Sewing with less fabric

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When you sew it’s only a matter of time before you own some sort of fabric collection and some of these lengths will be smaller than required to sew up a garment.

There are 3 basic ways a fabric can end up in my stash, not having been bought for a specific project.

  1. I may have gone into a cute little fabric shop in a pretty town and wanted to buy something to support the owner .
  2. I saw some fabric, any fabric, in a charity shop and bought it.
  3. I have bought for a song or been given someone else’s fabric collection for free – I am unable to say no to any offers of this nature.

My pattern collection is mostly made up of ‘free patterns’ from magazines, in fact my whole sewing practice is quite chaotic and unplanned and I like it like that, but as my experience grows, order and satisfaction is emerging from chaos. With a now pretty decent collection of both fabric and patterns, the garments I sew may be driven by either, but often when I chose a fabric and a pattern from my stash to go together, there will not be the required yardage. I have stopped worrying about this because whatever yardage is available it can usually be made to work .

Once I have settled on the main fabric for a garment, I will make fit adjustments to the pattern pieces like shortening the length (I am 5ft 3in so this is a usual adjustment for me), lay the main pieces out on the fabric to see what will fit and cut these pieces out. The main pieces will be the largest ones on the front of the garment so shirt fronts, skirt fronts, dress bodices, front trouser legs, and as long as 2 or 3 of these main pieces will fit I am good to go. Sleeves, pockets, collars and belts are OK on the cross grain if the print is non directional.

Denim A line skirt with yolk waistband

Most recent make is this skirt for which stated the fabric required was 1.95 square metres. I only had 1.2 square meters of this black stretch denim, and the width was an unuseful 110cm which would only accommodate 3 of the 4 panels of this A line skirt. I cut the 2 back panels exactly as required by the pattern and then re-assessed the situation. Instead of cutting one front panel whole, I made a seam about a quarter of the way up from the hem of the front pattern piece and cut the front 2 pieces of the skirt in 4 parts. The reason I chose to do this on the front and not the back was because I planned to cover the seam line with some sort of trim which would sit better at the front than the back.

The remaining pieces were the yolk style waist band and pockets, which were completed with co-ordinating similar weight small pieces of stash fabric.

I’ve shown the skirt here with the top tucked in so you can see the waistband and pockets but this is only for pictures and I would not normally style it like this.

I didn’t cover the extra front seam with a trim as the final garment didn’t look as if it would be improved by it.

Of course I had chosen this pattern in the first place because the 4 panel construction meant the pattern pieces were smaller.

Cotton shirt M6436

I didn’t make a note of how much of this cotton fabric I had but knew it was less than the pattern requirements for McCalls shirt 6436


The sleeve for this pattern is made of 2 pieces so I cut what I could from the main fabric then selected a contrasting but similar weight cotton for one sleeve back, pocket and button band. I am pleased with the result which enabled me to make a garment from 2 small fabric pieces. I knew finding a small piece to go with the main fabric would be no problem because I have a lot of these in quilting type cotton and the sleeve being in 2 pieces was a bonus.

M8379 Wrap dress in stretch jersey

Things started out well with this vogue wrap dress V8379 with the skirt and front bodice pieces coming out of the fabric whole and as designed.


I did have at least 2 metres of 150cm wide fabric but this dress uses a lot. The sleeves were shortened and cut on the cross grain but then things began to get tricky. There was virtually nothing left for the back bodice, belt and collar. I slept on it and hoped that inspiration would come, and it did.

I raided my fabric stash and found some skinny rib fabric in black which was sufficient for the belt and collar then gritted my teeth and cut the back bodice from 4 small pieces, breaking all grainline rules but with the polka dot design you can’t tell that much.

The collar and belt work well with the main fabric and I think I can just about get away with the back bodice being pieced together, which seemed a better option than using a contrast fabric on this occasion.

Its become almost a challenge for me to sew this way and part of the reason I do it is to use up my smaller pieces and be left with fewer new ones from each sewing project.

How do you decide what to sew next?

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So Sewists how do you decide out of all the patterns you already own and all the fabric you already own and all the new stuff out there what you are going to make next?

For myself it’s a combination of pattern, fabric stash, wardrobe gaps and season and thoughts going round in my head all coming together.

The pattern in question here is M6436, shown on the right above – a McCall’s button down shirt pattern with sleeve, pocket and cup size options, owned because it was ‘free’ with ‘Love Sewing’ magazine which I have on subscription.

