Sewing: Scrap-Busting

IMG_8943.JPGIt seems to be a natural part of the process of making things of out fabric (or paper, or metal, or what-have-you) that there are scraps.  Some of these are a fingernail-sized chunk that are no good to anyone; others are long strips that might be turned into something else.  I’ve been processing my piles of scraps into quilt squares for a throw quilt. The process is slow but useful.

In the photo, you can see a mound of fabric scraps in the right foreground; these are leftovers from quilt squares already constructed.  In the left background is the mound of fabric yet to be made into quilt squares; they’re similarly-sized, really, although the front mound is disorderly and piled, and the back mound is made of fabric pieces roughly unfolded flat and then stacked.  There’s a LOT of fabric in that back pile, still.

I produced 1,521 square inches of quilting squares for a project today. That’s thirty-six 6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ squares, or a little over 126 square feet (a yard of fabric is usually about 42″ wide [nominally 45″], so a yard of fabric off a bolt is 1,512 square inches).  The fabrics I usually buy cost around $9.00 a yard, or somewhere around a 1/2 penny (US currency doesn’t go that low) per square inch.  I find myself wondering, “did I do that right?” Higher-priced fabrics (linen @ $20 a yard, fancy cotton prints, wool at @c.$80 a yard) obviously don’t have these sorts of rules applied to them.  But each of these quilt squares contains around 75 square inches of fabric — the underlying square of muslin, and the layers of fabric sewn on top out of scraps.

Nominally, they’re worth $0.435 apiece.  Yet I plan to offer the resulting quilt for $500 or so, even though the quilt top is theoretically only worth $21 or so in fabric scraps. Outrageous! Some may cry.  What on earth justifies a price increase twenty-five times the original price of the materials?

Maybe it’s a bit over the top.

On the other hand, I worked for an eight-hour day. I work for myself, so I’m not going to work for minimum wage; I’m going to ask at least $15 an hour for myself if not more. I’m making something which will be unique — no one will ever produce a quilt that looks quite like this one, based as it is on all of the scraps of all of my prior projects.  And no one else will want it except the person who sees it and thinks, I must have that, because of its uniqueness and the way it speaks to me.  

And I must admit, too — that I have not even dented the scrap bins and bags with my production.  I reached into one bag and grabbed a great heaping double-handful of scraps to produce these piles of quilting squares.

IMG_8944Quite possibly, there’s another 36 quilting squares in that pile of scraps — each one composed of smaller and smaller pieces, each one more and more faceted and jewel-like, until finally there are only tiny shreds of pulled threads left — their original textile print no longer recognizable.

It’s entirely possible that I now own enough fabric to turn into the tops of quilts and blankets and throws for the rest of my life.  All that is required is patience, and time (and backing and batting) to turn them into devices for people to feel warm, held, and loved.

What if your fabric store was inexhaustible?  You might produce an infinitude of quilts…  but you might also never produce anything, because you would never touch the fabric, unfold it or iron it or cut it. Yet is the act of cutting, changing, and sewing fabric that makes it do things — protect, cover, fascinate, present, invent, celebrate, display, conceal, express, and display.

What if your magic was inexhaustible? Would you use it? Or hide it in a bag?

Maybe you should think about your fabric stash — and your creativity — differently.

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  1. Question: are fabric scraps made of natural material biodegradable?

    If so, the really small stuff could be shredded down into pulp for a garden tea.

    • Dear Jeff,

      That’s an excellent question; at the very least it could be shredded and left in the yard for birds to pick up to add to their nests as liner, for example.

      I think a lot has to do with whether the fabric was washed or not; most fabric is stiffened for storage and shipment and sale with sizing; and we shouldn’t mention how toxic the chemicals are that get used on cotton fields, probably. In general, producing humane, organic, chemical-free textiles and clothes is nearly impossible, or so I’m told. It’s definitely something I should research.

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