This is the last in my series of sustainable 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:
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!
Hello can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your sewing. How did you start sewing?
Hi Julia, thank you so much for asking me to take part in your sustainability series. I’m really happy to be involved with a company that has this important issue at the heart of it’s business.
I’m Sam, briefly, I started sewing as an expectant mum over 30 years ago, as I couldn’t afford maternity wear, I’m largely self taught, although I did a bit of sewing at school but my mum didn’t teach me. (She has many talents but sewing isn’t one of them!) So I really started as a frugal sewer but I think sustainability & frugality have many commonalities. I made lots of occasion wear & fancy dress outfits over the years but really started sewing more regularly around 10 years ago, to the extent that most of my clothing now is handmade with the exception of some 2nd hand or really old ready to wear.
Sewing your own clothes can be everything from a practical solution to a mindful, creative practice. How do you feel about the process?
Sewing to me has many facets & ticks many boxes, I love the problem solving aspect of sewing, figuring out how to make something from nothing almost as much as the creative side & in a way I think they are linked. It forces you to slow down & reflect before diving in and just buying the latest thing while you’re at the supermarket buying your bread! I love the creativity of seeing a garment whilst I’m out & about & trying to make a better version of it – be that making something in a colour or pattern that I love, adding or omitting certain design features, or getting a better fit because let’s face it there’s a lot of compromise buying ready to wear in terms of fit! I think it can be cheaper to sew your own quality garments, so frugal & practical at the same time as feeding my creative & problem solving appetite. When we sew our own clothes we’re generally producing a better quality more durable garment that won’t fall apart after a couple of washes!
When you need or want a new item of clothing what are the deciding factors for whether to make or buy?
This one is simple, as I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothing, if I need something, I figure out a way of making it. I’ve made bras, underwear, jeans, coats – not shoes yet, although I have a kit to make some, most of my shoes come from Vinted or charity shops.
Please tell us about the outfit you have chosen to create and the unloved items you have used.
The one thing I hadn’t made before was sportswear, mostly because I don’t class myself as being particularly sporty. But on a whim I took up Couch to 5k last year and had nothing that was practical to wear, so I hunted down some leggings, tops & sports bras from my local charity shop – thinking if I don’t like running then I’ve only spent £6 and they can go back to the charity shop! It turns out I love running, so when Julia approached me, the obvious choice was the Violet Leggings. I really loved the design features in these leggings, such as the lovely deep Yoga band that keeps them in situ while running and all the pocket options plus the lovely contrast panel that runs down the side and across the back, which is perfect for colour blocking and using up scraps! The dress that I chose to up-cycle was made for my brothers 50th birthday and I think I’ve only worn it a handful of times in the 9 years since. It was my 1st experiment in scuba and was always a bit big plus the style & vintage floral print wasn’t me anymore. So it had been stuck in the wardrobe making me feel guilty, it had a stain on it that I couldn’t remove, so I didn’t think it was suitable for a charity shop. There was quite a lot of fabric in the skirt part, so I’d always planned to up-cycle it somehow. Combining it with the fabric Julia sent me tones down the florals I think and has made the perfect contrast band on the leggings. I have some bits left over that I want to make a sports bra out of too, so hopefully there will be very little waste. I’ve taken the leggings out for a test run, (literally!) and they were perfect, lovely and comfortable. No signs of them falling down and plenty of room for my phone, keys and hanky, (because my nose runs faster than me!)
The clothing industry is responsible for many problems from ethical to environmental impact. Do you think sewing your own clothing can offer some solutions?
Sadly, sewing in itself isn’t necessarily sustainable, as the production of dressmaking fabric has the same issues as fabric used for ready to wear clothing. However, I do think that sewing our own clothes can give us more opportunities to go some way to offset the damage, as we are making conscious decisions about every aspect of the process. For example I am now more conscientious about my fabric choices, as buying cheap fabric could often be the worst from a sustainable aspect, so I look at ways that I could be more select in my fabric choices. So other than upcycling and using what I’ve already got I now look for fabrics that have been produced sustainably. I think labelling is starting to become a little bit clearer now to help us make decisions, such as the EcoVero label for viscose & the GOTS certification for cotton. There seems to be more recycled fibres around too, the magenta nylon that my Violet leggings are made from is made from waste from landfills and oceans around the world is transformed into ECONYL® regenerated nylon, & can be recycled again too! When washing any of my sports gear, I use a Guppy bag to capture any small plastic particles and prevent them going back into the water system.
