All sewers face the dilemma of what to do with the fabric scraps left over at the end of a project. Most of us have boxes or bags or baskets of scraps taking up valuable space in our sewing storage. Finding ways to use those scraps makes our sewing pursuits more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and thrifty, too. Using scraps is a practice with historical roots: from the crazy quilts of the English Victorians to the boro patchwork or tiny fabric gifts called “omiyage” of the Japanese, who had a saying that if a scrap of fabric was large enough to hold three beans that it was large enough to keep and reuse. Fabric waste is a growing problem around the world with terrible environmental effects. Using up even the little scraps left over shows that we value the resources that went into the creation of the fabric that we use and the people who made it. When we re-use and re-cycle, we are doing our part to help make this world a little bit better place.
In honor of Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Week, I’ve put together a list of ways to use up scraps. Probably you’ve thought of many of these same ideas yourself, but maybe some of them are new to you, and hopefully all of them are interesting enough to inspire.
Do you have any other ideas or methods that you’ve used to use up fabric scraps?
This post is catching up from last year, as I made this smock and matching purse in the fall and only managed to wear them outside once before snowy weather blew in. Now that we are in the depths of winter, I've given up on the idea of photographing out in the landscape (at least until I have a heavy wool garment to share), and am going to try to take some photos in my studio on sunny days instead. And maybe this way I can catch up some of the things that I sewed last year and haven't had a chance to review yet.
My sewing cabinet housed almost 5 yards of this nice rust-colored corduroy for four years or so from the day that I originally found it at the thrift store to the long overdue day when I finally chose a pattern for it. The pattern I finally picked out, 1970s-era McCalls 3483, was also a thrift-store find. It is a size larger than I usually make, which made me uncertain about buying it, but for 50 cents I thought it was worth a try. When I imagined pairing it with my long-neglected corduroy, I thought that going a size up wouldn't make a difference to a loose over-garment, and I was right. I was actually surprised that I didn't need to narrow the shoulders, and the fit was good without any adjustments. I remember reading in one of my sewing books that the difference between pattern sizes is about 1 inch overall---which is a big difference if you are trying to make a fitted garment, but is very little difference in a loose or flowing garment so long as the fit is good around the shoulders. The one curious bit about the fit of this garment that I noticed is that the smock looks much shorter on the drawings on the pattern-cover compared to how it fits me in real life---which is almost down to my knees. I'm an average 5 foot 5 inches, in case any one else out there has this pattern and needs a reference for the length.
Since corduroy tends to shed and fray, I was careful to do faux-flat fell stitching on all of the seams, which had the nice benefit of giving them a top-stitched look on the outside. I also did top-stitching on the collar to keep it neat, as well as the cuffs and the narrow hem. I also used some scraps of old thrifted bias binding and sewed them by hand to the edges of the inside facing and sleeve openings so they won't have trouble going through the wash. This gave them a clean and neat finish, as well. McCalls 3483 has a lot of nice details: over-sized patch pockets, puffed sleeves with big cuffs, an exaggerated collar, and a neat yoke opening. Since the button closures called for loops, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to turn corduroy inside out (that sounds like a recipe for a headache), I cut little pieces of the selvage of the fabric and rolled them into little tubes and sewed them shut by hand. Then I made them into button loops and sewed them on to the yoke and cuffs by machine. The buttons are from JoAnns. I took my smock with me to see what kind of ball-shaped button I could find that matched the fabric, and was really happy to find these nice faux-leather ones in just the ride shade of ochre.
I think this smock makes a stylish alternative to wearing a sweater indoors all winter long. And in the fall and the spring, it is the perfect lightweight pullover jacket. I made a purse to match it out of scraps leftover from my smock and a wooden purse handle set that I bought half-off from JoAnns for the grand total of $4! The inside of the purse is lined with scraps from my Folkwear shirtdress. The last of the corduroy scraps leftover from both smock and purse recently got used by my husband as details on a shirt he is almost finished sewing. This ended up being a rather thrifty outfit, especially worn over my old brown smock dress that has some paint stains on it (which my new corduroy smock nicely covers up), and worn with the clogs that were given to me for my birthday. It makes me glad that we can take something that no one wanted and use every scrap of it to make not just one, but three interesting new useful things that will bring pleasure to Mr Rat and me.
