sustainable home sewing tips - sewing tools on burlap

Sustainable sewing – 6 ideas for more sustainable home sewing

Fast fashion and it’s impact on our planet has grown at a phenomenal rate in recent years…

The need for fashion based businesses to churn out cheap, fashionable product ‘fast’ has been fuelled by us consumers, eagerly waiting for new releases to hit the shelves and find their way to our wardrobes.

I am no angel when it comes to my shopping habits. Over the years, oblivious to the environmental impact my shopping habit had, I would happily ‘waste’ my well earned pounds (and now dollars) on fast fashion items. I had a need to feel fashionable and look good. Driven in part by a lack of self confidence, forever thinking a new dress would make me feel better and driven a lot by an 80s-90s consumerist upbringing.

Over the years I have learned more about the impact we have on the planet with our wasted fabrics. I have also come to realise how much I have wasted on items I will only ever wear once, or possibly not ever at all. Whether because the style didn’t ever really suit me, or it didn’t really fit me… it doesn’t matter the reason. It was still all a big waste.

Since having children I have become much more switched onto the impact my family has on our planet. I have learned a lot and am pretty ashamed of the waste I have created and moreover the impact through its production all that waste had.

I spent a fair bit of time researching more sustainable fabric options a few years back and quickly learned a lot of horrors. I also read a lot about Tencel. With my consumer driven mindset I set out on a mission to spend more money on Tencel clothing and to buy more natural fibres.

The problem was the retailers hadn’t cottoned on to it yet (no pun intended..). I couldn’t find the kind of clothes I wanted to wear in the fabrics I wanted them to be made in. The reality was that pressure on retail profits and rising cotton prices were actually pushing brands to more synthetic fabrics, poly and acrylics mostly, which I have always disliked wearing but are cheaper and easier to produce in mass scale.

I was looking for higher quality fabrics, that would feel good, would be good and would last. The clothing brands goals seemed at odds with this

I was especially horrified when I was caught in the giddyness of a new release at one of my more aspirational retail favourites. I had a gorgeous, but simple, flowy boxy dress in my cart. It was very expensive but I loved it so much I was about to buy it. But, just at the last minute I spotted that it was polyester…. Not recycled, virgin poly…. With an extortionate price tag.

I honestly couldn’t quite believe that a dress with ‘that’ price tag was polyester. I am please to say I didn’t buy the dress… and haven’t barely bought RTW since.

 I’ll be honest this was one of the things that spurred me into a ‘I can make that’ way of thinking and I do think this experience planted the seed that then became my dress making new year’s resolution that started this whole ‘sewing thing’.

I quite quickly realised that if I could work out how to sew these pretty basic garments, I could make sure my fabric was lush, high quality and the kind of fabric I wanted to have for me and the planet.

That still doesn’t mean my sewing efforts have been perfect. I have made mistakes, bought fabric that I thought was ok, to find out it isn’t. In an effort to learn to sew, I have sewn a lot, made some bad sews and garments I haven’t worn much. I have learned quite a lot as I have gone along  about how I can make my sewing as sustainable as I can, while trying to achieve my personal wardrobe goals.

The fact is, sustainable fabric is a bit of a minefield. Not only are there the product and environmental impact to consider, but what about the fabric producers and their workers? Are they looked after, do the production processes keep them safe?

Over the next few blog posts I am going to try and document all that I have learned about sustainable fabric. I don’t have all the answers and I am no expert, but I like to think that I have vastly improved my impact at least by what I buy. I still buy too much, I know I do,  but at least now what I am buying is better.. More to come on this.

Aside from driving my fabric choices, my focus on trying to be a sustainable sewer has led to me developing a few good sewing habits. I like to think they make a difference and help me to have less of an impact, and to do a lot of little things where I can:

scrap made bias tape - oh sew fearless

1. I don’t waste anything

None of my sewing scraps make it to the bin. I save literally every last scrap and thread snipping.

Larger scraps are bundled up into a basket that I rummage through when I’m planning a scrap busting project or need an interesting lining, facing or pocket. I also use my scraps to make bias tape – this is such a useful way to make the most of your off cuts and creates an awesome supply of beautiful binding tape.

Shreds, smaller pieces and thread snips all go into a big bag, waiting for me to finish a closet core pouf, soft toy for the kids, or now my new doorstop idea.

I even save packaging – brown paper that fabric comes wrapped in is great for pattern tracing.

2. I don’t often follow the cutting layout

Not always, but more often than not, I think I can reposition the cutting layout together squeezing pieces in place more tightly  arranged. This means I use less fabric and also create a smaller amount of un-usable scraps

3. I don’t often pattern match 

Ok, this could be considered lazy, but when it doesn’t matter, I don’t pattern match. For example, I just made a fab pair of pajamas with a repeat that could well have been matched. But, these were pajamas. Only my husband, kids and I will ever see them… I didn’t need to use the extra fabric that would have required the matching.

Carolyn Pajamas not pattern matched

4. I piece fabric together

If a pattern requires a long belt, or long bias tape piece, or sometimes even neck or waist band pieces, I think nothing of cutting them as smaller pieces, making use of my available fabric around the larger pieces and sewing them together. I have never yet had this affect the finish of my garment and in some instances this can stop you needing to cut into an otherwise large, squared off piece of fabric that can easily be used for something bigger.

5. I have a list of fabric scrap projects

I have a variety of underwear patterns, some self drafted that are great for using up small pieces of knits and them same when it comes to t-shirts with insert panels. I am not perfect at making sure these are a regular feature in my sewing pipeline, but I am trying to make it something I do a better job of keeping on top of.

6. I re-use and upcycle my RTW clothes

There are some ready to wear clothes in my wardrobe that don’t fit me, but for whatever reason, I still have them. I want to love them, I want them to fit me, but they don’t… and so I have started to give the fabric some new leases of life.

I had a summer dress that was far too short for me and the styling all wrong, but I loved the print. So it became the lining pieces for all my halfmoon atelier jeans waist band and pockets.

I had a skirt that had never done up, but I equally loved the print so that is now the inside of my Noice jeans… and I have plenty of it spare for other projects.

I have a long way to go and there are many sewers doing a much better job of being sustainable than I am, but each little thing we all do is a step in the right direction.

What do you do to try and make your sewing practice sustainable? What ideas and tips do you have for me?



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