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From rags to riches: how to save money with worn out clothing and material

Updated on February 26, 2014
A 1940s British poster...the war may be over, but the battle to cut household costs still goes on.
A 1940s British poster...the war may be over, but the battle to cut household costs still goes on.

What can you do with all those items of clothing that are no good for selling or giving away, but too good to just throw in the bin? There are hundreds of uses for scrap material but you need to be organised to make the best use of them.

In our grandmother’s day the ‘scrap bag’ was an essential part of the household. You can be a bit more organised and have a scrap box divided according to material type. It’s easy to get started. You’ll need pinking shears (those zig-zag scissors) sewing kit with sharp scissors or knife, plastic bags, labels, and a storage box.

Before storing check all items are clean and dry and free from moths. Anything moth eaten should be thrown out or used for dirty outside cleaning jobs. Remove any useful buttons, zips, catches etc. Remove any trouser pockets for reuse. Unpick collars from shirts if in good condition, these can be used to replace worn ones on other shirts. (This works best with white shirts). Remove linings from jackets, trousers etc. Unpick any ‘kick tape’ (hemming tape) from trouser cuffs. Keep all these useful bits in a clearly marked bag.

Then, store your items in separate plastic or paper bags according to their material type. Just check the label if you’re not sure what type of material they are. Label each bag clearly (using a roll of masking tape is a quick and cheap way) and store them in a plastic or cardboard box. This avoids the jumble of a ‘rag bag’ and makes it easier to find what you want when you want it.

Here’s a list of the most common types of materials and cloth with some ideas on what you can use them for:

Cotton, esp patterned cotton tee shirts: cut up and hem for handkerchiefs, bandanas etc or cut up with pinking shears for cleaning cloths.

Highly patterned/coloured materials: these are particularly good for cutting up to make quilt covers.

Flannellette: cut up for excellent cloths for cleaning, dusting, shoe polishing etc; cleaning glassware and spectacles, shining silver, using for pullthroughs in rifles/shotguns etc.

Leather and leather-look pvc: use for patching elbows, binding cuffs, kick tape for trouser hems, repairing shoe linings, making insoles, repairing bags, belts etc.

UPVC and non-breathable materials: use for repairing waterproof clothing, umbrellas, tarpaulins, car and bike covers, garden furniture covers etc. It’s easiest just to glue it on or use duct tape.

Corduroy: great for patching elbows of jackets and sweaters, cushion covers, or for repairing soft furnishings.

Knitted items: these can be unpicked and the wool can be reused for knitting and mending.

Velvet: use for patching elbows, binding cuffs, making contrast collars on coats and jackets.

Tweed, especially thick material like Harris Tweed: use for elbow patching on sweaters and jackets or cut out with pinking shears to make coasters or tablemats. Excellent for heavy duty patching on soft furnishings or for making cushion covers, purses, soft toys.

Polycotton: good for patching polycotton bedding and repairing pocket linings and trouser/skirt linings.

Satin/silk/nylon/polyester/viscose etc (especially dark colours): use for repairing coat and jacket linings.

Nylon tights/pantyhose/stockings: cut in bands to make hair scrunchies, plant ties, ties for firewood bundles etc. Also can be used for straining food, homemade wine, paint etc.

Neckties: tie round your luggage when flying to easily identify your bag on the carousel. Neckties are strong and if the fabric is no use they can be used to tie up firewood etc.

Blankets: can be cut down for child or baby blankets or rolled up into draught excluders. Also can be used as heavy curtain linings for winter.

Towels: cut down and hem for face cloths or guest towels or baby towels or cut with pinking shears for cleaning rags. Use as covers for home steaming units.

Denim: ideal for all kinds of heavy patching on clothing, particularly on other jeans. Also good for craft projects like making slippers, aprons, peg bags etc.

Gingham: cut up into circles with pinking shears to make fancy lid covers for home made jam and preserves.

Felt: use for the underside of ornaments, lamps, furniture etc to ease movement and avoid scratches on furniture.

Sheets: keep for dust sheets and for covering furniture when painting etc. Clean ones can be cut up for emergency slings.

Carpet: if throwing out old carpet, cut out good pieces to use as doormats, car mats etc. Hem them with duct tape or binding tape. Large pieces of scrap carpet can be used in the garden as weed barriers around flower beds etc; simply lay them on the weeded area and cover with clean soil.

Rugs: good quality Turkish/Persian rugs which are full of holes or worn areas can be cut down to make cushion covers, table mats, coasters, purses, slippers etc. Check with an auction house first, as antique rugs in poor condition can still be valuable.

Socks: use as cleaning mitts or cut up to patch other socks of the same colour/pattern.

All natural materials (cotton, wool, linen, viscose/rayon, fur, silk, leather) that are no good for anything else can be used as firelighters or put in the compost. This works best with small scraps which biodegrade more easily.

All materials may be sold to rag men, although they will usually want large quantities to sell on to industry for machine cleaning etc. Alternately, donate them to your charity/thrift shop who can sell them on to rag men in bulk. Check first with the shop before donating and mark the bags clearly as rags.

All materials can be used for cushion stuffings, draught excluder stuffings, cleaning off paint brushes, making dolls’ clothing and doll’s house furnishings, costume making for amateur dramatics, pet bedding, book covers, wrapping items for posting or when moving house, etc.

Hugh Morrison has published several books on frugal living available for Amazon Kindle, including Frontier Frugal and A Treasury of Thrift. His latest book is The Frugal Gentleman.

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