Sewing a Zero Waste Pouf (And Using Up Fabric Scraps!)
The sewing project I’m sharing with you today has taken me years to complete…literally, and there were two things that sparked the idea for this project. One, I read a news report several years ago, right when the Canada Goose winter coats were super popular, about a company making counterfeit coats filled with factory floor textile sweepings instead of goose down. Aside from the fact that they were scamming people, I thought that using up fabric scraps as insulation was actually a pretty ingenious idea. Then, right about that same time, I saw a blog post by Brittany of Untitled Thoughts (I can’t find the specific post) about a pieced scrap pouf which had been filled with cotton quilting fabric to use as a means of storage in your sewing room. So, I melded the two ideas and now several years, and a LOT of scraps, later I have finally finished my (almost completely) zero waste pouf!
What exactly is a pouf and what makes it different than an ottoman or a footstool? Well, an ottoman or a footstool has legs or is made of a frame with a padded top, whereas a pouf is just like a giant pillow, without any kind of base structure. So are you interested in making your own? Here’s how I did it!
First, you will need to start saving scraps, and this is the longest part of the project. I saved everything including synthetic fibre clothing such as t-shirts, hoodies, jeans and pantyhose which couldn’t be used for rags. I also saved the seams out of the garments that we did cut up for rags. And, of course, I saved sewing scraps of all sizes, like I mentioned in my post last week. I saved these textile scraps in a giant black garbage bag and though I initially thought I had way too many scraps, I actually ended up using all of them plus more. In the image above, that is a metre stick for reference.
Once you’ve gathered about 1.5 times the amount of scraps you think you’ll need, it is time to start readying your pouf lining!
Figure out the dimensions of your pouf. I made mine 20″ across, so the circumference was approximately 63″ around. I mapped out my pattern pieces on a grid paper determining what size of pieces with seam allowances would fit exactly into the fabric I was going to use. Also note, depending on which kind of fabric you’re going to use, you might want to make the bottom out of a more durable (and affordable!) fabric like canvas since it won’t be seen anyway. Originally I was going to make my pouf out of mustard velvet, and pleat the top into the centre like a vintage round pillow, but once the fabric arrived (from Etsy)…it was not the right colour of yellow, so I ended up changing my plan.
Cut out 2 circles, with seam allowances, to use as the top and bottom and then either one piece or 2 pieces for the sides.
I used cotton canvas as the fabric for my lining bag, and I did a double layer with an old worn out mattress cover to prevent any lumps from the stuffing from showing through. You could use fleece, a wool blanket or towel as an interlining. If you are using a thick upholstery fabric, I don’t know if this step will be as important, but if you are using a thinner outer fabric, then I would definitely add that second layer. Sew the two layers together and then work them as one piece.
Sew the side piece together at the ends. Then measure the bottom circle and side piece into 4 even quadrants and pin together at those points and sew together. Do not sew the top circle on, because it will be added later.
Now it is time to stuff the lining bag! You don’t want to just wad the fabric in, otherwise it will get very lumpy and misshapen. Here is the method I used to avoid as much lumpiness as possible.
First, sort your scraps into piles of soft materials like fleece etc. that you will use to smooth out lumps, bulky and heavy or large pieces of fabric, and any tiny scraps. This step of sorting through and cutting the scraps will definitely make you feel like you are one of the children in the pawn shop in the 1951 movie “A Christmas Carol”. Take your small scraps and cut into 1″ or smaller pieces. I did this over several days to avoid my hand cramping.
Once you have a large batch of shredded pieces, place a layer several inches thick across the bottom of the bag.
Then, take your larger scraps and fold them. Lay them flat in the centre of the pouf and keep stacking until you have a layer several inches thick. Take more of the small shredded scraps and sprinkle them in between the centre folded “pillar” and the lining bag to create a bit of soft insulation. (Folding the pieces into the centre means that they won’t compress too much over time, so you won’t end up with a lopsided or deflated pouf.) Keep folding pieces into the bag and adding the small scraps around the outside. Once you’ve reached the top of the lining bag, it is time to attach the top.
Again, make sure to pin on four equal quadrants like you did for the bottom and pin the top circle to the side piece. Hand stitch the pieces together. You can use any colour of thread for this since it won’t be seen; I used up a bunch of old spools of red thread that had only tiny amounts left on them not enough for a larger projects.
Once you’ve stitched the “lid” halfway around the circumference, knot your thread because it’s time to start stuffing again!
