10 Tips for Environmental Sewing
How to reduce the environmental impact of your clothes? I just watched this Youtube video on the huge clothing waste problem that is created by the fast fashion. The good thing about sewing is that it’s harder to make those shopping binges where you buy cheap clothes that you don’t need. The time and effort that it takes to make a garment makes it harder to throw things away. However, there are still things that you can do to make your hobby even more environmentally friendly. So, here is my list of 10 tips for environmental sewing:
1. Concentrate on quality
When you make garments, do not rush. Take your time and consider what kind of clothes suit you and how to best make them fit. Use good quality materials that make your garments last.
2. Refashion old garments
The thrift stores are full of old-fashioned clothes that have good material in them. Especially those of us that are smaller in size can benefit from the amount of material that is available in larger sized garments. You can also add darts, embellishments, change collars and shorten sleeves. Just to give you a few examples: I have turned an old silk shirt into a set of pyjamas and turned leather from an old pair of leather pants into nice little slippers for my daughter.
3. Salvage materials from old clothes
When you have garments that are at the end of their life, you probably still have perfectly good buttons and zips in them. Men’s shirts get worn from the cuffs and collars but the other parts of the shirt might make a dress for a toddler or a summer top for you. Old bedsheets and pillowcases often have hand-crocheted lace that I will always salvage. It can be used to decorate different kinds of projects. This bicycle basket has been decorated with vintage hand-crocheted lace.
4. Use factory remnants
Factory remnants are those end-of-rolls and slightly damaged pieces of fabric that the garment factories throw away. They are practically waste and it’s a good idea to make them into something wearable. They are also cheaper than regular fabric so you’ll also save money.
What I also like with the factory remnants is that the fabric quality shows with the fabrics that are not rolled neatly into bolts. If your fabric has been bunched up in a bin for a long time and it still is crease and pill-free, it’s probably good quality. Quite quickly you develop a sense of what is good quality fabric and what kind of fabric suits for which project which helps you to develop yourself as a sewist.
5. Be mindful of how you cut your fabric
Use the cutting diagrams as a suggestion only! Often you can save up to 30 % fabric if you play around with the pattern pieces and look for the most optimal placement of them. Just make sure that you still follow the grainline! Down below is an example of one instance where I was particularly happy with how little fabric was wasted. This is particularly true since the pattern pieces in this particular case didn’t have seam allowances. Often I also fold the fabric several times to further reduce the fabric waste.
6. Avoid mixed fibre fabrics
This is something that I should probably pay more attention to. The mixed fibre fabrics are much harder to recycle. So if you can choose, leave those cotton-polyester-elastane fabrics in store and try using 100 % cotton or other fibres. Or at least save the elastane for those garments that really benefit from the increased elasticity!
7. Organic cotton
Cotton growing has a big cost on the environment where it is grown. Organic cotton is grown without using synthetic pesticides which harm the local biodiversity. Nowadays it is easier and easier to find organic cotton fabrics in fabric stores. The other good thing is that you will yourself be less subjected to those pesticides that may have effects on your health. This is especially something you should think about when sewing garments for children. My example is this sleepsuit I made for my nephew out of pretty organic cotton print.
8. Quilt and make little projects from remnants
Not all the fabrics are good for quilts but 100 % cottons do make beautiful ones. Or if you don’t quilt, find someone who does and is happy to give a home to your remnants! This quilt has some fabrics that I couldn’t find any use for and some remnants from dress and shirt projects. And this little bag to carry snack foods was made out of cotton remnants from dress projects:
Other things that you can make from remnants are pencil cases, toys, doll’s clothes, baby clothes and scarves.
I’d think that most of us already do this with garments that we no longer use. If your garment is still usable, donate it to charity or give it to someone who can use it. You can also do the same with fabric remnants. Many clothes stores take in fabrics. Unfortunately, not everything that is donated is used and recycled. You can also think of people that may have used for smaller pieces of fabric. Kindergartens, schools and nursing homes often need materials for crafting. I have donated fabrics for the local recycling centre, my daughter’s kindergarten and my son’s school.
I also spend one busy weekend turning some of my remnants into cool play costumes for my daughter’s preschool that didn’t have any. It doesn’t take much time to make some hero capes, princess dresses or animal tails for kids to fuel their imagination. It’s also pretty easy. In fact, my then 6-year-old daughter helped serging straight rolled hems for belts and capes.
10. Buy less or make less
The last but not least advice. It is always a good idea to consider, whether you really need something new. Do you really need that new shiny fabric or do you already have a big stash at home? I admit that I am always struggling with this. Luckily there are those thrift stores where you can shop with good conscience!
I hope you liked this post. Do you have any other ideas on how to reduce the impact your sewing hobby has on the environment? Please share them down below in the comments! Happy and eco-friendly sewing!
Great post! I would caution sewists who are NOT poor to be mindful when shopping in Thrift shops for opportunities to refashion donated clothing. Those large sized clothes were donated for POOR women who struggle with finding clothing to fit them at a reasonable cost. Encouraging middle-upper class sewists to shop in Thrift Shops for large size clothing for a cheap, environmentally conscious choice of fabric is honestly a unfair. It’s different certainly for the poor sewist who absolutely does need a break on fabric! But if you don’t fall in that category then I think low environmental impact fabrics like tencel (not bamboo – it’s production is horrid on the environment), linen, peace silk etc. are excellent choices 🙂
Well, according to everything that I’ve heard, more clothes gets donated than can ever be put to use. I recommend watching that documentary I linked. There simply aren’t enough poor people to use all the clothes that are thrown away. Of course, I’m sure that depends on where you are but we sewists are a very small minority of all the people. We just can’t use enough to make any real impact on the amount of clothes. At least here in Finland there are enough clothes to clothe a population five times bigger.
