Zero-Waste Sewing Tips

Crafting is difficult if you care about the environment, and if the only store near you that carries fabric is a Hobby Lobby or a Wal-Mart. Sure, they’ve got that weekly 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby, but I still think the cost is too high for such poor-quality materials.

Almost everything is packaged in plastic (if the supplies aren’t already plastic to begin with)- plastic zippers, plastic bobbins, plastic thread spools, plastic thread (polyester almost is), and most things needlessly covered in plastic film. Most everything they sell is made in China, which means they aren’t concerned for the safety of the people making their merchandise. Especially frustrating, is that Hobby Lobby has a religious platform but doesn’t put their money where their mouth is. I’ve struggled in the last 2 years since I first learned about zero-waste to find quality sewing supplies and further this hobby without creating a lot of trash. And, trying to find ways to help small businesses from any country make a profit instead of a corporation.

I’ve been making a list for the last year of things that I’ve learned that can help reduce waste when sewing. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. Make your own bias binding. Pre-made bias binding content is about half polyester at major craft stores, and it’s packaged in plastic film. On one my most recent sewing projects, I purchased said bias binding because I had never worked with any before. I didn’t want to make my own if I didn’t even know how to sew with it. Next time, I’m committed to making my own bias binding with cotton or other strong plant-based fabric.
  2. Change your sewing needle often, to keep fabric from getting snagged and wasted.
  3. Use notions from thrift store clothing, if you don’t mind seam ripping. I don’t mind paying a couple bucks to acquire 5 or 6 nice wooden buttons off a blouse that I wouldn’t wear! And invest in a nice ergonomic seam ripper while you’re at it 🙂
  4. Use sashiko mending technique instead of iron-on patches (usually made of polyester and not very durable anyway). Sashiko is a very simple mending technique is used to not only patch garments, but to strengthen them by using running stitches to attach the patch (usually scrap fabric that either matches or accents the garment’s fabric). Sashiko thread or embroidery thread is very strong and doesn’t come on a spool (meaning no plastic waste).
  5. As far as buying buttons, purchase ones made of natural materials. Use ceramic buttons, coconut husk buttons, or general wooden buttons instead of plastic
  6. Use tissue paper instead of fuse-able interfacing on slippery fabrics. Now I’m just talking about during the sewing phase, specifically serging or other preliminary sewing that doesn’t need stiffness except to keep it from getting caught in the feed dogs. Though I’ve noticed that cotton muslin seems to work as a good interfacing replacement in all other cases. Regular interfacing is just polyester and glue and that sounds gross to put on my clothing
  7. Always double check your fabric grain so you don’t make accidental cuts that will lead to wasted fabric (*guilty*)
  8. Order sewing supplies from Etsy shops. They are usually very accommodating, and will ship your goods in cardboard boxes or paper envelopes if you ask on the “add note to seller” form. I’ve been ordering linen from WonderLinen lately, and I love opening the box to see my fabric wrapped in brown paper and twine.
  9. Buy quilt batting off the bolt. Or, if you want wool batting, buy a bunch of 100% wool sweaters at a thrift store and sew/felt them together. This avoids the plastic film on pre-cut quilt batting.
  10. No polyester or nylon thread. I’ve recently read (and also observed) that polyester thread puts strain on seams because it does not wear in over time like natural fabrics will. It outlasts the fabrics and damages them, besides leaking microplastics into rivers and oceans as well. Use silk or cotton thread instead.
  11. Sew with a 1 inch seam allowance. This prevents the seams weakening while you wear a garment and are moving around. Stronger seams=stronger garment=less clothing waste. I, unfortunately, used a quarter-inch seam allowance for a long time and it has caused the need for a lot of mending due to weak seams.
  12. Check craft bins at thrift stores for sewing supplies, patterns, or fabric. Vintage sheets also work well for a variety of sewing applications: making test garments for a new pattern, lining, quilting, and sometimes making a garment itself.
  13. Besides purchasing natural fabrics, specifically look for ones that are organic and dyed with vegetables. Less risk of skin irritation, and less carbon emission during the fabric’s production process.
  14. Compost your natural (or semi-synthetic) fabric and thread trimmings when your project is finished. If you have a composting bin. This includes cotton, hemp, linen, ramie, silk, wool, modal, tencel, and any thread made of those materials.

That’s all I’ve compiled so far. I’d love to hear more if anyone is on their zero-waste journey and is trying to craft sustainably! 🙂 How do you cut waste when sewing/crafting?

Photo by Júnior Ferreira on Unsplash

2 comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I have never been told about the one inch seam allowance but it makes so much sense. So many of my daughters skirts could have benefitted from this.

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    1. I’m glad it is helpful to you!! Yes there are actually some huge differences between common sewing techniques and professional sewing techniques. If you want additional reading, the book Couture:The Art of Fine Sewing by Roberta Carr has some more great examples and diagrams of better sewing techniques than the average 🙂

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