Last-Chance Apocalypse Shopping: JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts

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For a seamstress, JoAnn Fabric is a wonderland. From hundreds of colorful cotton fabrics for quilting to luxury fabrics like imported silk, it’s a store beloved by millions of women, in particular. My kids used to love to run their fingers and faces over the bolts of fabric and, yes, hide under the fabric displays, too.

But what if a JoAnn Fabric store was the only store nearby that you could run to for a last-chance apocalypse shopping spree? With zombies hitting the grocery stores and drug stores, they would probably pass by JoAnn’s, thinking it’s a far cry from a survival resource, but is it really? I challenged myself to shop this store through the eyes of a long-time prepper, and this is what I found that could definitely come in handy and increase your odds of survival.

1. Foam

JoAnn has pieces of foam that are approximately the same size as a twin bed. Whether you need some quick insulation for your walls during cold weather or a spare bed, there are lots of potential applications for giant pieces of foam in the Apocalypse, not to mention the many, many smaller pieces of foam available at JoAnn, including pillow forms, outdoor cushion foam, and bean bag filling. If you had time, you could take with you the measurements of your largest windows and plan on using foam as an insulator. It would also be effective for blacking out your windows, hiding the fact that people are alive and thriving inside.

2. How To Books

The Survival Mom is always preaching about the importance of learning practical skills. In fact, here on the blog is an entire section devoted to a dozen or more Skills of the Month, but just in case your repertoire is a little light when it comes to skills like sewing, knitting, and practical crafts, you’re in luck at JoAnn’s!

In addition to the obviously large selection of patterns, JoAnn’s has a large selection of books and magazines about all kinds of crafts, especially sewing, knitting, and crocheting. For every kind of project that follows in this post, JoAnn’s carries the books, magazines, and patterns to successfully make those items. Along with all the written instructions are the very supplies you’ll need to make them.

3. Fabric

Most of the fabric you’ll see are simple woven cotton quilting fabrics, pretty but not particularly durable. Another large selection of fabrics is meant for wedding party dresses. If you go in knowing what fabric selections to expect, you can go through the store a lot faster. Fabrics to look for include burlap, fleece, upholstery, faux fur, duck canvas, cheesecloth, and flannel.  If you get lucky, they may have wool or linen. Faux fur can be handy as a camouflage for breaking up the outlines of things if you are trying to hide or just for making a hard surface easier to sit or lay on for a while. Duck canvas is, well, canvas. It’s a versatile, sturdy, useful fabric.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of flannel, and not just for sheets and lumberjack shirts. If it all hits the fan, central heating will become nothing more than a fond memory and flannel nightgowns and pajamas will once again be popular. If you brought a few patterns and your own fabric, you can have a flannel nightwear you actually like. Of course, some slippery, satiny fabrics to make undergarments like pants liners and camisoles would be nice, too.

4. Supplies to repair clothing and more

You won’t be doing much clothes shopping in the Apocalypse. Making do and repairing clothing of all kinds will be common again just as it was during the Great Depression.

You’ll want to grab as many iron-on repair patches for clothing as you can, including pocket repair patches, if they have them. If you don’t already have a lot (not a few, a lot) of sewing needles in a variety of sizes, a gadget to help thread them (remember: two is one and one is none, then think about how tiny and easy to lose these are – buy a lot), and a variety of plain cotton thread, now is the time to stock up. Don’t forget larger needles to go with your new denim thread to help with repairs to jeans, and zippers because they do break.

You will also need buttons in a variety of sizes, hooks and eyes, buttons, snaps, and any other kind of closure they have. Don’t forget to buy the gizmo that lets you put in a snap and the snaps to use with it. If you actually start sewing clothing for your family, won’t it be nice to be able to put snaps on pants?

If you pick up upholstery thread (it’s very thick and sturdy) and a set of upholstery needles, then you will also be able to repair your upholstery. It won’t look like new when you are finished, but at least the stuffing won’t be poking out and getting damaged.

Finally, if your local JoAnn’s carries sewing machines, pick up one that is very basic. You won’t be needing a machine that does embroidery or monogramming — just the basic stitches, and don’t get one with any fancy computerized features. With a sewing machine, or at least a good set of needles, straight pins, and thread, you could sew clothing pieces to sell or barter.

