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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A Boxy Bouclé Refashion

Let me start off this post by saying I have an explanation for the relative quiet on my blog through February.  My husband and I went on a trip to Colorado!  We both like getaways in January or February, and last year we went to Florida.  Yet, he loves ski areas and picturesque snow, while I…not so much – but I do love a good fashion related exhibit.  Our preferences were combined into one by our visit to Denver and Winter Park.  I had the opportunity to see the much touted (and no longer open) “Dior: From Paris to the World” exhibit at the Downtown Art Museum as well as experience my first visit out west!  The mountains were breathtaking in beauty, the air and water so fresh and invigorating, and my wardrobe was all me-made, cozy, and fun.  Our stay (and photo shoot backdrop) was the best we’ve had at the amazing historic Brown Palace Hotel.  This leads me to the main point of this post!  It is not only to say look out for more posts on my recent travel wardrobe, like this one, but also to muse over the thought of doing an overview of the Dior exhibit as well as make a few inspired pieces.

However, this post’s me-made garment is a simple and out-of-my-ordinary-style refashion which combines a sequin bouclé remnant and a tee now too small for me into one warm and snazzy boxy top.  It was a last minute make before the trip that only took a few hours to whip together yet got rid of two random, unwanted pieces from my scraps pile.  This was my wardrobe option for staying casual yet stylish, warm yet fashionably dressed, and newly handmade all the way!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The bouclé is a wool and acrylic blend with sequins interwoven with the black and true navy blue yarns; my top is a printed 100% cotton knit

PATTERN:  Burda Style no.6983 pattern from March of the year 2013 – I do believe this pattern is both out of print and not available on their website, but the new no. 121 from the March 2019 issue is very similar (without the cowl neckline)

NOTIONS:  I needed only basic stuff to make this – thread and bias tape – all of which was on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on February 7, 2019 in only 3 awesome hours!!

THE TOTAL COST:  The bouclé remnant cost $5, and the top, being in my wardrobe for over a decade now, is as good as free by now…so this cost as much as a new but basic cheap RTW top but looks oh-so-much better!

As I mentioned above, the knit top has recently become too small on me to be comfortable, primarily in the arms, so I was limited to mostly the body for what I could use.  Thus the middle main body of the top was chosen to be re-cut into wide and comfy sleeves.  The bottom hem was used to be the sleeve hem for a nice finish, which is why I only had room to make ¾ sleeves.  I did still save the original top’s old skinny sleeves, hoping to use them to make cool seam allowance binding on something else in the future.  Hey – every scrap can go towards something in my house!

I did not have enough fabric in the sleeves to add the cowl neckline originally included in the patterns design.  I was sort of considering on fudging something together like it, only without the double layer of fabric.  In the end, I’m still holding onto the top’s old sleeves and wearing my already made Burda Style turtle top as an under layer for both warmth and to get the slouchy neck without the stitched-on commitment.  I can wear this top by itself with an open neck for slightly chilly days or when I just don’t mind showing a flash of skin above my middle.  I also have the option of layering.  I love versatility in garments and most of the time being practical is balanced with high-falutin’ ideas in my brain.

The half yard bouclé remnant was at least 60” wide so I had something more than just a pittance to work with thank goodness.  It was bought because I loved the fabric, but I only went for the discounted remnant because with a regular price of $20 a yard…well, I just don’t spend that on fabric unless I have a really good reason (which is not that often, maybe a few times out of a year).  I have too much of a stash to work on, instead!  Anyway, with both selvedge edges folded into the middle, I had two seamless edges available to cut on.  My neck to waist measurement is 15 inches, so at 18 inches for the half yard I figured it was safe to plan for a cropped length top.  I choose the Burda Style no. 6983 pattern as it was simple, a pattern in my stash I have been wanting to try, and it seemed to have generous sizing perfect to be a pullover.  Crop tops might not be the most ‘on trend’ right now, but then fashion is all over the place currently (in my opinion) so anything really goes.  I suppose it’s better late than never.

The fit was very generous!  I chose my “normal” size and it was still very wide.  Part of this was the intended design, especially since it has the dropped shoulders to accentuate the boxy shape.  For anyone who wishes to make this pattern, I would recommend going down a size…it will still be loose and boxy just not so overwhelming.  Otherwise, I would recommend going with my adaptation.  The size I had cut out only appeared like a garment made for someone bigger than me so my solution to fix what I had was to add a box pleat to the center neckline at both front and back.  This brought the shape in dramatically, but I really love how it gave the top much needed interest.  Also, the pleat nicely shapes the boxiness into more of a waist complimenting flare out on the sides of my body.  This is hard to show in pictures, it only really shows when I move.  This top literally needed those box pleats in more ways than one.

In order to not waste precious inches off the bottom to do a hem (which would be too bulky anyway), I did the classic Chanel type of frayed hem which has become a trademark of her designer tweed, four pocket boxy jackets.  It is easier to do than it might look.  The main intent is to ‘finish’ the edge to allow a controlled fraying.  For my last Chanel-inspired creation, I used the selvedge to stick out over a finished hem, but this was not going to work here with a different material finish.  I used bias tape to sew on in a double running stitch just above a ½ inches worth width of fraying.  The bias tape underneath acts like a bumper to keep the last loose layers of bouclé sandwiched in place under the tape without appearing like there is anything there.  I’m dying to try this hem again on my next bouclé garment.

There is nothing like a traveling to make me feel like something new, no matter how simple, and the only way to that (for me) is to go with me-made.  My clothes show their worth and have the chance to shine on our travels, becoming linked with special times and memories.  However, it is bigger than that.  The cheap knit top I refashioned isn’t really much, it is up to 15 years old, shrunk and misshapen, so if it had come directly from a resale store I probably would have never considered making a fresh use out of it.  However, that top had been worn on some of my dates with my husband before we were married, when we were just getting to know one another.

Perhaps it is silly of me to remember little details like what I was wearing, but this is just why refashioning is so important.  Clothes are intertwined with our human existence, whether thought about or not, and they carry a story with them.  So – in order to save that story and continue it, to do every possible little action towards ethical fashion for a healthier world, and to stay creative and resourceful is only the beginning of why I made this odd and unassuming top.  The same goes for almost every refashion I do.  On its own, I would probably hate this style on myself, but the way I approached it makes me loves the fresh change about it.  The ability to sew is so beautiful and it takes projects like this to keep me thankful I have the ability for it.