Thoughts on scraps

Also, thoughts on sustainable making and consumption – I guess these thoughts go together! It isn’t the first time I have shared thoughts on this topic – some years ago I wrote about tiny dresses and sustainability and even longer ago about using the fabric scraps. It turns out I still have thougths! It’s a length post, this one.

I have not bought new fabrics in a couple of years (and with my current very low output my stash will last me decades), and save a raincoat I invested in last year after much research, I have not bought new clothes for even longer. There is very little joy for me in browsing and shopping new clothes, knowing how destructive this consumption is. I can’t remember a particular moment I realized how much of an issue the textile and fashion industry and our consumption presents, but I’ve only become more sure through reading up. Some documentaries have helped, such as The true cost of fashion, Stacey Dooley Investigates – Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, Norwegian public broadcasting’s
, and another Norwegian mini-documentary series called Sweatshop. Listening to the podcast Check your thread by powerhouse Zoe Edwards has only further inspired me that this is both important and doable, and the Soul Craft festival advocates a connection to making and materials that I think goes hand in hand with mindful consumption.

So, it does not feel good to participate light-heartedly in an industry that is so destructive. What do I do, then?

I buy new rarely, and after much research. I spent a couple of years thinking of getting a raincoat from a local company, then months asking friends for their opinions on their own raincoats, trying on different models, and choosing one for myself. It was pricey. I bought a pair of winter boots this year, after several winters of cold feet (I hate feeling cold!). They are made of leather and lined with sheepskin, and produced in Europe. They were pricey.

I have been looking into brands in line with my beliefs, and I have found some (though not bought from most of these yet). There seems to be more of them arriving at the scene, which makes me very happy! Pure waste based in Finland produce their textile from waste fiber, Rifolab based in Italy does the same. I have bought a sweater from Norwegian brand Hekne that was knit with respun yarns in France. Other brand that have come across my radar is Rockay Running (Danish), Cariuma footwear, Tripulse sportswear, Sorbas Berlin and Emroce swimwear.

I use my garments and shoes for a long time. I have a Uniqlo merino wool cardigan in regular rotation, and it is thinning in places, but still doing ok some 10 or 12 years on. I have a dumb amount of shoes, because I keep them until they are really quite worn out!

I try to take care of the things I own. I mend holes, I oil wooden kitchen utensils regularly, I am best friends with my little electric fabric shaver. I get a lot of joy from patching utilitarian things up! Visible mending is not really my thing, so I usually try to make it quite invisible.

I do buy second hand clothes, and I particularly like finding things while I travel. Best souvenirs! My headache comes when I am ready to pass on garments, because there is no very clear best solution. Donating to a thrift store is easy, but the fact that so many garments bypass the second hand stores and goes on to litter third world countries in quantities they cannot process, and probably don’t even want? I am horrified. If possible I give the garment to someone I know who is interested in it. As a next option I might try to sell or give away the garment online, ensuring it goes to someone who actually wants it. Though, make no mistake, I do also bring clothes to Salvation Army – but I aim for other options first.

My newest second hand purchases.

I know some places take fabric scraps for recycling. The Norwegian branch of Salvation Army did for several years up till recently. Turns out, with the massive amounts of garments and textiles coming though, and a fraction of it making it into their thrift stores, they were self-sustained and then some with scraps for making shoddy. I have not found another alternative that I trust and that can show where the textiles end up.

After listening to podcasts that in part covers using scraps and unwanted garments, such as Check your thread, I would love to produce as little waste as possible, going out of my household. That means it needs be put to use somewhere within my household! A favorite activity at times has been to search the internets for suggestions for scraps (I have collected some ideas in a pinterest board here, and another one specifically for piecing fabric and combining smaller yarn quantities). A lot of them are things I am not interested in, and I don’t want to end up making more stuff for the sake of making. The finished product must be useful and aesthetically pleasing to me. As such, there is no scrunchie-production or random strip quilting going on in my sewing room. Some project suggestions I come across are dangerously close to “making trash out of trash” in my eyes.

At times this has frustrated me – what do I do with all the leftover bits of fabric and worn out garments? I have found some things that are both doable and interesting to me.

