Thrift Store Upcycling

Mary Stanley

TikTok: @whatmommamakes

IG: @whatmommamakesIG




Hi, my name is Mary and I’m so excited to share with you all my love of upcycling thrift store finds!  But first off, a little bit about me.  I married my high school sweetheart at the ripe old age of 19 and we have been happily married for 17 years!  We have 4 amazingly exhausting kiddos – our final two being twins!  Which was what brought me to my desire to learn to sew in the first place.  I had been a “boy” mom until our surprise twins came along – one boy and one girl-and I did not have any girl clothes for my one and only daughter.  I daydreamed of dressing my little sweetie in the darling little girl outfits and big bows, until I saw the price tag on most of the items.  It was then that I decided I just had to learn to sew, as boutique price ranges for clothing was just not in our budget.  I had never sewn a button onto a garment before, but how hard could sewing be?  Now, 8 years later, not only is my daughters closet full of poofy sleeves, lots of ruffles and big sashes or bows, but I’ve been able to create her a custom wardrobe at very minimal costs with the help of thrift store upcycles! 


My favorite tools I always recommend?  My OLFA 45mm Ergonomic Rotary Cutter and of course my OLFA 24 x 36 double sided cutting mat! They certainly make cutting into these interesting and new (sometimes mystery) fabrics so much quick and easier!



I’d like to say that I have a certain schedule or days of the week that I head to thrift stores, but to be honest, I’ve got kids in taekwondo, diving, and guitar classes…so I am usually just popping into a local goodwill when I’ve got a few minutes to spare.  Anytime I am traveling though, I ALWAYS make a point to visit the local shops just to see if I can score any “vacay” finds! I always head straight to the home goods section, and it usually only takes 5 to 10 minutes to glance over what they’ve got.  But how do I decide what works best for repurposing?  Here are some of my favorite items to check out and what I use them for:


  1. Bed sheets are absolutely amazing for upcycling as there is just sooo much fabric and usually are only $2-$4 depending on their size. King sheet sets can be 9-12 yards of useable fabric, and when most new fabrics are a minimum of $7-$9 a yard (for very basic fabric) you’re easily saving yourself upwards of $60 by using repurposed sheets. Not to mention, most of the time they will be super soft and very easy to work with when sewing woven garments or items.  I upcycle sheets into dresses, skirts, pajamas…the possibilities are endless. These were once all sheet sets:

{Evangeline pattern from Violette Field Threads}



{Jolene Pattern by Violette Field Threads}



{Ashton Pattern by Violette Field Threads}


2. Curtains or shower curtains can also be great options, due to amount of fabric. However, they are oftentimes a heavier weight fabric so you would want to keep that in mind depending on the project you are wanting to create (a full gathered skirt for a girls dress would probably be too heavy and bulky to create with curtain fabric, but you could certainly do a circle skirt instead).  Curtains also make great jackets, aprons and bags with that heavier weighted fabric… But occasionally you can still pull off dresses like these ones with the right curtain fabric:



{Cairo Pattern from Violette Field Threads}



{Luna Pattern from Violette Field Threads}



{Emily by Violette Field Threads}




3. Tablecloths can also be great items for repurposing, especially if you luck into a vintage embroidered tablecloth! There isn’t quite as much fabric in them as in a sheet set, and they can be different fabric weights, but as long as they care cotton tablecloths they generally work great for dresses, skirts and nightgowns like this one:



{Ashlynn Nightgown by Violette Field Threads}


4. Bed skirts and crib skirts are also amazing for repurposing and oftentimes come already gathered so they can create some super sweet ruffles! This nightgown is one of my all-time favorite upcycles and it was once a crib skirt:




5. Pillowcases don’t have much fabric, however if you can find a set it is usually enough to create a top, a simple pillowcase dress or the bodice of a full dress, and many times pillowcases have very pretty trimmings or lace detail that you can feature. This Berklee top was created with just one pillowcase and is still my top viewed TikTok with over 915,000 views:

{Berklee Top from Violette Field Threads}

{Maude Pattern by Violette Field Threads}


6. Quilts are amazing for upcycling into jackets, coats and bags! I have been dying to find a good one that I could use, but alas have not been lucky enough to stumble on the right one yet. Fingers crossed that 2023 is my year for a good quilt find.


A couple things to keep in mind when looking at the items before beginning:


  1. Be sure to open up the items (whether it is sheets or curtains) and inspect fully to the center. I have occasionally grabbed things quickly without opening only to find that the center is filled with holes or even has large monogramming on it that I was not expecting.  These things can still be used, but it’s a good thing to know before purchasing if you have a specific project in mind.  Also, there may be large portions (especially on sheets) that are either thread bare or have pilling, so that is something to look/feel for as well.




2. Always check the edges of the item as well – one of my most favorite things about repurposing sheets or curtains is that many times you can use the already created hemline for the bottom of your skirt/dress/pant legs, etc. This saves a good bit of time when creating a super full skirt or dress, and many times a sheet will have one edge with a really nicely finished edge.



3. Don’t forget – you can also check your own closet for items to repurpose! I have often times used old dresses of mine that no longer fit to create dresses or outfits for my daughter like this one as well:



In conclusion, whether you’re upcycling as a way to save some money, save space in landfills or just for the excitement of “what COULD this old item turn into next?” it’s such a great option for getting creative in your sewing!  I’d love it if you followed me and tagged me in any of your upcycle or thrift store finds so we can cheer each other on!