Zero Waste Sewing : Scrapbusting to achieve minimal waste

It’s Zero Waste month for The Sewcialists, and we’ve now had a fair bit of discussion about the concept and patterns (introductory post link), and many of the commenters talked about how they would rather use an ordinary pattern and use their scraps for other things. I do like the idea of a zero or minimal waste garment, but know that it’s not always possible to be a purist as fabric isn’t the right size or I want to make something that would be impossible to create using zero/minimal waste principals , so I thought I’d show you some of my recent scrap busting adventures to see if I can pique your interest. All of these, except a couple of things, have been created within the last three months – yes, I do a lot of scrapbusting!

A project that has used a lot of knit scraps is the snuffle rug I made for my Granddog, Heidi! My daughter-in-law suggested it (I’d never heard of such a thing) and described the one she had seen, which was basically a proggy rug. If you don’t know what this is, it’s usually a piece of hessian worked from the wrong side where short strips of fabric are prodded through the canvas to produce tufts. Heidi is a German Shepherd and I thought she might tear a hessian rug apart, so I hit upon the idea of using a rubber door mat instead.

A black rubber door mat with holes in it. Short strips of knit fabric are knotted through the holes.

These can be bought in most hardware stores and it’s really useful to have those pre-made holes. The mat itself is quite heavy, which might stop her dragging and shaking it. I thought I was really clever “inventing” this idea, and then saw an almost identical one on Pinterest. Oh well!

The strips of fabric are roughly 5cm (2 inches) wide and 15cm (6 inches) long. I pushed a strip into one hole and then the other end into an adjacent hole and then knotted it so that Heidi wouldn’t pull them out. Each hole had four strips worked into it as I moved around the mat.

Small treats are then thrown onto the mat and the dog spends quite a long time ferreting them out. This is supposed to be good for their mental health and also keeps them busy if they are left alone for long periods of time.

Long haired German Shepherd dog finding treats in the snuffle rug. The snuffle rug is made with brightly coloured knit fabric.

Of course, once all the treats are found, the mat doubles as a very comfortable bed!

German Shepherd dog laying with her front paws on the snuffle rug.

Whilst we are on the subject of proggy rugs, I thought I’d show you a Christmas tree I made a couple of years ago using the same technique.

I used a triangle of hessian, with a curved bottom, and a sharp tool to poke the fabric through. I didn’t knot the fabrics for this one as there’s no reason for them to be pulled out, unless the dog gets hold of it!. I used tiny strips of fabric and ribbon. This little tree is a fabulous way to get rid of left over scraps of Christmas fabric, other gaudy fabric and ribbon. I pinked the edges of each strip but this is entirely optional. I used a special piece of gold ribbon at the very top. The tree is also stuffed with scraps from my overlocker bin, and the base is made from a piece of scrap felt.

A Christmas tree made from colourful fabrics and ribbons, sitting beneath an echidna made from rusty nails.

I did a tutorial for making these which is on my blog at I have been wanting to make a wreath version of this, and of course, you could always make an actual mat. By the way, do you like my echidna, not made by me, but made from rusty nails – so clever and another form of scrapbusting!

My next project was an Amish puzzle ball. These have long fascinated me and I have wanted to make one for a while. They can be made as large or as small (very fiddly) as you like. I used a 10cm (4 inch) circle for this one. I was going to describe how to make it, but there are a lot of tutorials on the Web, including for crocheted puzzle balls, which are pretty cute! Just google “Amish puzzle ball” and you’ll find them all!

Mine is made with recycled denim scraps and some beautiful thick Japanese cotton scraps.

So these little pieces are made from part circles, sewn and stuffed. I have a real aversion to polyester stuffing, particularly if the ball is for a child, so these are stuffed with beautiful eucalyptus fibre. As you can see, once the little pieces are assembled into groups of four, and each group joined in a different way, you have three bigger pieces. These now have to be assembled into a ball (photo taken before stray threads cut off!). Use strong thread for joining. The ball can be played with as a ball, or hung as an ornament, but it’s a really lovely puzzle for quite young infants – and their parents! I’ve also made a bigger wool felt version of this (shown in the feature image), which feels really lovely. These can be easily laundered, but I’d put it in a laundry bag.

Over the last couple of months I had a bit of a blitz on making gift bags. There are lots of patterns for bags, but I just made it up as I went along, and these are a great way to use your smaller scraps and bits and pieces you have lying around.

I made a couple of bags for my sisters from our mother’s table mats. I thought they looked a bit plain so I added more embroidery. I have a number of stamps that I bought from Woven Stories Textiles here in Perth, so I stamped away happily and then embroidered over the top. I also did a bit of freehand stuff. This one is unfinished so that you can see how I used the stamps.

A piece of machine embroidered linen, formerly a table mat, which has been further embroidered by hand.

I have a mountain of lace and doilies and other miscellaneous scraps so I also made bags out of these. I used a thrifted cotton doona cover as the base, some eucalyptus wadding inside and just appliquéd bits on to the fabric, which I then cut into bags, binding the edges with vintage silk and satin bias binding.

