When sewing, I struggle with what I call ‘scrap guilt’. Upon finishing a project, I’m usually left with a sizable pile of scraps that I can’t bring myself to throw away, but that I also have no idea what to do with. So, instead, I store them in a small plastic tub, the lid to which is becoming harder to close with each new make.
I’ve only been sewing for a few years, but the little tub has become a teeny textile purgatory for the colorful ghosts of projects past – each one whispering that they’re business is yet unfinished.
A Growing Problem
My sister – who regularly witnesses me stuffing scraps into this overburdened container – tells me to ‘just throw them away!’ She says (with great exasperation) ‘You don’t know what to do with them, you don’t have the time to do anything with them, and you’re acting like an extreme hoarder.‘ She’s never been one to coddle, my sister.
While my hoarding is far from extreme (I think?), I can see her logic. Nonetheless, my time at The Confident Stitch has taught me a lot about sustainability, fast fashion, and the havoc that fabric production wreaks on the environment. As such, I feel like the least I can do for Mother Earth is to house a few usable scraps until inspiration strikes.
Research & Discovery
The thing about inspiration, however, is that it rarely – if ever – strikes like a bolt from the blue. Only after much pondering and research do bright thoughts seem to occur (at least for me). So, with Earth Day fast approaching, I set out to finally put some of my fabric scrap spirits to rest.
Let me just say, the internet really is a glorious thing. I had only to type ‘What to do with leftover scr…‘ into Google, for an endless list of creative possibilities to appear. Here are my favorite 20 projects, organized by what types of fabrics each is best suited to.
Not to be too obvious about it, but quilting is essentially a study in making and using scraps. Several of these projects are basically just useful, mini quilts!
1. Quilted Potholders or Oven Mitts – a quilted potholder is just a mini quilt with heat-resistant batting! I really liked this free scrappy version from Blooming Poppies and this Log Cabin Hexi pattern from Sew Can She. Additionally, I wrote a blog post a few years ago about making a scrappy Hot Stuff Oven Mitt that you can find here.
2. Key Fob or Lanyard – A practical gift idea that doesn’t involve quilting. My Frugal Home has great tutorials on her website.
3. Throw-Sized Pillowcases – We have two quilted pillowcase tutorials on YouTube – the Snowed-In Pillowcase and DIY Scrappy Diamonds Pillow – that primarily use 5.5″ squares. (Great for scrap-busting!)
4. Quilted Pincushions – Talk about mini quilts, the Pin Pals book shows you how to make all sorts of little quilted pincushions. A fun, quick way to put scraps to good use, you can watch Kate’s YouTube tutorial here.
5. A Table Runner – If you use heat-resistant batting, a quilted table runner can also double as a trivet for hot pots and pans! Check out our Moon Glow Table Runner and Turkey Time Table Topper tutorials on YouTube!
We categorize rayon, cotton lawn & voile, double-gauze, silk, and lightweight linen as ‘lightweight wovens’. Here are some scrappy projects suited to these substrates:
1. A Scarf – Do you have a relatively large piece of rayon or silk leftover? Use a rolled hem technique to make an eye-catching scarf that can be tied in your hair, around your neck, OR that doubles as a fancy pocket square! Alternatively, our new retail assistant Carly has an awesome Patchwork Infinity Scarf tutorial on the Suzy Quilts blog that is great for smaller voile, lawn, and double-gauze scraps.
2. Cloth Napkins – A half yard of unused linen or a cotton woven is enough to make a pair of cloth napkins! Kate has a fun tutorial for fringed cloth napkins available on our YouTube channel. Watch it here.
3. A Hairbow – YouTube is rife with great DIY hairbow videos. I particularly liked this one by Hairbow Supplies Etc.
4. Party Bunting – The party decoration industry is largely a wasteful one. You can help Mother Earth (and put some beautiful fabric scraps to use) by making a festive, fabric bunting that can be used again and again. Check out the Glorious Treats blog tutorial.
5. Sleep Masks – get your beauty rest AND reduce your scraps. In her Quilted Sleep Mask Tutorial, Carly uses some double-gauze but a piece of soft lawn or maybe a silk charmeuse would be an equally luxurious alternative.
