Sustainability - why it's important in home sewing
By Sewn Sustainably, Jan 2 2017 05:55PM
The textile industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. Estimates suggest that over 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away annually in the UK alone*. That's one million tonnes, of which 50% is recyclable, however reports state that only 25% is recycled in the UK, which means all that scrap textile waste is sitting in landfill causing the environment a myriad of problems.
Did you know?
Synthetics and polyester do not compose. Therefore, they take up landfill space and contribute to pollution as dyes and chemicals seap into the surface and water harming wildlife and the environment.
As wool decomposes it releases a greenhouse gas called methane which contributes to global warming.
Production of more textiles drains natural resources. Cotton farming requires vast amounts of land and water that could be used to grow food.
But what about home sewing?
There are so many elements in home sewing that can create waste, from paper to teeny tiny fabric scraps. Over the course of time it all adds up to several bags of scraps heading for landfill. Plus, sewing invariably uses the same textiles as fast fashion. Cotton, poly-blends, wool, the list goes on and although you may be sewing your clothes instead of buying them, which is albeit a great thing, you're still throwing away scraps of material as well as buying into cheaply made unsustainable fabrics. All fabric is made somewhere and fabrics used in home sewing are no different to the cheap, unsustainable textiles used for mass production of clothing. Chemicals, dyes, unsustainable cotton farming, are all part of the production of fabric, which ultimately has negative environmental and social impacts.
We've put together a short guide on how to minimise waste in your home sewing.
One of the most obvious choices is to source second-hand and vintage fabric. There is a wealth of textiles available that are suitable for a variety of home-sewing projects. Places to check are charity shops, house clearances, large second-hand home and furniture sales, eBay and other online listings. You can also keep your eye on fabric mill cast-offs that would otherwise be heading to landfill. There's no harm in emailing factories and mills that may be looking for ethical ways of getting rid of their smaller quanities of stock.
This is probably one of the most crucial areas where you could make a change. Eco-friendly fabrics are produced in ways that reduce environmental and social impact. The most obvious and readily available choice is organic cotton. Although it's in no way perfect and still has its own carbon footprint, with GOTS certification, organic cotton is a sustainable alternative to cotton, which is an incredibly thirsty crop. It takes approximately 20,000 litres of water to produce just 1 kg of cotton. It also requires chemicals and pesticides to grow, which are toxic to farmers and the environment. Although organic cotton still requires a vast amount of water to grow, it doesn't need pesticides and its healthier soil is able to soak in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Equally important, organic cotton farmers in countries such as India and China, who otherwise live in extreme hardship, benefit from fair trade relations that provide stable income and trade and the ability to provide for their families.
Other crops such as hemp and bamboo also provide fibres for textiles, with hemp being the most sustainable of all crops owing to its fast growing rate and low maintenance. Hemp truly is the super crop and it has multiple uses from food to textiles. For fabric, Hemp does need to be blended with other fibres to create a specific compostion yet it creates a durable and long-lasting fibre, that is ultimately ecologically sustainably.
We believe buying and using ethical fabrics in home sewing is crucial because it will create a stronger demand in the market, and with stronger demand comes awareness and greater availability. It will also help to reduce the stigma that eco-friendly fabrics are just beige, neutral canvases not suitable for clothes.
Current initiatives such as the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) also prove that luxury can be paired with ethics, with leading designers such as Stella McCartney producing high-end luxury clothing made only from recycled and sustainable materials.
Refashioning & Upcycling
Another important way to reduce the impact and damage is to upcycle the clothes you already have. Home sewing can be a prolific hobby, producing a large amount of garments as your sewing skills increase. More often than not, older garments get pushed to the back of the wardrobe. Why not use your skills to refashion older makes into something new? Or, sell them or swap your clothes with others? For inspiration check out refashion blogs in the sewing community to show you how second-hand clothes can be reworked into on-trend clothes with some simple sewing magic. One of our favourites is Charity Shop Chic.
Recycling fabric scraps
Keep hold of those scraps! It's not difficult to keep your scraps (including thread) in a bag or bin and there are various uses to avoid throwing them away. Our top suggestion is to use the scraps for stuffing in children's toys or home decor such as cushions. You simply cut the fabric into small short strips and stuff away. You do need a fair amount of scraps, which is why it's the perfect way to recycle your scraps and the scraps that may not be attractive enough for a new project, plus it gives you a completely sustainable option as opposed to synthetic poly filling that you'd usually buy.
Other ways to recycle scraps include donating decent sized pieces to schools for children's craft projects; listing pieces on eBay for crafters/quilters; making a rag rug such as this awesome version; making yourself an amazing quilt... the options are endless and beat sending all those scraps to landfill.
Hosting a fabric swap online or with fellow home-sewists is a great way to not only destash your old fabric but also to get hold of something new without buying. It might be a great opportunity to soclialse and make like-minded friends too, plus doesn't have to be limited to fabric. Your invite could extend to sewing patterns, trims, notions and even past makes that you no longer want.
If you have any tips and ideas for recycling fabric or know some great places online for eco-friendly textiles - leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!
*Ethical Fashion Forum