Of course, there are very different reasons to start sewing. For some, it’s a creative hobby that helps express one’s own creativity and personality. Sewing can also help to make you feel more comfortable in your own body, as you can tailor your clothes to your body and you no longer have to submit to the size dictate of the fashion industry. For others, sewing means calm and self-reflection. It is the time to get away from work and daily worries. So, it’s safe to say that sewing is good for your mental and physical wellbeing. I originally started sewing to realize my dream of studying fashion design. Nothing came of that, but I stayed true to sewing, but my motives have changed. Today I sew mainly because I don’t want to support the practices of the fashion industry and want to make my wardrobe more sustainable. I am certainly not alone in the desire to live more sustainably through sewing. Or why are you sewing? But sewing may not be as good for the environment as we’d like to believe. And is fast sewing just as bad as fast fashion?
These questions have been in my head for a long time. Because somehow I also get the feeling that I have only shifted my consumption from finished clothing to fabrics and sewing utensils? In order to look at these questions as objectively as possible, I will look at the individual steps of the textile chain using the example of cotton. I chose cotton because around 75% of the clothes produced worldwide contain cotton. Cotton is the most popular fiber, but at the same time it is an extremely problematic material, which rightly bears the name “world’s dirtiest crop”.
As you can see from the textile chain, sewing with conventionally produced materials only has an impact on the clothing it replaces. By sewing our own clothes, we are not contributing to the exploitation of workers in low-wage countries, at least when it comes to ready-made clothing. In addition, a transport route is saved. Sewing yourself has no influence on the previous and later steps. This also coincides with a study by the consulting firm Quantis, which specializes in sustainability, according to which 93% of the environmental impact of clothing production is attributable to the manufacture of textiles. But there are also positive aspects of sewing yourself that I don’t want to leave unmentioned here. By sewing, we learn to appreciate our clothes more, because we know how much work goes into every single piece of clothing. Since we have the opportunity to sew the perfect piece of clothing, we are less tempted to be satisfied with the “okay” piece of clothing from the store and thus certainly consume less.
It looks a little different with sewing using organic cotton. Organic cotton has very positive effects on both the social and environmental aspects of cultivation. With the 10-20% higher price, the farmers earn a wage from which they can live. Since synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are not allowed for cultivation, the negative environmental influences decrease significantly here as well. Since organic cotton produces 30% less harvests, more land and therefore more water is required for cultivation. It should also not be forgotten that the term “organic” only refers to cultivation and does not include the other steps in the textile chain. These can take place under the same conditions as with conventional cotton. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton is a lot more sustainable, since every processing step is checked with regard to social and environmental aspects. That is why I would always choose the GOTS label if I have already decided to go for organic cotton, because here I can be sure that the finished textile does not contain any harmful chemicals. Nevertheless, the cultivation of GOTS certified organic cotton still consumes valuable resources, especially water, which is usually very scarce in the cultivation areas.
Used materials are therefore even more sustainable, as they do not consume any further resources. Apart from perhaps the CO2 emissions that arise in transporting it to you. They are also a much more cost-effective solution, as fabrics made from organic cotton are comparatively expensive and not affordable for everyone. Unfortunately, used fabrics are not readily available and you have to spend more time searching. But the most sustainable thing is of course to use up the existing stock of fabrics. 🙂
While sustainable sewing can be an antidote to fast fashion on many levels, the connection between sewing and fashion cannot be denied. Sewing is DIY fashion after all, and it is easy to replace clothing consumption with fabric purchases. The inclusion of sustainability in sewing habits therefore depends on each individual. In my opinion, a good first step is to be more thoughtful about your sewing projects and to be clear about what else you really need in your closet. Here are even more tips on what we can do today to make our sewing more sustainable:
- Use what you already have. The fabric that is already in your fabric supply is the most sustainable material you can use. Since it is already in your possession, this fabric does not cause any additional effects.
- Only buy fabrics if you already have a sewing project in mind, and then only in the quantities you need. Try to use more sustainable fabrics, such as deadstock fabrics, fabrics made from organic cotton or 2nd hand fabrics.
- Rely on quality instead of quantity! Wear your creations for as long as possible and improve them or adapt them to be able to wear them even longer.
- Get creative with what you can use as fabric. Why not use used or existing curtains, bed linen or tablecloths for your clothes.
- Keep buttons, zippers, or other trimmings of clothing that is beyond repair.
- Collect your scraps. These can be used for a variety of different projects, e.g. as a filling for pillows or stools. Or maybe a kindergarten near you can use the leftovers for handicrafts.
- Use threads made from recycled polyester or even better from (organic) cotton. Cotton threads have the advantage that your thread waste can be composted.
- If you use fabrics made of man-made fibers, wash your clothes with a Guppyfriend wash bag, which ensures that no microplastics are released during the wash. Because almost 35% of the microplastic in the sea comes from our clothing!
Whether you’re brand new to sewing or a seasoned professional, I hope this article has given you some insight into how to use your skills and creativity with the environment in mind. And always remember, the most sustainable clothing is already in your closet. 😉
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Thank you. I am learning so much. I am an old quilter with a very old stash. I work through fabrics from 30 years ago and have friends that we exchange scraps.
However, I am only a few years into garment sewing and get very confused about these types of fabrics…
Interesting. I don’t think they actually make “sustainable ” quilting cottons and haven’t even heard it mentioned in my quilting community. I’ll have to put a post asking if it exists!
thank you for your kind words!
It’s great that you are already sustainable by using your stash and exchanging with friends.
Interesting point about quilting cottons. I certainly expected that the same amount of organic cottons is offered. Maybe asking for it, will change companies’ minds.
DANKE! Sehr interessant, ich beschäftige mich auch ein bisschen damit, schaue z.B. wo die Stoffe her kommen und versuche , meine Vorräte zu benutzen. Interessant finde ich auch Tencel und Co. Was hälst du davon?
Gerade bei Stoffen ist es ja leider oft sehr schwierig herauszufinden, wo sie herkommen. Materialien wie Tencel finde ich sehr interessant und eine gute nachhaltige Alternative.
Ein Post über die Nachhaltigkeit der einzelnen Materialien ist schon in Planung und wird es hoffentlich bald auf den Blog schaffen 😉
Ein wichtiges Thema! Tatsächlich ist auch noch das After Life/Textil Recycling ein Bereich, der mit hineinspielt. Da besteht das größte Problem in der Faserzusammensetzung. Reine Baumwollstoffe können recycelt werden. Baumwoll/Viskose/Polyester/Elasthan Mischgewebe leider nicht… Die Berge an unverwertbarem Textilmüll (vor allem jetzt, wo die nicht abverkauften Kollektionen durch die Lockdowns einfach “entsorgt” werden), sind nicht mehr zu verantworten. Ich versuche, Kunstfasern komplett zu vermeiden – das ist gar nicht so einfach, beim Garn fast unmöglich. Und es ist tatsächlich der gleiche Kampf gegen den unvernünftigen Impulskauf bei Stoffen wie bei Fertigkleidung. Wenn Farben, Muster, Fall doch soooo schön sind…. oder, wenn die Biostoffe gerade im Angebot sind – ich arbeite dran. Klappt aber nicht immer.