A selection of gift bags made from fabric and lace scraps.

I also made some smaller bags, utilising felt scraps for the heads and bird, which I then embellished with beads and ribbons. These are a great way to use up those precious vintage fabric scraps.

A selection of gift bags made from vintage fabric scraps, featuring lace and felt cat faces, embellished with beads and whiskers. One bag has a blue felt bird. embellishment.

I have to show this one, which I made for my friend Suzanne. I used a tea towel fabric, a piece of vintage lace and appliquéd a Santa head on it. The beard is stuffed and the hat bobble is a felted ball. Mark makes his own vanilla paste which he gives to all my friends. I love that he puts my name on the label even though I have absolutely nothing to do with it!

A gift bag, cream with red stripes with a piece of vintage lace sewn on it, and embellished with a felt Father Christmas face. It has red and cream striped ribbons for closure. Also a small jar of vanilla paste.

Another good use of scraps is making dolls clothes, or, if you are like half the women I know, clothes for Luna Lapin and her friends! This is my Luna and she’s wearing a red cape made from vintage silk velvet and vintage ric-rac both of which were donated to my stash by my friend Leonie. The gorgeous dress she’s wearing was made by @marythimble, an instagram friend, and the fabric is left over from a pair of pyjamas she made for herself. Luna is also wearing lace knickers made with scraps of wide lace from my stash.

A Luna Lapin toy rabbit dressed in a sailor dress and red silk velvet cape. The toy sits on a wooden table and is flanked by two knitted cones with reindeer and snowflake fair isle patterns.

I also made a load of baskets from precious scraps, many of which were given away at Christmas. These are by the side of the bed in our Airstream. The empty big one was borrowed from Mark’s side of the bed. These are really useful for holding all the stuff that randomly accumulates by my bed, including glasses and jewellery. They are easy to make and these were made with bigger scraps of beautiful heavy Japanese cotton, and the little one with leftovers. Again, if you’re not sure how to make a basket just google “fabric basket” and a bunch of tutorials will be shown. Pick one that you like the look of.

Three fabric storage boxes made from Japanese fabrics. They are grey, blue and cream.

Another handy way to use up tiny scraps is to turn them into labels or embellishments. I find that I am doing a lot of this at the moment. This is a closeup of a piece of stretch linen leftover from making my husband a tee shirt. For some reason I had the urge to embroider Winnie the Pooh on it! These also make lovely gifts for sewing friends.

Small piece of mustard linen scrap with the red outline of Winnie the Pooh embroidered on it.

And this is the mustard linen tee shirt with a label sewn inside. The initials are only meaningful to my husband and me, so these labels can contain secret messages too!

iInside the neck of a mustard linen tee shirt, with a hand embroidered label.

This little teddy wasn’t made by me, but by my friend Sarah from Pattern Union. It’s made from blanket scraps and I embroidered the face and gave it a bow tie fashioned from embroidery thread. I made an inner which I filled with rice from my husband’s blind baking stash, so it is “cooked” and won’t attract weevils. Well, that’s the theory. This teddy can be put in the microwave and used as a heat pack.

Wool teddy made from recycled blanket with an embroidered face and red bow tie.

Of course, it could be made in any shape and from other kinds of wool.

This top is made from scraps and it is completely hand sewn on to a previously made silk tank top. I sewed and wore it whilst on holiday in New York. All the edges are unfinished and the pieces are attached with a running stitch and sewn with linen thread. The stitching is all over the place as this was sewn on planes, trains, and, yes, in automobiles! The mustard trousers are zero waste from a pattern by Holly McQuillan.

Woman wearing a tank top constructed from scraps of coordinating fabrics in autumn colours.

And finally, this is a skirt I made probably fifteen years ago, when I’m sure I was better at sewing. It is a simple a-line skirt, but I simply stitched some random leftovers on to the fabric. The back is a bit different but in the same style.

Sue stands in a garden wearing a black t shirt and a red skirt which has random shaped black fabric sewn over the top.

Of course many of our scraps are too small to use for anything except stuffing. I keep every scrap of everything, including thread and use it to stuff things. This is an archery target (you can see I’m not very good), that is completely stuffed with fabric scraps. I have been known to delve in there to find something!!

A sack which has been stiffed with scraps sits at the foot of a tree. Blue tipped arrows have pierced the bag, and a few other arrows have hit the ground and the tree trunk.

There are a myriad scrap busting ideas on the internet and you are only limited by your imagination, or your search skills! Rather than giving you a gazillion links I’ve tried to show you what I do with them, and I’ve missed out things like pouches, totes, poufs, pocket linings, hats, embellishments, hair scrunchies… the list goes on.

I must admit that now I have started writing I am reluctant to stop, but stop I must. Thank you if you’ve read this far!

Sue lives in beautiful Western Australia where the weather is most conducive to making easy to wear zero waste garments. She is retired (so has lots of time) and blogs at and is on Instagram @suestoney.