This is the time to use any fleece, batting or other soft materials, so you’ll get a nice smooth top to your pouf. Fill in any gaps with more shredded pieces. Keep pushing scraps into the bag; it will take more than you think you need. Once you’ve got the one half pretty well full, then sew another quarter of the top closed and with that final small section, push as many scraps as you can into the bag. Then finally stitch the last section closed.
You are not quite ready to cover your pouf, though. It is time to sit on it and squish it down and punch it into shape and let the pieces settle for a while. It will be pretty solid, but after while of use, it will slightly deflate and then you can add more scraps to the top. I left mine for a couple of months (because I was trying figure out how I wanted to cover it once the velvet didn’t work out) but it actually worked out perfectly that way, because it really gave time for the scraps to squish down. I would recommend leaving it for a few weeks, making sure to sit on it every once in a while to press it down.
Once the scraps have settled as much as they are going to, open up a quarter of the seam in the top and add more scraps! Use more tiny shredded scraps to fill in the top and then once it is stuffed to overflowing, stitch the top back together. You will now have a very solid (and heavy) pouf form ready to be covered.
There are lots of ways you can make a pouf (like a Morrocan style or gathering the top like I mentioned earlier) but I ended up doing a simple 3 piece top, side and bottom since I chose to cover mine with a quilt!
This was the quilt that I had on my bed for about 14 years, and it has started to show it’s age. Now that I have a new quilt, it was time to retire this one. At first I was debating dyeing it, but then I realized that white would actually be the perfect colour for my very light and bright bedroom. Maybe if I eventually get the sofa of my dreams (vintage yellow and cream floral) I will recover the pouf in yellow velvet and put it with my sofa, but in the meantime it works quite nicely in my bedroom beside my closet. And since I’m not actually putting my feet up on it, like if it was in front of my sofa, the fact that it’s white should be all right. (I hope!)
My quilt had a border pattern which I utilized as the side piece- I cut one long strip 15″ wide the full length of the quilt. Then I cut the top and bottom circles out of the middle diamond quilted section. (PS. There was just enough fabric to use the end pieces of that strip to make a square cushion cover too!)
Cut your outer pieces the same dimensions as the lining. Sew the top and side pieces together, again pinning in even quadrants and easing it all the way around.
Once I placed my cover on the pouf, I realized that the fabric had stretched out quite a bit and the top edge was hollow, so I brought it back to the sewing machine and sewed a 1″ seam allowance all the way around, instead of a 5/8″. Make sure to test the fit of your outer fabric, just to make sure that it fits well.
Next stitch a seam guide along the edge of the bottom circle and the side pieces (in the same colour of thread as your fabric) so when you hand stitch them together, you will have a guide to follow. I stitched a 1″ seam allowance guide from the edge.
NOTE: This time we are sewing the top and side pieces by machine, not the bottom and side pieces as we did with the lining, because we are going to hand stitch the bottom this time, not the top. If you are using a fabric other than your upholstery fabric for the bottom, then that is the piece you will be hand sewing later.
Again, measure your 4 quadrants on your bottom circle and side pieces and mark with pins or chalk. Place your cover onto your pouf and then flip it upside down. Now, line up your 4 points and pin together. Then work your way around between the 4 points and pin together, easing as you go.
Your stitched seam guide will help here because now you’ll know how much to fold under for your seam allowance. If, once you’ve pinned the pieces together, it looks like it’s going to be too loose then you can fold it more as needed. It’s OK if your bottom circle is a bit smaller than the top, because then the seam will tuck underneath the pouf and be hidden.
Now it’s time to start hand sewing again. This is best done while listening to an audiobook or podcast (I listened to A Tale of Two Cities)! When stitching, don’t start at one point and work your way all the way around, but instead start at one point, sew about an 8″ section, then rotate the pouf 180 degrees and sew a section directly across. Again, sew a section and then turn 90 degrees and sew a section and so on, until all of the sections meet. This way you can ease your fabric pieces together without ending up with bubbles, and, if needed, you can make adjustments- pulling the fabric in tighter etc.
Once you’ve knotted your last thread and turned the pouf right side up…then you are done. Congratulations, you have managed to save a huge amount of textile waste from the landfill and turn it into something both useful and beautiful!
I love how this project turned out and I had a lot of fun making it. It fits perfectly into my bedroom, and I am very pleased that I was able to use mostly salvaged materials; it was the perfect way of using up fabric scraps! The worst part about finishing this project is that I already have a bunch of new textile scraps…what on earth am I going to use them for?
Do you think you’ll make a project like this? What fabric would you use to cover it with? Do you have any other ideas for ways of using up fabric scraps?