How Home Sewists Can Reduce Textile Waste

on October 22 | in Sewing Inspiration, Sewing Trends | by | with 17 Comments

Addie Martindale from AddieK.com is a pattern designer and sewing instructor. She has a lovely handmade wardrobe and a passion for sustainability in the home sewing industry. (Learn more about her wardrobe via Seam Work Magazine and the Sew News Blog.) Here is a post from Addie with photos of her class participating in Fashion Revolution Day.

Addie has some important information and tips for How Home Sewists Can Reduce Textile Waste, including lots of links so you can extend your understanding even further. We’d love to hear your thoughts too, so fill us in on your best practices in the comments below! Addie also has a new tutorial at AddieK.com for how to make a muslin with interfacing, with a giveaway of five yards of 60″ width interfacing. Hop over to learn, and enter to win.

Learn more about Addie and her sewing in her introduction, and via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Interested in reading more? Here are some posts at Sew Mama Sew about Organic Cotton Farming (Part One, Part Two).


There was a time when I would quickly sew up an outfit or item for every occasion even knowing that it may never be worn again. Over the past few years, my prerogative towards sewing has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I love to sew, but now I put a lot of consideration into what I sew. As I learn more and more about the impact that textile and production waste is having on the world, I have decided to consciously sew less. I know this idea might surprise you as a sewist, and I do not expect you to drastically change your sewing. I just want you to be informed and tell you about some small– yet impactful– changes you can make. First I will discuss the issue of who makes clothing and textiles, and their living conditions. Secondly, we will cover what you can do as a home sewist to reduce textile waste.

Organizations like the Council for Textiles Recycling Center and Fashion Revolution are working hard to educate us on the effects of textile consumption. In the last two years Fashion Revolution Day has taken place on April 24th, marking the day of the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. This event served as a wake up call for many to the conditions in which our clothing and textiles are produced. The organization asks consumers to reach out to their favorite brands and ask, “Who made my clothes?” and ask brands to share, “I made your clothes,” in pictures on social media. They even ask makers to share “I made my clothes.” The organization is looking for transparency in the production of clothing, and to get people thinking about who produces the items we wear, and how those sewists are living.

With new documentaries like Cotton Road and True Cost, consumers are becoming more aware of the issues behind our clothing consumption. Did you know the average American consumer generates 82 pounds of textile waste a year? Out of the 82 pounds only an average of 12 pounds is donated or recycled, while the rest goes straight to the landfill. The astonishing fact is that the amount of textile waste per person keeps increasing each year and has grown 40% since 2001.

I know many of you make clothing for yourself, your families and you may even make garments professionally. So how does this affect you even if you do not buy ready-to-wear clothing? The same issues often occur in the overseas textile mills that produce the fabric that you use. Conditions can be difficult for workers, and the typical clothing production textile waste is 15% when multiple garments are cut out together; with home sewing textile waste can be as high as 30%.

Here are some simple things you can start doing today to reduce your sewing waste and environmental impact:

  • Make all adjustment to patterns and plan pattern layout before purchasing fabric. Buy what you need.
  • Think about alternative pattern piece placement when cutting out patterns. Take a few minutes to try different pattern piece placements before cutting your pattern out. Challenge your pattern cutting guide layout.
  • Avoid making muslins when possible. When you do make muslins, think about using alternates to fabric that could be reused. Interfacing is an alternate that can be sewed up and tried on the body like fabric. After testing it can be cut up and used in future sewing projects like facings, waistbands, buttonholes and more.
  • When possible, reduce seam allowances on your pattern. Try to reduce all seam allowances to at least ½ inch and when you are serging consider reducing to 3/8 inch. You will be able to get pattern pieces closer together and you can save several inches of fabric.
  • Make a plan for the leftover fabric before you even cut out your pattern. Think about positioning your fabric so that another item also be cut out. You could also consider making something small with that fabric that you could then donate. Two ideas, depending on the fabric, could be mittens for homeless or Sani-panti parts for girls in Africa.
  • Think about altering things you have already made instead of making something new. This can be just as fun and result in great items. I recently altered two pairs of pants I previously made to have a tapered leg. It was like I had two new pairs of pants.
  • Think about the environmental impact of the specific fabric you are using. You can go to The Material Sustainability Index to learn more.
  • Sew items you or someone else will love and treasure! When you sew garments, be sure they will be worn for multiple seasons or years.

Here are some other ideas to consider for using the leftover fabric from projects before throwing it in the trash:

  • Fabrics like fleece, velour and flannel can be cut into small pieces to make stuffing for softies and pillows.
  • Donate your scraps to places like school art programs or children’s museums. Fabric scraps are great for collages and small hand sewing projects.
  • Contact your local craft guilds to see if they know someone who could use it.
  • List it for free on Craigslist or in a local for sale/swap Facebook group. I have done this and I met the cutest quilter who was ecstatic to take my scraps. Her warm smile and energy was worth the extra stop to meet her on my way home from work.

Are you interested in learning more? I know you are! Check out these sites and organizations:

Scissors image courtesy of Death to Stock.

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17 Responses to How Home Sewists Can Reduce Textile Waste

  1. Linda says:

    Absolutely agree. I keep bags of cotton scraps and fleece scraps for stuffing and anything more than a few inches that I don’t see me using are always appreciated by children’s art groups at community centres and libraries. I often use wrapping paper or thick tissue paper instead of making up muslins so it is recyclable.

