Ann Lynn enjoys thrift shopping and selling fabric scraps for profit.
Fabric for Resale
The pursuit of a financially free lifestyle is always on my mind. In order to save money on my clothes, shoes, and household items, I started thrift store shopping. This single change has been a blessing to my budget and my attitude. I feel empowered to purchase items that I can afford and not feel guilty about buying four pairs of shoes in one month. Not only do I feel better but I have found a nice side hustle in reselling fabric scraps online.
My local thrift store takes piles of scraps and remnants that are donated and puts them in large clear plastic bags. They price the bags between $.99 to $2.99. If you have been to a local fabric store lately, one yard of cotton fabric can run you upwards of $10! At $.99 for a bag it really is a great deal.
These bags are usually stapled shut so you can only see the top and bottom pieces. The mystery of what style of fabrics are inside makes the job exciting. With that being said, I usually go for the heaviest bags. There are more pieces and sometimes you can find coordinating fabrics.
I have also sniffed the inside of the bag to make sure the fabric doesn't smell like smoke. I personally cannot tolerate the smell of cigarette smoke. The smell is nearly impossible to get rid of. You will also need to note it in any of your listings which is almost always a red flag for customers. Musty smells/mothball smells usually will come out if you air the fabric for a few days.
If you wash the fabric you will need to note that for any customers, as well. I never pre-wash my fabric. The fabric might shrink, fray, or discolor and I won't risk it. Many quilters prefer to have brand new fabric.
Types of Fabric
Listed below are various types of fabric.
- Coordinating fabrics are often used for quilts. The fabrics don't necessarily have to match but they must go together without clashing. You can resell these fabrics as a set for more money.
- Flannel fabrics are nice for cooler climates. If your customer base is in the southern United States then you might want to avoid flannels.
- Decorator fabrics are heavy. They cost more to ship to the customer and are less profitable. I usually avoid this type of fabric. The designs tend to be trendy and if you get last season's style you may be stuck with it.
- Vintage fabrics are lighter and are hard to find. I would scoop up any vintage fabric you can find for resale. They are desirable simply because people cannot find them anymore.
- Costume/formal fabrics are seasonal. If you can hold on to the orange sequin fabric until Halloween then, by all means, do so! If you don't have the space, then skip the seasonal fabrics and stay with coordinating sets.
- Specialty fabrics which may be hand-dyed. They can also have eco-friendly ingredients. The batik style pictured below is a specialty fabric.
When searching in thrift stores be sure to ask about the specials. My local store runs half off certain color tags. Also, on the last Tuesday of every month, the entire store is half off! Get to the store early for the best selection.
Employees are usually very helpful with tips and tricks. They will tell you when the 'new' product is put out and what qualifies you to get more discounts, such as senior citizen, military, or students. Many stores also offer a punch card or rewards card.
If you bring items to donate, you might get rewarded with a coupon. I have even received an additional 10% off for bringing in my own reusable shopping bags. All of these coupons and discounts add up to less cost for you and more profit.
The first thing you need to do after you have purchased your stash of fabric is to sort it. Check all pieces for rips, tears, stains, and holes. Put all of the pieces with imperfections off to the side. You may be able to do a bundle of secondhand fabric.
Pull out any branded fabrics. You will be able to tell if it's branded by looking at the bottom of the fabric. The edge will have a brand and usually a collection name. As these are remnants you might just get part of the name. Lucky for you Google can usually find the collection with only a few words.
Make sure to have all of the matching fabric together. I bought five bags of fabric and each one had some of the same blue gingham fabric. I put them all together and was able to sell it as a lot. Just because the thrift store put the bundles together does not mean they have to stay that way.
After you have sorted the fabric, you will need to bundle them together for resale. I purchased a small postage scale that goes up to 5 pounds. The scales are relatively inexpensive and can save you from losing money on shipping. I never let any of my bundles go over 12 ounces.
Determine what fabrics coordinate or are a part of the same style or season and put them together. Around 4–5 remnants of fabric is a good number. Double-check the weight of all bundles. To keep my bundles separate I put them back in the plastic bags. This helps so you don't mix up fabric when listing.
For pictures, you will want to have a bundle picture listed first. This shows all of the pieces displayed for the customer to be drawn in. Take a picture of each piece on a simple solid background. Push any frayed strings behind the fabric and fold neatly.
Measuring is the most tedious part of the job. Each piece needs to be measured accurately. Quilters are precise and if your measurements are off it could lead to bad reviews. You may convert it to metric measurements (meters, centimeters) if you want to, however, I do not. Many quilters can do the conversions in their head. Measure each piece at the smallest width and length. If the customer gets more fabric than what you had advertised it is perceived as a better deal. Easy way to each better reviews and repeat customers.
I have found that a great place to sell fabric is eBay. Crafters and quilters are scouring this site for the best fabric deals. Take good pictures, measure all pieces, include brand names, and have great customer service.
Auctions are good for a miscellaneous grouping of fabrics. Buy-it-now sales are best for coordinating and branded fabrics. Be patient the customer will come.
Yard sales and craft shows are also great places to sell the remnants and scrap pieces. Make sure you price the items and tell the customer that they are scraps. Many people who make doll clothes love the smaller pieces for unique designs. You can also sell larger lots at these places because you don't have to think about shipping costs.
When trying to determine a price for your bundles, be sure to figure out how much money you have spent on the fabric. Add in your mailing material cost to the bottom line. Research the price of sold fabric lots of eBay. Research new fabrics at local craft stores. Do not forget that auction websites take a fee and you should plan for that as well.
All of my fabric bundles (20 total) sold on average for $5 each. Since I paid less than $15 for everything I made a decent profit for a few hours of work. Granted this will not make you rich quick, but it's a good way to get a good reputation for online sales.
Shipping via USPS
I always ship my fabric via the United States Postal Service. You can print off labels right at home and arrange for a pickup. No trips to the local post office and no waiting behind grandma picking out her favorite stamps.
Shipping costs vary on where you sell your items. Be sure to research the cost. It will take a bit of trial and error but hopefully, you have sold your bundle for enough of a profit that if you lose a dollar or two on shipping you're not falling backward.
Be sure to shop at thrift stores that support causes you are passionate about. Many mom and pop shops are simply running a business and not supporting any charities with your money. I would research the stores, as you could be visiting them often. It's just a warm fuzzy when you know your purchase is helping the world.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Ann Lynn
Patricia Poet on April 26, 2020:
Loved this article. I have a huge box of vintage fabric that was handed down to me and I refuse to throw it away. This is a great idea to re-purpose the fabric and give someone else the pleasure of using it for valuable projects.
Vickie6767 on February 15, 2019:
I was wondering if you would happen to know the value of some Peterpan brand fabric. It is 1984 Disney babies corduroy fabric. About a yard or so. I haven't been able to really find the price of it anywhere online. Thanks a lot