Zero Waste Quilting & Scrap Management

Someone recently tagged me in an Instagram post about Zero Waste quilting, and I thought the subject would be a fun one to elaborate on in a blog post, specifically about how I approach zero waste quilting and scrap management in my own quilting practice here at Patchwork & Poodles.

What is Zero Waste Quilting?

Zero waste quilting is the concept that everything gets used – from the fabric to the thread – and nothing gets added to landfills. Zero waste quilting really isn’t a new concept, back when cloth was expensive, people used to make quilts out of old clothes that were no longer serviceable as clothes. Then when the quilt was too tattered to be mended, it sometimes became the batting to a “new” quilt. When quilts were created for the purpose of keeping you warm, every layer mattered.

This idea of using up everything is still able to be put into practice today. You can continue using your fabric and making projects, using smaller and smaller scraps, until the leftover “fabric confetti” is then used to stuff a pouf or dog bed.

However, many of us make quilts for fun or as gifts, with new fabrics which are changing every month. Shiny penny syndrome takes over and we hop from one new project to the next. I cannot be the only quilter with an overflowing scrap bin and a set of patterns to “someday” use to tackle the mountain of scraps. So several years ago, I changed my practice. Instead of adding the waste and scraps from a quilt to the scrap box, I brainstorm ways to use them up right now so they don’t end up in the scrap bin in the first place. My goal is that in sharing my ideas with you, you might be inspired to try it out and see if it is a method that works for you as well.

Here’s some ways I use up my scraps and keep them out of the scrap bin:

Make a second quilt:

Nordic Star is the perfect example of a zero waste quilting pattern. Instead of putting all your offcuts into your scrap bin, the pattern comes with instructions for a second quilt! I’ve found that as I’m sewing up the first, I sew up the scraps for the second quilt, so that once I’m done with Nordic Star, I’m actually done with Wonderie too! The fabric requirements for Nordic Star include Wonderie, so when you’re purchasing your fabrics, you end up having enough for both quilts. The throw size Nordic Star quilt makes a lap size Wonderie quilt so you end up with two decent size quilts!

Graffiti Hearts is another example of this! The offcuts created in making the blocks allows you to make a whole second set of blocks, which you can use in a second quilt. You can use the scraps to make an improv backing, another quilt, or a pillow. You’ll need additional fabric to complete the second set of blocks, so check out this post for more information.

Make an improv quilt:

In a desire to use up an entire fat quarter bundle of a collection I absolutely loved, I decided to create a super scrappy backing for my Inkling quilt. I pulled out all my coordinating solid scraps and set to work creating an improv quilt back. However, once finished, I thought that it was so cool it deserved to be its own quilt and not the back of a quilt! so this improv quilt, which was supposed to be the back of my Inkling quilt, and instead became the front of a whole new quilt! Ha!

Make a pillow:

I used the scraps from my Inkling quilt I made in Posy fabric to make a coordinating throw pillow. Those little flying geese were made from HSTs that were sewn from the leftovers when making stitch & flip blocks. They are definitely tiny, but they work so well on a pillow like this!

I even used the scraps from making a pillow front for the pillow back! I’m definitely team use-all-the-scraps!

Use the scraps on the back:

Although I usually go with straight yardage for backings since it is a little more time efficient, I sometimes go the scrap route and use up the leftovers from a project on the back! I feel particularly inspired to do this when I don’t have enough of the backing I want to use. Here’s some improv backs I’ve created from scraps:

I wanted to use the light blue flower print on the back of this Celtic Crossing quilt but I didn’t have enough, so I used some scraps from the front to piece together a backing. Scrappy backings don’t have to be overly scrappy or complicated! This one is fairly simple but was effective to stretch the blue fabric I wanted to use:

In an effort to use all the scraps, this baby Bear Path quilt got quite the scrappy backing!

This will be a common theme, but I really wanted to use the grey print as a backing on this Misty Mountains quilt. I didn’t have enough so I used scraps from the front as well as a few other coordinating prints to create a log-cabin style backing:

For this Etoile quilt, I didn’t have enough of either print for the back, so I used both!

Use the scraps in small projects:

Pillows are fun for coordinating with a quilt, but so is a tote bag! The Every Adventure tote is a fun and free pattern and a great way to use the scraps leftover from your quilt! The first tote bag pictured was made with scraps from my Bear Path quilt. The second was made with the scraps from my Zesty quilt, and the final one was an orphan block I turned into a tote bag!

If you’re left with just a few small pieces that aren’t even enough for a pillow, you can use them in a small zipper pouch or a set of coasters. I like making quilt-as-you-go zipper pouches for odd-shaped scraps.

If you have a lot of small squares leftover, this scrappy zipper pouch would be the perfect project! Plus, it is a FREE tutorial!

And don’t forget about batting! Batting scraps can be used as stuffing, for small projects, or sewn together into frankenbatting.

My goal in my quilting practice is to use every fabric scrap that is larger than a square inch and every batting scrap wider than 5″. Smaller pieces get thrown out or donated to someone locally who uses them in making dog beds for shelter dogs. Whenever I make a quilt, I try to use up as much of the fabric as possible in that time, and then anything that doesn’t get used ends up in the scrap bin. However, this cuts down dramatically on what I’m putting into the scrap bin in the first place and ensures that much more of my fabric ends up getting used.

I did create a scrap-friendly pattern specifically for you to search through your stash. Starlite uses little cuts of fabric and comes with three versions – yardage, FQ, and scrap friendly. The scrap friendly version is all scraps, even the background, so that you can use up all the little pieces in your stash!

Looking for more scrap sewing? You might be interested in…

One thought on “Zero Waste Quilting & Scrap Management

  1. This really is a fabulous way to use fabric. Very clever and creative. I will definitely be making efforts to use these techniques. Bravo!

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