5. Quilting

Quilting is a skill most of us don’t have in our bank of skills and most of us don’t have all the little tools that make quilting easier and faster. As I already mentioned, most of the fabric at modern fabric chain stores (including JoAnn’s and any Walmart’s that have fabric) is really best suited to quilting. It’s plain, woven cotton, which is great for quilts but not nearly as great for warm or work clothing. Even if you aren’t interested in quilting, quilt batting is good for makeshift blankets and to line jackets.

6. Knitting and crocheting supplies

The closely related but distinctly different skills of knitting and crocheting seem like a natural to become very popular post-apocalypse. The process of making your own woven fabric is more time-consuming and requires much more (and larger) equipment than knitting.  The differences are fidgety and not relevant here beyond knowing that they use totally different tools, so don’t pick up a set of crochet hooks and several knitting books (or vice versa) and think it will turn out well for you.

Whichever you choose, pick up a selection of knitting needles/crochet hook sizes and a variety of patterns so you can experiment and then lots and lots of yarn — cotton is good for making your own dishcloths and towels, wool is perfect for knitting socks, caps, and sweaters. By the way, this is the book that taught me how to knit many years ago. For even greater self-sufficiency, make yarn from fiber. Then use it to make clothing and other items.

7. Notions and Gadgets

Scissors, cutting mats, seam rippers, pins, safety pins, magnifying glasses, cord (including paracord and twine), glue, elastic, heat bonding tape (instead of sewing a hem, for instance), thread–you’ll want a nice variety of sizes/colors for all of those. If you get lucky, you may find a sleeping bag zipper or two for repairs or to make new ones.

Thermal thimbles, a portable drying rack, and clothesline are all near the irons. I never heard of a “thermal thimble” before but it might be handy for just about anything where you are working with hot things.  There is also a nice selection of sprays to protect fabric from sun, water, sprays for stains; sprays to stiffen fabric, to adhere it, or even just to clean it. You probably won’t need all of these, but at least one or two will probably come in handy.

Look for anything that will allow you to repair things like tents, sleeping bags, jeans, heavy jackets, and tarps. A lot of people won’t think to stock up on these, but if you stock up on enough of these supplies, you’ll be able to do repairs for others as well as yourself.

8. Vinyl, leather, and upholstery

The Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl is made especially for sewing these kinds of heavy materials by hand. That sounds perfect for the apocalypse to me!  They also have repair kits and tools for leather and vinyl. One item I truly love from fabric stores is clear vinyl by the yard. It is far, far thicker than vinyl (plastic) sheeting you can buy at the hardware store. They also normally have colors and possibly patterns (red checkerboard like a picnic blanket, most commonly) as well. You really should buy at least a few yards. Clear vinyl could have so many uses, such as replacing broken windows or glass panels.

There is a section over in the crafts area with a variety of leather crafts, pieces of leather, rawhide strings, and tools to work leather. Post-apocalypse, leather, like knitting and crocheting, is bound to make a comeback. Anyone who has the tools to turn it into something beautiful, or at least moderately pleasing to look at, will be well ahead of the game. This isn’t the place to buy big pieces of leather, but at least you can get the tools to get started.

You won’t be upholstering furniture, most likely, but you may want to slip-cover or repair some of what you already have, and some upholstery fabric is waterproof indoor/outdoor fabric. While you probably wouldn’t want to do this in everyday life, in the apocalypse, that could make for nice jackets and coats.

9. Warm insulating fabric and window coverings

Warm Window from “The Warm Company” is a fabric designed to “reduce winter heat loss, block out summer sun, and darken rooms.” It looks like two layers of cotton backed vinyl with a layer of mylar or foil in the middle. In short, it helps you stay warm in your house. If you get to JoAnn just as everything is falling apart and they have a roll of this, probably tucked in between the foam and the vinyl, buy it. Even if you have no need for it, this will certainly be an amazing barter item.

They also have curtain rods, peel and stick vinyl shades, and the materials you need to make window blinds, including specialty tape with the strings already encased in it. The privacy, warmth, and shade provided by window coverings are even more important after it all hits the fan than they are in normal life, so even windows that may not seem important to cover now may need curtains then. The same materials could be used to divide larger rooms into smaller, private sections if you end up housing many people.

10. Storage and home goods

When you craft or sew, you end up with all kinds of bits and pieces of things to keep track of. JoAnn’s carries a wide range of plastic containers specifically designed to hold all those little bits and pieces, as well as all kinds of bins, tubs, and even crates.

