Sustainability vs Sewing | Is it killing creativity?

Sustainability vs Sewing | Is it killing creativity?

I wrote a little while ago about losing my sewing mojo. I got a lot of great responses from the sewing community, a lot of empathy and a lot of advice. Thank you all again for engaging and sharing. (Btw,  I’m still not there yet in finding my sewjo, though working on it).

There were some particular comments that really made me think about this topic from a different view-point and what can be the underlying cause.

One person told me on Instagram that they feel scrutinised by this new trend of slow sewing and all the conversation about sustainability. Another friend told me in person that she feels like her creativity is being stifled because she can’t always afford organic and sustainable fabrics and feels guilty because she is sewing with conventional, less sustainable materials.

What if perhaps my lack of sewing mojo might also be linked to my intense concern for sustainable sewing, and for my own consumption of fabric and notions? I genuinely do not need anything new to wear, so maybe my subconscious is telling me that I should not be making anything new by means of my lack of interest in sewing.

So this got me thinking about today’s subject. Is it possible that sustainable, slow sewing is in fact killing off our creativity?

Header Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Sewing is not sustainable by definition

I have been talking quite a lot about sustainability on the blog and on Instagram. Sustainable fashion is what I do in my day to day job and I am a firm believer in the fact that the fashion industry and the way we consume clothes needs to change.

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It really is part of my belief system and I am working hard to live by these beliefs every day (most often failing).

sewing sustainability creativity

I have stopped buying clothes at the beginning of 2015 and never looked back. Of course, I can do that because I can sew myself most of the things I need and I have a lot of old RTW that I still love wearing.

But before I start patting myself on the back for that small ‘achievement’, how sustainable is my sewing? How much do I sew with a plan, with sustainable materials, how much do I reuse my scraps and curb my general consumerism? Moderately so, I would say.

So then, is my sewing truly more sustainable?

Yes, if I sew from the stash, make clothes I know I will wear loads, that are carefully considered, sewn and cared for, if I reuse or recycle my scraps. And yes from a labour perspective, at least from a garment factory level, as I know that no people were exploited to make me feel and look good.

No, from the perspective that I probably do not need a new item of clothing, that my wardrobe is already bulging with clothes I may or may not wear. As Orsola de Castro, one of the founders of the Fashion Revolution likes to say ‘the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in your wardrobe’. And I guess that goes for sewing, right? Yes, perhaps my t-shirt made by me with organic cotton has a smaller environmental footprint than one I might have bought in a shop. But do I really need another T-shirt? Most likely, not.

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SUSTAINABILITY CREATIVITY SEWING

But sewing is creativity, mindfulness and feeds the soul…

There are countless discussions in the sewing community about the benefits of sewing for mental wellbeing. Remember the SMYLY month last year, where people were sharing how sewing makes them love themselves. There were also many contributions on the Sewcialist blog on the topic, and I really encourage you to go have a read.

Sewing is also a way of expressing our creativity, especially if that is lacking in our day jobs or other parts of our lives. Making our own clothes helps us express ourselves and let our personalities shine through.

Sewing also plays a great role in relation to body positivity, as people are empowered to make clothes for the body they have rather than the one that clothing companies tell them they should have.

sewing sustainability creativity

For other people, sewing is a time of solitude and self-reflection, a space for mindfulness. It’s the time they can get away from work, daily worries, family duties and be themselves, not just parents or carers or spouses.

Plus, some people just love sewing! They want to sew all the patterns and all the fabrics, and delight in fabric hauls and showing their makes. And that makes them happy, who are we to judge?

So we mostly agree that sewing is good for you, but it may not be as good for the planet as we think and fast sewing is just as bad as fast fashion.

So how do we square this circle?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I struggle with being part of the sewing community, being a blogger, fuelling my creativity in a way that has been the central point of my self-expression for 10 years now AND feeling like I’m living up to my sustainability principles.

