Friday, 3 May 2013

The Importance of Refashioning and Stash Busting


Today I feel a need to talk about why I think that refashioning existing garments and sewing from your fabric stash is really important. I was planning a post like this anyhow, but watching The Island President last night brought the whole subject to the top of my 'stuff to write about' agenda. Not that refashioning, stash busting or even the garment industry are at all directly discussed in this film, which is actually an incredibly interesting look at the politics of climate change. But when faced with the sad truth that millions of people, particularly those who live in island states (like The Maldives of which the truly awesome Mohammed Nasheed pictured up there is/was the president of) are currently watching their countries be washed away by the rising sea levels caused by global warming, and then being shown the depressingly self-interested politicians wasting last-ditch opportunities like 2009's Copenhagen climate change summit to do anything constructive to prevent the escalating destruction, it reminds me that every single person on this planet has some responsibility to try to make a change. Plus  we really don't have very long to try round the current status quo of elevated C02 emissions.


'So what the hell does that have to do with my fabric stash, Zo?', you may be thinking. Well, manufacturing and transportation use phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels, not to mention use whole oceans-worth of water and release harmful untreated chemicals and dyes into the environment reclessly destroying natural habits. Therefore fabric production and distribution are responsible for much of the emissions that are causing the sea levels to rise, so by this logic I (and hopefully heaps of other people living comfortably in developed nations who have noticed that governments and Big Business clearly have little/no interest in making noticeable changes) have been making a real concerted effort to consume less newly manufactured products. For a few years now I've furnished my home exclusively with second-hand furniture, I don't run a car and use public transport to get anywhere that my legs can't carry me to, and am committed to using second-hand fabric or existing garments to make my own clothes, and buy what I can't make (knitwear, footwear, accessories like belts) second-hand. I know there are lots more areas in which I could make better choices to raise my sustainability game, like in the area of food which we are starting to focus on lots more (having just pledged to dramatically cut down our meat intake), but everyone has to start somewhere with one or two areas of their lives otherwise it's all too overwhelming.

(industrial fabric dyeing plant)

Fabric production and processing are notoriously wasteful and damaging industries, not to mention all the shipping and transportation that the raw materials and finished products go through to get them to where they need to be so they can be consumed by us. If you make your own clothes rather than buying them already manufactured for you, you are already cutting out a lot more shipping, trucking about and C02 emitting, as well as avoiding being directly responsible for the exploitation of millions of ill-paid workers suffering terrible and dangerous working conditions. However, as sewers I feel we can do more to discourage unsustainable manufacture, in particular fabric production and processing.


At this point of a debate on this topic, I often hear the (perfectly valid and understandable) argument, 'But I want to support my local fabric shop', or 'But so many people's livelihoods, particularly vulnerable people in developing nations, depend on production and manufacture'. Believe me when I say that I totally hear that argument and am aware of the complexity of this whole thing, and do not want anyone to be pushed (further) into poverty. But as has been proven over and over again, governments, manufacturing companies and retailers are failing to make changes to green-up their activities despite thousands of scientists spelling out to them and us all that no changes in practices equals irreversible global destruction that has already begun. As horrible as it sounds, it's hard to talk about the livelihoods of anyone involved in the production, transportation or selling of manufactured goods when, with no change, there will literally not be a planet that we can live on. Expect the phrase 'climate evacuee' to become more commonly used over the next decade.

So that is why I have decided to completely stop buying new mass-manufactured clothing and to dramatically reduced the amount of new fabric I buy to sew with. I know that I was incredibly lucky to have worked for a time for a textile recycling charity so had access to lots of second-hand fabric which I still have quite a bit of for my sewing projects, but even when it's all used up, I'll still be committed to avoiding buying new fabric and sourcing already existing textiles. It is hard, I'm obsessed with beautiful fabric as much as the next sewer, but I wouldn't feel comfortable freely shopping for fabric knowing about the damage fabric production and processing creates.