Also, I as many other sewists probably select garments that aren’t so likely to be picked up by other women, like silk shirts that are not suitable for everyday use. The Recycling center actually has a workshop in it that chops up old garments and refashions them into something modern. They are the best people to know that it makes sense!
Everyone, I know from rich to poor shops at the thrift shops. Here they are meant for recycling more than serving just poor people. There is no stigma associated to wearing second-hand clothing. Besides we have a pretty good social security here, so the poverty is not such an issue as it may be in the States. But of course, you and anyone else can do their own research and make their decision based on that.
Anyway… (Sorry about some typos above) Thank you for this input, anyway. I will now do a bit more research to see, whether I should stop buying those bigger clothes. Of course, bigger can mean many things. I just modernised a silk blouse that was size 42. That’s not really big, just big for me. Also an old fashioned maxi skirt might have a lot of fabric, even if the size was XS…
Ok. Now I have done some research. I asked the local Recycling centre directly and asked opinions on a couple of FB forums that have a lot of sewing women in many different shapes and sizes. The professional opinion of the local Recycling center was indeed as I suspected that there are too many garments going to waste and that any use is good use. This was also the consensus of the FB forums. The reason, why there aren’t that many big sizes available is just that there are fewer women that need them and their clothes are often worn to pieces. Some of the bigger women said that they buy two smaller sizes and combine them into one big size! With flea markets, it’s generally a rule that the first person to grab it is the person getting it. No reason to save it to somebody that might never come and like the garment.
7. It is very difficult to find fabrics, which are not mixed. I hope that some day they invent how to separate them.
It depends on what you are sewing. With knits it is often so. However, it is pretty easy to find 100 % cotton, viscose or linen from woven fabrics. I do love elastane blends for leggings or sportswear and it’s hard to find a proper replacement. But there are surely blends that are just there for no particular reason. What I plan to do myself, is to take this knowledge I now have to make informed choises. If there are two fabrics and I could choose either of them, I will from now on choose the one that is not a blend.
Thank you for taking such care to research further into my concern re refashioning Thrift donations Katja and your lengthy responses! I am in Canada just to clarify, not US 🙂 We do have a more extensive social net than the US, however, we live in a very high cost of living country (as do you) so we have a VERY large percentage of people whom are classified as the “working poor”. This means their wages just barely cover their basic needs of housing and food.
In Thrift Shops, the per centage of clothing that is large size is small compared with much smaller sizes. There are many reasons why this is so. For example, people go on diets intending to achieve their desired smaller size and are unable to sustain it long term so donate their now too-small clothes to thrift shops. If you were to look carefully at the number of large size silk blouses compared to tiny silk blouses, I think you’ll notice that difference.
But I’m sure you’re right that there are far too many clothes being donated than there are shoppers buying them! I’m not saying truthfully that this isn’t a viable source of fabric, I’m only suggesting that this practice be embraced with some mindfulness about whether you, as a middle/upper class sewist, are scooping a garment from the Thrift shop that would be such a find for a poor woman who cannot afford to purchase such a garment new nor sew her own.
Thanks for the clarification. Sorry, I assumed your nationality. I’m not sure if you ever mentioned it. But you may rest assured that a size 44 blouse generally has plenty of fabric for me and those are quite common in the thrift shops. To be honest, if I bought just bolt fabrics, I wouldn’t have this blog, since it would be too expensive! Just keeping the site costs money and basically everything that goes into it. Keep that in mind and consider clicking my adds! I may some day even get something out of them! (We in have a funny saying in here that might be best translated by: “It’s nice to live in Hope, said the tapeworm.”)
I have visited Canada, many years ago. There was a conference in Hamilton and I also got to see the Niagara falls and drank some ice wine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard about the Bra Maker’s supply back then or I had visited it while I was there!
Katja I totally understand the costs related to blogging – and for sure I will click my way through your affiliate links but I’m afraid you’re right that the return is rather low – maybe youtube would pay better? Some youtube sewists have an incredible following and it seems to zoom up really fast I think because so few are actually doing it.
Well, you are welcome to visit my YouTube channel! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs6PCxM0IJDRPni4xPKtROQ However, I am not really starting regular vlogging anytime soon.
Another great post. You are so thoughtful. Thank you.
Avoiding man made fabrics is hard and can be frustrating especially in knit fabric. I was about to give up and succumb to a wool polyester with a high wool percentage for a cardigan. It does mean that I have more money to spend on quality fabric that will last longer and wear well.
Good points! I use disposable camping bed sheets for tracing patterns and sometimes for making simple muslins. They are biodegradable so I’d think they’re better for the environment than plastic tracing film.
I have only ever seen that plastic film at my old high school. I used to use greaseproof paper from kitchen bit nowadays I just buy big rolls of Burda tracing paper. Those disposable bedsheets are good if you want to use the same pattern over and over again since those sheets don’t rip so easily. I used to use then when I made cloth diapers for my babies!