  • Quilts. Yes, I just said no random scrap quilts. For years I have seen scrap quilts that probably make a huge dent in a scrap pile, but that were not to my taste at all. They looked very random, no color scheme with a balance between saturated and unsaturated colors, no thoughtful variation of size and placement of different colors, just pieces of brightly colored fabric that beat each other up. The past year or so though, I have been seeing beautiful quilts and compositions using scraps, but also being *designed*. Publiclibraryquilts and Felicia Semple of The Craft Sessions and Soul Craft both make (scrap) quilts that are compositions, in the way that artworks are compositions. I can get on board with this. I have also made a quilt where I wanted to use scraps, but also wanted it to look beautiful and in line with the rest of my home.
My own almost finished quarantine scrap quilt, finished in 2020. I had an orange tablecloth that I cut up, and pieces of different blue-grey fabrics.
  • Mindful pattern cutting. Many times I have adjusted pattern pieces based on the fabric I have available. Hems have been reduced in width, a skirt was made less full, if doable I have cut some pieces on the cross-grain. All this to best use up the piece I have.
  • Use fabric scraps for pockets, facings, etc. This is an oldie, for sure. Recently, I have been thinking how I can piece together scraps for linings. I am picturing a wool coat where I could piece silk scraps going from bold and saturated colors at the bottom, to pale colors further up. A pieced color-gradient lining!
I am picturing something along the lines of Petra’s coat, where the colors transition from top to bottom.
  • Piece fabric in garment making. I have done this before as well, but with pieced clothing being more common, at least what I am seeing in the IG home sewing community, the threshold is getting lower for me to consider piecing fabric to thoughtfully use the amount of fabric that I have available. I have some chiffon weight fabric I am thinking of piecing together in a symmetrical and geometric pattern, in a button down shirt.
Very visible and graphic piecing would be cool. Via Pinterest.
  • Baby clothes and kids clothes need so little fabric, so if I have remnants that work in weight and color and material, tiny clothing is very satisfying.
Baby clothes don’t require much yardage.
  • I have yet to make any zero-waste garments, but I would very much like to. I am not sure if I feel this is a superior solution over traditional garment patterns in home sewing, as I think some traditional patterns overall uses less fabric – though with some waste in forms of off-cuts. Have I wasted less resources if I make a zero-waste dress needing 4 metres of fabric, than if I make a traditionally patterned dress using 2,5, but with offcuts? I guess it comes down to what happens to the scraps. I am really enjoying seeing the designs coming out of this movement, and especially happy seeing it implemented into factory production – think letterman and denim jackets! I follow Zero Waste Design Online for this specifically, and they also have started a Zero Waste pattern library. Also, zero-waste backpacks and bumbags? Yeeesss! Hinerangi is a kindred spirit who has tried a lot of zero waste patterns, and her IG-account is worth checking out. Zero Waste Wardrobe has a number of really nice looking patterns (and also, for free!), and I am thinking one of her patterns will be my first ZW-attempt.
This is a zero-waste bra pattern, and I’d love to try it out.
  • Use scraps in weaving. I am not sure I am much of a decorative weaver, but I would love to make a traditional “fillerye”, a woven scrap rug. It runs in the family I guess, with both a mom and a grandmother being weavers. I even have a loom waiting for me when I am ready (and have the room for it!). This could take care of quite a lot of larger pieces of disused fabric, such as pillowcases and sheets, maybe some larger pieces of clothing. Rag-rugging is also a great scrap-busting craft, but I prefer the look of the woven rugs. Below are two rugs inherited from my mom, which I would guess my grandmother made. I think I even remember her loom being set up in the guest bedroom, where we slept.
  • Making baskets! I recently did an online course learning the basics of making baskets, and what drew me to it was the potential for reuse. Strips of fabric, twine, yarn… I have not actually finished a basket yet, but I already have a fair collection of textiles to use: kitchen towels and sheet with holes, old tshirts and jeans, some pieces of unused fabric. The course recommends baling twine as the core, which I wanted to find an alternative to as the point for me is avoiding buying new materials when the earth is literally overflowing. I think a possible option could be strips of jeans, rolled up. I am thinking it might be sturdy enough to work nicely!
  • Rags. Kitchen towels with lots of stains and holes, socks blown out at the heel, tshirts worn threadbare? Perfect rags for shining shoes, woodworking, etc. I think there is a limit to how many rags one household needs though.
  • Finally, I have joined the many many crafters making a pouf to hold their tiniest scraps and unusable bits, with the one from Closet Core being a popular pattern choice. I’ve realized a full pouf is probably many years in the making, so in the meanwhile I have made a lower inner bag (out of a faded unwanted pillowcase, of course), and have started putting my scraps in there. I have small offcuts, threads from the sewing process, yarn ends, the fuzz from shaving pills off fabrics, cut up worn out socks and underwear. I teach art and crafts at my school, and I have been collecting scraps of thread, fabric and poly batting during their making, so that will go into my stuffed pouf as well. Another option is to make stuffed toys. A recent episode of Check your Thread featured zero-waste designer Liz Haywood, whose patterns also include dolls with clothing. The dolls can be stuffed with scraps, of course!

I am not making perfect choices all the time, and my lifestyle certainly produces waste. These, however, are things I have found over the last five years that make sense in terms of my values and capacity. I’ll end with words of encouragement from zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”


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