I have read some opinion about free patterns with magazines, whether or not they should be included, for example, with the #frugalfrocks2021 challenge.

I probably buy the magazine mostly for the free patterns, it’s a win win situation because if I like the patterns I ‘ll keep them and if I don’t I will sell them on ebay and this will probably cover the price of the magazine. In defence of the magazine there are always 2 or 3 PDF patterns included as well so you have 5 or so patterns each month for your subscription price and surely are going to like at least 2?

Anyway, onto the fabric stash element…. I bought 2 1970’s era Marks and Spencer double sheets 50% poly cotton, some time last year in my local Salvation army shop priced £2.99 for both

Attracted to them because the design screamed 1970’s plus the price, plus there were 2 of them, these sheets were too small for my bed as the mattress was too thick, but I bought them for the fabric.

At home it was difficult to see what could be made out of them – conclusion was a shirt would probably be OK, and this idea fermented away in my brain and gradually popped up as the thing to make next. I am a sequential maker, don’t have garments cut out and not sewn up, only think one or two makes ahead, usually only make one thing per month.

As to wardrobe gaps and season, well I don’t honestly have any wardrobe gaps at all. Making my own clothes is something I do for me and is not really driven by actual need, but it is my main hobby, I use a lot of 2nd hand fabric, and that’s how I justify it.

When making a new pattern it’s a headache to decide what size to cut with the shoulder, armholes, bust, waist and length to consider. My experience with McCall’s tells me to cut a size 14 shoulders and sleeves and size 16 everything else, even though my body measurements would place me in a size 16 & 18.

This is my first time of using a pattern with cup sizes and from my measurements I should have cut a D cup, that dart was extraordinarily huge on the pattern piece so decided to go for the C because after all I saw this garment as a toile. Unusually for me I went for the most complicated version with full shirt collar and stand, pleated pockets and full sleeves.

Other regular adjustments were to lower the bust apex by 1 inch and take 1 inch out of the length of both body and sleeves.

As you can see from the photo above I just re-draw the dart pointing to my actual apex which is much easier but has implications for the side seam which bothers me because to square up it involves taking out a bit of the extra bust room which you’ve added in from the larger dart. One day I will learn to do this properly and move the dart en masse.

This time I also curved the dart in a little at the point to avoid a conical effect and it did look better but was then covered up by the pocket so could not be seen.

My sheet was thicker and less willing to take a crease than most sheets you would buy today. The cuffs, collar and pocket tabs required sewn in interfacing and I just used another piece of sheet for this which worked fine.

Whenever you sew something there are inevitably small pieces of fabric left over, too big to throw out but too small to make any garment from. I keep these pieces in a shoebox but recently the shoe box is getting a bit difficult to close so I decided to use these small pieces of fabric for small pattern pieces whenever I make something, regardless of whether I had enough main fabric to complete the garment or not. Hence I used for the button band and pocket flaps, some navy and orange 100% cotton poplin fabric with a fox pattern which I had previously used for a Helen’s Closet Suki Robe.

As I said, the sheet was quite thick and reluctant to respond to pressing. The fox fabric pressed like a dream. The instructions for this pattern were easy but I made a mistake and followed the instructions for view A which just has a collar stand and no collar, instead of view C which meant I sewed up the collar stand when it should have been left open to attach to the collar. I covered up this mistake with some bias binding although I did have plenty of sheet left and probably should have cut another piece and sewed it properly.

This pattern uses 2 interfaced plackets and in the finished garment this seemed a bit bulky. Next time I will just interface the buttonhole placket and not the button placket which seems to be the standard with a button down shirt anyway.

I started working on this shirt at 10am and apart from a few meal and exercise breaks did not finish until 10pm. Once I got started I just didn’t want to stop.

The fit is pretty good, it could go an inch or 2 shorter but is still OK at this length, therefore a success as a toile but does it look obviously home made and like a sheet? Does that bother me?… well not much. I am not aiming for a RTW look I’m aiming to make something that fits me using supplies I already own and I like this shirt more every time I put it on. It was meant to be a toile but every sewist hopes a toile will be wearable don’t they? The shirt (sheet) fabric is quite thick and warm so I think it’s going to be good across 3 seasons. The flowery pattern makes it more difficult to find something it goes with but as I don’t make many plain garments (should make more) that’s not a unique problem for me.

I still have another full sheet left but that’s a make for another day. However, plans for a version in a different non- sheet fabric are already afoot.