I know this photo is terribly blurry, but Gia looks so charming that I couldn't resist adding it.
My main handmade gift this year wasn't sewing related, since I ran out of time to make Mr Rat something on our Singer. But I did have time to make a chess set for him out of oven-bake clay and seed beads. We found a chess board earlier in the year at the thrift store, but didn't have any pieces to play on it. When he opened up this particular Christmas box, Mr Rat was really surprised and excited-----which made me pleased that I had spent the time making something personal for him and me that we will use for years to come. I think that the total cost was about $12 worth of clay and about three hours of molding it and another hour and half to bake the pieces.
(In case you are wondering: Ryan's set is the potted cacti collection, and my set is the team of white rats).
I've made 1970s-era Simplicity 8611 before in black broadcloth, and it is a much loved member of my closet. Jumper dresses are so versatile, since any change of blouse makes them feel like a new dress altogether. In these photos, I am wearing my new golden version of Simplicity 8611 with my homemade peter pan collar blouse and one of my first ever homemade bags. I didn't use a pattern for my duck-goose bag---I found the panel of printed fabric at Goodwill and sewed two of the pieces together, using big scraps of muslin from my scrap box to interline it for some structures and some large pieces of linen leftover from my husband's shirt to line it. The wooden handles are from JoAnn fabric stores, bought with a coupon. So the grand total of the cost for my new tote bag was about $6. Tote bags are so useful for library trips, walking to the grocery store, or just carrying a sketchbook and a book of poetry to the park. On Sundays (like the one when these photos were taken) I use my handmade bag to carry my scriptures and a shawl to church.
The cotton for the dress is also a Goodwill find. In its previous life it was a king-size sheet, but I like it better as my new dress. I've worn it quite a few times since I finished it three weeks ago. As Mr Rat remarked, it matches the leaves exactly, and it pleases me to wear something special to enjoy the spectacular color of our neighborhood. Mr Rat and I watched an episode of 'Autumn Watch' on PBS recently and learned that people like us who go out to enjoy the fall foliage are called "leaf peepers." Autumn Watch is an unexpectedly funny show: in the first episode they aired hilarious (and sometimes tragic) footage of squirrels fighting over cached nuts, and bears eating tree-loads of apples.
Since I've sewn this dress before, its construction was quick and easy and had no surprises. I pinked most of the seams, lined the bodice with the same fabric that I used to make the rest of the dress, hand-picked the zipper, and used the big scraps left over to make door-cozies (my sister says that's what those tubes of stuffed fabric are called in England) for all of our downstairs doorways. The townhouse we're renting has two big sliding glass doors downstairs plus a front door and a garage door. This means that during the winter it is frigid and drafty downstairs. So now thanks to the leftovers from my new dress, our apartment is remarkably warmer. And that's a very nice thing, since it makes looking forward to winter not so hard.
This is the first Christmas season that Mr Rat and I have had a full size tree to decorate. Our tree is still pretty modest, bought for a mere $20 from Savers, and not any taller than I am----but we are so pleased to have a chance to hang the ornaments we've been given and bought at thrift stores the last few years. Of course, there weren't very many ornaments, since we've never had a big tree to hang them on, and so our new tree looked very sparse. After considering all those empty branches, I took an idea from the miniature tree we've been using the last five years and pulled out my Japanese origami paper and made peace cranes, which I then threaded with sewing thread loops. I also had some fabric that a friend gave me years ago with a lovely pattern of Renaissance rabbits playing instruments at a feast. So I cut them out and cut matching backs from a scrap of pink and cream ticking striped cotton, and sewed them together and stuffed them and added white ribbon hanging loops. Between all the handmade ornaments and the candy canes we bought at the grocery store, suddenly our tree didn't look so bare anymore.
