, ready-made curtains, and bedsheets.
While these items are already “finished” home articles, they can easily be adapted to upholstery fabric projects. Curtains can give you several yards of great fabric at discounted prices. A bed sheet is already hemmed and provides the ideal fabric for upholstery projects.
2. Upcycle Existing Items
Before I hit the fabric store, I always unpack my closet first. No, I’m not looking for that half a bolt of fabric I bought years ago (which went missing). In fact, I go through my clothes, looking for older pieces that I no longer wear.
Jeans, jackets, shirts, blouses, and even coats can all be upcycled to make great fabric for upholstery. While you’re probably not going to reupholster your sofa with these (unless you’ve been hoarding old jeans since 1959), you can use the fabric these are made of to create stunning cushions, drapes, tablecloths, bags, curtain scarves, and more.
3. Flea Markets, Antique Sales, and Yard Sales
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. This really is true! I have found incredible fabric for upholstery projects at yard sales, flea markets, and antique sales. Even auctions can be a great place to hang out.
Here, you can find amazing things like antique bed sheets, vintage fabric left over in someone’s craft cupboard, duvet sets that have been packed away for years, and even fabric blinds that someone took down because they didn’t like them. Spend a few dollars to get great fabric stock for those projects you haven’t even thought of yet.
4. Hit the Hardware Store
You didn’t think of this one, did you? Hardware stores can be a real treasure too when it comes to fabric hunting. This is where you can find natural fiber drop cloths, natural sisal, and even outdoor fabrics per yard. Often, these fabrics are very cheaply priced, and as a bonus, these are often of a wider width than the standard bolt widths at the fabric stores.
5. Try the Thrift Store
Thrift stores are often supplied with leftovers or remnants. After all, a thrift store has everything under the sun for sale through its doors. I’ve managed to find fabric for upholstery projects as remnants in the salvage bin, and I’ve also found neatly cut-up bundles of fabric that these stores recycle from clothes they can’t sell. Nothing is wasted.
6. Buy Cheap—Make It Expensive
Finally, if you can’t find the magic happening at any of these secret places to find fabric for upholstery projects, you can buy cheap and make it look expensive. That’s right, there are fabrics for sale at fabric stores that don’t cost an arm and a leg (and maybe a kidney too).
Consider buying natural calico, linen, cotton, and denim that are plain toned, which you can then paint on and design to give them a great finish. These fabrics are very easy to dye, paint on, stencil, and fade.
You can also add details such as metallic thread, embroidered details, and even glued or sewn on applique work.
What to Consider When Buying Cheap Fabrics for Upholstery
When you look at a “finished” fabric item like a skirt or pillowcase, it may be difficult to envision it as source fabric for your next upholstery project. After all, just how does a blouse become a cushion?
The concern that the fabric is too thin for your project is always something to consider. Colorfastness, rub-testing, and UV resistance will all contribute to whether the fabric you’ve found is suitable and cheap, or a waste of time and a case of “penny wise, pound foolish.”
These are some criteria your chosen cheap fabric for upholstery should meet to be considered the best upholstery fabric.
When handling a potential fabric sample to make great upholstery from, be sure to test the fabric for strength. Pull against the weave, checking for tensile strength, fiber count, and piling.
Before you start making beautiful things with the fabric for upholstery, be sure to check whether the fabric is preshrunk (most clothing items are). Wet a section of the fabric, then pull it, crumple it, iron it, and check what happens to the weave integrity.
Fabrics for upholstery are usually subjected to rub tests, which measure how many rubs it takes before the fabric shows signs of wear.
Upholstery fabric, which is exposed to the most wear and tear, is often measured in double rubs. This is when the rub is forward and backward, testing both sides of the fibers. Usually, upholstery fabric for residential projects has a double rub standard of 15,000-20,000 rubs.
You certainly don’t have time to stand in the store, rubbing at the tablecloth you want to convert into a great blind for your window. At least, you don’t want to stand there counting to 15,000. However, you can do the rub test by still rubbing the fabric together a few times quite vigorously. Notice whether there is any damage to the surface quality.
Usually, a fabric with a definite sheen side is prone to rubbing through more easily. Fabrics that have a similar appearance on the front and back tend to be more resistant to rubbing.
With upholstery projects, your project item will probably be exposed to sunlight, stains, and environmental factors. If you are considering turning a clothing item into an upholstery fabric, you can easily check the wash instructions tab on the shirt, skirt, or pants.
What are the recommendations for washing this item? If you should wash by hand, hang in a shady spot to dry, or dry flat, then this is not the fabric for you. “Machine wash at 140℉” means you’re in the right place.
Keep in mind that vivid colors will fade more easily in sunlight, so consider choosing a bleached color or pattern that will not show UV fading.
The Final Fabric for Upholstery Secret
Ultimately, the project of your heart needs to make you happy. While that satin shirt looks stunning in the thrift store, and it would make a beautiful cushion cover, you won’t be happy when it disintegrates on your front porch love-swing from UV exposure.
Choose a fabric source that is durable, cheap, effective, and resilient. Remember to think out of the box when choosing some great alternatives for fabric for upholstery. Consider shirts, pants, skirts, scarves, jeans, t-shirts, old jackets, ready-made curtains, placemats, tablecloths, shower curtains, pillowcases, and more.
Have fun choosing the best fabrics for upholstery on a budget, and if you can’t upcycle, then change up by using dye, stencils, and color wash to achieve the look you seek. The best and last tip I can leave you with is to also keep an eye on the sales or end-of-stock bargains of online fabric merchants like Kovi Fabrics that offer great deals.