Sustainable Sewing: What To Do With Too Much

Sometimes, we get eco-burnout. It’s a real thing. Chloe touched on it in her post, and Kate talked about all the confusing buzzwords and green-washing. We want to do good, but we can only find so many uses for our scraps, and honestly, we all get analysis-paralysis from time-to-time with the pressure to do it all and do it “right.” 

Quilt made from scraps by Denise while in chemotherapy for breast cancer

Highlighted below is a nonprofit start-up in Portland, Oregon, USA, by a veteran nonprofit leader, Denise Archer. Take a read. See some photos of Denise’s all-scrap-art-therapy-work sprinkled throughout. Maybe send in your scraps, find something similar in your area, or I truly hope you’ll be inspired to reach out to Denise and start one in your area. If it’s too much to think about right now, bookmark it or maybe share it on social media, and come back to it when you can.

The People’s Sewing Army is a collective of sewists who feel compelled to repurpose their scrap fabric and donate it to individuals and organizations in need. It’s by the people, for the people. Any sewist can join and have a good time with it. I cannot say what motivates every member to participate, but I can share my own motivation: I feel great responsibility for the garbage I produce. If I can spend a little of my time to lighten the landfill and make someone smile, it’s a win-win.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

Today’s political climate is extremely negative and it’s affecting the public’s psyche. Whenever I tune into the news, much of my day is filled with anger. While anger is a normal feeling that can facilitate great outcomes, too much becomes toxic. It’s exhausting. I would rather focus my energy on something I can control — and make people smile in the process. I want the public to feel charmed and perhaps even giggle once again. We can work together to create a beautiful moment, a sentiment of love and helping those in need. There’s none of that right now.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

The People’s Sewing Army’s mission is simple: We reuse our sewing scraps for good causes. Our main value: We love our planet and the people on it. The first step is to join. That one is simple. The second step is to act. However, there is no obligation to do so. You simply act when you are moved to do so. What you put into the sewing army is up to you.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

Aside from my one and a half year stint as a sewist for a downtown clothing boutique, I’ve always worked in the nonprofit sector serving children and teens. The nonprofit sector is very dynamic. You wear a lot of hats. Also, funding is scarce, so when an opportunity comes along, you immediately turn ideas into effective realities (for example, an idea discussed between me and my boss in late spring turned into a full-blown mentoring program with 31 staff and 30 schools in four school districts by the time school began in September). For that reason, it’s important to have a finger on the pulse of the community. What are people talking about? What is their pain? How will this unfold in the future? And once the money is available, you jump. You take action.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

I began reading on Instagram that people are keenly aware of their scrap output from their sewing hobby. They feel guilty about it. Especially when that scrap is from a synthetic fabric. They also celebrate when they’re able to repurpose their scraps into something useful and beautiful. And they share it for the whole world to see.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

I completely relate to all of these feelings because I have experienced every single one. In fact, my sewing room has bags and bags of scrap fabric waiting for future projects. I’m unable to throw any of it away. And recycling scraps or handing them off to another person doesn’t allow people to see their waste reborn into a secondary useful product. It lacks a concrete ending. Also, there’s mistrust about recycled waste disappearing into the void. And that mistrust is validated by the plastics that are diligently recycled and yet still end up in our oceans.

The People’s Sewing Army is simple. First you join by following @thepeoplessewingarmy on Instagram. I will post missions that you can decide to participate in. It’s all voluntary. The level of commitment is up to you. Once a mission is posted on Instagram, the details will be listed on the blog: If you decide to accept the mission, you will use your scraps to make what the mission dictates. Once your project is completed, you will then mail it to the organization in need. When the organization has received enough of their items, I will communicate to the army that the mission has been accomplished, and it will be closed. I will also post the mission’s outcome so everyone can see how their repurposed item(s) helped the people who received it. I also promise to not clog your Instagram feed 🙂

For now, this idea is being beta-tested with organizations in one community: Portland, Oregon. I need to be able to observe and measure first-hand how the entire process works. I’m currently in discussions with several organizations about their needs. There’s a nonprofit that would like softies for kids in the hospitals, another that would like LGBTQ pride patches for their teens. There’s a potential partnership with the Oregon Zoo — monkeys like fabric, too.

This doesn’t mean that only the Portland citizenry can participate. In fact, it’s strongly encouraged that people from around the world join in when a mission speaks to them. Shipping might be an issue for some missions that ask the army to build heavy items — we will see how this unfolds. And if you question the sustainability of shipping items across the globe: waste is always moved — whether by truck, train, boat, or plane — to a final destination. If your waste is already going to consume energy and resources, with The People’s Sewing Army, your waste can turn into a repurposed item that will be loved.

Sample of Denise’s work with CHAP

If The People’s Sewing Army beta-test is a success, my goal is to have army members from all parts of the world find at least one organization with a need in their area. Members will make the contact, collect the information and deliver it to me. I will post their missions on Instagram and the details of each one on the blog. A collective is a sustainable way to continue this project. Together, we can spread a lot of caring and love, and make a lot of people smile.

In order for us to thrive as a global community, we will need to mend what has been ripped apart. We will need to listen to each other. We will need to work together. The People’s Sewing Army allows us to work together to create a beautiful moment, a sentiment of love and helping those in need. Together we can restore the charm that’s currently absent in the public. All of this from a bunch of scrap fabric.

But remember: the first step is to join. And the second is to act.

Are you inspired to think outside the box with your scraps? Are there other ways your sewing can help your community? What options do you have in your area?

Author Bio: Becky is a Sewcialist Editor, a Portland Frocktails organizer, and a person of international interest… or ridiculous delusions of grandeur, you decide