In the category of ‘heavyweight wovens’ we include canvas, twill, denim, waxed cotton, ripstop nylon, bottom weight linen, and flannel. Scraps of this nature are particularly good for bag-making, but below you’ll find several small projects that work for these fabrics.
1. A Zippered Pouch – We have a customer who made a few patchwork Klum House Dopp Kits out of leftover waxed cotton and we’re OBSESSED! But you could go even simpler with this free pouch tutorial from Suzy Quilts.
2. Chevron Throw Pillow – This is the chicest way I’ve come across to incorporate denim scraps into your home decor! Check out the Ashbee Design blog tutorial.
3. Skillet Handle Cover – In her tutorial, Tracy Lynn Crafts makes this handy kitchen accessory using quilting cotton, but a thicker canvas will add durability and some additional heat protection. Check it out here.
4. Corner Heart Bookmark – Cute, easy, useful – this bookmark is too cute! Read The Cheese Thief’s blog tutorial.
5. Pet Bed or ‘Cage Comforter’ – A great way to help your local animal shelter while also using up flannel, fleece, canvas, or batting scraps. Use something soft and/or sturdier for the outside, then fill the interior with batting or smaller less usable scraps. Both Sew Can She and Missouri Star Quilts have good tutorials.
I find knit scraps to be the most intimidating. The ideas for what to do with them are much less obvious, so I was especially pleased to discover these project ideas.
2. Dog Toys – A project that requires no sewing! In Felt With Love’s blog tutorial she uses old t-shirts, but I think knit scraps leftover from sewing are even better.
3. Socks & Undergarments – It hadn’t really occurred to me before I looked into it, but you can totally make your own socks and underwear! Check out the Peek-a-boo Cozy Toes Socks Pattern, the Thread Theory Comox Trunks Pattern, or the Wardrobe by Me Bralette!
4. Shoelaces – An ingenious tutorial from Tidy Mom, this creative use for knits totally blew my mind!
5. Children’s Clothing – you don’t need a ton of fabric to sew a onesie or a tiny pair of shorts! Swoodson Says has a whole list of children’s patterns that she recommends for using up knit scraps. Check it out here.
Wool scraps are particularly hard for me to throw away because they’re just so luxurious! Here are a few good alternatives:
1. Homemade Hand Warmers – Little heated rice packs that fit in your pocket! Read the Swoodson Says blog tutorial.
3. Winter Beanie (for knit wools) – Have some unused wool from that jacket you made? Sew up a winter beanie to match! Made for Mermaid’s has a free Beanie PDF pattern!
4. Dryer Balls – This project is so clever! Check out Night Owls Menagerie’s blog post.
5. The Grainline Stuffed Squirrel Toy – This pattern is just too dang cute, and rather than buy new materials, why not make a cute scrappy squirrel as a gift for the little-one in your life? Buy it here.
All of the Above
I love a good scrap-busting project as much as the next person (hence the aforementioned list!) But I’ll admit that there is something daunting about adding dozens of side projects to my plate when I already have so many quilts, garments, etc. that I really want to make!
So, the number one best way I have discovered to use up scraps of all kinds (without creating extra work for myself) is to incorporate them into things I’m already making!
Does your garment have a yoke? Pockets? Cuffs or a waistband that needs to be lined? Look through your quilting cotton or lightweight woven scraps to see what will work!
Do you have a pair of jeans or a bag that you’re planning to mend? Pull from your denim, canvas or wool scraps before heading to the store. Likewise, do you have a t-shirt pattern that incorporates color-blocking? Mix and match knit scraps before buying new yardage!
Being cognizant and thoughtful about fabric waste can be exhausting, but it is important. As long as your method of scrap reduction is fun or useful, and (most of all) makes you happy, then that is all that matters!
P.S. We’re having a little scrap sale April 22 – 26. If you need some high-quality scraps to supplement projects that you’ve got in the works, then we’ve got you covered! Check out our selection of scrap bundles here.