Waste Not Want Not; try using pre-loved fabric for your me made wardrobe

When you realise the fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world, you might start to feel a bit differently about buying clothes from high street retailers. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, making your own clothes seems the obvious remedy, however buying new fabric to make your own clothes and often finding you have endless off cuts that are destined for the bin, slightly takes the shine off for me. I’m absolutely not a perfect example of reducing waste but I am trying super hard to consistently make small long term changes that reduce our families waste, and I’ve been applying the same idea to my sewing more and more.

Slow Fashion

To me slow fashion is about appreciating well made quality clothes, seeing them as a long term item you own and love, rather than something you buy in haste, wear once, realise doesn’t fit/suit you and put in the bin without a second thought. After all, a garment can hold memories and sentimental value, and can stay with you for decades if you fix/alter/update it when it needs some TLC.

Pre-Loved fabric

The biggest and easiest thing you can do to reduce your fabric footprint is use second hand fabric to make clothes from. Here’s a few ideas how:

Use second hand curtains, duvets covers, table cloths to make into clothes. You’ll find a surprising array of these in charity shops, at car boot sales, on local second hand selling websites such as Gumtree or Freecycle. Plus let friends/family/colleagues know that you want to hear about anyone getting rid of this sort of thing and before you know it you’ll have an abundant and free or very cheap supply of fabric!

Use second hand clothes to adapt or upcycle into a new garment; again charity shops and car boot sales are an amazing source as well as friends and family. If you have a sibling or friend who offers you first dibs on clothes they no longer want, don’t just look at whether the garment would suit/fit you; evaluate the fabric itself. Could you make some cute PJ shorts from an unwanted dress or some kids leggings from an unloved sweater?

Use scraps: try using off cuts from previous makes to add new elements to old clothes (such as pockets, collars, waist ties) or small accessories (headbands, necklaces - see my jewellery from scraps tutorial here) or use a selection of scraps to make into patchwork panels for new garments.

Below: Dress made from half a double duvet cover from charity shop costing £3, girls pinny dress made from offcut of cushion fabric, tie made from old curtains, dress made from a maternity cardigan

Start at home

If you’re anything like me you’ll have a stash of clothes that either don’t fit you anymore or don’t suit you but you can’t bare to get rid of them because you love the fabric or feel a sentimental attachment. Take some time to have a good look at these items and try them on again, then decide if there are items you could alter to fit you better, compliment your figure and your style more, or change into something completely different. When I had used my maternity wear for my pregnancies, rather than take it all to charity or clothes recycle I made lots of it into new clothes for me or into mini clothes for my sons.

Positives for using pre-loved

  • The fabric will have been washed a lot so with cottons/cotton mixes this means they’re super soft and comfy already, the colours won’t bleed when you wash them, and any shrinkage that may occur will already have happened

  • You will be re-using fabric rather than buying new off the roll; doing your bit to decrease the footprint of new fabric production

  • It is almost always cheaper and often even free, so saves you money

  • You will be supporting the movement to reduce waste

  • You will be using material that has a life and history all of it’s own

  • Obtaining fabrics in this way will entice you out of your comfort zone so you will likely find yourself making garments you may not have considered before, as you’ll be finding an item of clothing that suits the fabric you have rather than the other way around

Top Tips

  1. Get to know your local charity and second hand shops; tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll tell you when new things come in that you might be interested in.

  2. Get to know your fabrics; spend some time learning what types of fabric you like to work with, what types suit different garments, which materials do you have the skills/tools to work with successfully. Don’t just look at the colour or print of something you find second hand and buy it before you’ve decided what you’ll do with it; think it through and be realistic with what you can make from it. If you’re unsure, stick with cottons to start with as these are super versatile and easy to work with.

  3. Ask about returns policy; if you’re unsure about buying something, find out if you can return it. If not then probably best to steer clear until you’re definite about buying it.

  4. Shop prepared; if you need a certain length/width of fabric for a project then take a tape measure with you. If you need to colour match something take a swatch with you. Want to imagine the fabric on the garment you have in mind? Have a photo handy on your phone to consult.

  5. Shop with an open mind; you might find nothing at all suitable, you might stumble across a treasure trove of goodies - you might not find what you were looking for but happen to spot something ideal for another project you’ve been planning. Embrace the fun and organic nature of fabric hunting in this way and run with it.

Less Haste Less Waste

Amidst the fun of searching for pre-loved fabric do keep in mind that you need to look for good quality fabric which is in good condition. Check for stains, holes, bobbly areas, faded areas (especially on curtains and bedding) or other damage to the fabric. Don’t however immediately discount something if it has a flaw; just take some time to reflect on whether you can work around any problem areas or not.

I hope you’ve found this helpful if you’re embarking on a journey of buying less new and utilising more second hand fabric. I might follow this up in a few weeks with a blog about eco friendly makes with fabric scraps as I’ve been meaning to do that for a while!

Em xx

Stitch Me Happy - emma@stitchmehappy.org