Turning scrap material into wearable and reusable items is a simple yet sustainable approach to textile waste, Julia O’Driscoll finds out as she speaks to the founder of slow fashion brand AK Threads.
Old t-shirts, worn out tablecloths, leftover material from a too-long neglected craft project; many of us have waste fabric lying around at home. Giving these scraps a new lease of life is both satisfying and, in an effort to be as environmentally-friendly and resourceful as possible, sustainable too.
I recently bought a banana silk shirt from a slow fashion brand, the first fruit-fibre garment to join my wardrobe. And when the parcel arrived, I had the joy of unwrapping a reusable handcrafted bag to find not only the shirt but an oversized scrunchie made from scrap fabric too. Distinctive and hand-crafted, I’ve almost come to love the scrunchie as much as the shirt, and the bag now stores one of my most-loved but under-worn occasion dresses too.
When I spoke to designer Gracie Sutton, founder of AK Threads, I discovered that the environmental impact of her materials and designs are at the heart of her creative process. She considers the very end of each garment’s life from the outset, working with all natural dyes and materials like cottons and non-violent silks to ensure her pieces are “as biodegradable as possible.” And with this being the case, she’s not only moving her business to a made-to-order model, but her latest collection, ‘Edition 5’, is made from all reclaimed and recycled materials in order to further eliminate fashion waste.
Left: Edition 5 from AK Threads. Right: Fabric scrap scrunchies.
It was while working with rural artisans in India that Gracie began to consider how she could bring slower methods of designing and manufacturing to a more mainstream market. Working with the Sambhali Trust NGO, she tells me that it was a question of: “How could I use these woven fabrics and traditional skills in a more modern, contemporary way?”
The reusable bag my shirt arrived in provides the perfect example of how this worked in practice. “We wanted to have a whole story about that packaging,” Gracie explains. Made by the relatively low-skilled women at the Sambhali Trust’s production centre, the bag’s simple design provided a way of both utilising the artisans skills to ensure they were paid a day’s wage, “but then obviously also fabric that could be utilised and reused again, rather than just single-use packaging.”
So, what can we do to get a little more life out of the fabric scraps we have lying around at home? Here are three simple ideas to get creative with.
Scrunchies and headbands are a simple but oh-so-satisfying way to make the most of scrap fabrics, says Gracie.
For scrunchies, all you need is some elastic, fabric, and a needle and thread. Use one of your trustiest hair ties to judge how long the stretch of elastic needs to be. Then, depending how big you want the scrunchie, cut a stretch of fabric that is a few inches wider and longer than the elastic. Fold in half lengthways with the less finished side of the material facing out. Sew the two long sides together with a simple running stitch to create a fabric ‘tube’ of sorts. Turn this inside out before threading the stretch of elastic through. Join the ends of the elastic together with several sturdy stitches before joining the fabric together as neatly as you can. Simple!
Tip: If you’re struggling to get the elastic through, attach a hair clip or safety pin to one end and push it through.
For headbands, play around with upcycling old accessories you don’t get enough wear from, or hem a stretch of scrap fabric to make a simple scarf.
Image: Production of AK Threads scrunchies from fabric offcuts.
When it comes to homewear, Gracie enjoys playing with patchwork and oversized, contemporary designs. For beginners, try your hand at a simple cushion cover. If you’re feeling confident and want to invest more time in developing your sewing skills, set your sights on a quilt or throw combining various scraps, patterns and prints.
You can get more elaborate by experimenting with embroidery, Gracie suggests. “You can have fun with it. Play around and see what you’re able to create, rather than trying to make something that looks really high end.” She recommends trying simple stitched line designs for a contemporary look.
And if you want to stretch to more interior decoration, stretching scraps across wooden embroidery hoops can create a colourful feature to plain walls. Using various sized hoops, you can quickly curate a selection of hangings that will stand out and provide eco-insta-worthy photo opportunities.
Left: Follow Sarah K. Benning with a feature wall of hoops. Right: Selkie Patterns share a simple tutorial for reusable cotton pads.
To make your bathroom a little greener, try making your own cleansing cloths or reusable cotton pads to reduce the environmental waste of your beauty products. Coffee filters and food wrap bags are also a simple but effective way to upcycle scraps into reusable items; Selkie Patterns have easy to follow guides for both. And for those really odd offcuts that you can’t find any other use for, you can always cut them up into cleaning rags rather than buying new.
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