{Eco Tips} Scaling a Mountain of Fabric Scraps

Recently I posed a question to my fellow seamsters of Team EcoEtsy: is it safe to put fabric through a paper shredder? Why, you may ask, would I consider such a hair-brained idea?

If you’re like me, you hate wasting fabric, even the smallest of scraps, and I have a veritable mountain of them! I thought perhaps instead of using polyfil batting to stuff the spikes of my dino scoodies I might try using shredded fabric scraps. My first attempt worked out fairly well, but it involved laying the scraps out on my cutting board and running through it multiple times with the rotary cutter – effective, but time consuming and resulting in an aching wrist (the old carpal tunnel). So I wondered if the paper shredder might do a better and quicker job of it – most shredders are meant to cut through plastic credit cards, so why not fabric?

Before attempting this clever plan, however, I thought I’d better ask around. Who better to ask than my EcoEtsy teammates? Here were some of their very helpful replies regarding both shredding of fabric and uses for shredded fabric:


Myra (HerbanLuxe): “My daughter tried this once out of boredom and jammed my shredder.  I would recommend using a rotary and cutting the scraps into small strips.” (Myra and I appear to have much in common, including adventurous daughters.)

lilgirlshopJennifer (LilGirlShop): “I save all of my fabric scraps, thread, and used dryer sheets to stuff my dog beds. Fabric scraps saved for stuffing are those pieces too small to use elsewhere.”

dinnertimechimesErin (DinnerTimeChimes): “Offer the tiny scraps cut into strips to birds for nesting.” (I LOVE this.)

remainewickedRain (Remainewicked): “My experience with fabric scraps is they work well for small projects that won’t be used as a snuggle toy. I also make them into beds for my dogs, but I leave a small opening to add more as needed… and it will be needed, because it packs down. They are also great as appliques, anything crazy quilted and for draft stoppers. ”

lorigamiLori (Lorigami): “Things designed to cut paper are not sharp enough to cut fabric. You won’t ruin the shredder, but it won’t cut the fabric. Works well for draft dodgers, but that’s the only thing I’ve really found successful.”

johnsonfamilyzooLisa (JohnsonFamilyZoo): “I keep my scraps and when I fill a flat rate priority box, I list it on ebay or etsy and they always sell! The scraps aren’t very big and I make a few bucks – like $5 (hey, it’s a lunch!) while someone else finds a use for my discards. One of my regulars sent me a pic of bookmarks she makes with the scraps she’s bought.  I accidentally caught my sleeve in the paper shredder once. Bell sleeves shouldn’t be worn while cooking or paper shredding!”

In addition to these helpful tips from the EcoEtsy team, I did some hunting and found this cute tutorial from Craftaholics Anonymous for Scrap Fabric Vases. I also found a clever storage idea for scraps from Film in the Fridge (which will only work, trust me, if you don’t have cats). Another idea, from my soap-crafting friend Zoe, is to use small fabric squares to package handmade soaps! And if you have scraps that are long and thin, you may want to try your hand at weaving a rag rug.

If you’d rather just do a clean sweep and lose the scraps, GrowNYC takes clothing and textile donations for reuse. Otherwise unusable scraps are sold to recycling markets that turn materials into wiping rags, fiber for car seats, and insulation. Contributions to the program directly benefit Council on the Environment, Inc.  Goodwill and Salvation Army stores also accept rags and textile scraps – when you drop off your scraps be sure to tell them that your donation is for salvage, not sale. If this sounds like a good idea, check with your local charity or thrift shop to see if they have a similar plan. If they don’t, suggest it!

If you love fabric as much as I do, show it some love and give it a second life.  How do you recycle fabric scraps?

Linda Everett
(LindaEve on Etsy)

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  1. Great post! Glad to hear that I’m not alone in the adventurous kid department. Having 3 makes it interesting. I recently started using my fabric stash to make small baby shoes, it’s been challenging but I think I’ll perfect it soon.

  2. I have a new reuse goal this year. Every year I make and donate a blanket to my local chapter of Project Linus, http://www.projectlinus.org/. This year my goal is to cut all leftover scraps into blocks that can be made into rag quilts (fast and easy to put together) and donate them to the blanket drive which is in the fall (I’m curious how many blankets I’ll end up with). This gives me months of scraps to collect and I know that in the end they are going to a great cause. I also reuse long skinny scraps of ripped fabric as ‘gift wrap bows’. I usually punch a hole in my business card, thread the fabric through, then wrap and tie a bow around the handbag to be shipped.

  3. The idea of using scraps to tie up tomato plants is just amazing! Thanks for the comment!

  4. Now, this area happens to be a speciality of mine, Linda!

    I wouldn’t really recommend strips of scrap textile for stuffing, unless you want a particularly dense, lumpy, heavy filling. Not to mention sore arms and a blunt rotary cutter.

    But there are so many other ways to use even the tiniest little pieces – here’s a particularly lovely example by Etsian Lila Ruby King:http://www.etsy.com/listing/82307374/seedeaters-gift-card-pumpkin?ref=v1_other_1 Yes, those are the littlest pieces of Liberty lawn fabric, measuring just a few millimetres across. That’s one very beautiful fabric and much too good to throw away imho, even in the smallest of quantities.

    I like the idea of using selvedge strips for tomato plants, but there are other ways to use them effectively. Practise your strip piecing a while and work your way up to something as accomplished as this stunning dress:http://selvageblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/see-geniusartistquilter-jodie-carletons.html

    If your crafting creates a lot of scraps which you know you can’t use, why not sell them to someone who can? Plenty of people are selling scrap bags these days (on Etsy and other sites), and they seem to be very popular.

    When all else fails, you can help your favourite charity raise money by donating your textile waste to them. At least, you can here in the UK. Your charity gets a small amount per kilo of textile waste donated (around 50p, I think). That’s where I send torn school trousers (clean, of course), and other shabby or uninteresting textiles which don’t get my creative juices flowing for re-use. If those items are wearable, they go where they’re needed. If not, they’re made into something else, such as industrial rag.

  5. Beautiful read and inspiring to boot. I am a seamster and save everything or utilize every scrap from donation to appliques, stuffing to art dolls. It is amazing how much you can reuse. Thank you for bringing this to light, it definitely needs to be understood that there are plenty of way to reduce, reuse, and recycle your fabric scraps. The alternative, laziness.

  6. I use my selvedge and other long skinny scraps to tie up my tomato plants in the garden. Old knit material like t-shirts also make very good garden ties! I use my larger scraps in quilts or to make fabric yo-yos. Some quilters are absolute geniuses at using up the very last bit of fabric, so you could always ask the local quilting guild if they’d be interested in your leftovers. Another possibility is a local preschool or Montessori school if they could use the fabric scraps for creative play or art. I also work with wool and all my wool bits get used for stuffing ornaments and such, but those could also be put outside for the birds to use for nesting material. Some people like to look for old nests at the end of the season to see where their scraps wound up!