{Tips & Tricks} How to be a Low-Waste Seamstress

Ahh! The Great Studio Purge of 2017 is complete! It's amazing to me, as someone who preaches minimalism, how much STUFF I can accumulate in such a short time. 18 months ago I had a large-house-in-the-suburbs quantity of sewing fabric and supplies - downsized once to fit in a POD when we were between houses - and downsized again when we moved into our present space. And yet - I still found things to purge! 

4 bags of patterns to recycle
6 bags of fabric to donate
1 bag of notions and sewing supplies to donate

And of course, lots, and lots, and lots of trash. 


But this all begs the question - what's a sewist to do with all her excess supplies?? Certainly there are better options than a landfill! And even if you're not in studio-purge-mode, where can you get your hands on someone elses' excess, and build your own creative arsenal for a fraction of the cost? 

In addition to the usual thrift stores, there are a growing number of Creative Reuse centers and Sustainability initiatives designed specifically with your textiles/sewing room stash in mind. Below is a reader-submitted list of such places and organizations, as well as creative ideas for using up your sewing related odds-and-ends. 

Thank you for sharing your LOW-WASTE sewing practices! Please add any others you know of in the comments.


H&M Foundation (Every H&M Store Across the Globe) 

Recycle Fabric in all it's shapes and forms to produce 20-100% recycled fibers per garment. "You can drop off your unwanted garments - no matter what brand and what condition - in all our H&M stores across the globe."

The surplus is donated to H&M Foundation and split between social projects, and recycling projects. H&M Foundation has partnered with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel to develop technologies to recycle clothes made from textile blends into new clothes. The social projects are focused on equality and inclusion of marginalized groups. In addition, for each kilogram of textiles that H&M collects, 0.02 euros will be donated to a local charity organization, please read more at hm.charitystar.com.
— H&M

Lancaster Creative Reuse (Lancaster, PA)

Recycle Fabric (Yardage) Arts, Crafts and Sewing Supplies.

Through the low-cost thrift store, Open Craft Table, and educational programs throughout the community, LCR inspires creativity, increases access to the arts through affordability and encourages reuse.
— http://www.lancastercreativereuse.org/

SCRAP USA (Various Locations)

Recycle Fabric, Notions, Patterns, Craft Supplies (Accepted items vary by SCRAP location: Portland ORArcata CATraverse City MIDenton TXKennewick WABaltimore MDRichmond VA,  Ann Arbor MI.)

Creative Reuses Centers, like SCRAP, collect discarded materials from the public that can be reused and given new life. Many centers resell these items to the public for a bargain or donate them to teachers, organizations or other groups for further reuse.
— https://scrapusa.org/

Simple Recycling (Various Locations)

Recycle "unusable" scraps, WADS, muslins to be processed for raw materials:

All of the materials are graded and sorted locally and/or regionally based on quality and condition. The top quality materials will be resold to local thrift outlets, mid grade is exported to international markets and “unusable” items are processed for raw materials.


Sewing Guilds, School & Theater Costume Departments, 

Project Linus

Donate blanket-making supplies to a Project Linus Chapter or Blanketeer near you.

Provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”
— "Our Misson", projectlinus.org

Sew for Kids (Benefits Pine Ridge Reservation, SD)

Coordinate with Sew For Kid Volunteers to donate materials, or sew and send items directly with the non-for-profit Lakota Friends Circle following these guidelines.

Sew For Kids is a charitable group that welcomes individuals of all skill levels to use their talents and creativity to sew, knit or crochet clothing as well as provide other essentials for children ages 0-18 years and their families on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota... Items will be donated to existing organizations on the reservation that focus on children such as schools, libraries, day cares, children’s health agencies, social services, or youth groups.

St John's Lutheran Charity Quilters (Lexington, KY)

Donate Fabric (Yardage), Scraps, Machines to this charity quilter's group, who will in turn provide blankets to those in need!

All of our quilts are donated to local organizations in need of blankets such as Assurance Pregnancy Center, Step by Step, Women’s Hope Center, and others. The quilts bring a lot of love, warmth, and hope to those who receive them.
— http://stjohnslexington.org

Shop Low-Waste Goods

In addition to shopping thrift stores, and creative reuse centers listed above, you can also cut back on retail waste by buying Designer Remnants online or in-person:

  • Fabric Mart: "At Fabric Mart, we buy closeout fabric from some of fashion's biggest names, including J.Crew, Calvin Klein, Maggy London, Marc Jacobs & Ralph Lauren. And we pass the savings on to you!"
  • Emma One Sock: "Many of the fabrics are purchased "post production", meaning that I select from fabrics that are remaining after designers and mills complete their samples for a season, or complete a production run."
  • Fabric Recycles: "Fabric Recycles is a one-of-a-kind fabric store that gets its entire inventory from other people's stashes and resold at prices you can afford. "
  • Good Will: Buy secondhand machines, fabric, and more - all online!


  • Check your local library about children's events - many hold mechanical events where children deconstruct donated items, like that old sewing machine gathering dust in your closet!. 
  • Patchwork like-fabrics to make one-of-a-kind garments, like this:
  • Browse infinite "Scrap Busting" activities - like those shown below - or donate your scraps to someone who will! Teachers, Youth Groups, and others are always looking for craft supplies:
  • Lover of Vinyl or applique? Turn those scraps into wall art by cutting them into triangles and ironing them to canvas!

Special thanks to those who shared their Low-Waste sewing practices - especially Stephanie of Swoodson Says for consulting on this project!