Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

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12 thoughts on “Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

  1. This is a very interesting question! I suppose the answer all depend on perspective. Recently I have started collecting tiny bits of fabric that have absolutely no use and saving them to use as stuffing for other projects. I even started saving clipped corners and trimmed seam allowances. You would be surprised how quickly a pile can build up.
    And ditto on suggested pattern layout! My Mom taught me how to fit all the pieces as close together as possible. sometimes I’ll spend waaaaay too much time trying to solve that puzzle ; )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Emily! Those sound like very excellent re-uses of scraps. Good for you! I am in good company! I know about how quickly a scrap pile can add up…my mom recently shared with me her old scrap containers filled with the pieces of all the outfits she made me as a kid and ugh, there’s too much sentimental value there for me to part with all four tubs.

      You know, I went through a phase where I saved the tiny clipped corners, too, from some of my bigger sewing projects. I have them saved by color in those little containers that my shaver heads come packaged in. The only reason I saved them is because I have a tutorial from Threads magazine that shows you have to make your own lace or even a confetti-style textile out of those little clipped corners…and if ever I remember that when I have “free time” I want to give it a go!

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  2. At last! A blouse pattern that uses less than a yard! I have LOTS of yard lengths, bought through the years, always figuring I’d make sleeveless blouses, only to find this year that everything I have calls for 1-1/4 or 1-5/8. I dug through every pattern I had, and found nothing… so I am quite happy to see you post this (and the dress, too!) pattern. Now to find the thing…

    Oh, and the pattern layouts that aren’t the most sparing of fabric… it’s not strictly a problem caused by computer layouts. Way back in the 60s, when my mother was trying to teach me to sew (a lost cause at the time; I didn’t learn to sew until I was in college and was away from home, and hated what I saw in the stores), she pointed out that the layouts were frequently wasteful. She, who went through the Depression and then WW 2 fabric shortages, could *almost* always come up with a more sparing layout, even if it meant several different foldings of the fabric. She was an excellent sewist- sewed things for money sometimes- and I really, really wish I’d listened to her!

    Love your dress and blouse- the outfit together is perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad this post is helpful to your conquering of your remnants! I imagine if you slightly alter the blouse pattern to have short cut-on sleeves, it probably wouldn’t take any noticeable amount more out of the fabric needed. It would be very economical that way yet not sleeveless!

      And yes, pattern layouts have been overly generous for many decades now, haven’t they? Good for your mom! The more smart the pattern layout, the more useful scraps you often end up with! I confess I take wayyy too much time before I cut out every one of my projects to make sure everything is just right from the start…

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  3. Replying to myself because I forgot- I’m a crazy quilter/art quilter and let me tell you, almost nothing is too small or too old to use! I save every scrape, and have bought bags of scraps at yard sales.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is often the question of whether you’ve got the room to keep the leftovers that you know you won’t use in the next five years at least. If you are lucky to have an attic, you can swing them there and find them back 30 years down the road when you retire and have all the time in the world. But if storage is limited, you have to get rid of them – and this is the situation for most people I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Elena!

      Oh gosh, yes, saving scraps is a space eating practice. I save my scraps, and I also have tubs of the scraps my mom saved from all the dresses she made for me when I was little. In total, it’s all 8 containers worth now. However, as they do take up space, that is my incentive to take care of the scraps and use them. Regarding scraps and remnants in the way that they are just seen as a burden and one has to store them away is probably not going to be conducive to using them. That person might be better off just giving their scraps away. Remnants do take up much less space than full bolts of fabric, though!

      As much as I need to make repairs on the clothes of my two rough-and-tumble boys (my husband and my little son, I mean) I don’t know where I’d be without at least some scraps!

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  5. Every time I hear it, it is mind boggling to me that fast fashion is often worn so few times! Many years ago, before I really knew how to sew, I wore fast fashion items–but even then I was taught the value of items and still wore things many times more than it seems the average person wears things now.

    Now that I am an adult I understand the value of money spent on clothes more, which only encourages me to really wear things out! And I try to embody a bit of Marie Kondo and wear/own/make clothes that really bring me joy! That is super encouraging for repeated wearing, because smiling when you get dressed is a great start to the day and a nice pick-me-up midday, too!

    I could improve at refashioning older clothes, but even without that as a strength or focus I do my best to reuse and recycle clothing. It really is important! I completely agree!

    I love that you’re finding lots of patterns for 1 yard or less pieces of fabric. I save most pieces that are hand size or larger, but I don’t often know what to do with the small apparel yardages.

    Best,
    Quinn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting comment, Quinn! Thank you for your feedback, as always!

      Me too – the fast fashion I wore growing up really got it’s use but as I learned sewing at an early age I knew how to care for it and keep it going. Also, seeing the work my mom put into making clothes for me made me realize that even the store bought items must take time – and money – for me to be able to wear them.

      Refashioning clothes and mending them does seem like such an extra bother sometimes, especially when they accumulate and pile up! It does take a renewed strength and re-focus, I totally understand! Yet, every time I finish a repair or refashion I’m like, “Now that wasn’t so bad compared to what I end up with!” It’s weird.

      I love that outlook – I think both of us totally do the Marie Kondo outlook in our sewing of what we wear! It really is a mood pick-me-up and makes one look forward to wearing one’s garments again and again!!

      I’m so glad these one yard posts are so helpful. I feel like I’ve had a theme going with my posts here for a little while and I’m glad to hear it’s not old (yet), ha!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I appreciate your memory of seeing the work it took to make an item. I wonder if not seeing the work it takes to make clothing (or any other item, take your pick) is part of why so many modern people buy-in to fast fashion and cheap objects. Hm….

        Yay for being happy with what you wear! 🙂

        Best,
        Quinn

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  6. Your outfit is a wonderful way to use up smaller pieces of fabric.

    I like to sew and wear a more full silhouette, so recently I have started cutting my scraps into squares and then I make patchwork fabric out of it which I can then use to make the voluminous garments that I like. And the scraps I have left over from that are tiny, just scraps of scraps. It has helped me waste less in my sewing corner, even though I don’t have a lot of storage space. Scraps cut into squares take a lot less space than wadded or folded odd shapes. I’m hoping to do a post about my first scrap-patchwork dress soon on my blog.

    Keep up the good work of slow fashion! I am always interested in seeing your creative solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I appreciate your comment.

      Oh that full-skirted patchwork dress sounds so lovely and interesting! I will keep an eye out for it to show up on your blog. I like to find cheap thrifted bed sheets for some of the full-skirted dresses I have made.

      Have you ever heard of the “National Celebration skirt” also called the “Liberation skirt” of the post-WWII Netherlands? Women made special patchwork skirts to commemorate their freedom and national pride, and they were either full gathered (dirndl style) or circle skirts made entirely of dozens of small scraps and remnants of fabrics that brought back memories of the hard times they experienced during their occupation. All those pieces symbolized moving onto a better future. These patchwork skirts were such an official ‘thing’ that there was a parade of “liberation skirts’ in 1948 at the jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina! Just a little inspiration for you!

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