6 Ways to Upcycle Fabric Scraps at Home

As much as I love fabric, we can’t pretend it’s never caused any problems. 

My life revolves around colours, textiles, and fabric for garments. But I’m well aware of the harm that fabric can cause–and how we can upcycle fabric scraps to avoid it.

I love fashion. I love everything that fabric has brought me: my passion for natural dyes, my love of colours, the ability to create garments and bring my ideas to life! 

But fabric production isn’t great for the environment, even at its best. 

This is because of the energy and agricultural resources that go into creating most fabrics. 

Industrial cotton production usually requires an incredible amount of artificial irrigation and, if it’s not organic, chemicals and energy too. So that’s canvas, calico, corduroy, and other materials.  

Materials like wool, alpaca, and even silk require the care and maintenance of animals: growing food, creating shelter, manpower, and textile creation, at its simplest. 

And don’t even get me started on plastic blends like polyester–that’s just a world of unsustainability that I’ll never support.

Given all that, it’s not surprising that I’m all for reusing (and, yes, sometimes recycling) fabric scraps. When we upcycle fabric scraps, we’re getting the absolute most out of our textiles, and that’s the most sustainable option we’ll get for the time being! 

So enjoy your clothes, and don’t let yourself get weighed down by any guilt as a byproduct of just existing. But do your part when you can. 

We’re in luck. Upcycling fabric scraps is cost-effective, useful, and fun! 

Fast fashion has created a real problem.

At this point, so much clothing is flying off the shelves that even most donated clothing ends up in landfills or piling up around the world, creating environmental disasters in receiving countries like Ghana. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency came out with a horrible statistic: in 2017, 16.9 million tonnes of textiles were created. Only 13.6% was recycled. 

Recycling still takes energy, so it’s not always the absolute best way to get rid of items you don’t want anymore. Reducing and reusing are the unsung heroes of sustainability! 

But, many people like me who craft, sew, or work with fabric often might have more fabric scraps than we know what to do with. If that’s you, go ahead and recycle your bulk scraps. 

Note: you can technically recycle all types of fabric. But, in a twist from the norm, synthetic fibres are actually a bit easier to recycle. 

So, if you can, re-dye your natural fibre fabrics and bring them new life. Or, upcycle them using the ways I outline at the end of this post.

How does textile recycling work?

The Good Trade wrote a great article on the ins and outs of textile recycling, but I’ll give you the rundown here. 

Natural fabrics are machine-shredded into smaller fibres, which are then cleaned and re-spun into yarn or made into stuffing for furniture, building insulation, or rags for cleaning. 

Fabrics containing plastic, like polyester, are shredded and thermomechanically processed into new material. 

Natural-synthetic blends like cotton polyester are complicated–solvents and solutions are used to extract one or the other material. 

Where can I recycle fabric?

Untitled Thoughts put together a nice list of places to recycle fabric scraps for both the US and worldwide. 

If you’re trying to recycle entire articles of clothing, check the brand. Many brands like Patagonia, H&M, and The North Face have recycling programs. 

(Don’t let this fool you into thinking huge corporations are environmentally friendly, though. Where’s the commitment to slow down fast fashion overproduction?)

If you’re in the US, check out For Days, who have developed great partnerships to be as effective as possible in recycling any kind of textiles with their Take Back Bag programme.

And finally: my favourite 6 ways to upcycle fabric scraps at home. 

Whether you’re a crafter extraordinaire or just have a few scraps you can’t make yourself get rid of, there’s a sustainable method for you.

To give you more than just ideas, I’ll link some YouTube videos for each textile upcycling method! 

1. Make a classic rag rug! It’s easier than you think.

I love rag rugs. They’re useful, and when done well they make an incredible statement piece. 

Here’s how to make a DIY braided rug

There’s more than one method, so search “how to make a rag rug” if you want to see more types! There are even no-sew options.

2. Use the scraps as stuffing for pillows, toys, and more.

This is pretty self-explanatory.

If you have, for example, a decorative pillowcase without stuffing, or stuffed animals that need a little love, use fabric scraps instead of polyester stuffing! 

3. Create simple place mats or coasters.

You can use the rag rug methods to make coasters and place mats. However, since I already linked to that video, here’s another method: quilted place mats!

You can also use this technique to make pot holders and coasters. 

4. Sew a bunch of new hair scrunchies. 

Hair scrunchies are one of the most fun beginner sewing projects. You don’t even need a sewing machine!

Here’s two methods to make hair scrunchies without a sewing machine–but you will need regular hair elastics to go inside them.

5. For the ambitious among us: create a brand new textile or textile art.

This is perfect for when you have a bunch of incredibly small fabric scraps! 

Take all your smallest fabric scraps, and make an entirely new fabric to use in new projects. 

6. Bonus idea: Sell your fabric scraps!

Lots of people are on the lookout for unique fabric pieces they can make into new projects like quilts. Cut them into 5 or 6-inch squares, and sell them on eBay or Etsy! Or check out my other post about where to sell second-hand clothing and fabrics  around the world and look for the marketplace that works for your needs.

Repurposing is key to sustainability. 

The road to a more sustainable life is reducing what you can and repurposing what you can’t. 

This applies to much more than just fabrics, but fibres, fabrics, and textiles are my speciality! So, that’s most of what I write about. 

My blog is full of info on the fashion industry and how to live sustainably, ideas for repurposing materials, and instructions on how to create and use natural dyes. 

If this sounds like it’s up your alley, check out my blog! I hope you love reading it as much as I love writing it.

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