Use fabric scraps to make zero-waste “freestyle fringe”

Child's fairy dress decorated with several rows of "freestyle fringe"

It’s hard to sew without creating scraps, especially when you’re starting with odd bits and damaged pieces. It’s also true that the smaller the scrap, the trickier it can be to use it up, especially if it is also irregularly shaped. This “freestyle fringe” technique is a simple way to use up all those bits and pieces. In this post I’ll explain what to collect, how to sort your scraps, and how to make the fringe. In subsequent posts, I’ll explore some ways to use freestyle fringe on clothing, accessories, and household items. Grab your scrap bag, and let’s get started.

Red monster face made using freestyle fringe
“Zero-waste monster” made using several rows of freestyle fringe.

What to use

Freestyle fringe can be made of almost any kind of fabric, as long as it’s not really stiff. I have used denim and velvet but I wouldn’t try stiff canvas or fake fur. You need to be able to scrunch it up and sew through a few layers without straining your machine (or hands if you’re hand-stitching). The softer your fabric is, the easier it will be to work with.

The fiber content of your fabric doesn’t really matter but if you want to be able to wash it, all the fabrics should have compatible washing instructions. Silks and some cottons are prone to leaking dye when they are washed. A five minute soak in warm water will show you if that’s likely to be a problem.

Wash anything that is dirty. Discard anything that is smelly or has oily stains. Those are likely to transfer and could ruin anything they come in contact with. Holes and tears are fine. So are faded parts, permanent (non-oily) marks, snags, runs, and unraveled edges.

Prints and solids all work as long as they fit your colour scheme. (More about that in the sorting section.)

You will also need a foundation fabric to sew your fringe onto. It could be a strip or a patch. It depends on how you plan to use your freestyle fringe. What you use for your foundation doesn’t affect how the fringe is made. I’ll be using a large rectangle for my illustrations but you can alter that however you want.

Fabric scraps sorted for colour theme of "at the beach"
Scraps selected for an “at the beach” colour theme.

Sort your stash

Freestyle fringe works best with a colour theme. It can be a single colour, like red, or a range, like pinks and purples. You can also choose an event (eg Christmas) or place (eg the beach) and build your colour scheme around it.

Sort through your stash of scraps and pull out anything that fits your colour scheme. Make a loose pile of those selected pieces and put the remaining scraps away for another project.

Now take a good look at your pile of colour sorted scraps. Are there any bits that stick out like they don’t belong? You could use them as accents but remove them for now.

Are the colours starting to work together or is it still a jumbled mess? If you chose a few colours (eg blues, browns, and yellows for a beach theme), you might find that they look better to you if they are subdivided into smaller colour piles. A rainbow colour scheme will look messy all thrown together, but quite nice when it’s organized into smaller piles with colours flowing from one to the next.

Continue sorting and weeding until you like the way your scrap pile(s) look. Remember that anything that sticks out in the pile will also stick out in the fringe.

Making freestyle fringe

Chop it up

This is where the “freestyle” in freestyle fringe really comes into play. You will not be cutting out pieces, you will be chopping up your scraps into usable bits. They will not match! I find triangles easier to use for my basic rough shape because they let me use all those angled bits and strange shapes. If you have mostly strips of fabric for your scraps, then you might find rectangles work well. It doesn’t really matter, Neither does grain direction.

Several rows of freestyle fringe made using rectangles instead of triangles
Several rows of freestyle fringe using folded rectangles instead of triangles.

Decide roughly how long you want the pieces to be. You can base this on the size of your scraps or on the space you want to cover with your fringe. Cut your scraps into rough triangles that are about that length. They can be wide or skinny. Just cut so that all the fabric is used.

If your scraps were subdivided into smaller piles, keep the triangles sorted that way.

One row of triangles scrunched and stitched onto a foundation fabric for freestyle fringe.
First row of scrunched triangles stitched in place for freestyle fringe. You can see the variations in the size and shape of the pieces.

Sew it together

There’s a bit of “freestyle” in the sewing of the fringe too. Instead of gathering each piece, you’re just going to bunch it up with your fingers and sew over the bunched up triangles one by one to form a strip. You can overlap the triangles or not, depending on your preference. You can bunch them a lot or a little, again depending on your preference.

I usually use my presser foot for a seam allowance gauge but if the fabric is fairly coarse, I would leave a larger allowance. Stitch length is average and thread is usually something that blends in.

If you’re working with just one colour pile, then grab triangles at random and stitch them in place. If you are working with more than one colour pile, you will need to decide how you want to organize the colours in your fringe. The pink and purple fairy dress in the feature illustration has a top row of just purple, the next row with mostly purple, the third row with mostly pink, and the bottom row with all pink.

Closeup view of fairydress with freestyle fringe showing colour changes in the fringe layers
Closeup view of freestyle fringe between the ruffles of this fairy dress. The fringe is all purple at the top layer and gradually changes to all pink at the bottom.

That’s all there is to it – just chop, bunch, and stitch. It’s simple way to use those awkward leftovers from other projects. Coming soon: projects and instructions for using freestyle fringe. Stay tuned!