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A few ideas I came up with:

  • Sewing from the stash
  • Fixing and mending
  • Reworking older pieces aka tweaking all the bits that annoy me and stop me from wearing that item
  • Taking on very long projects that require time and skill to complete
  • Doing an inventory of what I truly need and make that instead of frosting (like another dress for a wedding that I will only wear once)
  • Refashioning or altering
  • Sewing other types of projects, like bags, home décor etc
  • Sorting out my UFOs
  • Sewing for charity
  • Sewing for other people – provided that they actually want what I’m making

Maybe a bit of restriction or working within certain parameters can also be a source of creativity, the same way that doing a 10×10 capsule style exercise really gets my inspiration flowing.

Obviously, there is no such thing as right or wrong in sewing, and I hope I’m not sounding judgemental to people for whom sustainability or slow sewing is not a priority. But it really is for me and I would love your thoughts too.


DO YOU CARE ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY IN YOUR SEWING PRACTICE (AND OVERALL EVERYDAY LIFE)? HAVE YOU FELT THAT IT IS A DRAIN OR A SOURCE FOR CREATIVITY FOR YOU?

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15 Comments

  1. Clare Baker
    23 May 2019 / 9:20 AM

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful piece. I think we all have to do what we can. No one person can do everything or tick every box in terms of the environment or sustainability and overthinking can immobilise us or send us into a panic, neither of which helps us to be positive, proactive or optimistic! There are so many things to consider, for example organic cotton takes so much water but it doesn’t use chemicals, and so on. I recycle, I buy less than I used to, I give to and buy from charity shops ( is that the right thing to do?). I make reusable net bags for shopping, reusable face pads and cutlery rolls. I am making patchwork quilts for my grandchildren, mostly from fabric that I have, in the hope that they will be used for years. I rarely fly and eat less meat. BUT if I see a pattern I like and fabric that I love I buy them. I love sewing and making. It makes me happy and I believe more able to find things to do, albeit small, rather than dwelling on the problems.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 9:15 PM

      I grapple with that ‘no black and white’ answer every day in my work and it’s so frustrating! I think you are right though, there is so much that one can do and still stay sane. It feels to me that you have found a great balance. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Elaine Marsh
    23 May 2019 / 4:21 PM

    I like reading your articles and considering that I have always sewn clothes, toys and furnishings throughout my working and family life, sometimes it just is enough to not have to or choose not to make it yourself. It all has to fit in with our lifestyles, some of us have less time and inclination to craft it ourselves. It depends on what stage of your life you are in. My wardrobe is full of self sewn and RTW items, and maintenance is more relevant than making yet another garment. I give away to Charity shops all manner of things included clothing, but I don’t buy there, or usually, worn out things, to the recycling dump. As for motivation, in my case I don’t lack that but time is the problem, there is never enough of it. I refuse to react to other people’s objectives or indeed feel guilt for not being/doing everything in a perfect sustainable way. I do my bit. Presently I am re making and resizing to use elsewhere, 2 pairs of full length and very wide curtains that I first made 23 years ago, one pair being yellow velvet. From the off cuts I will fashion cushions for the sofa (also refreshed with a tailor-made fitted/loose cover, that I made 2 years ago ). I haven’t the inclination to give them away because I can refashion them. My garden furniture, sofas, chairs have all got prolonged life thru reusing furnishing fabrics that have given them another life by this method. My guilt is BUYING a made to measure new Roman blind and matching curtains to replace the ones I previously made. Being retired from full time work and family it’s essential to get balance in your life and if that means using my sewing machine less, and just doing less craft I am happy to do that too, and walk and garden more. Crafting and sewing are very sedantary pastimes/hobbies and movement is essential to good physical health, which helps the mental parts too.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 9:17 PM

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elaine! I cannot think of anything worse than making Roman blinds, so I think that really is a ‘sin’ that you could be forgiven for :).

