Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why I Sew My Own Clothes and Clothing for Others

Three years ago, a building in Bangladesh that housed a garment factory collapsed killing more that 1,100 people.  With all of the publicity many people vowed to change the way they shopped.  Although, it is hard to say whether or not much in the industry has changed.  You can read about three years after the disaster in the article "Three Years After Rana Plaza, Has Anything Changed?"

One quote in the article really hit home was about the environmental impact of our clothing choices.

"...the clothing industry has been cited as the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Its businesses churn out clothes at an alarming rate — Americans now buy five-times as much clothing as they did in 1980. According to the WWF, it takes up to 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. And many simply go to waste: in the US alone, 10.5 million tonnes of clothing is sent to landfills each year..."

 Yikes!!!  I will repeat, "It takes 700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make 1 t-shirt!" It takes a front load machine between 15 and 30 gallons to wash one load depending on how full the washer is.  Plus, now we have to think about the pesticides in the cotton.  For conventionally grown cotton, it takes about 3 ounces of pesticides for a 9 ounce t-shirt.

So in addition to the working conditions that the workers have to endure for our cheap clothes, we also need to think about the raw materials that are used to make the clothing.

I have been thinking about these ideas for a while, but I have not really acted upon them in my sewing.  Yes, I rarely if ever use polyester which we know takes a really long time to degrade, but I have not spent a lot of time figuring out where the fabrics come from, or what their impact on the environment is.  It is not an easy task to undertake.  There is not a huge amount of information on impact.  However, I did find one report that was helpful.  According to the Stockholm Environmental Institute, it takes almost 10,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of cotton, whereas hemp requires only about 2,400 liters of water per kilogram.  Plus, it has half the CO2 emisions that cotton does.  The harder question is hemp or linen better.  The only thing I have been able to learn is that you can get twice as much fabric per plot of hemp than of linen, but not good numbers.

As a result of this research, I have decided to try hemp.  I have ordered several yard to try.  I have also ordered organic cotton because it is hard to get reasonably priced lining fabrics unless you use organic cotton muslin.  I will be hand dyeing these fabrics at home using as little water as I can, and will eventually move to using natural dyes.  However, right now I will be using low impact procion dyes.

In the meantime, I am using up the stash of fabrics that I have as I move to a more environmentally sourced fabrics.  As I have done with my vests and coats, most of the fabric I use is found in second hand shops.  However, it is getting harder to find good quality fabric in these shops.  More and more of the fabric I find contains polyester, or is low quality.  In the transition to moving to more environmentally sourced fabric I am now trying to use up my stash of fabrics that I have collected through the years of sewing.  Here are the new skirts that I have designed which will help me use up my stash.  I designed the pattern which is a cross between a straight skirt and an a-line.  I don't really like a-line skirts, but I know most people look better in an a-line, so I have taken a straight skirt moulange, then lowered the waist, added some flare in the skirt bottom, but half as much as normal for an a-line.

The waist band is my one nod to a fabric that is not environmentally friendly.  I have used fabric with lycra in it to give a little ease in the waist.  It sits just above the hips, but below the waist.  I have found a design that sits here gives the wearer more leeway in weight changes.  I have been able to wear skirts using this design through my ups and downs in weight changes as opposed to ones that sit very low on my hips which fall off when I am at a lower weight or ones that fit around my waist which get too tight when I put on a few pounds.  I decided that it would be better to use something not quite an environmental if it allows the skirt to be worn a much longer time.  I also added pockets because everyone loves pockets!  I hope this design will become a favorite that will get lots of wear.

Each skirt is lined and is zipped up the back.  They are really comfortable and are good fun to wear in the summer with sandals or a pair of tennis shoes, or you can wear tights or leggings and wear them into the fall.  I am in the midst of putting together several of these skirts from my stash of fabric.  

Here is another in oranges and browns.
This skirt is harder to show in a flattering way as it doesn't fit on my dressform so I pinned it to the hangar, but it looks lovely on and is shown in a size Large.  It is also lined and has great pockets.

I will continue to sew these skirts for the next few weeks.  Then I will turn to dyeing fabric and making shirts, and finally to vests.  I am getting ready for the next Bainbridge Island Studio Tour.  If you are in the Seattle area, come by and see all of the lovely pieces for sale around the island.


  1. So you use 700 gallons of water making a t-shirt? Maybe one should challenge those numbers.

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