I don't know a single sewer that hasn't been sewing for more than five minutes that doesn't have even a modest stash of fabric, and I know literally no-one who doesn't have some unused garments sitting in their wardrobes or cupboards. If I have managed to avoid it so far, this is where I may sound a bit preachy: I think all of us who enjoy sewing should look to what we've already got to start our projects, if not always then more often. There. I said it. And if you don't like what's currently in your stash, or don't feel particularly inspired by it, then attend or organise a fabric swap with other sewers. That way you can off-load the pieces you just aren't feeling for pieces that do float your boat.

45 comments:

LLBB said...

amen, sista! I see sustainably sourced fabrics as the next wave of this craft movement (or whatever you call it!) A lot of Daughter Fish's podcasts have been inspiring on this topic.

Miriam said...

good for you Zoe - I'm glad you are using your influence to challenge us all in our behaviours and thoughts. You may not be a world leader but you are a leader in your field and I fully support your honest and challenging thought on this. I've got improvements I could make for sure.

Scruffybadger said...

I second Miriam, Zoe, you are good at getting us all to think about our choices and the impact of our buying decisions. Keep at it, this is so important.
I know there's a lot I can do to improve too, ( I'm thinking of last month's spontaneous online fabric buying ;-s ) but most of my sewing does start by looking at the fabric I've got already....but I admit to having an ample stash that I limit by storage...but still, I have lots of thoughts about the origins of some of this fabric.....

Jacq C said...

You always make me think about my choices - I've only really been sewing for a year and have quite a stash (yarn too). I think about 30% of my fabric is pre-loved. I try to use every scrap but could do much better and am not buying new fabric unless it's for a specific project and I have nothing suitable - but that happens a lot :( Refashioning is the thing I need to do more and I have a list of ideas ready to go but feel more anxious about that than starting from scratch! I have made one really positive change - my friends and I have regular clothes swaps, 3 in the last year. All funds go to the host's choice of charity and you can go home with a bag of new-to-you stuff for bargain prices. Last time I picked up several things that don't fit - I am determined to give refashioning a go. Thanks for all the inspiration :)

Helen Le Caplain said...

I try and buy dresses/skirts/tops in several sizes too big to get as much material for my money.

Not only is it environmentally friendly but it really gets those creative juices flowing!

www.mancunianvintage.com

Lucy Legget said...

Brilliantly said Zoe and very true. We are all living on an island, eventually it won't just be those on low lying islands. The earth is an island, we don't have another one to sail away to, we all need to change our behaviours and act as if we are living in a world where resources are limited (which of course we are). Thank you for inspiring us all.

Funkbunny said...

Here here. I love seeking out and sewing with op-shop fabric. One challenge is that you don't often know what the fabric is, so I usuallly do a test at home by cuttting of a little bit and setting it alight :) then referring to a fibre burn test chart. Great for telling whether it is a natural or synthetic. Unfortunately I don't think I could actually set things on fire in the op shop though so sometimes I come away with polyester when I think I may have scored silk!!

Helen said...

This is a really inspiring (and worrying) posts! Thanks for sharing. I really admire your ethics and your determination. I do wonder though, and I mean this genuinely, not sneeringly, if you will maintain your position once junior arrives? I only ask because I find it increasingly hard to remain environmentally aware with a toddler in tow. Children trash clothes, so getting hold of decent quality second hand stuff can be tricky - and for the same reason, my son is pretty much exclusively dresses in supermarket clothes. As he gets older, I'm realising we can get away with fewer garments for him, but during the younger pukey/horrible nappy stage you can go through several outfits in a day! But really Tesco, or whatever is all I can afford, and I just don't have the time to sew for him (not quickly enough anyway). I don't mean this as a downer of a comment. I really am genuinely interested to see how you manage this going forward. Hopefully I can pick up a few tips! :)

Claire said...

tThis is a timely discussion and something that I have been thinking about in the lead up to MMM. I agree we all need to make changes and there are areas which I can improve a lot. I have a modest stash and always look in it before purchasing more fabric. I've also been inspired to try refashioning which, if it works for me, could be another way for me to make a change. But I know I will always buy new fabric so I need to find some that is sustainably sourced. Thanks for brining this to the top of the agenda.

tialys said...

