Following How to Sew Sustainably: Part I, Chloë Cipra explores further how you can create less waste in an effort to create a conscious, #memade wardrobe.

In Part I of this series, we explored the idea of slow sewing, the foundational mindset to an ethical #memade wardrobe. In this article, we will cover more practical tips that can be used during the making process.

#2 Upcycle

Shopping second hand is not only a great tip to save money when looking for fabrics and notions. It’s also a more eco-friendly way to sew, by using what already exists instead of buying new and creating more demand for new things. Op shopping in general is truly an eye opener for the mass quantity of things (quite often in great condition, if not brand new with tags) that are disposed of. I personally find a lot of joy in making things with used materials and giving them a second life. 

In the below example, I used a vintage tablecloth that I found at Salvos for $4 to make two tops: the Peppermint wrap top (free pattern by In The Folds via Peppermint Magazine); and the Common Stitch wattlebird cami, a Brisbane based indie pattern label.

Thrifted vintage tablecloth for $4

Peppermint wrap top

Common Stitch Wattlebird cami

Sure, buying second hand is not as straightforward and easy as shopping online. It may not work for projects where you’ve got a very specific vision in mind, or it may take a while for you to find suitable material. But if you enjoy a good treasure hunt, trust me: you will love the thrill of finding the little gem you’ve been looking for, and pay next to nothing for it.

When looking for sewing materials in op shops, I always check out the bed linen, blankets, tablecloths and curtains section; as well as the fabrics bin if there is one. Some shops also have notions (buttons, thread etc) and patterns: I have found some truly amazing vintage patterns for $1 a piece.

Thrifted pattern and notions for $12

Vintage tea towel turned into a top

Vintage tea towel top and rescued greyhound/photoshoot assistant

Fabric destash on Facebook marketplaces or specialised Facebook groups in your area are also a great place to keep an eye on; as well as the remnant basket in mainstream shops.

#3 Being resourceful

There are a lot of ways to be resourceful when sewing, although some of them may go against the prescribed “rules” of sewing. Reusing and hacking patterns is definitely one I’ve adopted and I’ve realised I don’t need a pattern for every single item I would like to make. For example, most top patterns can be modified into a dress by adding a skirt piece. You can also try mixing and matching pattern pieces: pattern A bodice with pattern B sleeves. Of course, this is more risky than following a pattern with no modifications and won’t always work but you will always learn something in the process.

Cutting fabric has always felt to me like a lot of waste. Most of the patterns cutting layout I’ve seen can be optimised to save fabric. For instance, I usually cut the back piece of a top or dress as two separate panels instead of cutting on the fold, and then I join them together. You can also buy bias tape instead of cutting it into your fabric diagonally.

Pattern layout & fabric waste by @suzannemade

#4 Dispose of carefully

Sewing creates waste, there’s no denying it — but we can be smart about what we do with it. First, do you really need to throw your scraps or can you reuse them? If fabric scraps are big enough, you may be able to use them for another small project, like a crop top, a scrunchie or a zipped pouch. If they are too small for even a small project, you can use them as patchwork; or as stuffing for a cushion or pouf. You can also use your thread scraps as stuffing!

Think about disposing of your waste responsibly: 

  • Recycle your fabrics if you don’t want to use the scraps. Initiatives such as TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes allow to recycle almost every type of waste, including fabric. Their boxes can be found in specific locations, such as your local health store.
  • Store your old needles in a clearly labelled and when it’s full, bring them to a sharps collection box at your local GP or pharmacy (a great tip from @madebymitty).

To find more in depth information about sustainable sewing, I highly recommend reading Megan Nielsen Patterns’ series on this very topic.

I’d love to continue the conversation on Instagram, so feel free to send me a message or a comment!