Recycle Fabric Scraps | Article 2 - The Flow of Cloth

One thing I have come to realise is that everything has a flow to it, it’s all part of life’s energy, and the best thing to do is to go with the flow. This doesn’t mean that you have to do what everyone else is doing, you can find your own flows in life that’s what being creative is all about.

The Threadelicious ThreadBox is all about flow. I designed it as a workflow to link through various stages of process to mindfully take you on a journey from reviewing your wardrobe and choices to learning the essential skills to make and design your own garments.

Looking after a family takes many different flows, one example is organising the food flow in the kitchen, the planning, the buying, the growing, the storing, the creating and making, the reusing, the repurposing which leads back to the beginning of the flow. By planning and creating a flow and then actively carrying it out everyone involved reaps the benefits, they learn, they find purpose, they get product, they grow, the cycle replenishes. If you don’t have flow there is less benefit and you have waste.

My grandparents knew this and I watched how they lived but never really understood the importance of it. I now thank them from the bottom of my heart because at my age I have experienced enough to truly understand the significance. I think that this is actually the biggest gift they gave me. Back then from a teenager’s viewpoint, as someone who had very important things to do with her life - looking into their life seemed like a very mundane and tedious lifestyle. But this simple living had routine and detail that managed everything that was and had to be done. I guess without us knowing it some of this rubbed off, to the point where sometimes I think my grandma is reliving her life through me right now.

Alice was my grandma (my father’s mum), she made all of her own clothes and up until a certain age she made quite a lot of mine too. She loved her garden, the flowers and the birds, she was a master cake maker, was a master with crochet and knitting and a teacher to me but amongst all of this she valued and loved beauty. We would often painstakingly walk around her garden looking at the beautiful flowers and chose our treasures to save and press. She had a very big impact on my own creativity in that she opened my eyes showing me a smorgasbord of what could be made with many different media if only a little imagination, inspiration, ingenuity, resourcefulness, innovation were added into the recipe. She would show me how something beautiful can be made out of what was left over and she had plenty of wonderful items stored in little boxes and cupboards that she would open and show me at any opportunity she had.

This brings me to the flow of cloth. Alice made all of her tablecloths, handkerchiefs and wash cloths ad infinitum. This was not extra ordinary to her it was the way with her generation and with her skills her bottom drawer was exceptional. I don’t know where all of her things went after her light moved on but I am happy to say that I do have a few of her things that I treasure and use every day.

Speaking generically for a very western and privileged culture so please don’t take offence if you are already avidly thoughtful and practice what we now call an environmentally friendly lifestyle, what happened to our generation? Why did we not carry on this lifestyle in total that our grandparents had? We became the throw away generation somehow and I am not sure how this happened. Was it the happenstance of a new era of Marketing? Did we feel that it was demeaning to us or old fashioned to live that kind of lifestyle? We all seem to be time poor, I think this is why we feel above choosing slower ways and go for the convenient options. I do struggle personally with the topic of women and gender roles and without getting political do wonder how this effected the issue of household management as the female struggled to find a place in the world, we let go of one for the other, is it possible to merge all of the time flow needed to run a home, a family and work full time and do them all profoundly well? I know it’s not just me struggling with this new guilt of our modern time otherwise why would we be now living in a world where reuse and recycle are the new buzz words. It almost feels painful now to have to relearn how to do things how Alice did and give the home even more priority and the time it deserves. My generation has children and they have even less time to give to the skills of mundane living it seems. But with the way we are travelling and effecting the world around us it is essential that we bring the focus back into the home, we have to try even if it is just baby steps, one thing will lead to another. As I write this it is plastic free July in Australia so now is a good a time to start as any. It’s time we showed our children what we learned when we were children (if you were lucky enough to have an Alice in your life!) and just hope that some of it rubs off! I know it will we just have to do it and see them watching us.

It is time to prioritise our lifestyle choices. This can be done in one fell swoop and if you are sturdy enough to do that then good for you, bravo. But I think that habit needs time to settle in especially when we are rushed and guilt ridden already. These are lifestyle changes for so many people, so this is one reason why I am writing my Recycle articles slowly to give anyone who is interested some time to take in the ideas and put them into practice and get the flows bedded in place.

So let’s focus on cloth and maybe pass on these ideas to the teenagers in your life who are starting out creating their own bottom drawers as they make their way into to world.

