Featured Article

Working with Rescued Fabrics: A Process in Finding Creative Inspirations for Product Design

March 12, 2020

I was part of Dayton Sewing Collaborative, a non-profit micro-manufacturer where I participated in their textile rescue program, by organizing materials, and finding inspirations for product ideas.

From the beginning.

Most people, including myself, wouldn’t expect a lot of textile waste from a small city like Dayton, Ohio. At the time, I was searching for a nearby facility to produce upcycled vegetable tie-dyed bags. Through my research, I discovered various manufacturing facilities close in proximity.

I came across Dayton Sewing Collaborative, a micro-manufacturer that provided job retraining and offered a community sewing space. I went on a tour of the facility and discovered they also rescued textile waste from businesses and individuals donors that no longer had use for fabrics passed on by loved ones. The below image shows a small sample of their donations. There was a mix of everything from notions to rolls of materials, even a large palette full of suede.

Setting goals

While sorting through the boxes, I discovered a large number of vintage fabrics of various yardage. They ranged from solid colors to a variety of prints, as some were very beautiful. I wanted to find a way to curate them to sell as maker wardrobe boxes and use the heavier winter textiles to produce simple products.

The US high schools no longer offered sewing classes, and there was a lack of youth participation at the Sewing Facility. So I wanted to co-ordinate the boxes with trendy fashion inspirations to attract younger members. The idea is to inspire the younger generation to create beautiful garments they can love.

Figuring out how to organize

Overall, the donated fabrics contained a mix of random styles and colors, reminiscing of fabric stores, and online marketplaces like Etsy (picture below). It is often overwhelming to see the large volume of fabrics and to find a matching color or print is time-consuming.

Individually, there were some beautiful prints, but as a whole, they look dated and dull. Being a curator, designer, I always look for inspirations; it’s like piecing together a puzzle. I believe the process of finding coordinating materials should be more inspiring.

Resources can be limited when using rescued or upcycled materials, often a hodgepodge of colors and styles from various decades. It is labor-intensive to find coordinating materials which are different from working with new materials. Textile mills often create a surplus of materials that coordinate with the season’s full range of colors and print styles. Designers can select from their swatch samples easily to create a variety of outfits.

Finding inspirations

I took pictures of the vintage prints intending to catalog them for sale, but most of them were under 5 yards. Instead, I selected the fabrics that caught my eye and began to organize them by seasons and colors into different groupings. Seeing the materials together always gives me ideas as I try to connect them with various references for inspiration.

The image below shows a small sample of the vintage prints from electric to 70’s floral and geometric prints.

Fashion follows trends, whether its colors or prints. Companies create fashion forecasts that set color and print trends for every season, and this usually happens up to two years in advance. You can find a lot of online resources by searching for “fashion color or print trends.”

I started by searching for fashion colors for Fall / Winter 2018 (picture below). Trends come and go but often repeats, especially vintage styles, as we tend to romanticize things in past decades over the tacky trends of recent years.

Connecting your inspirations

Inspiration is all around us, sometimes it is not visual but from a significant world or cultural events. Those are the things that can shape ideas and influence designs. Looking outward and consider elements outside your normal range can help you form new ideas.

I use Pinterest often and love seeing street styles over fashion runways. Those are the people who are more adventurous with their style and wear it with confidence. I focused on searching for “street fashion from collections bold mixed prints.” Once I found the images, I scanned for commonalities with the vintage prints on hand sorting by colors, print styles, and types of materials.

Below are some results of how the coordinated pieces of prints used in bold ways following a common color palette: mIxing geometrics, floral, and solid colors. Vintage prints can look modern when applied with an updated silhouette.

Colors Theory

Using the color palette as a guide to coordinate is very helpful if you follow trends, and finding your inspirations can help bring things together. This process is the basis of a mood or storyboard. Keep in mind that there are color and design theories to consider before the finalized designs.

Learning about color theory can help you quickly find complementary colors as it can help you make better design decisions. Once you learn the rules, you can be more adventurous as you want and eventually creating your own rules.

Product ideas from Textile Waste

I placed the woolen materials together and thought about winter products. For instance, there were a lot of mixed prints and colored wool materials and a palette of green suede. I looked for simple on-trend product inspiration made with similar materials.

The goal was to create products that do not require pattern-sized grading, as they wouldn’t have to create various sizes.

Inspiring a community

DSC participates in-market events and fundraisers. Some of the inspirational ideas came from the materials available. Time was a factor in determining what type of DIY activity would be suitable for a market, and finding events attracting a younger audience was vital as it helps with increasing membership.

See my Tote Bag Making Kit made from Rescued Upholstery Swatches

The final product is a tote bag sewing kit containing DIY instructions and pre-packaged materials. Zero waste making! Available soon.

See My Tote Bag Making Kits