The story of a jacket made from scraps

The scrap jacket started life as an idea in September 2021 and I completed it May 2024. The initial idea was to make something beautiful from all the scraps that build up in my sewing studio. The other important part of the plan was to sew slowly. I committed to document the progress on social media at the start of each month.

The creative juices flow in my sewing classes and I often get as much inspiration from the customers I meet as I hope to provide to them. The day I was inspired to start this project had been a day where the conversation in class was about sustainability and fast fashion.

The combination of being bought up in the 70’s when cheap imported clothing wasn’t a thing and having then spent a large chunk of my career as a fashion designer in the fast fashion industry firmly plants my feet in the mindful sustainable clothing camp!

Scrap jacket sustainable sewing Bobbins and Buttons The Idea

The initial idea was quite spontaneous, I had been thinking about a statement jewel toned jacket for a while. When I have time I scroll Pinterest collecting ideas in a way I used to create mood boards at college. One board leads to another and ideas start to formulate. When I find myself collecting more and more pins around one idea I know its something I should and probably will explore.

The jewel toned jacket had been featured on several of my Pinterest boards but hadn’t really come together as a proper idea. After the sewing class where we had talked about waste, fast fashion, landfill and all sorts of sustainable subjects the idea to make a jacket from scraps arrived.

Scrap jacket sustainable sewing Bobbins and Buttons

The Materials

I have a large bag in my sewing studio where I put all the scraps left over from sewing projects and I encourage customers to put their scraps in it too. On the whole when the bag is full I sort through it and divide the pieces by size and use. Larger pieces that can be useful for projects are sorted out into pieces I would like to keep and pieces that can be donated. The local school has a textile department and appreciates all sizes of scraps so they often benefit from the scrap bag. I have customers who make things for charity. There is generally always plenty of outlets for the scraps.

Running sewing classes means that the scrap bag builds up quite quickly so there is plenty to go round. There is a limited appeal for smaller scraps as they are less versatile.

When I tipped out the scrap bag I saw all the beautiful jewel colours and the smaller pieces. It felt like the idea had sorted itself out.

scrap jacket from Bobbins and buttons

The Plan

One of the aspects of sewing I love is the steady mediative process. It always amazes me how it literally feels like time is flying when you are sewing. We get into a flow state and before you know it one or two hours has past. From the early days of my business my sewing classes have been about working at your own pace and level. It might take one person half an hour to create a pocket and another two hours. Both are absolutely fine, I think its great to absorb yourself in the understanding, preparation and sewing at a pace comfortable to you. It is equally good to slickly sew the piece together because it might be something you have done several times before and feel completely confident sewing quickly.

At the time of deciding to do this project I was doing a lot of deadline driven sewing for magazines and sewing projects. I do enjoy a bit of pressure and having worked in the fast fashion industry for so long I am used to pulling the impossible together in a tight timeframe.

However with this project I wanted to really celebrate the slow! I put no time pressure on the project. The only commitment I made was to report the progress or lack of progress at the start of each month.

Scrap jacket sustainable sewing Bobbins and Buttons

The Process

Before Covid I regularly attended an embroidery group where I learnt all sorts of interesting embroidery techniques. One technique I had learnt was to work crazy patchwork on to a base cloth. The pieces are prepared by pressing a seam allowance on the raw edges. The pieces are then placed so that no raw edges show and tacked in place with large hand stitched tacking stitches. When I made the sampler in my classes I tried a variety of different embroidery stitches on the edges of the patches.

I knew I wanted a consistent look with the jacket. I experimented with a few different embroidery stitches. My favourite was a stitch that looked like doubled sided blanket stitch. This had a crafty artisan look that appealed to me for the idea of the jacket. I also liked the idea of the stitch having the same appearance at both edges. The only thing I bought to make this jacket was some DMC Perle embroidery thread in 5 shades.

Scrap jacket sustainable sewing Bobbins and Buttons

The Pattern

I had created a simple edge to edge style jacket for Love sewing magazine and decided this would be the style I would make. The style needed to be simple without darts or detail as this would all get lost and distorted among the patches. The jacket style is classic. Edge to edge, I didn’t want buttons adding extra distraction to the embellishment. I decided to line the jacket to help even out the weight of the fabric and hide the slightly untidy looking backing. In my stash I came across the perfect lining a heavy weight shot taffeta in bright orange, gifted to me by one of my customers.