This idea of repurposing cloth is not new, everyone is talking about it if you take the time to take a look, and then whispering from the past there are the Alice’s of this world. But I think it helps to look at the flow to see how you can use it to create your own flow. That way you already know what to look for and what to do with it when you see wear and tear and a decision needs to be made.

The largest pieces of cloth you will own will be your bedding and table cloths. You can buy or use second hand, usually when you are just starting out you get given them. Using second-hand is a good way to go but I truly feel that buying is still a good option because if you are buying the best quality that you can afford you can love your cloth and it will last a lifetime, bedding will last for years (I believe my mum still use some of Alice’s pillow cases and no doubt one day some of them will come my way!) but as it gets more wear at some point you will need to make some decisions and replenish. So when you buy anything, think do you really need it or love it and does it fit into your flow!

Or course if you are a spinner/weaver (like me!) you can make your own which then become rather special extra valuable possessions.

For all of these essentials mid weight linen and cotton are really the way to go because natural fibres will last and launder well and look crisp when ironed. They are easily tarted up, easy to mend, simple to repurpose and at the end of their natural life you can mulch fabric up to make paper (yes really!) after that last use you can pop them in your worm farm and use the consequential worm tea and compost on your veggies or cellulose plants (or cotton for spinning – I know it’s taking it to the very end of the line but you see the flow cycle here!).

If you want ideas of how to ‘tart up’ your bedding and table cloths look at the Threadelicious Pinterest embroider inspiration board. Alice was the queen of tarting up her sheets, pillow cases and table cloths!

Here is my flow…….

  • During laundering check bedding and table cloths are properly clean and check for wear and mend immediately (any tear will just get worse if you don’t)

  • Any sheet that looks embarrassing and can no longer be used for the bed or table (think would you use for a guest?) then it is time to recycle.

It’s important not to give the bedding to charity, they are basically inundated with this kind of thing and it usually just ends up in landfill. Unless you know specifically it will be used for example at an animal rescue centre or such like. We need to deal with our own items in our own household. I believe we would be living in a much different world if everyone did this. It’s not easy to do as it takes time and effort but we need to be prioritising this in every home.

The reuse potential for sheets is exponential and rather than list them all here you can find many ideas of repurposing on the Threadelicious Pinterest Recycle Board.

Some examples of what I use them for is Test Garments, make cat bedding – use an old pillow make a pillow case out of a sheet and reuse fluffy bedding as little nests, patchwork, lining bags, etc. etc. or if very old send to the paint box in the shed to be used as protective sheeting to use when decorating. Thinner sheets can be used to make handkerchiefs, shopping bags, flannel sheets can be made into baby sheets, napkins or patchwork.

The next smaller pieces of cloth you may acquire are towels bathroom and kitchen towels. The same rules apply buy good quality and they will last for decades. When they are worn out cut bath towels down to use as wash cloths, bibs, nappies, changing mat linings or even toilet paper substitutes (I must admit with 3 strapping teenagers this is not something I have been brave enough to do yet! But Alice had a cloth! Do you see now how inspiring she is – I don’t suppose she would mind me telling you!). For kitchen towels they can be made into floor cloths, which can then down grade into rags for cleaning the car or painting which can downgrade to the compost pile. So always thinking flow.

Just think about how much money you will start to save!

If you don’t do this at all then it’s time to start now, spend some time working out what you are going to do as part of your own household cloth flow.

Start by go through what you currently have and working out your storage options, if you are going to make floor cloths out of kitchen towels then where will you store them? If you are going to use napkins instead of paper towel where are you going to put them so they are easy to use? Everything needs a place to help everyone else in the house know what to do with them and so that they are easy to access and use, it will stop them reaching for the kitchen paper roll.

Sort out your storage and work out your little projects, every step is a little closer to being more self-sufficient. If we all do this imperfectly the world will become a better place!

Rather than giving you a list of what you can do with your cloth and fabric I thought I would show you some of my flow……

Test Garment Waste

If you make your own clothes or are thinking about joining the Threadelicious ThreadBox to learn how to do this then you will be making Test Garments. The fabric used to make these garments is no longer needed once you have perfected your pattern so the question is what to do with them.

It’s a good idea to ask yourself this question up front before even buying your fabric for the Test Garments that way you can reuse the fabric for a specific purpose. For example to write the modules on draping I needed lots of knit fabric for Test Garments and samples. I choose a very cheap yellow knit fabric because my current dusters were worn out, and I do like a yellow duster! So after creating the Test Garments I cut them back up into pieces, imperfect squares are fine, ran them through the overlocker on all sides to smarten them up a little and voila, a new set of dusters for my cleaning cupboard!

