Confessions from an Unsustainable Sewist

We’re deep into the inspiration for Sustainable Sewing month, so it seems like a good time to admit: I’m not a sustainable sewist!

polyester

I love polyester prints too much to shop sustainably! 

I value the environment, of course, and I *know* that small actions every day are the best way to stop climate change. However, here are my challenges:

1. I love polyester. I do! I am never happier than when sewing an ITY knit, a Liverpool crepe, or a funky double knit. They last forever (that’s the eco problem right there) and the prints and textures suit my sense of style. Polyester is easy for me to buy locally, and it fits my budget!

2. I also love rayon and bamboo! It was a sad day when I realised that rayon and bamboo create a lot of waste in production, because I adore the softness and drape of both.

rayon

Mmm, rayon! Its doesn’t last as long as polyester, but I love wearing it! 

3. I haven’t enjoyed the eco fabrics I’ve bought. I’ve tried organic cotton lycra jersey, and I just don’t end up wearing it. It fades fast, is stiff without drape, and ugh, no thanks. I’ve also tried recycled poly blends, which are fine but so far only seem to come in boring solid colours. I need prints!!!

4. I sew a LOT. I probably make 100+ garments a year. Most are for me, but a healthy proportion are for my family. I’m a process-oriented sewist — it’s the whir of the machine that makes me happy, so slow sewing just doesn’t do it for me!

5. Sewing is my stress relief, and guilt over scraps brings me down. I used to save every scrap thinking I’d make kid clothes or underwear, but I sew so prolifically that the scraps built up way faster than I could use them. I’ve learned that I need to throw out a garbage bag full of scraps every 6 months or the guilt will kill my sewjo! I know this is bad. I know I should trek to the nearest mall and put them in H&M fabric recycling, but spending an hour to get rid of scraps just seems overwhelming. I want to do better but it makes panic rise in my stomach – and that’s not how my hobby should make me feel!

Do you hate me yet? Or are you nodding along, because you too feel like you don’t fit the mold of a sustainable sewist? 

Here’s what I’ve decided though: My *sewing* isn’t ecofriendly, but my wardrobe can be! If I treasure my clothes, alter and repair them, pass them on when I’m finished, or wear them into the ground, then I am still doing my part. I’m not a sustainable sewist, but I am a sustainable dresser!

Comino Collage

Sewing TNT patterns like the Comino Cap (above) means that I don’t waste fabric on fitting new patterns each time. 

Here’s how:

1. Love what you make. I know my style and I know my wardrobe palette, so most of what I make is a success! I also use a lot of tried’n’true patterns, so I don’t waste much fabric on muslins and ill-fitting disasters. I wear my me-mades every day, and most days my sister and my husband are wearing things I’ve made too!

2. Alter things when it’s time. If a garment is fitting poorly or not being worn, then try adapting it! I have lots of dresses that became shirts, or boxy items that were cut down to a tank top. When I gain weight, alterations help me keep wearing that fabric I love. Alterations are also a great way to make things more stylish if your tastes change!

refashions

Here are a couple of things I’ve altered – I swear I don’t only sew leopard, though I do love it! 

3. Pass them on. At least twice a year I pass on a giant IKEA bag of clothes I’m no longer wearing to friends and family. Sometimes things I haven’t worn in years will look fantastic on someone else! It also helps me alleviate the guilt that I’m always adding new things to my wardrobe.

4. The circle of life — everything becomes pyjamas eventually! Ok, not everything… but since I sew primarily knits, many things get demoted to lounge clothes or PJs once they are looking shabby. Then I can happily wear them until they sprout holes, and throw them away guilt free!

Here’s my final suggestion: Keep sewing FUN! If the idea of only buying sustainably-sourced fabrics or doing slow, reflective sewing brings you down… then don’t worry about it! Take risks with your sewing, and don’t worry if you make an impractical garment or try a new style and it doesn’t work out. Enjoy the clothes you do love, and get the most out of them. Try harder to be sustainable in some other parts of your life, and to me, it will all balance out! And remember this piece of wisdom from Alex’s recent post on building a meaningful wardrobe: “Even if one in 10 projects is a tiny bit more sustainable, it’s better than zero in 10.” I aim to build better habits in time!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and confessions on sustainable sewing — there are many ways to approach it, and none are wrong! 

Gillian cofounded the Sewcialists in 2013. She lives in Canada and loves cats, bright colours and sewing! She blogs at www.craftingarainbow.wordpress.com .