I also found a piece of fine cotton lawn in my stash that I used as a base for the patches. I thought this would be a useful technique for the jacket as all the fabrics are different weights and without this base the pieces might look distorted or misshapen. The backing is essentially acting like an interlining.

The first thing to do was to press all the scraps and cut them into appropriate size pieces. I pressed the seam allowance by eye and started laying the pieces and pinning in place.

scrap jacket bobbins and buttons First Stages

I drew around the pattern onto the cotton lawn so I had a guide line for where to place the patches.

I think projects go through phases and this one was no exception. The initial stage was excitement and I worked happily and made a lot of progress quite quickly, placing patches and tacking them on was fast. 

Starting the embroidery was a bit slow. I didn’t get to grips with the stitch I had chosen so I had to sit with the book checking my technique. I knew if I kept going I would get to stage where I knew the stitch and didn’t need to refer to the book so I kept going. Sure enough I got into the rhythm which was a good feeling and a great reminder that perseverance pays off when you are trying to nail a skill.

There were months when I hardly did any sewing and months where I had a surge of productivity. The monthly social media update kept me working on it when I didn’t feel inspired.

scrap jacket bobbins and buttons Learnings

 

I have had a lot of mixed feelings towards the project since the start. When I look back I feel the initial phase was just about getting on with it.

There were times when I felt like I had done so much on it and wished I had planned it better and considered the colours or patch placement to look a bit more designed. Then I would have a surge of feeling excited and inspired again.

I went through a small time wishing I hadn’t started it, as it started to feel very precious. That might sound a bit strange. It was the same sort of feeling I’ve had when I’ve owned an expensive item of clothing. It almost feels too precious to wear. A feeling of worry about wearing it in case something happened to it mixed with not wanting to keep something in a cupboard unused and pointless.

 

Scrap jacket sustainable sewing Bobbins and Buttons The Ending Irony

Once the embroidered panels were complete I decided to make a wearable toile. I ended up making two wearable toiles. The first I made in boiled wool and was great but didn’t really represent the fabric weight of the patched pieces so I made another in linen. I was happy with the linen jacket and felt it was close in weight to the patchwork. It was time to make the real thing!!

I had to add a few extra patches to the sleeve pieces because I decided to make full length sleeves originally I had planned 3/4 length sleeves. I abandoned the idea of trying to blend the seams by adding patches, which was once an idea.

Sewing the jacket together was relatively quick and simple, I did hand finish the lining. Without darts, pocket etc the only time consuming part was setting the sleeves in and the hand finishing.

All of a sudden I had a meal to go to in two days time and I wanted to wear it! I grabbed 30 minutes here and there and sat hand stitching late at night on the sofa with a big push to try and get it finished. I laughed at the irony of this speedy completion after the best part of three years leading up to it.

It became a mixed bag of emotions – was it over the top? was it a bit of a silly unplanned project that looked like the scrap that it is? was it the precious carefully created jewel fabric I wanted it to be? It is funny how my feelings towards it swung from one extreme to the other.

I think the final thought process is when you wear something, do you walk tall or do you wish you could go home and get changed!!

I felt happy wearing it, as I looked down at the sleeves I reminisced about the use of each scrap, the story each one told, I remembered things I had made and thought about the stories and processes associated with that fabric piece. It is a jacket made of pieces personal to me, one day it may well become a new piece of scrap but it was a good reminder that its not about the destination its the journey. It was a lot of work that I was absorbed in at times and not interested at others, I meandered through the project without pressure (apart from the last 2 days!!).

From a sustainable point of view it underlined value versus cost. The time and attention that I gave this jacket means it has a lot of value to me now. Yet it was made from waste. The only cost in money was about £10 for embroidery threads, everything else was scrap or already owned.

I think of the times people say it only cost £10 so I will throw it away! 

Would I do it again- I love having made something that has been a lot of work and become an individual piece. I think I would make something like this again however I would probably aim for less hand work or if I did this amount again I would probably spend more time planning the idea. 

I felt colourful wearing it, I wore it with wide leg jeans and a white embroidered Claire top I am looking forward to wearing it again.

 

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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