When reading up on the lifecycle impact of fabrics, I was shocked to find out that the majority of the impacts are after the item is bought (or sewn). That’s right, over half of the impacts are from washing, ironing, drying and replacing poor quality garments! So whilst choosing a fabric that is easy care and long lasting is intuitively the right thing to do, in fact by doing so you may have more impact than buying organic. Mind blown.
With this in mind, I thought I would share with you a project that has sustainability merits that will reduce the impact of the garment post construction. Meet Marilla, a pattern designer from the UK, who hand stitched every last stitch on these wonderful jeans. Enjoy….
1. Tell us a little bit about the planning that went into this project. How long did it take from start to finish?
I think it took a few months in total. I went through a series of different ideas with regards to the initial pattern from drafting my own to adapting a trouser block I already had, but in the end settled on a published pattern from Burda. My self-drafted pattern fitted well and had potential, but I knew that it would need a lot of work and a lot of toiles, so went off that idea. My time is precious and so is my fabric, so I didn’t want to waste either! The Burda pattern I chose was a great fit from my first toile, so I didn’t make any changes, but if I were to make it again I would make the back pocket larger and narrow the legs slightly. As far as research went, all I did was look at what other sewing bloggers had already made and created a pinterest board of jeans style I like. I was particularly inspired by Katie’s (what Katie did) and Kathryn’s (yes I like that) jeans. I didn’t get that into specific notions as I wasn’t really after an ‘authentic’ look.
2. You can tell that you have a lot of love for the fabric you used for these jeans. Can you tell us more about where you bought the denim and what led you to choose this particular fabric?
The denim I used is an Indian handloom fabric from Merchant and Mills. I really wanted to use a handloom denim as the process is softer and has less impact on the environment than fabrics produced by heavy machines. It takes longer to make and is more expensive as a result, but the look and feel is much more pleasing. I was originally looking for a Japanese selvedge denim, but this seemed like a reasonably priced alternative.
3. When buying new fabrics, do you have a strategy for dealing with trade-offs – like quality over cost, local vs international, organic vs inorganic? What do you value most?
Quality is the most important factor to me and this can cost very little in my opinion. I value natural fibres over synthetic and always have done. I find most natural fibres softer and more pleasurable to handle, but I guess the production processes behind these fabrics are not always the most friendly to the environment. My philosophy is to always make clothes that I will cherish, as there’s nothing more wasteful than making clothes out of substandard material and then not wearing it. By the way, I’m not perfect and do make sewing boo boos that go unworn from time to time, but the intention is to make everything count is there. Supporting local businesses is definitely important to me, but luckily in the sewing world most of the companies I seem to buy from are fairly small.
4. In the end, you chose to hand-stitch you jeans instead of jumping on the machine! Can you tell us why you settled on this method when sewing by machine would have been so much faster?
I really enjoy hand stitching! I wanted to have a ‘quiet’ project that I could dip in and out of when I was with the children in the event that I could sneak some sewing in. It didn’t quite work out that way, as whenever I pick up something that looks vaguely interesting my toddler wants to do what I’m doing, but I got so into it that they were done in the evenings and completed within a week! It suited the look of the irregular weave too and I wanted to do the denim justice. I also favour the control of hand stitching over any wobbly machine stitches. I find that sewing thick fabrics on the machine is quite stressful sometimes and unless you have an industrial machine, you’ve got the struggle of pushing multiple layers through, creating a regular top stitch and the possibility of needles snapping to contend with. I didn’t want all that negativity in my sewing! There are some bits that I could have easily cheated on and whipped over to the machine, but in the end I got quite stubborn and possessive about the fact that they were being worked by hand.
5. Given that sustainability encompasses environmental, social and economic aspects – which fabric types tick the most boxes for you? Do you have a favourite?
Environmentally it is better that we recycle/refashion old textiles. Sewing in general does not seem a very environmentally sustainable past time if you’re always using new fabric so I do like to mix it up a little. I will buy a lot of new fabric, but in my defence most of what I buy at the moment comes from the local market and is production waste. It is stuff that has minor flaws, or is sample lengths, so not fit for purpose. That’s fairly sustainable isn’t it? My favourite type of fabric is stuff that has come from the charity/thrift shop (someone’s old stash), but is rarely available and not great if I’ve got a particular project in mind. This does lead me to buying when I see it and stashing it away like a squirrel…
6. Have you found a supplier(s) that you consider to be the best you can get in sustainable fabric to you in your area? Do you have any questions that you ask suppliers about their fabrics before you buy so you know what you are getting? (Don’t worry if not, I don’t either!) Or is there information that you wish suppliers would provide as standard?
Merchant and Mills are my favourite new fabric supplier. They sell hand woven/hand printed fabrics and is where I bought my denim from. I cannot find anything on their site that explains how they select their fabrics or whether it is fair trade, but I assume that they are an ethical trading company. My other favourite place to fabric shop is eBay. Lots and lots of vintage fabrics, curtains and bedding to look at!
7. Do you have any other go to resources that inspire you or help you sew more sustainably?
Pinterest most definitely and blogs like ‘So Zo’ (organiser of me made May) are massively inspiring when it comes to sewing more sustainably. Zoe, rarely/never buys new fabric and is making all the clothes for her baby girl, as well as buying second hand. If I were to live a fully sustainable sewing life then Zoe is most definitely who I would aspire to. I can’t quite figure out how that would work for me at this present time, but maybe as the kids get older and things get less hectic then this would become realistic. I try and live sustainably where I can and I have tried to stop feeling guilty about where I fail. The important thing is that I am trying and all anyone can do is their best.
I hope that by sharing interviews like this, we can open up a discussion about our environmental impacts and our ability to reduce them. What do you think, any thoughts on how to sew quality and low maintenance fabrics?