  2. Eluned says:

    This is a great post, it’s made me consider the impact of all my muslin-making, because I make a LOT of muslins when designing patterns. I will certainly start thinking more about wastage when planning and cutting my designs, and the Sani Panti project has inspired me to help, too. Thank you.

  3. Becky says:

    I came across a great resource for muslins vs. fabric. This sewist used bridal aisle runners! You can get them at any big box or craft store and they come in a roll of 100ft for around $20. The material is strong so it will hold pins and basting stitches. It molds to the body like fabric for a good semblance of drape, and it’s see through so you can easily trace patterns on it. And I guess it could even be used as sew-in interfacing as needed depending on the weight and opacity of the fashion fabric.

  4. Tasha says:

    I did some research a while back, and found that Goodwill also takes fabric scraps for recycling. I keep a bag for scraps too small to reuse and collect them in my sewing space until I have enough to take.

    Thanks for talking about this! There’s so much going on right now with conscious making and consuming, I think it’s fantastic. Anyone who’s interested may also want to check out #slowfashionoctober on Instagram and the Fringe Association blog, there’s a lot of really thoughtful discussions happening.

  5. Deedra says:

    Awesome! Thank you! Such valuable information and you present it so well!!

  6. Reading through this and the other links you have shared about AddieK have been enlightening. Thanks, SMS.

  7. georgine says:

    I mostly use knit fabrics, so the leftovers get turned into underwear for my girls. Or American Girl Doll clothes. Old tees of mine can get cut to make tees, panties or doll clothes too. Thanks for listing the Material Sustainability Index. I try to buy organic fabric, but not a lot is made in the US and I still worry about the impact of the dyes they use. Then again, my girls are not interested in color grown cotton or natural colored cotton.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hello Addie
    Thank you for this brilliantly written and SO well researched article. Hugely helpful. I have just returned to sewing after a 40 yr hiatus 🙂 I am passionate about this revisited hobby but also share your concerns regarding waste! I have developed a love of “colour blocking” which is not only creative and fun but helps use pieces of material left over from previous projects or be more open to buying end pieces or even pieces donated to thrift stores which tend to be quite small. I appreciate the work you are doing here and I’m definitely going to implement some of your suggestions into my hobby to help cut down even more on waste.
    Sincerely,
    Kathleen Meadows

  9. waterworks says:

    Thank you for also discussing how the fabric is made. It’s one thing to say that you make your own clothes and therefore don’t contribute to the growing unethical garment manufacturing process, but another thing to then use unethically produced fabrics. I often wonder where and how the fabrics of some of my favorite (and the current popular) designers’ fabrics are produced. Do they know? Do they care?

    This is such a great topic for all home sewists to discuss!

  10. Sophia says:

    Thank you for this article, it was very helpful:) I will definitely apply those to my sewing! Have a nice day, Sophia
    http://www.littlesewingmachine.blogspot.de

  11. Torina at Tubaville says:

    I am a regular Instagrammer (Tubaville –you know because the Internet is made up of a series of tubes heh). If you follow me over there, you will find that I am recycling all fabric scraps into quilts for two charities: baby blankets for Fond du Lac Reservations Annual Baby Shower and Camp Heartland. A Camp for kids ages 7-13 who have HIV/AIDS and are experiencing homelessness. I love scraps and recycling them into something beautiful. Please contact me at torina.stark at gmail dot com if you’d like to get involved. It’s a lot of fun seeing what develops and it’s truly a team effort #teamcharityquilts

  12. Cristin says:

    A woman in our quilt guild makes dog beds for the Humane Society with donated waste fabric from several quilters.

  13. Knitlass says:

    Great post – love the tips. I always make muslins from stash fabrics – usually thrifted sheets or garments. Old sheets are also good!

    I just posted about sustainability and kids clothes. I’d love to hear what you think.

  14. Nupur says:

    Great post! My quilt guild collects fabric scraps (the tiny ones) to stuff into pillowcases (made from donated home decor fabric) to make dog beds for the animal shelter.

  15. Jenelle says:

    I love that Addie has joined you in starting this conversation- The True Cost is a fantastic documentary and highly recommend it! I hope you don’t mind I have a few things to add. Beyond making conscious decisions in the construction and materials also consider reuse of materials & buying second hand via swaps or groups online. Everything that you use on a regular basis can be recycled (*always consider reuse first) including plastic thread spools, rotary blade, and even the scrap fabric. I have established a nationwide clothing and textile recycling program that either reuses the materials through various school & artisan programs or shreds the materials which are later used to create sound proofing materials, insulation, and other products. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can help answer any questions http://bit.ly/1jW2TzY @TrashN2Tees everywhere

  16. Jasmine says:

    I use the strips and pieces of fabric left to stuff dolls and pillows. I use the larger pieces to make hairbows, hair flowers, head bands, drawer sachets, tote bags, quilts, etc. I also volunteer sorting at Zero Landfill Dallas to get home decor fabric samples to make into quilts and purses. Look up the Zero Landfill site to get info about one in your area. They have lots of stuff they want to keep out of landfills.

  17. Jane says:

    Omg, why have I never thought about laying out pattern pieces first and figuring out my exact yardage? Thanks SMS for always teaching me something new!

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