How to Make Your Fabric Go Further (Sorry, Mr Accountant!)

Aug 16 2018 2 Comments Tags: Fabric Waste

Am I the only who gets infuriated over how much waste fabric is left at the end of making a garment?  Maybe it’s my Yorkshire blood that makes this grate even more.  Throwing good money (or even better fabric) away is not part of the Yorkshire psyche I’m afraid, but I’ve found that it’s occurring more and more lately and it is très annoying.

Take for example, one of my beloveds; the Willow Tank/Dress by Grainline Studio.  The fabric requirements on the pattern calls for around 2m of 150cm wide fabric to make the dress, however with a bit of jiggery pokery with the cutting layout, I found I could get it out of about 1.2m.  The only real difference I had to make was to use bias binding off the roll rather than make my own out of the same fabric as the dress.  But hey, if it means spending £1 on ready made bias binding rather than what could be £9 or £10 on extra fabric, then I think that’s a sacrifice worth making, especially as the bias binding is hidden anyway!  Not only does this benefit your bank balance (meaning you can buy even more fabric! 😊) but you’re also doing your bit for the environment. (Disclaimer: In no way whatsoever was this discovery made when I didn’t have enough fabric to make a Willow.  That would never happen.  No, sir’eee.)

Personally, I find the primary cause of fabric waste comes from when the majority of the pattern calls to be cut on the fold.  It’s fine if there are sleeves involved as these are normally cut from the piece of fabric underneath the pieces on the fold, but when the garment is sleeveless, then this irritates me no end.  To reduce the amount of fabric, sometimes all it needs is for the fabric to be folded a different way before cutting out; instead of making the selvedges meet at the bottom as you would normally, try folding the fabric the other way so the two selvedges meet in the middle, thus creating two folds – one at either side of the fabric, as in the photo below.  Et Voila!  You can cut out your pieces on each fold with minimal waste.  Obviously there are most likely exceptions to the rule (why is life never simple?!).  Before buying your fabric and taking the plunge in making the rash decision not to follow the fabric requirements that the pattern says, consider the fabric design; will it be running the correct way if you fold your fabric this way round? Will anything funky happen with the grain if you cut it this way?  If you are unsure whether buying such little fabric will work, why not make a toile first out of something cheap like an old bed sheet or some calico? 

I have to say, I must give kudos to Tilly and the Buttons; even though cutting fabric out this way is a little bit more faffy (especially for a beginner) she still suggests it with some of her patterns; for example, the Stevie and the Bettine.  Good for her!  Perhaps it isn’t the easiest cutting out method, but it’s better to learn these techniques early and start off on the right foot. 

Of course, as a fabric shop we also try and do our bit; you can buy all our fabrics by the 1/4 metre, which definitely helps to cut down on waste!

So that covers my main beef when it comes to causes of fabric waste, but here are some other little *ahem* “alternatives” I’ve discovered when trying to save fabric (or have basically had to cover up any cutting out mistakes I’ve made!)

  • Cut out facings and pocket bags from fabrics in your stash. Let’s face it, no-one’s going to see them (if you’ve sewn them right!) so why cut them from your main fabric, especially if you want to splash out on a more expensive one?  Just in case you do see a little bit of the contrast fabric though, always try and choose a fabric that co-ordinates with your main fabric or it will stick out like a sore thumb.  Or a sore fabric.
  • Cut out your pieces from a single layer of fabric. Or you could even do a bit of both – cut some of the pieces out from a double layer and some from a single layer.  This isn’t always do-able due to space constraints in your sewing area and is a bit more time-consuming but it is the ultimate test of your “Fabric Tetris” skills and is oh-so-satisfying when your scrap pile isn’t even big enough for a pair of doll’s knickers!! 
  • If you’re struggling to get both the front and back pieces out of your fabric when they’re cut on the fold, try making the back in two pieces so you have a centre seam. Don’t forget to add the seam allowance to each piece though, or your back will be too small!
  • Create a design feature using a contrast fabric; a collar, placket or cuff from a bold print would look ace against a plain main fabric, or vice versa. Put yo’ design skillz to the test!!

At the end of the day, we’re all going to finish up with some waste at the end of a project.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have enough left to make another small garment (I once squeezed a Tilly and the Buttons Arielle skirt out of my leftovers from my Cleo dungaree dress!) but if not, then why not offload your scraps to a worthy cause? We donate our scraps to the textile department of a local high school, which they are very thankful for!  If you have any large scraps, then have a look around and see if any charities can make use of them.  One of our customers recently sent us a link to a Facebook post for a local cause:

Pinderfields Hospital are looking for fabric donations so they can make bags to give to under 10s who have burns injuries.  The bags will contain the pressure garments which the children have to wear for sometimes as long as 2 years, so they are hoping the introduction of these goody bags will make the experience a little less daunting.  If you actually wanted to make some bags yourself to send in, then the dimensions are on the Facebook post!

To End, An Apology

Just in case my accountant has suddenly taken an interest in sewing, is reading this blog post and is on the verge of fainting at me advising people to try buying less fabric…

I know. But the fabric struggle is real. Sorry. 😉

← Older Posts Newer Posts →


  • Hi, just read your blog rant! I am so with you on this. Some of the Indie patterns call for far more fabric then you really need, the Ginger jeans are an example of this, for my size I was informed to buy 2 metres of 150cm wide but when I cut the jeans out I used 1.4 metres, that’s 60cm’s leftover! It’s really irritating, I have loads of fabric leftovers that I am wondering what to do with. Do you think an art college would make use of them? By the way your suggested charcoal grey denim for Ginger jeans was perfect, it’s makes a smart pair and “Brother Joel” can stop sweating about his cutting, I had plenty of fabric! Lovely online shop, wish I lived close enough to visit in person.

    Sally Higgins on
  • How refreshing, a fabric shop trying to cut down fabric purchasing! I too am a hater of wasted fabric and do many of the things you’ve suggested, although I do hate cutting on a single layer so that is my very last option. My pet peeve is when designers simply add way too much of a shrinkage allowance or simply only account for fabric requirements based on the largest size. My other pet peeve is shops who only cut in 0.5m or worse 1m increments (luckily you are not one of those shops). I save all my scraps in vain of being able to use them somehow and they certainly come in handy for pocket linings and facings.

    Charlotte E on

Leave a Comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published