I’m just going to get right to the point: every piece of clothing you make vs buy off-the-rack is better for the environment, especially depending on the fabrics you chose and the durability of your construction. Yes, it’s true, even the humble t-shirt or tote bag. You reduce emissions hugely by doing it yourself; whether you sew entirely from scratch, repair, or re-purpose old clothes. Modern clothing production is hugely wasteful and toxic and the human cost is just too high.
Think of a button-up shirt. At one factory, they sew all the cuffs. Only cuffs. A bunch of women sitting and sewing and young women sitting (on the floor) trimming threads and more standing and pressing and tossing all the cuffs onto a cuff mountain until their quota is filled. All. Day. Then all those cuffs are carted off and sewn to the sleeve, so on and so forth down the line, sometimes in another factory in another country, until finally put on a boat to go to warehouses all over the globe.
We buy, and throw away, TONS of clothing each year. A lot of which is polyester or other synthetic fibres. So all that fabric, made with petroleum products and toxic chemical dyes, were polluting our planet in production for, really, no reason and then not even able to return to the earth in a healthy way; just filling up landfills, the entire cycle of that polyester shirt having done immeasurable damage to our water, air, and soil.
Polyester, and other manmade fibres, pollute even as we launder them. Every cycle through the wash sends millions of tiny particles of plastic (which is, essentially, what polyester is), into our waterways and contributes to the plastic-to-marine-life ratio which makes me depressed every time I read about it. Lake Superior, the lake I can see from my shop, is relatively clean, but that could simply be due to her size; they can detect plastics in the lake, but the smaller the particles are (such as microscopic polyester filaments) the more difficult they are to detect, and this is the most concerning thing for researchers. The smaller the particles, the lower on the aquatic food chain they can be introduced, which is worrysome.
So what can you do, the home sewist, to make a difference? I’ll tell you right now you do not need to have the skills of a couturier or master tailor to help. As above, choosing the best fabric you can and making it to last (something that “fast fashion” tends to, well, not do), even for the humblest of items, will matter. Practice makes perfect, of course, be prepared to make mistakes (we all do, that’s why seam rippers were invented!) and once you are confident enough you can start practising better finishing techniques to make your clothes more durable. My personal favourite, best for seams on lightweight fabrics, is the french seam, but there are so many more… Check out our collection of vintage sewing books for ideas!
Hemp and linen are great choices for sustainable fabric. Both require far less water and pesticides than cotton, in fact hemp and linen production for the most part would qualify as organic even without being labelled so because of how simple hemp and flax plants are to grow. They are also both very strong fibres, and we have been using both since pre-history! Organic cottons, linen, and hemp also don’t require the harsh dyes that man-made fibres do. Best of all, choosing natural fibres, whether plant based or from animals (wool, fur, silk) means that when you do finally discard your clothes, they decompose completely. Animals can use them as nests, bugs can eat them (for better or for worse, but that’s the topic of another post 😉 ). You can compost them, even, or use them as long lasting mulch.
Come by today and tomorrow, all organic cottons, their blends, and hemp blends are on sale for 20% off! Our linens are already 10% off, too! If you buy your pattern and fabric together, get an additional 10% off your purchase!
See you soon!