Those little scraps right there are what is left and can be used for something else (see Dressmaking waste below), donating to schools for kids artworks, making into mulch to make paper, stuffing for sewing projects, use in animal bedding, or finally composting or some other idea you can think of.

Another way to go with the Test Garment idea is to buy fabric with a print you like if you are thinking about making a quilt of some kind. Quilts make use of the smallest of pieces and you can even cut across your seams and use as a feature in the quilt. So you get the fabric working two fold for you, a Test Garment and a quilt. There are so many ways to reuse the Test Garment Fabric the skill is trying to use up every last bit of it.

Dress making waste

When you make garments unless you are using a zero waste technique covered in chapter 7 of the Threadelicious ThreadBox you will have some waste to deal with. Here comes that all important storage again….I do think that you need to have your storage figured out otherwise there is a temptation to put the bits into the bin.

Let me tell you about my Dress Making Waste.

I have a basket where I put all of my failed projects in and its not pretty (well the pile isn't but I quite like the basket!). Honestly this is the total pile!

Yes first things first let’s just get this out of the way, sometimes I make things that don’t work!

These are my mistakes and I am extremely proud of them because they all taught me something and this forced me to grow. The fabric in them is precious and will be reworked. This reworking of these projects get added into my Threadelicious Annual Projects list and they get farmed out periodically into my Monthly To Do list then into my diary on a specific day to be dealt with (for those of you that don’t know I am a qualified Project Manager re the lavish organisation). If I didn’t have my diary organised in this way I would simply ignore the basket until I had to buy a bigger one! None of us is perfect so I allow myself this one basket. I am always dipping into it for this and that and it’s a great way to get the materials needed for xmas presents. I also add in garments from the wardrobe if I can revamp them but don’t have time to do it just yet.

Every time I make a garment that is not zero waste I end up with bits left over, so each time I finish I go through a sorting process. After all I have bought this fabric it is all precious – it is not waste it has value.

Any piece that is big enough to make a zip purse or bigger gets rolled up and stored on a shelf as a roll of fabric to be used for other projects. I have one and a half little shelf boxes like this and that is all the space I allow myself.

Pieces that are not big enough to really roll up on the shelf and be found easily are folded and stored by colour in boxes with easy access. I allow myself 4 small boxes. These can be used for small projects such as cases or purses etc.

What is left gets assessed for size and shape and can be used for patchwork/applique. If I can cut out a square/rectangle from the fabric I will do all of these first cutting the largest shapes initially which uses up the next biggest pieces out of the pile.

Next I will cut up squares and strips in sizes 3.5”, 2.5” 1.5” and these are stored in boxes that hold similar sized scraps. This size allows for good sized pieces with seam allowance.

These are stored by size in separate boxes to help me when I want to grab a bit of sewing to do on the go.

English Piece making is a great way to use these scraps up.

The real scrappy bits (less than an inch) are thrown into my scrap box (1 box!) that sits under my cutting table. I might have thrown a few bigger pieces in here in my rush to tidy up as I have customers coming in but I will go back through this when it is full and check it over. I never said I was perfect!

Why do I do it like this? Well when I need a little something for a project I will use up my smallest pieces first and I know where to go to find it. If I wanted to do a little patchwork then my pieces are already cut to size, I have saved my self-time and its not so much of a chore. If I wanted to experiment with shapes, say I want to cut out something on my cutting machine then I have it already to hand cut to size.

Lastly the smallest of them all, my thread bits go into a thread box that is kept next to my sewing machine. As I dont usually use cotton or silk thread quite a'lot of this will never break down.

So my collection of mini scraps and threads currently gets donated to an art teacher (just retired!) and her students use it for their artwork, or I spin it into art yarn to repurpose it into a beautiful yarn I can make with another project, sometimes weaving this yarn into a brand new cloth.

As my sewing ebbs and flows the colours in the boxes change and I must confess I find myself looking at the little bits, the shapes and the colours and dreaming up some project that may never see the light of day!

Final Note

The key is to have a plan. I know what the flow is and what needs to be done and if I lapse then I can give myself a slap get it in my diary and plan in a fabric refresh on a day to get everything back in order. Usually this ends up with me planning projects in my dairy too as I find some beautiful fabric that I could use for something. So win win then!

Alice if you can hear me……I did listen and you made a mark!

How are your cloth flows going to start and end?

Love and Light

Amanda Goldsmith

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