I am guilty as charged with the fabric buying obsession and, unlike mass produced clothes, had never thought of it as non-environment/people friendly. However, you have definitely made me pause and ponder so thank you for that - I think! :)

Jan Morton said...

Well said! I totally agree, so many sewers have loads of fabric - get is used up instead of buying some new. I'm working with a store in Basingstoke which is starting to stock fabric and part of the offering, along with well sourced new fabric, is unused fabric that's been sitting around for far too long.
We recently did a day for Dress a Girl Around the World which is a great opportunity to stash bust and do something great for girls in the world who are less fortunate than our children.
Given the events in Bangladesh last week I think your post is ever more timely, there are no benefits to anyone when stuff like that goes on in clothing production
I could go on for ages about this, is it ok if I link to this st from my FB and blog

Camelia Crinoline said...

I think this is a really important thing to discuss. I live on an island in the Pacific and, even though we are not in imminent danger because of rising water levels, many Pacific islands are. It's easy if you sew to feel like you're more sustainable than people that don't, but it's not necessarily true. While I buy pretty much all the clothes I don't sew secondhand, I do buy new fabric quite often. I know that there are terrible chemicals used in the manufacture of cotton, that cotton pickers are paid very little and are often underage, and yet I still buy it. I admire you for reducing the amount of new fabric you buy.

Sølvi said...

Great post! There are some great documentaries out there on this topic - this being one of them. I have been caught buying more new fabric (to specific projects) after moving back to Norway. Can you believe that the biggest thrift stores in Oslo (run by The Salvation Army) don´t sell fabric?

The Swedish branch of this chain was my largest fabric source when I lived in Uppsala, but here in Oslo it is completely dry as far as I have found (and I´ve been to many different ones). Terrible shame! In fact, I will write a letter to them asking why just this minute.

Thanks for the inspiration, Zoe! :-)

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Yes, our buying cheap clothes isn't helping anyone. That terrible business in Bangladesh recently - the people making the money are not those poor exploited workers.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to be sustainable with kids - I have a pair of toddlers, and supermarket clothes are a godsend, but I try to buy most of their stuff second hand on eBay or swap with friends (my girl stuff for their boy stuff). There are some great refashioning/sewing blogs for kids stuff and I've chopped up several of my old tees to make new ones for the toddzillas. It's almost as satisfying as making something for me. But not quite. My main environmental thang with the bubbas was terry nappies - like your mum used! None of this fancy schmancy all in one £20 a nappy malarkey, just plain squares of terry towelling, folded on their bums with some lovely organic nappy covers on top. I dread to think how much landfill my two late trainers would be responsible for otherwise!

cucicucicoo said...

agreed. i've cut way down on buying new fabric and am trying as much as possible, when not refashioning, to just get fabric from thrifted sheets and whatnot. i still can do a lot more, but one step at a time! it's truly sad what happens behind the garment industry.

Catherine said...

My commitment to stash busting stems from a far less noble reason than this... I am horrified how much money I have sitting in boxes in the attic ... I need to use it up!

Is is good to have some "stash" for last minute "oh mum I need costume X for tomorrow morning"...... but not the amount of stuff I have. I think some of it is there because I have been putting of using it because the job seems too much/I don't want to ruin the fabric etc!

So I am just using stash at the moment.....

vintagerockchick said...

What a well considered and thought provoking post. I have been thinking much more about mass produced clothes, and I hate the concept of 'disposable' fashion. It's really why I returned to dressmaking, and the last couple of weeks has made me even more determined to make most (and to make THE most) of my clothes. I've made a dress and a top this week, and cut out three more tops, all from my stash, so I'm pleased about that, and I spend more time shopping in charity shops than anywhere else, but I have to admit I'm off to Dalston this afternoon to meet a friend who wants to go fabric shopping. I will be more restrained as a result of this post. Thank you Zoe, on behalf of myself, my purse and my fabric cupboard.

Alessa said...

:) Thanks for reminding us every now and then, Zoe! I'm on a 3-in-4-projects-made-from-stash ratio right now. I also have to say that I love clothing swap parties! Germany doesn't quite get the charity shop culture, so most second hand shops are neither run by charities, nor do they offer clothing that I'd actually wear, but I really should go more often to be on the lookout for knit fabric garments for refashioning...

