Sewing for fun and sustainability

Sewing for fun and sustainability

Sarah in a handmade Nora jumper with her dog

Sarah in a handmade Nora jumper with her dog

I taught myself to sew about the time the Great British Sewing Bee started on the BBC. I was inspired by the clothing the contestants were creating. They were fun and modern, and not the homely vibe I associated with handmade clothes (however Cottage Core is now a whole new vibe so more fool me). I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas and discovered an entire world of Indy pattern designers who wrote detailed instruction booklets for their patterns and often did video sew-alongs.

I wanted to sew some of my own clothes because I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with fast fashion practices and their effect on the environment and workers' rights. I was already trying to buy more sustainable options, not buying as much and looking into the company’s ethics before purchasing. But lots of this information is hard to find. By sewing some of my own clothes I would at least know what happened at the production stage…It was just me, my machine and often my seam ripper! I could control the quality of materials, quality of finish and the fit. Because I had also created the garment, I would also know how to repair or refashion it. Which meant hopefully the item would stay in my wardrobe a lot longer.

 I don’t hold myself up as the pinnacle of sustainability but I try to sew in a way that doesn’t just replicate the churn of fast fashion:

  • I only buy fabric with projects in mind
  • I try to buy the best fabric I can afford – organic cotton is often available or products that are recycled. For example, fleece from old bottles
  • I like to buy deadstock fabric where available - this is leftover fabric from the fashion industry rather than fabric created for how sewists
  • I save all my larger scraps to use in other projects
  • I reuse hardware from ready-to-wear items that are unusable – zips, buttons, other fastenings
  • I only sew a garment if I can see how it fits into my current wardrobe or if it replaces a worn-out item

Of course, I have sewn some duds on my journey and when trying to find my personal style, but to me that is okay as I am not creating nearly as much waste as I would be if I was buying a lot of fast fashion. I believe clothing at a reasonable price should be available to all but fast fashion practices exploit workers and the environment to provide cheap clothing that most of the time doesn’t even last us a few wears. Aja Barber explores this in her book  Consumed: The need for collective change; colonialism, climate change & consumerism if anyone would like to read more about this topic

Some of my favourite recent makes include a Quilted Wildwood Gilet in black cotton with a flannel lining. I usually sew with polyester thread as it is more durable but for this project, I used cotton thread with 100% cotton fabrics and 100% cotton batting for warmth. I had to quilt all the pieces before sewing them together and hand-binding them so it was a true labour of love that is coming into its own this autumn.

I also have made several Nora jumpers in fleece and quilted sweatshirt fabric. As one wears out make a new one! I realise fleece doesn’t have great eco credentials but it is easy to care for and hardwearing so can stay in your wardrobe for a long time. You can wash fleece less often and in a guppy bag to reduce microplastics. I have cut up my retired Nora fleece into strips to make a snuffle mat for my dog too so it continues to stay in use and not in landfill or an incinerator. A snuffle mat is a no-sew project so give it a go if you have an old fleece lying around!

I also made my first swimsuit for sea swimming on a trip to Wales. It was so much easier than I thought it would be and provided the perfect coverage for swimming in the UK which is hard to find in the shop. It was the sandpiper swim suit


If you are inspired to get into sewing here are my top tips:

  • Local fabric shops will often run introduction to sewing machine classes for newbies
  • Choose an Indy designer that is known for good sewing instructions. They will walk you through each step. I recommend Helen’s Closet or Tilly and the Buttons.
  • The online sewing community on Instagram (mainly) is inspirational and informative. Each pattern usually has its own hashtag so you can see other people’s creations and they usually include their measurements so you can see the fit on similar body shapes
  • Stable woven fabrics like cotton, linen, and denim are often easier to sew than shifty viscose
  • Knit fabrics can be a little harder to start with but a sweatshirt fabric with a low stretch is pretty stable so a jumper would be a great first knit project.
  • Cushion covers are the traditional first sewing project but why not try something you really want to wear instead? Take it one step at a time and you will amaze yourself!
  • Finally, no one notices the little imperfections. Just go for it




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