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Thoughts on How to Become More Sustainable in the Sewing Room

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

As I sit here writing this the rain is pouring down outside and severe snow storms are forecast for the next week. I’m fortunate to be sat in the warmth and my mind is whirling with ideas on how to reduce the waste I produce as an Independent Sewing Business and home sewer so I can find ways to help with climate change and our increasing levels of pollution. I know I need to look at all areas of my business but I am going to start with 2 areas that I know I can take control of easily and make a difference immediately. With that in mind I am going to chat with you today about material off cuts and empty thread spools, how I plan to use and recycle what would normally end up in the bin and regretfully land fill.

Material off cuts

I do not know about you but I have drawers of odd shaped cut offs from previous projects that I have kept just in case I might need them, when in reality they sit there until I have a good sort out when I am desperately looking for a certain piece of fabric I cannot find. I am ashamed to say in my frustration of searching through them they would often up in the bin. Well not anymore! I have decided that all my scraps, including snipped threads and interfacing will be put to good use. I have sorted my scraps into different project piles and added an extra bin to the sewing room purely for odd bits of fabric, pieces that cannot be made into anything else, ends of thread and scraps of interfacing – all of which will be recycled.

There are lots of projects you can use your pretty scraps for but listed below are my 4 projects for this year.

Project 1 - Bunting!

Bunting is a great project for using up those larger bits of leftover cotton fabric. The fabric can be bold, bright, plain or printed and the best part is that it does not have to match – – in fact strings of mis-matched bunting look great. These long chains of fabric flags are perfect for summer parties in the garden, celebrations inside or out or even just for cute room décor. Being fabric, they are easily washable and can be used time and time again. Bunting also makes a great gift!

Now, I have 2 triangle templates that I use for making bunting, one large and one small. You can mix and match your flag sizes on one chain of bunting, or, you can produce two separate strings of bunting – one per size. There is no rule as to how long your bunting should be or how large a gap your flags need between them, just go with what you like.

The method I use for making my bunting is to take two triangles of fabric which I stitch wrong sides together down the long edges. I then simply turn the flag the right side out and give it a good press and there you have one flag as easy as that! Once I have a number completed I am able to string them together using saved ribbon from gifts/projects or bias binding

This is a great project to do when you have a spare 5 minutes, you can do a flag or two then put it away until you get the next 5 minutes and so on. It is also a great beginners project to do with children, they are able to let their creativity flow as nothing needs to match and you canadd letters or motifs to each flag to personalise your bunting!

Projects 2 & 3 - Quilting!

I have decided on 2 quilting projects for the year ahead, one traditional and one with a dressmakers twist and both are excellent projects for using up my small scraps of cotton fabric that would otherwise end up in the bin.

Let’s talk about the traditional one first – a quilting project using the English Paper Piecing (EPP) method. “What is EPP?” I hear you say, well it is the technique of folding fabric over paper templates, basting them then sewing them together. Once sewn together you remove your paper templates and finish your quilt/project in the way you wish to. Personally, I have only made one laptop quilt this way before but I loved the process of hand stitching the pieces together over time so much so that I am itching to start another. For this project I have decided to use hexagons as my shape and I am using the templates I have left over from my previous quilt. If I end up needing more, I will be able to trace round one and draw more out onto scrap paper - this is a win win for me as that paper would also have ended up in the bin so I’m recycling along the way.

I find hand sewing particularly soothing and whilst you are basting and sewing your hexagons together it is a very portable project. In terms of using scrap material this project can be brilliant as you are in control of the size of your hexagon or chosen shape and therefore you can base this decision on the size of your fabric scraps using the smallest pieces of material. My last quilt had a colour scheme but because I want to use up as many pieces of waste material as I can I am happy for this to be a more loose colour way/ scrappy quilt – a quilt of various colours and fabric designs all mixed together. I am thinking that because I will have spent the time hand sewing all the hexagons together I will hand quilt my finished project rather than machine quilt it. I know I am in for the long haul on this project but I am actually quite happy to have a long term project that I can pick up and sew when time allows.

My second quilting project is one that I am genuinely excited about and something I have never done before. It’s a combination of quilting and dressmaking. I have been seeing various quilted coats appear on my social media feeds and I have fallen in love with one in particular – the Ilford Jacket by The Friday Pattern Company sewn by @purplecloudsewing . Now Samantha’s fabulous jacket has a wonderful colour scheme but as I am going to be using up left over fabric mine will definitely have a more scrappy feel about it. I am very lucky that I have lots of small bits of Liberty tana lawn fabric left over that I haven’t had the heart to throw away so now I have the perfect project for them. As you can see from Samantha’s coat you can use any size squares or even hexagons. As this is a dressmaking project I will be sewing it all (including the quilting) on the sewing machine.

There is also a great tutorial on how to make a quilted coat by Suzy Quilts.

Project 4 – A Pouf!

Finally, onto my last scrap busting project and the one that will mean zero fabric, thread and yarn waste in the sewing room. This is the reason for the second bin – the fabric bin in the sewing room. The Floor Pouf by Closet Core Patterns.

This is a free pdf pattern available from their website

What I love about this pattern is you can use your larger leftover fabric pieces for the outer casing of the pouf – I have a lot of furnishing and upholstery fabric left over from some house projects, and all the snipped thread, scraggly bits of interfacing, odd shaped pieces of cloth that cannot be used in any of the above projects can be used for the pouf stuffing. It’s like a fabric dustbin and good for the environment …what’s not to love!

I do not know about you but I think once finished this would make a great housewarming gift. Although saying that I desperately need one at home so that’s where my first one will go.

Thread Spools!

At the start of this blog I also mentioned that I will reduce waste in another way – my used thread spools. I go through a lot of thread making up samples of each kit, teaching classes and sewing for myself so I needed to find something to do with my thread spools. I no longer want to discard them and place them in the bin as I know they do not breakdown in land fill, but, I also want to use them to benefit the area around me. Aside from sewing, my other passion is gardening, I recently acquired an allotment and have loved developing my space, seeing my plants grow and watching insects and animals create their homes in this green environment. As a result I have seen an opportunity for me to recycle all my thread spools and refashion them into bee and bug hotels for the garden and allotment.

After doing a bit of research I have decided my first attempt will be to build one similar to that shown in the picture below but instead of bamboo I will use the thread spools. As the holes in my thread spools are different sizes in diameter they should attract various insects. I will fully research beforehand which insects are happy to cohabit, I will make sure it is nice and secure on a wall where the bees and insects are safe, near food and happy. As a bonus this project is also a good way of using up unwanted plastic plant pots.

I may still have a long way to go until I am at zero waste but I am hoping these projects will be a start in my drive to reduce waste in my business and home life.

Now I had better go and start prepping my fabric ready for my projects.

I hope this post has given you some inspiration and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

In the meantime, Happy Sewing


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