I learned how to sew as part of a more comprehensive/thoughtful/complex journey, started for me in 2016. I always loved clothing and fashion, but that year I dug into the issues related to fast fashion and, generally speaking, consumption [more references below]. From that year onward I carefully choose what to buy, mainly from sustainable and/or ethical companies or by choosing second hand clothes first. I started sewing because I wanted to be able to tailor and repair my own clothes and make them last longer without having to spend a lot of money (sometimes even more than the cost of the clothing) by going to the tailor. In addition to that, from 2015 I moved 4 times (from Italy to the UK, then to the US, back to the UK, and now in the US again), and I was very surprised by the amount of clothes I had to move, and honestly, tired of having to deal with stuff. Before leaving, I organised a swap party with some friends (preCovid of course) and got rid of a good amount of clothes that simply could not fit in my 2 luggages allowance.
By learning how to sew I realised that not only I could repair all my clothes, but actually make everything I wanted. So I decided to try to make all my clothes, without buying new things and, when buying, trying to choose second hand first. And actually last year I was really close to achieve that objective, with the exception of underwear and swimsuits and a pair of jeans. Great! Well…that’s only part of the story.
First of all, last year I made a LOT of things, and if I had to move today, I don’t think I would be able to fit everything in 2 luggages of clothing. On one side I feel a little bit overwhelmed by it, but at the same time 2020 was my year of learning and experimenting with sewing, so I’ll allow myself a pass. I know that ideally the most sustainable thing is not to make/create anything new…but I mean, I want to have some fun too!
The second issue is WASTE. While everything I made is ethically made (by me, while having fun, win win situation), I was very surprised by the amount of fabric waste that is inevitably created. It mainly consists of offcuts of fabric and thread. More or less 15% of the fabric needed for a garment gets wasted, and it accumulates very quickly. To overcome this, last year I made a pouf (free pattern from Closet Core). It is filled with one year of fabric waste (very small offcuts) and the external part is made with leftover fabric from other projects. So i’m pleased to say that I reused all my 2020 sewing waste.
But I cannot continue to make poufs forever! So I need to find other creative ways to get rid of waste/avoid to produce it. Here are my ideas:
- Revisit all my makes of 2020 (overtime) and if there’s something that prevents me to wear a particular piece, I want to repair it or adjust the fit so that it doesn’t stay in my wardrobe unused. Same for all my other clothes.
- If I’m not wearing something organise a swap party/give to friends first, then try to sell before donating. [More on the issues of donating clothes here and here]
- When buying fabric, choose natural fibers with certifications (OEKO TEX, BCI) or buy vintage fabric/used fabric first.
- Find creative ways to use small yardage (I’m planning a post on this, and I’ll document my results).
- Print a pattern first and then check the amount of fabric needed for my size, 90% of the time the suggested fabric amount in a pattern is way too much and I’m left with leftovers to deal with.
- Do not keep more than one pile (shelf height) of “new” fabric (right now I have two and a half). I have to restrict myself on this.
- Buy from indie sewing shops first and/or plan for a bigger order once every few months to reduce the shipping environmental burden.
- Buy from North American shops first.
- Aim for zero landfill waste. I actually discovered yesterday that you can compost natural fibers! The public composting situation in Atlanta is a little bit of a tragedy. When I moved back here (May 2019) we started using CompostNow (this is a referral link, but you can simply google CompostNow too). We love it, in particular the summary page. Apparently we’ve have diverted approximately 310 lbs of food scraps since May 2019 and avoiding the release of 40 lbs of methane at the landfill! Now I know that I can compost small fabric scraps made of natural fibers: 100% cotton, wool, hemp, jute, silk, linen, and cashmere are all compostable. I’m still not sure about viscose/rayon/tencel, so for now I’m not adding it to the compost. Be careful because polyester thread is not compostable! So from now on I’ll have two waste bins next to me when I’m sewing: one for compostable fabrics, and one for everything else. This should reduce considerably my waste since I only sew with either natural fibers or semi-synthetic fibers (viscose).
- Find creative ways to use scraps (research in progress).
- Carefully plan my new pieces. The plan part is not difficult, the issue with sewing is that you cannot really try something on first and see if the fit/color combination works. You just have to make it, and then see if it works.
- Learn more about zero waste design.
- Sew more for others. I really love sewing and I don’t think I’ll stop, but making more things for others would make me feel better.
Interested in reading more?
Here are some articles that I found very interesting:
- Forbes, “8 Characteristics Of Millennials That Support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” 2019.
- Report on the impact of global apparel and footwear industries: 8% of the global anthropogenic emissions of CO2 is attributed to these industries. Quantis, “Measuring fashion – Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study,” 2018.
- Cotton production caused environmental catastrophes such as the progressive drying of Aral Lake in Central Asia. NASA – Earth Observatory, “World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea,”.
- Report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “One garbage truck of textiles wasted every second”
- Interesting Op-Ed from the New York Times, “Go Ahead, Be Materialistic. You Might Just Save the Planet.,” 2019.