WHY SUSTAINABLE SEWING SHOULD STILL MATTER IN 2020

Sustainable sewing

David Attenborough joined Instagram last week. And he got to 1m followers in 45 minutes, beating the record for the fastest rise. But more important is the reason why he chose to engage with the platform: because he is trying to reach younger audiences and raise the awareness on just how dire the climate situation is. He was also on BBC Breakfast on Monday talking about how if there is one small sliver of hope to save the natural world, we need to keep fighting.

This prompted me to think about the topic of today’s post and how, in the mess that is 2020, sustainability in our lives and ultimately, in sewing, is still important. No, it probably won’t save the planet on its own. But practising sustainable thinking in sewing can train the sustainable muscle in all aspects of our lives. And the other way around. And we should not give up on this, even in 2020!

THE SUSTAINABILITY BURN-OUT IS REAL

I have have been a sustainability practitioner for 8 years now, 7 of which in fashion. In my personal life, I have been trying to practice what I preach (and according to my husband, I do preach a lot) for even longer. And I definitely felt I am burning out this year and almost going down the bell curve just as the mass majority seems to be going up.

I will confess, I get slightly annoyed with all the marketing I see lately in the fashion world and to some extent, the sewing community around sustainability. People are producing content that is not just shallow and not well researched, but also greenwashing. But hey ho, marketing means people think there is demand, right?

The problem is that there is no ultimate truth, no silver bullet, no 10 step programme that will make our lives and our sewing sustainable. And whoever is telling you to buy this and that to be sustainable is greenwashing.

Greenwashing is my pet peeve and the thing I and other people in the community that are interested in sustainability (like my friend Kate from Time to Sew) try very hard to call out. But it’s like a multi-headed monster, you crush one and another takes its place. And this is really tiring and disheartening.

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Also, doing the right thing is just as hard for a sustainability professional as for a regular person. I do feel guilty, I do get ashamed by my choices (especially taking the easy, convenient way) and I do get disheartened by how small the impact of my individual actions really is.

And then there is Covid, racism, social injustice, inequality and people just not speaking to each other anymore. I sometimes just want to move to the woods…

But then, listening to David Attenborough, I realise that now, more than ever, I (and we) must push through and not give up doing the small or big things that are within our power.

SAVE THIS FOR LATER ON PINTEREST

HOW TO FLEX THE MUSCLE OF SUSTAINABLE SEWING

The aforementioned Kate recently wrote that our fabric choices have very little impact on climate, and that there are much more effective ways to reduce our carbon impact.

Which is all 100% true.

However, I am not ready to give up on sewing as a way to lead a more sustainable life.

Here are a few principles I apply to my sustainable sewing and also to other areas of my life.

1| THE MOST SUSTAINABLE FABRICS (OR CLOTHES OR ANY OTHER ITEMS) ARE THE ONES THAT ALREADY EXISTS (OR YOU ALREADY HAVE)

I know people say that sewing and collecting fabric are two different hobbies. However, I try to sew from the stash as much as I can. The deeper, the better. And if I can’t find a use for a particular fabric, I give it away or swap it or make sure it gets used by other people.

I really like to challenge myself to match patterns and fabric I already have, or tweak or mash pattern in my stash so that I buy as few new things as possible. It’s actually quite a fun exercise!

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I also try to apply this to other things that I need. I am always looking if I can source something second hand, on eBay, recycling sites like Freecycle or Olio or from friends or family.

I also really like to pass on the things that I no longer want, including fabric and patterns. I found Olio very helpful for that. You would be surprised what people will want.

2| IF YOU BUY, BUY BETTER, MINDFULLY (AND SECOND HAND IF POSSIBLE)

Crushing impulse buying in sewing and in other areas has been a constant battle in the last few years. Luckily, I don’t like prints so it was fairly easy to resist all the latest fabric company emails. Just staying at home also helped to keep away from temptation.

If I buy fabric, which doesn’t happen very often, I try to make sure it’s for a specific project, that it will have a purpose and not just go into the stash. Also, it will go into garments that will last a very long time, like denim or technical fabrics for outerwear or activewear. If I can, I try to buy more sustainable options (recycled polyester etc), but that is also debatable and in many cases, hard to evidence. I get a lot of my everyday fabric from Oxfam online or other charity shops, as well as swaps and from sewing friends.

A bit harder to say no to sewing magazines, well, to Fibre Mood really, that I buy most issues. However, sewing patterns aside, I like supporting a small independent businesses ran by women.

