I’ve said before that I think sewing is a wasteful hobby. For me, sustainable sewing is kind of the opposite of that.
Sustainable sewing: my definition
The very definition of sustainable is something that can be maintained at a certain rate. In environmental terms, people are usually referring to natural resources. I haven’t really seen anyone else applying this term to sewing before, nor being referred to by others as an ethical sewing blogger. Maybe I’m on my own with this way of thinking, I don’t know.
I would say that most people’s sewing habits are not sustainable. They cannot continue at their current rate, whether that’s garments being produced or consumables being purchased and hoarded.
If you are active in any kinds of sewing groups, online or offline, or follow lots of sewists on social media, you’ll hopefully see where I’m coming from here. I love being part of the sewing community, don’t get me wrong. There are some wonderfully supportive and inspirational sewists out there, and I’ve met some fantastic people. However, I think that our sewing consumption is out of control. I’m absolutely not preaching, my sewing habits have not been perfect and I still have a way to go to achieve sustainability.
She who dies with the most fabric wins… or does she?
Most sewists overbuy fabric, patterns and all other consumables. In fact I could quite confidently say, at some point, every single one of us has bought stuff we don’t need because of encouragement by others.
To be honest, the reason for me not to have overbought fabric in the past has been financial. Although I did manage to visit Goldhawk Road and come away with nothing.
The sewing community has fostered a culture where overbuying and overspending has been normalised and, for the most part, is actively encouraged. I was the same until this year, so I’m not judging, this is merely an observation.
This weekend is the Great British Sewing Bee Live event. I can guarantee that my Instagram feed is going to be full of all sorts of lovely things that people have bought, mostly fabric. Most of these photos will have captions about how the purchases weren’t needed but were bought anyway, or that the fabric will be hidden away from other halves.
Are our stashes out of control?
I see a lot of fabric stashes that are out of control, people will literally have more fabric in a spare room at home than an online retailer. Sewists are often applauded for it, it’s almost an unspoken competition to see who has the most stuff they’re probably never going to use. A lot of photo challenges on Instagram often have a day to “show off your stash” too.
We are all normalising this overconsumption and it is just as bad as normalising the overconsumption of fast fashion.
Do we sew for ourselves or others?
I don’t mean literally whether you make your own clothes or clothes for someone else. What I mean is whether you do a lot of sewing to join in with the sewing community. There are a lot of sewists who can’t possibly be wearing all the things they sew; those who join in with every sewing challenge possible; those who jump on the latest pattern releases to be the first the sew them. For many sewists, a lot of projects don’t even get to the making phase; they are just hoarding piles of fabric and patterns to show everyone else that they have them.
Surely it just isn’t sustainable to continue doing that? I certainly couldn’t keep up with the buying habits or sewing prolificacy of many people I’ve met in the last few years. Honestly, I don’t want to either. When I first started to use Instagram I definitely wanted to fit in and make friends. My choices in sewing were certainly swayed by what others were making. I also bought way more fabric than I ever needed because that kind of consumption is so encouraged.
Fast fashion versus sewing
So many people are now aware of the effects that fast fashion has on people and the environment. A lot of sewists make their own clothes to avoid being part of the fast fashion cycle. I totally applaud that, but don’t think it’s enough. I don’t think we can switch from buying too many clothes we won’t wear in Primark or H&M or wherever, to buying too much fabric and hoarding it. It’s the same thing.
Lots of sewists love cotton for its versatility and availability. I wonder how much of this cotton we all buy is produced in ethical ways? It’s something I’m going to do some research on because I’m genuinely interested. My guess is that a lot of it is produced in the same factories, and under the same conditions, as the fast fashion so many of us are keen to avoid.
How can we practice sustainable sewing?
Buy what you need
Don’t buy fabric just because it’s there. Try to get into the habit of buying fabric specifically for projects instead of ‘just in case’.
Consider the origins of your fabric
There are plenty of beautiful, sustainable fabrics out there to make your clothes from. I’ve put together a directory of online retailers.
Ask yourself if you will really wear it
As with buying ready-to-wear clothing, we should ask whether we will wear the garment we’re planning to sew. Apply Livia Firth’s #30wears logic and you can’t go wrong.
What do you think?