Sustainable wardrobe challenge – Beth Billington

This is the fourth in my series of wardrobe challenge posts. The first posts are published in the blogger network section of my blog.

In this series of blog posts I have invited fellow sewists to create a new outfit from one of my patterns and gifted fabric from my shop with the following brief:

The Challenge.

Choose a Bobbins and Buttons pattern and fabric from the online shop selection to make it in. Choose an item/s of unloved clothing or unused textiles from your home to create a new outfit.

The outfit can be for you or a member of your family.

The pattern can be from the range or one created for Love Sewing magazine. It can be hacked or adapted to suit your requirements.

The unloved clothing or textiles could be just bought back into circulation by becoming part of a new outfit or upcycled into something to wear with the new piece or as part of the new piece. It might be clothing or table linen, curtains or other unused textiles. Think as creatively as you like!

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

Hello Beth can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your sewing. How did you start sewing?

Hello!  I’m Beth and I’ve been sewing since I was a child.  I remember doing sewing projects with my auntie, like making little bags or simple clothes for my dolls, and then being taught to use a sewing machine by my mum, probably when I was around 12 years old.  I did occasional sewing and crafty projects over the years, but didn’t properly start sewing until I was in my twenties, when I made mostly textile projects.  It wasn’t until just over a year ago that I tried dressmaking for the first time after an extended break from sewing due to work/studying/children!  My youngest (lockdown) baby had finally started sleeping a bit more and I was looking for a focus for myself.  I saw Bobbins and Buttons’ advert for pattern testing on Instagram and thought I might as well throw myself in at the deep end, and that was the start of my journey!

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

Sewing your own clothes can be everything from a practical solution to a mindful, creative practice. How do you feel about the process?

I think sewing started off for me as ‘just’ a creative practice, but over time has developed into a far more meaningful and significant part of my life.  When I started, I didn’t consider that I’d be making anything other than the odd item of clothing, whereas now, I’m looking to develop a me-made wardrobe, to be worn alongside the RTW clothes that I already own.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

When you need or want a new item of clothing what are the deciding factors for whether to make or buy?

I have been reflecting a lot on my sewing recently, and I suddenly realised that I couldn’t remember having bought a new ready-to-wear item of clothing since I started sewing my own clothes!  Firstly, when I see an item of RTW clothing in a shop that I like, my initial reaction is that I could make it myself (although not more cheaply!).  There is just something so incredibly satisfying about making your own clothes, not least when someone compliments you on it.  You also have the unique ability to be able to make a garment exactly as you’d like it, i.e. maybe that RTW item doesn’t quite fit as well as you’d like, or the length is a bit long, or you’d prefer a slightly different style of sleeve.  When you sew your own clothes you have the ability to make these changes, and I think that is amazing!

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

Please tell us about the outfit you have chosen to create and the unloved items you have used.

I have decided to use the wide-legged trouser pattern from Love Sewing Mag which I am making in a dark blue recycled denim fabric from the Bobbins and Buttons shop.  Trousers are probably the most worn item in my wardrobe, but I hardly have any because I always struggled to find a pair that fits well.  I’ve also been wary about making any because in my mind, they’re quite scary to make!

To go with these, I have chosen to re-purpose a beautiful Liberty shirt which I bought in 2014.  I have always adored Liberty fabric and, when in London one summer, I decided I was going to treat myself to a RTW Liberty shirt (at great expense!)  However, and here’s the crazy thing, as stunningly gorgeous as I think the fabric is, I’ve NEVER WORN IT!!!  As someone who changes size and shape very easily, it has always felt like it was either too big or too small for me.  However, it was only when I deconstructed the shirt for this project that I properly thought about exactly what it was I didn’t like about the style of the shirt (mostly the high-necked collar and the shaping on the bodice).  It was a really liberating experience to remove these elements and see a new, and for me wearable, garment emerging.  The changes I made were to:

Remove the shaping (darts) on the front and back.
Remove the collar and lower the neckline into a v shape.
Remove the cuffs and make the sleeves elbow-length.
Extend the collar to fit the new length of the neckline and add a ruffle.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

The clothing industry is responsible for many problems from ethical to environmental impact. Do you think sewing your own clothing can offer some solutions?

Absolutely!  I think it’s all about the value you place on your clothes, and if I’ve spent time and money creating a garment that looks exactly the way I want it to look, then it’s going to be more valued and last longer than something that I might have bought at less expense from a high-street shop.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

One of the issues often raised with sustainable fashion or sewing is that the price of products tend to be more expensive. What are your thoughts on this?

This is such a tricky issue because there’s no denying that living a sustainable life often comes at a cost, whether that be financially or in terms of the time and effort you have to put in to achieve it.  However, I do believe that, even if we can only make small changes, then that’s more positive than making no changes at all, and those small changes have the potential to eventually develop into something that has more significance and impact.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

How can we make sustainable sewing cost effective?

Using deadstock fabric, i.e. fabric that’s already been created and would otherwise be destroyed.

Repurposing what we already have, e.g. bed linen, tablecloths.

Buying resources from charity shops, e.g. old duvet covers.

Only sewing what you need.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

What do you do with items of clothing that no longer fit or serve a purpose?

I either give them to charity shops, or keep them in my wardrobe in the hope that one day I’ll want to wear them or that they’ll fit (much like my Liberty shirt!).  One change I have made recently is to learn more about repairing garments that have holes/tears in them and I have already saved several items that I would have got rid of in the past.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

Do you get seduced by new fashion trends or an exciting new pattern that has just been launched? Do you have tips how to balance the desire for novelty and newness and what is needed and necessary.

This is a process I’m currently going through, and I think you need to start by knowing exactly what’s in your wardrobe (or pattern collection/fabric stash) and what you wear/use and what you don’t wear/use and the reasons for this.  I’m sure, like me, the majority of people get seduced by a new item of RTW clothing, or indeed a new sewing pattern, and it’s very hard to resist the urge to buy.  However, if we try and take a more considered approach as to what we actually need, rather than what we want, it may mean that we give more thought to not buying unnecessary purchases.  When I see something now that I feel an urge to buy, I try to take a metaphorical step backwards, and think about the purchase for a while.  I’ve been learning more about the 30 wears challenge (#30wears) which is really making me think about what I am choosing to buy.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons

I wrote a list of questions to think about when looking at the clothes in my wardrobe with the hope that, once I have a better understanding of what clothes work best for me, then this will shape what I buy or make in the future and allow me to make more considered decisions:

Look at the items in your wardrobe.  Which clothes do you wear all the time and why? (e.g. they’re comfy, they’re easy to care for, I like how they look on me). Which clothes have you worn just once and why?  Which clothes do you enjoy wearing the most?  Which clothes do you not like wearing and why? (e.g. too big, too small, broken, I don’t like the style of the garment, I don’t like the fabric of the garment).

Look at the clothes in your wardrobe that you don’t wear.  Can you identify ways in which you could alter those clothes so that you would wear them?

Do you have any tips or project ideas for using up scraps of fabric

One of my favourite things is to use scraps of fabrics to make pocket linings.  Not only are you using up your leftover material, but you’re also giving your garment a superior finish!  One thing I haven’t done yet, but want to, is to make my own bias binding from fabric scraps.

Sustainable sewing challenge Bobbins and Buttons


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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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