Janine said...

It really it quite depressing . It is hard to believe that are so many climate change deniers with all the scientists warning us. We are all need to do what you are doing . I hope you can encourage others to do the same.

Margo Bergman said...

Hmmm..so much to think about. I try to refashion and have to admit, that I do it sometimes only because I can't find fabrics I love new in my hometown, not because I have a noble awareness to protect the planet and its residents. Sad but true.I will be thinking about this more now. Thank you.

Could a new challenge be in the works? A month of wearing refashioned clothes?

Kathryn said...

What a thoughtful post. I've just written about the same issue myself, though not so elonquently. Since starting to sew I have been conscious of not wanting to replace a clothes-buying habit with a fabric-buying habit but am still shocked by how much fabric I've accumulated. Time to de-stash!
Thanks for reminding us all of how we can have a positive impact.

Cindy said...

I really enjoyed this post and wanted to express my interest in reading more like it. Specifically, learning more about the fabric fabrication industry. Where in the world do all those bolts in Hancock's and JoAnn's come from? What are worker conditions like in fabric manufacturing industry?

Minnado said...

Great post Zoe. i have been thinking about where fabric comes from.I have been given several bin bags of fabric from past sewers but part of that luck I think comes from the fact that I told lots of my family and friends about my sewing so they think of me when clearing out old fabrics!xx

Rosie said...

Very timely, I just had a conversation with my 11 year old daughter about the tragedy in Bangledesh. We will be up cycling as much as we can from here on out, for sure.

Alison said...

Fantastic post, I totally agree with everything you have said. I have a stash of fabric that has come second hand from clearing out various relatives houses and if I have to buy new I buy fairtrade and organic.
re kids clothes, frugi is great (very hard wearing) and you can get their stuff second hand on ebay. Both my 2 are clothes in second hand clothes or clothes that were gifts.

Alison

Sarah Butler said...

Great post Zoe! I am definitely guilty of having purchased lots of new fabrics. However, I am also super lucky to have great sources of second hand fabric in my community, and have started checking the charity shops first when I am looking for fabric. I think now my efforts really are aimed at shrinking my stash and getting into more refashioning. Thanks for the inspiration!

immerBeginner said...

I concur. For me, it seemed to all come together at the beginning of this year. I've already been sewing for a few years now and already noticed that I was somehow shopping less and being more critical when I shop, thinking - especially when in fast fashion shops (H&M, Primark, Forever21, etc) I would see how poorly and simply things were done. I also started noticing how much (so much!) is made of plastic nowadays. A trip to Asia (I was in Myanmar, Bangkok and Manila) added fuel in that one sees all the plastic that doesn't go away, and the many more (cheaper) products on sale that are (again) plastic. Lastly, I just finished reading the E-book 'Overdressed' which tied everything together. Seriously, if anyone is even a little interested in fashion, fabric/sewing and quality, it is a must-read.
I also just decided to minimize getting more new stuff and using up and re-using/re-purposing the stuff in my closet...s.

reduce & re-use; seriously.

Kayleigh said...

I'm moving this summer and forcing myself to sew only from my stash (it helps that the only fabric store nearby is a JoAnn's—I'm not tempted to buy fabric but I can still pick up all the notions I need!). Since I buy fabric mostly with a project in mind, it's not hard at all, and I hope I can stick with the habit for awhile.

Your refashioning projects are always so inspiring, and I'm trying to do more of that as well. A caveat, however (at one of the sewing meetups I've been to, someone brought this up and it opened my eyes): a lot of people who sew their own clothes do so because their bodies aren't built in a way that society deems "normal." And guess what! It's hard enough to refashion things when you're stick-shaped like myself! Refashioning is wonderful, but it's definitely not something everyone can do.

Madalynne said...

What an awesome pledge! I'm going to be honest though - I admire you greatly for being able to commit to this pledge because I don't think I could do. Yes, I am a seamstress who got into sewing to reduce the gluttony in her life, and I have, but I still like to indulge. I like to buy nice fabrics and new clothes just as much as I like finding second hand. Balance. Again, this is a great commitment and I end with, "you rock!"

