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Fabric Scrap Busting: 8 top tips for zero waste sewing

“Waste in fashion can be redesigned and minimised. It can be a massive problem

or could be an untapped never-ending resource”

Loved Clothes Last: Fashion Revolution Issue #2

Textile waste from the fashion industry is a major contributing factor to the environmental emergency, with 15-19% of fabric ending up on the cutting room floor during the manufacturing of clothes according to the ‘Fixing Fashion’ report from the UK Environmental Committee 2019. This year’s The Great British Sewing Bee dedicated an episode to fabric scrap busting highlighting the issue. When Patrick Grant announced that up to 30% of fabric is wasted by those of us who make our own clothes, I thought what I can do with my own fabric scraps? And how I can help other dressmakers combat their textile waste?

My Top Scrap Busting Tips

1. Preventing Fabric Waste When cutting a pattern

When using a commercial pattern, it is important to respect the layout diagrams to ensure the nap and print of the fabric is the same direction on the finished item. There is usually some room for manipulation. For example, I recently made the Tilly & The Buttons Stevie dress. My fabric was narrower than the recommended width so instead of folding the fabric directly in half, I created a fold wide enough for the pattern, leaving a much larger scrap piece than I would have if I followed the layout in the instructions. Now I have enough fabric to make the Dominique skirt too! When laying out pattern pieces, ensure each pattern piece is facing the same direction (following the grain). For example the front and back of the dress are both facing upwards, even on a plain fabric this is important to prevent a slight difference in colour and nap (direction of the fibres).

2. Make Small Accessories

Small bags are super handy to use for shopping, make up, holiday packing, gym kit etc. and a perfect way to use up small pieces of fabric. I’ve created a range of patterns to help sewists use up their fabric waste. Choose from an oversized Betty tote bag, Mary zipper pouch and Olivia drawstring kit bag.  The full range (including a vintage style pinny) will be launched at the Knitting & Stitching Show October 2019 and coming to my online shop soon.

3. Clothes Patches

Jeans, jumpers, coats – they get a lot of wear! Become a ‘visible mender’ and add a contrast colour patch over holes. Using a simple overstitch or try the popular Japanese Boro technique. When patching clothes it is important to match the construction of the fabrics. E.g. use jersey to patch stretch fabrics, use woven to patch woven. Match the weight of the fabric as much as possible too. Using a heavy weight fabric to patch a lightweight fabric such as chiffon or tana lawn will cause too much stress and cause more holes. To make a patch, cut a piece bigger than the hole by about 1cm or to the preferred size to make a statement. Using an overlocker or zig zag stitch, finish the edge of the patch so it doesn’t fray. Safety pin in place over the hole making sure it isn’t too tight for movement (e.g. on elbows and knees). Stitch in place using an over stitch, blanket stitch or running stitch (Boro). I host a workshop with my friend Eleanor called Fast Fashion Therapy in East London. We teach people to mend their clothes rather than throwing them away. Click here to view a video of Eleanor fixing a hole in a pair of jeans using the Japanese Boro technique.

4) Make a Pocket

Add a patch pocket in a contrasting fabric to skirts, tops and bags. 1) Measure the size of pocket you would like and draw on a piece of paper with a ruler. 2) Add 1cm around 3 edges and 2cm to the top edge. 3) Cut out of fabric 4) Zig-Zag stitch or overlock around all four edges.  5) Fold over the edges of the pocket right side to wrong side by 1cm and press. The top edge should be turned over by 2cm. 6) Tack the seams to hold them in place. 7) Place onto the item and pin. 8) Top stitch around 3 sides, leaving the top edge open. Stitching should be 5mm away from the edge. 9) Undo tacks, give it a final press and your pocket is good to go! Inseam pockets are also really handy and easy to add when dressmaking. Tilly & The Buttons have a good free pattern to download here.

5) Create a Larger Piece of Fabric

Some of my Scrap Busting Fabric patterns require bigger pieces of fabric such as Betty tote bag, Millie pinny and Gloria cushion cover. If you don’t have pieces large enough for these patterns then combine smaller pieces. If you are short on time it is easier to combine uniformly cut squares but if you have more patience and want to create more of a patchwork look then fit a jigsaw of pieces together. The method for both types is the same. Place two pieces of fabric with their right sides together. Stitch with a 4-thread overlocker construction stitch. If you don’t have an overlocker then sew using a regular machine and finish the seam edges with a zig-zag stitch. Each time you add to the fabric piece measure against the pattern to get an idea of size. Keep going until you have a piece big enough. Give the seams a press and your jigsaw of scraps are ready to be made into something new!

6) Make a Lanyard

We are getting to the smaller pieces of fabric that are more difficult to be inventive with. Lanyards for security passes can be so boring – A quick easy project, secret santa gift for your colleagues and brighten up the office! I cut fastenings off old lanyards, bags, anything I think I can reuse. 1) Measure around your neck to where you want the lanyard to finish, add an extra 3cm. 2) Cut a length of fabric to this length x 4cm wide. 3) Fold over the long edge right side to wrong side by 0.5cm and press as you go (minding your fingers, large tweezers are useful for this job). 4) Repeat on the other edge. 5) Fold the fabric in half aligning the folded edges together. 6) Stitch along this edge getting as close to the edge as possible. 7)Take one short edge and thread through the D-ring of the lanyard. 8) Fold over both raw edges by 1cm and press. 9)Then place them flat together so they overlap by another 2cm. 10) Secure in place by sewing in a square. Use the hook to secure your security pass or keys.

7) Fabric Twine

Cintia from My Poppet Makes in Australia has come up with an ingenious way to use the smallest of fabric scraps to create a strong twine. A warning that it is time consuming and one to do with your favourite podcast on the go. I think it is worth the effort to create bright coloured twine to use in other sewing projects: Thread through triangles of fabric to create bunting, use to wrap gifts, thread through drawstring bag from the above step. Click here for full instructions from My Poppet.

8) Stuffing

When it gets to the point where the scraps are so small no amount of inspiration is going to create a new useful item from fabric scraps, I shred them with fabric scissors as small as possible and keep them in a lidded box. Also useful for old socks and tights that are past darning. Keep topping up the box for a ready made supply of stuffing. Use for cushions of all sizes, small crafting projects such as Christmas decorations.

FREE Scrap Busting Patterns

sign up to my newsletter for a free PDF copy of my Fabric Scrap Busting booklet. The booklet doubles up as a pattern for four accessories: A small tote, a zipper pouch, a cutlery roll and a drawstring bag. Paper copies also available to buy for £4, click here.