Have any of you been working on Christmas sewing? I've made a few presents by hand, including some jewelry, and also stuffed toys for Gia using the leftover fluff from stuffing the fabric ornaments, but I feel like the hand-made part of my holidays was mostly ornament making this year. Although there is still holiday baking to be done, so I suppose our hand-made Christmas is not done yet. . .
And here is the miniature tree we've used the past five Christmases, with its handmade crane ornaments that I folded out of wrapping paper. The rest of the tiny ornaments are from Michaels craft stores and bought at thrift store Christmas sales.
I hope you all are having a good start to your holiday season! My own got off to a rough start with a bad case of laryngitis last week, but hopefully the rest of the month will feel better. I wish you all a festive, peaceful, and restful December.
My library bag has looking rather pathetic, with holes wearing right through the quilted fabric. But I’m fond of it and I’ve had it many years----I don’t want to give up on it yet. I spent some time over the weekend patching the holes with bits of gingham left over from my dress, and now my bag is ready to take some books to the library again.
When a favorite cloth bag or garment starts getting holes, what is your solution? Does mending/patchwork add beauty and character to an object, or do connotations of poverty outweigh what interest visible mending might add?
Mr Rat has been in need of a warm robe, so I made him one as a Christmas gift, using a current Simplicity pattern, D0588/1021. I made it in a size medium out of navy blue cotton flannel, bought on a deep discount at JoAnn’s Black Friday sale in November. The pattern is simple to follow, and easy enough for a complete beginner, I think. It took me one day to cut out and two days to finish sewing. Mr Rat was pleased to open it and put it on, even though he had seen me making it, so it wasn’t a surprise.
The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to not interface the front binding that goes around the collar and edges of the robe. The binding gets doubled as it wraps around to the inside of the robe, and since it is meant to be a comfortable garment to lounge in, I didn’t want it to be stiff.
Inspired by the monogrammed handkerchief I gave Mr Rat for an anniversary gift, I also made handkerchiefs for my whole family, embroidering each person’s initials and hemming them by hand. My parents, most of my siblings, and their spouses attend the Mormon temple very frequently, and everything in the temple must be white, because it is a holy place, so I made all the gifts pure white in case they wanted to use them there.
Our anniversary was last month and I wanted to make Mr. Rat a personal token to go with his other gifts. I thought of making him a handkerchief embroidered with his initials, since he often borrows mine. After consultation about the style and color, he chose a cursive script in cobalt blue. It took me only one Sunday afternoon to embroider his initials after I had drawn them carefully with pen on the white cotton scrap I had left over from one of my shirt sewing projects, and only another afternoon after that to hand-stitch a rolled-hem around the edges. He was very pleased with his present.
I had some scraps of black wool left over from making a cape using Vogue 8959, and decided to make a purse out of it using vintage 1980s McCall 7695. McCall 7695 has several vest patterns, and the purse is a little bonus extra. It was simple to sew, so after I attached the black flannel lining by machine, I did the rest by hand. The edges are bound in twill tape, the cord is sewn into the top of the purse so it stays firmly in place, and the little tassels are re-purposed from an old shirt of mine that wore out. It reminds me a little of the YSL Russian-style purses from the 1970s. It is just large enough for a wallet and a handkerchief, for when I need to go on a quick errand and don't want to be weighed down.
This the larger 'Replica Bag' rucksack from the Green Pepper pattern F735. It is essentially a big brown lunch bag of a backpack with deep pockets on the sides (one open and the other with a flap). I made this bag out of brown cotton duck and three web belts I found at the local thrift store. The two shoulder straps are thicker web belts with adjustable D rings. The thickness of the fabric, along with attaching the web straps, required a fair amount of hand stitching with a thimble and a sturdy reverse stitch. I decided to finish the seams with a rust colored binding for the top and inside seam edges. The size of the bag is a big advantage. I can easily fit my emergency bike tools in the side pockets while leaving the larger compartment free for my folders, lunch bag, laptop, book, cell phone and glasses. I am very satisfied with the result.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.