Alicia said...

Not to mention pesticides for cotton production! If GAP, GAP alone, committed to organic cotton, we could reduce total world pesticide use by 25%. That's crazy! (Or perhaps a testament to how much clothing GAP sells...)

Kirsty said...

Thanks Zoe for the timely reminder to all of us to live more sustainably. Thanks too for the link to that movie. It's going on my must see list.

theamazingtaracat said...

This really made me think. I've pretty much stopped buying clothes except for from charity shops, but I still have a bad fabric shopping habit. About half of what I buy is second hand or vintage from ebay or charity shops but actually my stash contains enough fabric to keep me going for ages already. I really don't need any more. I don't know if I'll be able to break the habit overnight but it has definitely made me consider my habits.

mirabells said...

You are perfectly right with this. I try to use fabric of my stack or refashion old garments from time to time, but I always did this rather to save money or because I learnt first to use up, what you have. I never thought about the environmental damage caused by the production of fabrics. Of course, you could use "bio" fabrics made of organically grown materials, if you can lay your hands on that sort of stuff. But there still are the shipments and so on. I am glad, you opened my eyes on the subject. I think, sewing your own clothes is quite a good way to avoid consumption but it still is only a start. But it never ends, does it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for pointing this out again! I cringe every time I hear someone say sth like 'sewing got me off fast-fashion and it's negative effects'. And then we can all watch them go wild at fabric stores and pile up fabric and notions like madwomen.

Kate

Jen said...

Speaking of second-hand clothing, if we knew whether you were having a girl or a boy I'd be happy to send some lovely baby clothing your way. Not trying to pressure you to reveal if you don't want to, but I'm getting rid of all of my girl things and I have absolutely loads of cute clothing in really good condition.

Helga Jossen said...

Thank you for starting this topic ! Although I am a weaver I have similar problems : where come my yarns from and how were they produced ?

Beth Byrge said...

Great post! My New Year's resolution was along these same lines (making all my clothing or buying secondhand) and it's been easier than I thought. I also swore off fabric last month and amazed myself with being able to do it. We can all do more with less than we think!

Ally said...

Zoe, I think you're spot on.
Now I think I'm still going to buy fabric, but nowadays consider more carefully whether I need it.
Oh, and if anyone needs some white men's cotton shirts... I have a couple that I'm not currently using.

Oh and Zoe, You should really watch Chasing Ice if you haven't already!

And congratulations! I'm sure to be the last one finding out about it! That's what happens when you don't keep up with the blogs you love.

franceparijs said...

Thanks for this great post. Please keep them coming. True, much true, if we want to see some change, WE have to be the change.

Naomi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naomi said...

Thank you. It's great to read someone talking about this issue and not apologising for their opinion. Inspiring stuff!

Zoe said...

Thank you all so much for commenting and engaging in the debate.

I totally agree with the commenters that mentioned buying organically/sustainably produced cotton is a good alternative to buying whatever fabric is in your local fabric store. However, it is really important to note that growing organic cotton, although it avoids pesticides, actually uses way more water which is the cause of so much draught in many regions that produce cotton. Plus, organic cotton or not organic cotton, it's still fabric that requires transportation round the globe to get it into our wardrobes/sewing tables.

Zoe xxx

Lovenicky said...

I totally hear you! I haven't bought new fabrics for more than a year and I have been using stash patterns a lot too. I know it's better for the very least for my peace of mind to have less stuff in my house anyway.

Sarah said...

Great article Zoe!! most of my fabric is second hand as i'm a sucker for not being able to say no to people who are off loading, I've also taking to stash busting in order to reduce and become more savvy when buying fabric!

What I particularly liked about this article is that you talked about the effects of buying fabric, which are the same as any other consumer goods. in light of the recent Dhaka disaster quite a number of sewers noted how they were glad that they sewed their own clothes and therefore not funding the exploitation of these workers. yet we must be careful not to forget that a lot of fabric is still milled in the same conditions that those sweatshop workers are in!
you are doing a great job in campaigning for people to be more sustainable and making us think. I'm sure if we all made little changes then it will certainly count to making a more positive impact :)

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