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How to use up fabric scraps

My top tips for zero waste sewing

No matter how ingenious I am with my pattern lays, I always end up with weird shaped pieces of fabric left over. As I cut, sew and trim I throw my fabric scraps into various boxes

  • One box for larger pieces that can be used to make small accessories
  • One box for smaller squares and triangles that can be used for clothes mending and crafts
  • One box for the really small pieces plus trimmed threads. I fill it until I have enough to stuff a cushion

The larger pieces are a bit easier to use. I’ve designed a range of small accessories with fabric scrap busting in mind, available as a set of patterns, download pdf file or as a kit with a length of vintage fabric.

For smaller projects, download a free copy of my scrap busting booklet with containing instructions for four small accessories. Smaller scraps can be combined to create a bigger piece of fabric – co-ordinate the colours or be eclectic and clash prints and colours!

Boro & Sashiko style hand stitched patching

Piecing smaller pieces of fabric together is a project in itself and a bit of a labour of love. I recommend taking your time and enjoying the process. I created a piece of fabric the size of an A3 sheet of paper by patching several pieces together by hand. Sat in front of the telly and using a back stitch. Hand sewing is easier for weird shaped pieces, a bit more manoeuvrable than using the sewing machine. I struggled to fit in a few odd triangles so I placed them on top and fixed with an overstitch. In the example below, I pulled a few swatches out of my scrap box and laid a couple flat on the ironing board. Three or four pieces to get me started. Then I sat and sewed, trying to create a square as best possible. Once I had sewn a few together I kept measuring against a piece of A4 paper. I need a double A4 size (e.g. A3) to make a picnic tote bag.

Once I had roughly reached the size I needed I folded the patchworked piece in half and cut around an A4 piece of paper. The scraps go into the relevant box for cushion filling. Lay the patched fabric flat and give it a good press. I then used a bigger remnant piece of fabric as the backing. Old bedding works well too. I pinned around the edge and then started a row of Sashiko stitches using a thick cotton yarn. Double regular thread also works but I wanted to make a feature of the stitching and pull all the random colours together. Shashiko is a Japanese technique meaning little stabs. Boro is the process where layers of fabric are built up, usually repairing clothes and textiles. Indigo denim and white thread are traditional but the technique works in any fabric and is popular with the visible mending movement.

My stitches are not a great example as it is a fairly large area to stitch and I have gone a bit wonky. I’m not so fussy on this piece it might be preferable to mark out straight lines on the backing fabric and use these as a guide. Head to Fast Fashion Therapy for a full ‘how to video’ on Boro stitching.

@sew.sannah used a Boro style of stitching on my Betty Tote Bag pattern to use up her scraps, it looks great!

Patching via the sewing machine

If hand sewing isn’t your thing and you want a quicker project then this alternative patching technique might suit you better. I’ve used the sewing machine to patch the pieces together. I’ve tried before to piece odd shaped fabrics together with an overlocker. It did work but it was very time consuming and not as meditative as the hand sewing technique above.

For this method I recommend cutting squares from the scrap fabrics. They don’t have to be the same size but the straight edges makes it more efficient to match the pieces. Lay each piece flat on an ironing board and press flat. Place them roughly in the order you would like them to be. I started with the centre larger piece and worked outwards, pinning and sewing a couple of pieces at a time. I didn’t back this piece so I zig zagged each raw edge as I sewed. It took about 15 minutes to patch enough pieces together the size of an A3 piece of paper. I used it to make a drawstring bag from my free scrap pattern download. (New design coming soon!).