Secret Seams—A Sustainable Sewing Badge of Honour

When Sewcialists first hosted the Sustainable Sewing theme month in 2018, it wasn’t a topic that I’d thought much about. I even contributed a post called “Confessions of an Unsustainable Sewist,” where I admitted that I love poly knits and resource-intensive fabrics like rayon. I resolved at that point to at least make sure that my clothes were well loved, altered, and repaired; then, my wardrobe itself could be sustainable even if my sewing choices weren’t.

However, over the years I’ve fallen in love with one particular technique to be more sustainable as I sew: the Secret Seam!

Close up of shoulder and arm, with a patched seam on the back sleeve.
Check out the secret seam on the back of my elbow!

What is a secret seam? It’s when you piece together scraps with a seam so that you can cut your fabric in the most efficient way. Basically, an extra seam in a strange location that isn’t supposed to be there, but usually goes unnoticed. I’m sure there is a better term for these patched seams, but in my head I cackle with delight every time I add a “secret seam”!

Blonde woman stands by a river, in a patterned dress that has a patched seam on the back hem.
Notice the secret seam on the back hem of the dress!

There is nothing new about secret seams—I’m sure we’ve all resorted to them at some point when we miscut the fabric or didn’t buy enough. The difference for me now is that I wear them as a badge of pride, that I made the most of my fabric and used piecing to avoid waste.

Blonde woman looks away from camera in a turquoise maxi dress, with a secret seam at the hem.
Ran short on fabric and had to add a secret seam to make the back hem as long as the front.

I love secret seams for a few reasons:

  • I used to buy extra yardage, so that I could cut each pattern piece whole. Now, I can either buy less or have large usable scraps leftover because I’m patching fabric strategically.
  • It saves money! Less fabric used and wasted equals more fabric and money left to enjoy!
  • It’s a sure sign that your clothes are handmade! For decades, I think sewists tried to avoid looking “Becky Home-Ec-y” (what a terrible phrase!), but now we are taking pride in stepping out of the capitalist fast fashion economy.
Close up of black leggings on a woman.
You’d never know it, but there is a secret seam adding a triangle wedge of fabric in the back crotch curve of these leggings.

Secret seams can also make a big difference for plus-size sewists. For example, if your measurements are too large to cut a pair of leggings out of 60″ knit, pattern companies tell you to buy twice the length. Instead, why not just piece a triangle in your inner leg to give yourself enough width? A secret seam can also help when a swingy hem is just slightly too wide for your fabric.

Woman stands looking away from camera in a pink and red linen dress with a secret seam off centre on the back of the dress.
Can you see the vertical secret seam on the right hand side of the skirt?

Embracing the secret seam has helped me to reframe patched fabric as a sustainable badge of honour. I’m proud to be getting the most out of my yardage and using my scraps strategically. It also makes me wonder: What strategies are you using to sew more sustainably? How has it changed your thinking about sewing?

Gillian cofounded the Sewcialists in 2013. She lives in Canada and loves cats, bright colours and sewing! She blogs at Crafting A Rainbow .