They also have the multi-use contact paper and the bubbly drawer liner that can be used to keep things from rattling around and making a lot of noise, as well as cushioning it.

As you wait to check out, you should have one last chance to grab some soap and snacks from the check-out line.

There’s a lot more to JoAnn Fabrics than meets the eye if you’re a prepper!

Coming next: The garden center

Don’t miss the other stores in my series:



9 thoughts on “Last-Chance Apocalypse Shopping: JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts”

  1. may i suggest that you hone your sewing/knitting/etc skills now! learning from books is certainly possible, but hands-on with a live teacher is faster and easier. i also suggest including denim and camo in your fabric supplies and polyester tread (because it is stronger than cotton). store cotton thread in cool, dark conditions to extend its life. it does get brittle over time.

  2. I would also pick up some tuule. Could come in handy if you get to a lake to make into a fishing net to catch minnows or fish.

  3. Elizabeth cundiff

    Better learn to hand sew, sewing machine won’t help with no electricity. Unless you throw it at someone. Haven’t we all wanted to throw ours at some point?

    1. While I’m aware that it is expensive, and not everyone can afford to: I purchased a treadle sewing machine and cabinet. (the cabinet was the most difficult to find, but I found a brand new, Amish one for about $200. less from someone who was downsizing and moving). I use the cabinet for my regular machine, setting it on the top, while the treadle is inside, saving space. So, I will be able to sew, even if the power goes out or we get hit by EMF’s or something.
      (Prepping is SO MUCH FUN!!)

  4. I love JoAnn’s, especially since even in my huge city there are few remaining fabric stores. Anyway, this is a subject near and dear to me.

    While the excellent article list is long and comprehensive, very few could afford to follow it or really know what to buy for last minute shopping.

    Here’s my suggestion: Think babies. If the world stops turning, diapers will shortly run out. If you can only get one type of fabric, get flannel. With 3/4 yd of flannel, you can make adorably cute killer pillow cases for all ages. Then when diapers are needed, you have the flannel on hand. This would be a great barter item.

    Also, muslin would be handy for swaddling. If there is a survival situation, it does not mean that people will stop having babies. Muslim can be used with babies, cheese making, and straining anything…berries, dirty water, etc.

    Also, get as many pairs of scissors as possible, all sizes, along with hand sewing needles, machine needles for your machine (get a sewing machine NOW and learn to use it), and many spools of thread.

    Re: notions. Buy used buttons and metal zippers by the pound on eBay or other websites. Same thing applies to yarn. Just avoid synthetic fibers, only buy 100% cotton and 100% wool. Estate sales are great for finding yarn.

    Don’t ever bother with vintage cotton thread, it is weakened with age. Avoid plastic zippers that easily break.

    If you can’t cook, sew, knit, and crochet, time might be running out. Time to learn and they are all fun, relaxing activities. As you learn, remember children all over the world have these skills.

    I have a friend who teaches every child in her elementary school age Girl Scout troop to sew. They make clothes for African children, and my friend gives a sewing machine to every girl in her troop and has done this for at least 20 years. So, as you learn, take heart.

    Good luck!

  5. HI, Jusr mentioning here, I ALWAYS look at garage sales and resale shops (good will, st Vincent depauls) for large wool or flannel shirts n coats. I’ve found se real 2x n 3x very plain wool coats that I have ‘in store’ for material for clothing, gloves Or even Just a heavy big ol coat. There is ALOT of material in a coat or oversize shirts to repurpose and usually its 2-5$ a piece. Check w grandmothers or elderly neighbors for old patterns. Many of them sewed n and one time, patterns were in EVERY home. I’ve even gotten lucky and bought EXCELLENT seamstress quality shears n sewing notions. I’ve even bought old fishermen’s spools of line just ‘in case’ I needed extra strong threading for something.

  6. I don’t know if Joann’s carry them but those jeans buttons are nice (I got mine on Amazon). They attach like a rivet. Also regarding leather, there is a tool to make leather lace, costs about $10. on Amazon. I’d get on YouTube to watch a video to see how it’s done. I’ve had success with veg tan leather about in the 5-6 oz. to make boot laces. With a 6-7” square of leather I’ve made about 15-20 ft of lace. I’ve also had success using goatskin in the 2-3 oz weight to make more of a sewing lace. Get extra blades as dull ones don’t cut well and mark the areas of the blade you’ve cut with to get the most life out of each one.

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