How to Recycle Fabric for Quilting and Sewing Projects

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Picture of Ingrid Alteneder

Ingrid Alteneder

Hey there, I love fabric, sewing, quilting and most of all Foundation Paper Piecing. Welcome to my blog!

Recycling fabric is an essential part of foundation paper piecing or any type of quilting for that matter. This process will save you money on buying new fabric, while also pushing your creativity by meshing new textures and patterns together.

Of course we did not invent recycling. Recycling is as old as history of human kind. Our ancestors did it out of necessity. I remember my grandma and also my mum keeping leftover anything, and I am not just talking food. Maybe that’s why I became a ‘keeper of everything‘ as well.

Recycling is finally a ‘THING’ again and an important one at that. Nothing combines importance, necessity and beauty quite like a quilt or a mosaic. Have I told you that I am collecting broken dishes and tiles as well, nicely sorted by color? But that’s a story for another time. We’re talking fabric today.

Why should you recycle fabric?

There a a few reasons why we should recycle fabric:

1. Fabrics are Expensive!

If you’ve been sewing for a while you will probably learn that sewing isn’t a cheap hobby. A yard or meter of fabric can easily cost between 18-24 Euros. And depending on your project this can get really expensive. Recycling fabric will sometimes leave you with smaller pieces to use, but this process can challenge and teach your skill as a quilter.

2. Recycle Fabric for the Environment

The cost of the fabric isn’t everything, let’s talk environment.
Fabric has to be produced, that means cotton fields, pesticides, lots of water etc. Then it has to be bleached and printed, packed and shipped worldwide. This is just the quick version , but you get the drift; the production of cotton puts an unnecessary strain on our environment.

Even if we can reduce this by a little bit it makes a difference in the big picture.

3. Remembering Memories and History

Some of the items that we recycle remind us of people, places or experiences, and are so worth keeping. Your dads favorite shirt, your daughters first dress, your grandmas sheets, whatever it is; can turn a sewing project into a very special gift or keepsake. Even if it’s not a personal memory, it can be a ‘feel’ of time or history.

This is one of the things that makes fabric unique and powerful as a creative tool, and working with fabrics from your life can add that extra remembrance to projects.

4. Beauty of Vintage Prints is Unmatched

This is my favorite, since some of those vintage fabrics, just have the nicest and coolest prints, weaves or textures. Later on in this article, we will talk about some of the best places to find these fabrics, regardless of where you are in the world!

Similar to recycling, finding unused fabrics that would likely be thrown away and using them is a fantastic way to look out for the environment. They will also turn your sewing project into a unique item.

pre-loved hand towels, mens dress shirts, pillowcases and table linnens
recycling fabrics is fun!

Where can I find fabric to recycle?

Finding new fabrics will always bring about new ideas and room for creativity. In the next few sections, we will be discussing our favorite places to find fabrics to use for new projects.

Pro Tip: Look out for anything cotton or cotton blend. You will probably find wash care labels in clothes, but it’s harder with fabric remnants or home decor fabrics.

Cotton fabrics are usually stiff and can be crushed easily and the crease will stay in the fabric. Whereas man made fibers such as polyester, nylon and rayon etc. are smoother and creases will not stay as much in the fabric. You can always test the fabric with burning a little corner, if you’re really not sure.
Natural fibers will burn as opposed to man made fibers that will melt.

Thrift Stores

Here you can find anything from clothing to fabric remnants, pillowcases, table linens, curtains/drapes and sheets. Fine cotton sheets are awesome for the backing of quilts. Coarser cotton sheets can be turned into bags, pouches dish towels and much more.
Let your imagination run wild and try to experiment, you’ll be surprised at what you will find.

Flea Markets

As with thrift stores, check out anything that catches your attention. A cute cotton dress with a flower print, a nice cotton men’s dress shirt with an awesome stripe, some 70’s table linens with huge orange flowers…. the possibilities are endless.

Garage Sales

Same as the above, when you see items that catch your attention, check for stains, holes or tears. Depending on what you’ll be using the fabric for you can still use one that has some imperfections. Sheet especially need to be checked in the middle they are often faded or thin in the center from longer use. It might not be a big deal , because you decide to cut it up anyways, but knowing what you get is always good.

pre-loved hand towels, men’s dress shirts, pillowcases and table linens

Where do you find ‘pre-loved’ fabric for quilting?

There are numerous places to find beautiful used fabrics.
But not all of them are useful for quilting or sewing projects.

recycled fabrics, sheets, table linnens, curtains and towels
recycled fabrics, sheets, table linens, curtains and towels

Now that you found a whole bunch of fabrics what’s next?

First of all I like to wash the fabrics. Most of your finds might be washed already, but I like to make sure I wash them again for two reasons, one, I want to be sure there are no bugs, dust, smell etc. and two, I want to make sure none of the fabrics bleed after I’ve sewn them up.

For pre-loved clothing I cut the items up into usable fabric pieces. This means I will cut off collars, cuffs, buttons etc. and fold the usable parts as I would fold my fat quartes.

For sheets etc. I will cut stained or teared parts and fold the rest as well.

Then, being a color freak I like to sort the fabrc by color so I can easily find them when
I want to use these treasures for new sewing projects.

Here are a few projects I made with pre-loved fabric:

Quilts I made with recycled fabric

These are just a few of the quilts I made with recycled or pre-loved fabrics.
All the white fabrics are pre-loved sheets, the blue quilt is almost entirely made with mens dress shirt fabrics and sheets, I just added a few quilting cottons to give it a more modern look.
What do you think you guys? Wanna go fabric thrifting?

What type of fabric should you recycle for quilting?

You can recycle almost any type of fabric, but if you’re working on a quilting project, try to match up textures and patterns to create a unique design.

Should fabric be recycled for quilting?

Yes! Recycling fabric is really important and easy to do. Fabric has lots of memories tied into them, and this is an important way to make your quilting projects more memorable.

Where can I find cheap fabrics for quilting?

Thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales are all great places to find some fabric that needs some recycling. A lot of these places will throw away their leftover fabric, so putting it to use is awesome.

6 Responses
    1. Hey Hilary,
      I don’t know if I understand your question correctly, base material for sewing what?

      1. I believe I have the same question. What is the ‘scrap band’ that you speak of and are attaching the fabric to.

  1. Thank you for your ideas, advice, your beautiful work. I’m contemplating on making my first quilt. So I’m gathering as much information before I dive in.

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