  3. Michele
    23 May 2019 / 5:17 PM

    I’ve always done my best to be kind to earth and it’s peoples. I have a small-ish wardrobe, all hand made. I have not purchased RTW since the Rana Plaza disaster – not even for my children or grandson. I am blessed to have two daughters, a son, two sons-in-law, one grandson and a myriad of friends’ grandchildren, church bazaars, etc. that I can sew for. I spent nearly all of last year sewing my daughter’s wedding dress and two bridesmaids dresses and one for myself for her wedding. At 65, I still work full time in a complex and sometimes stressful role and require professional clothing in addition to casual, everyday stuff. I’ve made quilts, drapes and other home dec items, recovered boat cushions and mended favourite stuffed toys….Most importantly, I will not spend my valuable time sewing with inferior materials, I prefer natural fibers whenever possible, and take care of my clothing, cleaning and mending as needed. At the end of the day, we don’t need a lot of stuff, including clothing! Trust me, I’ve yet to run out of sewing projects even though my wardrobe is pretty small – the time it requires to make a pair of jeans dictates that I have only two pair at any given time, and that I think ahead and plan things carefully so that I have what I need when I need it. My advice is not to overthink it – do what you love at a sustainable pace and create garments (and whatever else) that will last a long time and not go out of style quickly – and you will have done your best!

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 9:23 PM

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Michelle! That is a really great advice to live (and sew) by!

  4. Chris
    23 May 2019 / 7:53 PM

    It’s very true for me that the thought of sustainability kills my sewjo, because I have enough clothes to last me a lifetime and so never need to switch on my machine again.
    I still sew and I’ve decided to live with the cognitive dissonance required to still enjoy sewing. I’m not proud of my selfishness, but I find giving it up too much of a sacrifice.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 9:26 PM

      I know what you mean, Chris! I do suffer from the same worries sometimes. I try to mitigate it by sewing thoughtful pieces, things that I really need or that I know will fill a hole in my wardrobe.

  5. Jen Readford
    23 May 2019 / 8:52 PM

    This is such a great post. I am all for the importance of fashion becoming a more sustainable industry with all the things we know about how it operates. Alas the world is not black and white, there are so many aspects to the production process so being totally impact neutral is difficult. The scale of what we can produce as individuals is tiny. This is so different to the industrial scale of the fast fashion industry so perhaps we should be kinder to our mindful selves. Not perfect I know but…

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 9:29 PM

      Jen, I think that we can apply what we learn in our small productions to the overall attitude to clothes buying (if we are still buying) or to other purchases. It’s a small contribution, but better than nothing…

  6. 24 May 2019 / 7:54 AM

    What an interesting post. I like to think I sew fairly sustainably, but I’m afraid it’s more because that is what suits me than a considered policy of being green. I prefer natural fibres in general but I’ll use polyester if the right fabric comes along. I have little storage space so I can’t accumulate many clothes and I like long complicated projects. But I’m not giving up RTW completely. If I had to make clothes for my whole family I’d never have time to do anything else, especially with a rapidly growing child. My mother in law always says she was relieved to discover that it’s cheaper to buy children’s clothes than make them and I completely sympathise.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      6 June 2019 / 2:25 PM

      Well, in the end, does it matter why if the outcome is more sustainable? And well thought-through ready to wear buys are also sustainable in their own way. Luckily, I don’t have kids, I am really stressed at the thought of having to manage that on top of everything else…

  7. 30 May 2019 / 9:49 AM

    This post really resonated with me! I decided a while ago that I was not going to get myself in a state over all the sustainability issues around sewing my own clothes as the psychic sustainability was much more important to me! By this I mean that sewing keeps my brain active, it has provided me with more friends than I could ever imagine, has provided a focus for when I travel, and I am able to make a big contribution to charity in the form of charitable sewing and donations. I still worry about the environment and do what I can to cut water usage, rail against all the plastic that things are wrapped in (I can’t believe how much of the fruit and vegetables in the UK comes pre wrapped), use thrifted fabric and wool where I can, and try never to buy polyester because it is so terrible in the heat. Thank you again for a really thoughtful post, Alex.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      6 June 2019 / 2:23 PM

      I know what you mean, it’s a difficult balance to strike. I was speaking to someone at an event Kate and I organised to show a sustainability documentary and for me it’s about red lines. Whatever you choose to do and are comfortable with, be consistent. I don’t buy clothes and try to make my sewing meaningful. Luckily I don’t have as much time to sew lately, so that minimises my output, ha ha!

      • 6 June 2019 / 6:24 PM

        I haven’t bought rtw for many years!

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