Minimal Waste Sewing

I think this must be (at the moment) one of the least photogenic things I’ve ever put on this website. Bear with me and let me explain…I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase zero waste. It’s a great philosophy but in practice it’s pretty hard to achieve. The textile and craft industries are so wasteful, every day we’re bombarded with adverts to buy more stuff, more materials, more gadgets. All these things look so tempting it can be hard to resist, but I’m sure if your stash looks anything like mine, then it’s likely that you probably have all you need already. I really like the idea of using what I already have and also minimising waste in my practice. Already we often recycle and upcycle old work into new pieces, just like these purses.

Have you seen the Closet Core pattern to make a pouffe? It’s a free pattern that you can access after signing up to their newsletter. I’ve linked to it here if you’re interested. I’ve seen loads of these pouffes all over Instagram and quite fancied making one myself. The principle is that you make one from fabrics you already have and then stuff it with all the sewing scraps from your other projects. If you quilt and dress-make like we do, then you’ll know how quickly those scraps accumulate!

I didn’t use the Closet Core pattern, instead I’ve just worked with the idea of making a pouffe and I drafted my own to sew with some recycled quilts. If you didn’t like the idea of a pouffe, you could make a big floor cushion, that could also work great!

Basically what I’ve made is a cylinder so I’ve drafted a circle and then a band to go around and form the sides. To draw a circle you can use that old trick of a pencil tied to a piece of string. Hold the string in a fixed point in the centre and then rotate the pencil around it, keeping the string taut. If you draft it yourself you can make it whatever size you like, mine is 60cm diameter. Then dig back through the history of time, to some school maths, to work out the circumference (length you need for the band), it’s 2 x pi x radius of the circle, so 2 x 3.14 x 30 in this instance.

I confess that at this point, I wasn’t sure how the project would turn out so I didn’t do any photos!

To make my pouffe quite robust I chose to sew it from quilted fabrics. It’s made from two quilts that have done their duty at exhibition and served time under the bed and were looking for a new lease of life. They were both quite heavily quilted so I hope that’ll make them durable in use.

Obviously you need some means to open the cover to stuff it, so I split the circle that forms the bottom of the pouffe into two and set a zip in between. To set the zip in I bound the edges of the openings for neatness and then top stitched them to the zip tape.

This photo shows the bottom of the pouffe with the zip open. As you can see I’ve got quite some way to go until it’s packed with enough scraps!

Here’s a close up of the zip opening. As you can see I set the quilt pieces so that they cover the zip, this was just so that the zip (which is chunky and metal) doesn’t scratch my floor!

You can also see that I piped the seams as I sewed on the side band of fabric. I think this gives a lovely crisp edge, or at least it will when it’s stuffed full off offcuts!

The intention was for this project to be a scrap buster through and through. I needed a 60cm zip but of course I didn’t have one. Instead I used two 30cm zips and placed them nose to nose so that when closed they come together in the centre.

You might be thinking how lucky I was to have two quilts that coordinated perfectly enough for one to be the top and bottom of the pouffe and one to be the side band…well no, they were completely mismatched, the top and bottom quilt was blue/brown, the side band piece was peach and cream. Yuk, not a great combo. Once constructed I solved this problem by over dyeing the whole lot.

The easiest way to do this is with a machine dye. I used one of these Dylon pods. This one is a Navy one, the one I used for the pouffe was black. You just fling your project and the pod in the washing machine and set it off as per the instructions. One word of caution – be sure to clean your machine really thoroughly afterwards and don’t let your best white shirts be the next thing you run through it!

What I love about overdyeing an already stitched piece is how the thread reacts. These Dylon pods are good for dyeing natural cellulose fibres, but they don’t dye synthetics. You can see in some of the other photos how the embroidery I’d done on the quilt took the dye, that’s because it’s done with a viscose rayon thread. In this photo you can see that the thread hasn’t dyed at all and is now pale against a black background (the background here used to be cream and peach). Because this quilt is quite old I’d completely forgotten what thread I might have quilted it with – obviously a polyester one!

All that’s left to do is keep saving my scraps to fill it up. This pouffe is pretty big so it’s going to take a few months to get enough offcuts. It’ll be like a time capsule of everything I’ve made by the time it’s packed full! I think I’ll be able to cram it really full so it’s firm enough to sit on. I’ll be sure to share a photo with you when it’s done.

Thanks for reading today, I hope you feel inspired to find a minimal waste project to try too.

Happy sewing,

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