Sewing & the endless Question of Sustainability

Are self-sewn clothes more sustainable than the ones out of fast fashion stores?

I love to design and sew my own clothes. When I am working at a new project, that’s the one thing in my life where I forget time and space. It happens that I sit down at 5 pm and then stop sewing at 3 in the morning. Just one more seam…

The thought that I know how to make my own clothes is empowering to me. And when I put a newly finished item into my wardrobe I have the feeling that I outsmarted the whole fast fashion industry.

But I shouldn’t be so smug about myself. Being a student of a sustainability major, I know that it is not as easy as that. Maybe it wasn’t a child from Bangladesh that put together my new piece, but that’s not all there is to it.

I want to use this post to recap for myself what issues must be considered when I am attempting to sew sustainable clothing and at which step of the process they occur.

Design

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Having an idea for a dress (or anything else) isn’t a problem at all for me. But the question of sustainability already starts here. How much fabric will be needed? Is it possible to cut the pieces with the least amount of leftover fabric? And is it possible to use a sustainable fabric at all? These questions can be considered, but they can as well narrow down ones possibilities to make those inspired designs happen.

Material

There is nothing more beautiful to me than stepping into a fabric stores and being overwhelmed by all the different colors, textures and the inspirations that come with them. Quickly a certain fabric catches my eye and immediately I know what I want to make out of it. But the look at the tag is a bit of a downer: Elastan (Spandex), Polyester, Polyacryl… Lots of synthetic stuff I rather not have in my clothing. Many of those fibers are made of mineral oil. After discarding it this fabric will either be burned and will release CO2 or it will stay around for many many years. Also, when washing such a gown, small fiber parts will be washed out of it and will end up in the ocean at some point.

So, what else can I do? Buying organic fabrics made out of plant based fibers seems to be the answer. I still have to learn a lot about this topic and I have to raise the questions where the cotton was grown, where was it woven and by whom? How was it printed, with which colors? How far was it transported?

And another issue: The price. One can get conventional produced fabric in bright colors from around 15€ (∼18$) on per meter. But looking at the price tags of organic fabrics: It’s 25€ (∼30$) per meter or much more.

And how about:

  • The yarn?
  • Buttons?
  • The zipper?
  • The lining?
  • The interfacing?

Where to get sustainable alternatives?

Is your head spinning as well?

The sewing

I don’t see too many problems with the process of sewing. I could ask the question where my sewing machine comes from, with which materials it was produced and by whom. It seems very difficult to answer this and I’m getting angry if someone asks too many questions about my beloved sewing machine (even if it’s myself).

 

Looking back at what I just wrote, sewing became a bit more complicated for me just now. I feel restricted and see less possibilities for my projects. That’s a common symptom of people who burden themselves with the aim to live a more sustainable life.

But lets approach it from a different perspective (and lay out my plan):

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  • Not all fabrics and accessories I need for my gown have to be 100% organic and sustainable. I will try as hard as I can. But I am already buying very little fast fashion and it’s better to make some compromises to keep up the joy. (Do I really need that paillette ornament? Yes I do)
  • Finding new kinds of fabrics can be very exciting and inspiring. There is fabric made out of hemp, bamboo or recycled material. I want to know how these fabrics feel and what I can make out of them. I also plan on finding out which kinds of fabric are produced in Austria.
  • Buying second hand fabrics: Sometimes one can find old fabric in a second hand store. It maybe wasn’t produced sustainable, but it is already made and I think it is better to use it than to just throw it away.
  • Recycling old clothes. It can be so much fun to make something new out of something old. I just started making a skirt out of an old men’s shirt. No new material is needed and an old piece doesn’t go to waste.

I would be interested if you have any experiences with sustainable materials concerning your sewing projects? Or do you some more tips and tricks?

Keep up the good vibes and especially the fun!

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