I want to be sustainable, I want to be sustainable… sounds a bit like a catchphrase you can sing, doesn’t it? What does the word sustainable evoke in you? A shout of yippee? A groan of “here we go again” or a feeling of guilt? Or maybe it’s in the too-hard basket, so let’s not even think about it
In the current climate, focussing on sustainability can seem almost trivial. But it doesn’t mean we need to totally forget about it if we have a little headspace, so seeing that it’s #MayWeRemindYou month, let’s revisit.
“Less” is the only approach accepted by the majority
In the last few years, I’ve thought a LOT about sustainability, particularly within textiles and fashion. Through a lot of reading, talking to academics, journalists, scientists… the one thing that everyone can agree we can all do it embrace the idea of less. Less stuff being produced, less stuff being consumed. For the rest, there’s nothing black and white about the fashion supply chain or textile production, or the way that sustainability is measured.
But less isn’t the only way
Even if the most simplistic solution is “less” everything, there are loads of ways that we can try and reduce waste and be more resourceful in our everyday lives. We even had a whole theme month dedicated to sustainability at the Sewcialists back in November 2018! In the spirit of #MAYWeRemindYou, here are my favourite inspiration posts for you, plus some other things to check out on the internet.
Sewcialists sustainable sewing theme month posts (November 2018)
- Upcycled ocean trash turned decoration for a fabulous garment
- How loving polyester prints doesn’t have to mean an unsustainable wardrobe
Elsewhere on the internet
- Grace is a scientist with a PhD in chemical physics, and she makes clothes. She knows a ton about environmental issues and whether or not you agree with her, she will give you an angle you haven’t considered before.
- Josie is an awesome upcycler based in the UK. Her stuff is so unique and suits her so well, and she’s a fabulous person as well.
- Barbara de Ru is based in the Netherlands, where she screenprints and sews stuff. Feeling a bit bored with your old or second-hand stuff and need to jazz it up a bit? Visit @bobbin.hood for inspiration. Barbara makes screen printing as easy as 1-2-3.
My own (un)sustainable situation
Finally, I’m also reflecting on where I’m at with sustainability. 2.5 years ago I wrote my first blog post for the Sewcialists: Interested in sustainable sewing? sometime after I’d finished studying a short course in sustainable fashion.
These days, it turns out that whilst my awareness levels have gone up, my sustainable sewing life hasn’t improved much. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to be always talking about sustainability, and sometimes I feel like I have to justify myself. But here’s the ugly truth:
First, my personal stash is now 6 storage boxes instead of 3. Partially because I started quilting (mostly for charity) as an alternative creative outlet to garment sewing. Secondly, I work for a sewing magazine and do blogger/Instagrammer stuff so I make a lot of womenswear. Thirdly, I have a fledgeling baby and kids brand, Bean & Ted, where I make things myself or manufacture locally in the Netherlands. Finally, I occasionally sell (more sustainable) fabrics via my Instagram @timetosew which is usually the excess I’ve sourced either for my womenswear work or for Bean & Ted.
Well, what can I say? Over time my approach has evolved to focus much less on fabric specific sustainability (though I’ve loved linen for a long long time anyway). And much more on careful fabric/pattern selection and accurate sewing with a lot of care to do the finishings well. In my day to day wardrobe, I still wear a lot of my old makes that are at least a few years old. I still feel encouraged by the Instagram hashtag #makeyourstash which lives on even if it’s not an official sewing challenge that I run anymore! 🙂
How do you go about sustainability in your sewing life? Has it changed over time?
Kate @timetosew is a former guest editor of the Sewcialists. An import to the Netherlands via the UK, she thinks sustainable fashion and sewing should be accessible to everybody. Subscribe to her website Time to Sew for sustainability chat and Instagram for garment sewing!
Lockdown has been good for me in some ways especially as it has made me ferret out and sort all the fabric that I have. It has made me realise that I definitely do not need to buy any more fabric, unless it is for swimwear which I do want to try making as I find it difficult to get an appropriate style and fit in commercial swimwear. At least this will save me from worrying about how sustainable is the fabric I want to buy. It has also made me use up the thread that I have, using different colours of thread from previous projects in parts of a garment where it will not show instead of getting extra thread to make sure it matches throughout. Old ripped bedsheets have been used for linings and left over fabric for bias binding- all things I could have done before but now are the only option- unless you want to wait for weeks for an online mail order- and which I will continue to do. I try to make garments that are not just limited to one season or one occasion wear. I take care of my clothes and try to sew them to a standard that means they will last for a long time, some of my garments are decades old so it is useful that I do not sew ultra fashionable styles.
Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment and sharing your approach. Glad there’s been some upside to the lockdown for you. I have found the odd gem when I’ve done tidy ups too, and I have no need for fabric either. By now I don’t need me-made May to encourage me to wear things I made, on most days I reach for something! And no ultra fashionable styles to be seen here either 🙂
I try to live sustainably overall and that’s one of the things that draws my to slow fashion and sewing. All I want to wear are simple, stylish silhouettes in my signature colour palette: black, (off)white and occasionally other soft neutrals. I’m slowly sewing staples for my wardrobe, focusing on durable finishes (I love French seams!) and quality natural fabrics, organic or sustainably sourced where possible, and supporting small manufacturers here in Europe. Plus cotton thread. These clothes feel like “me”. I look forward to wearing them for years to come, adding to them gradually, as I get new inspiration or my needs change.
Dear Anna, apologies I missed your comment before. I love that you sound like you really have a distinct sense of your style and what you like. I wish I had a strong signature colour palette like you – it sounds wonderfully minimalistic and chic! Some days I really like solids, other days I like all the prints and I cannot seem to stick with any one aesthetic. The cotton thread is interesting. I have used it, but the risk to my seams of snapping are higher when I’ve tested pulling at them. Then again you could argue what am I doing putting stress on my seams like that …
I don’t honestly need any more clothes but sewing is my main hobby and most hobbies use energy and resources.