Which brings me to my next point. If you can, support small independent business, BIPOC owned (check out the directory created by Jacinta at Pink Mimosa). It’s not always possible, for example, I found it really difficult to find activewear and technical fabric in any of the shops on the list. But if you have a choice, don’t go to a big box store or to Amazon. I personally have been boycotting Amazon for a few years, which was not as difficult as it seems. I can find most notions on eBay and Etsy, or at UK based online haberdasheries, like Sew Essential, William Gee or Empress Mills.

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3| KEEP USING & REUSING THINGS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

In sewing, I translate this to making thing and wearing them for as long as possible. This involves repairing, refashioning and upcycling to breathe new life into things that do not spark joy anymore. One extra tip on this is dyeing. I do a lot of machine dyeing with Dylon. It’s not the most environmentally friendly activity, but if it prolongs the life of a garment for a few more years, it’s worth it in my books.

I know that mending is not the most glamorous of sewing activities, but it can be very soothing especially in these trying times. Also, again, prolonging the life of a garment makes will have positive impacts.

I am also trying this approach to other types of objects and trying to get things repaired. It’s very frustrating that in so many cases, the manufacturers are pushing you to throw things away and buy new and so many skillsets have been lost.


As I was saying in the beginning, sewing more sustainably won’t save the planet. What and how we eat, how we travel and how energy efficient are our homes have a much bigger impact. But learning to reduce and/or practice mindful consumption in our sewing will definitely have positive impacts in other areas of life.

I know sewing is in many cases, a mindfulness, mental health, creative endeavour, rather than a practical one, and there can sometimes be a struggle between creativity and sustainability, but that does not mean that we should be mindful of what we make and how long we wear those items.


SO TELL ME IN COMMENTS, ARE YOU ON AND OFF THE SUSTAINABLE SEWING BANDWAGON? ARE YOU ALL ABOUT UNFEATHERED CREATIVITY AND MAKING ALL THE THINGS OR ARE YOU CHOOSING TO REDUCE OUTPUT AND CONSUMPTION FOR SUSTAINABILITY REASONS?

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8 Comments

  1. artcoopsville
    29 September 2020 / 9:33 PM

    Trying, but not always succeeding to reduce my sewing output. I have made for other people this year a lot, and I’ve made my own underwear, which I need to do a bit more of, just to replace worn out garments. I try to refashion and upcycle as much as possible. Most of my makes get worn for work and I wear them loads. I do wear stuff until it falls to bits. A few weeks ago I did mend a ripped dress. Now I can wear it again.

    • Alex
      Author
      2 October 2020 / 4:09 PM

      Yes, making for other people has also been my strategy this year. I usually stay away from that, but I really enjoyed it.

  2. 30 September 2020 / 7:18 AM

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I really enjoyed reading it. This year has shown me more than ever how important it is that we continue to push sustainability as it has brought so much injustice to light. Particularly shocking to me were all the brands that did not pay their suppliers for existing orders. Up to this year I calmed myself by saying that I buy most clothing 2nd hand and sew stuff myself. This year’s injustice has shown me that this is not enough and I stopped buying RTW and also only buy fabrics preloved now. I have found so many great vintage fabrics on eBay that I have plenty of resources including my existing stash.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      30 September 2020 / 12:36 PM

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree, this year has been terrible and eye opening at the same time. Having worked in the fashion industry for many years, I can’t say I’m surprised that brands were not playing suppliers, but it’s horrendous none the less. That’s so great about taking personal responsibility, but I think we need to also talk about this to other people and continue to raise awareness. Please share the vintage fabric shops you find, I’m sure other people would love to try them as well.

  3. 30 September 2020 / 8:16 AM

    I have been making my own clothes for about 10 years now. I don’t have a big. Stash as I buy for specific projects. Over the years I have learnt what works and how things might look so there are fewer and fewer wadders. I have also been convinced of the need to address climate change for over 40 years and find it distressing that even now governments fail to understand at any serious or honest level. But I also come from the personal is political culture and if you dont try to live sustainably then why should anyone else. Example is everything. Like your thoughtful and honest posts.

    • sewrendipityalex
      Author
      30 September 2020 / 10:58 AM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree, we need to try to live by example, but also believe that it’s not possible all the time. But the consideration and thoughtfulness is the key. So I might not end up buying everything second hand, but I will look for what I want as used and make an honest attempt before I go buy new. And I think sewing is very helpful in teaching us to think in this way. Or at least it does for me.

  4. 1 October 2020 / 4:41 AM

    I’m so happy to see people talking about this. I would have to argue that even small efforts have an impact. At the very least, your mindfulness sets an example for others

    • Alex
      Author
      2 October 2020 / 4:10 PM

      Thank you for your comment. And I completely agree, 1 out of 10 is better than 0 out of 10!

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