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?
Coming from a frugal aspect, it has been difficult for me to adapt my thinking to paying more for what seems like a similar product, however, I now understand that in order for workers to receive a fair wage and for the raw materials to be produced in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment that comes at a cost to the consumer.
How can we make sustainable sewing cost effective?
One way to mitigate the cost is to be more circumspect in what I’m buying. For example rather than buying something (fabric for example) because it’s cheap but not having a plan for it and it still sitting in the stash several years later, isn’t really a good deal. So I now try to only buy fabric if I have a definite plan for it. Other tips are to check how much fabric you really need for a project. The pattern may suggest 3 metres but by cutting out the pattern to your size first & checking it against some fabric that you have in your stash you may find you actually need considerably less but better quality fabric, therefore less scraps to try and use up in the future! Obviously using what you already have is the most sustainable and cost effective choice, so before making an impulse purchase of either a pattern, fabric or haberdashery, take a look at what you already have and see if you can work with that – learning to pattern hack can save a lot of money! Also, learning to fit your own body can save making a lot of toiles, which often end up as unwearable, by keeping a note of fit adjustments that you usually have to make and make the adjustments on paper before cutting fabric.
What do you do with items of clothing that no longer fit or serve a purpose?
There’s a few things that I do with clothing that no longer fits or serves a purpose. If it’s in good saleable condition, then I either take it to a charity shop (providing it’s one that takes unlabelled clothing). There’s a charity called Give Your Best, which you can donate clothing online, so refugee women and children can shop for free. It looks like a web shop, so rather than a charity shop having to get rid of unwanted stuff, people actually choose what they want online, therefore you know unsold stuff isn’t going to landfill! (I’m yet to try this but hopefully I’ll get round to it this year, as I think its a great initiative). Other options are selling on pre-loved sites & having clothes swaps with friends. If the items aren’t fit for donating or selling, the I look at up-cycling into something else. There’s often degree of wastage in these projects but I enjoy the challenge of trying to squeeze the pattern pieces to fit. I had to piece the panel in the Violet leggings for example, as the skirt piece wasn’t long enough. I usually find a way to make it work!
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.
I usually have an eye on fashion trends and then choose to ignore them by and large! I’m all about comfort and couldn’t care less whether mom jeans or skinny jeans are in or not. However, new patterns with interesting details have been known to lure me! I rarely jump straight in and buy a new pattern, I like to wait to see if it fits with my lifestyle and aesthetic. If I see a new pattern that I like I usually have a look to see if I already have something similar that I can hack, as I really enjoy that aspect of sewing but I don’t always have the time!
Do you have any tips or project ideas for using up scraps of fabric?
I love scrap busting but sometimes there seems to be no end of them! I tend to keep a couple of patterns on hand that I consider scrap busters, for example, my favourite undies pattern & sleeveless tank patterns for when I’m working with knit/stretch fabrics and a cami pattern for when I’m working with woven. When I cut out the pattern I’m working on, I whip one of these scrap busting patterns out and cut the fabric at the same time, ready to sew when the mood takes me. That can be either straight after the main project , when the machine is already threaded with the correct colours or at a later date when I want to sew something relatively easy and familiar. I’m now a grandma, so kids clothes and toys are brilliant for scrap busting. She’s growing at a rate of knots though, so I need to check her size regularly! Bags and cosmetic pouches are great for scrap busting and good for gifts too. It’s useful to keep scraps on hand for any repairs or alterations too. I once got some oil on the cuff of a raglan tee, that I couldn’t remove and luckily had a scrap of the fabric left to replace the damaged cuff. If I get too bogged down with the scraps then I have a local business called the Recycle Yard that takes craft supplies and scrap fabrics, they either resell them or pass them on to schools for children’s craft projects.