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By Tracey “Halyma” Vibert

With everything that is going on these days, the busy, the frantic, the chaos, I find that I can get happily lost in my sewing, especially when I have time to work on my own projects and let my creativity flow.

I mainly sew for clients, and have recently begun to work on things for myself again in a variety of ways, and this has been a wonderful reminder of why I started sewing in the first place a few years back [read: over 25 years ago], when I was about 12.

Ipod cases

Economics and frugality were always strong factors in my sewing choices as I was learning to sew as a teen. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town with two fabric stores, so I could go and browse, and buy small pieces to use. My mother sewed, as did my grandmother, and so there was always a wealth of information, supplies, notions and goodies to choose from as well!

I don’t remember specifically having a scrap box growing up, but I am sure there was one. I always had access to small fabric pieces for doll clothes – I sewed for my Barbie – evening gowns and such!

Over the intervening years, I have been running my own custom sewing business since high school, and have always had a problem throwing away those scraps. Now, please note, I am not a quilter. These fabrics are not often cotton, nor even natural fibers! I make wedding and evening gowns, so I luxuriate in silk peau de soie, crystal organzas and sequined chiffon. And I keep my scraps! I return scraps to clients, but often they have no use for them and just leave them with me.

At one point, about 3 years ago, I decided it was time to clean up my fabrics. By the end of that very busy and somewhat fibrous weekend, I had over 10 office boxes of scraps that I really had no more room for. I found and was able to give them all away to a variety of very grateful crafters, designers and entrepreneurs. Yay! No pile of textiles going to the landfill, and people made happy!

Since then, I have done the same thing a few times, and have now embarked on a new design journey that allows me to be creative and use all of these reclaimed textiles in fun new ways.

napkin pouch

But what about the fact that so much of it is synthetic? How do I counter that in my grander scheme of environmental awareness? I have not yet decided to tell clients that I will only sew natural, sustainable textiles, that create little or no pollution in their production. It’s really not that easy to find that perfectly acceptable fabric.

I have been able to work with some beautiful hand woven fabric done by a local master weaver – gorgeous and very sweet to work with! I have also been able to find some great hemp, and nice cottons for other endeavors I have undertaken, but there is still shipping and exchange rates to deal with – thus creating an interesting economic choice and carbon footprint with which my psyche must contend.

I know I am not the only person tackling these issues on a regular basis, but I wonder how much quilters explore these choices? Cotton production has such a bad rap, the dyes can be so toxic, both the standard and “natural” ones. Organic cotton would seem to be the way to go, but is the cost prohibitive?

Already the artistry and time involved in quilt making astounds me, and while I am very happy to sit and spend 24 hours hand-beading a wedding dress, the thought of cutting up perfectly matching shapes and assembling them like a big puzzle holds no interest for me at all! Kudos to you folk whose patience comes out in this field!

But I am curious, do environmental issues contribute to your choices of fabric in your projects? Do personal economics rule your decisions? What choices do you make to be frugal? Green? Vegan? Non-Toxic?

Post your comments and you can win a $25 gift certificate towards any Eco-TAV product of your choice! There are some fabulous holiday gift ideas on my site, and you would get your choice!

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…Creativity Abounds…
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UPDATE: Post a comment by December 15 to be entered in the draw.

Textiles, Sewing and the Environment
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17 thoughts on “Textiles, Sewing and the Environment

  • December 6, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    My preference is to sew with recycled fabrics – that is, old shirts, whatever. I’m pretty much genetically programmed not to throw anything away, and to reuse, reduce, recycle, as much as possible (it comes from spending a LOT of time with grandparents who lived through the depression). So anything that can be repurposed, and saved from landfill, is a good thing in MY mind.

  • December 10, 2008 at 10:59 am

    So cool! Good luck with your business venture. I can’t throw any of my scraps out either! I even save all my snippets to go into bedding for dogs!

  • December 10, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I sew only for myself and my friends and family, so I don’t have to worry about these concerns on a large scale, but I still try to make environmentally-friendly choices whenever I can. I love to “upcycle” and make things from discarded clothing. I save all but my tiniest of scraps for use in small projects (like clothing for clothespin dolls for my niece, scrap potholders, etc). Lately I have been trying to locate a good natural stuffing for toys as an alternative to polyester stuffing. I have never seen it in stores. I am hoping that as more people start thinking about eco-friendly materials, they will become more widely available.

  • December 10, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Great article… one of the challenges of being a sewer, whether quilter, designer, or home sewer, is what to do with the leftovers….. freecycle is an excellent way to handle these. In the past I have used my guild, churches, and quilt retreats to pass these goodies on.

  • December 10, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Following the tradition of those thrifty women in quilting, makes me feel thrifty, economically and environmentally, even though, technically I’m not.
    I do donate all usable clothing, and reuse the unusable ones into quilts. I am also trying to limit my purchases to those things Iwill actually use to make specific quilts. Having a stash that will eventually wind up in a landfill is certainly not environmentally or economically friendly.

  • December 10, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Like all things, this is not so simple. Cotton and other natural fibers are not made from oil, so that is good. On the other hand, especially cotton uses a lot of water and pesticides, so that’s bad. Synthetics fibres are made from oil, which we will run out of, so that’s not good, But, although they are not natural and made from a non renewable source, synthetic fibers last a long time. Therefore you have to buy less fabric, which is better for the environment.

  • December 10, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    I sew with lots of scraps and I’ve even started using selvages for fun projects. Good luck!

  • December 10, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I have been saving my scarps, as thin as can be to sqs. and triangles and plan to use them all or give them to those who can. I feel terrible throsing fabric away into the garbage. I give or use or save.

    Sometimes I’ll take synthetics from the give and share table at our guild because I know they will go in the dump in many cases. One bright light is a art salvage store that takes all kinds of scraps to resell to artists of all types. Sometimes, I was told, the left over fabric is taken there instead of tossed.

  • December 10, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    In reply to Meredith’s comment above, she said “Lately I have been trying to locate a good natural stuffing for toys as an alternative to polyester stuffing. I have never seen it in stores.”

    I recently saw bamboo fluffly stuffing, not in a roll for quilts, but maybe that’s out there too. Bamboo is naturally growning in abundance in the US.

  • December 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    You brought up some interesting points. I am not ready to stop using commercial fabrics, but I do try to stick to natural fibers. But I think that as more people become aware of eco-issues related to crafting more companies will be more eco-friendly. Regarding stuffing, wool is a wonderful option, I also have been shredding the scraps of cotton batting left from projects to stuff small things with.

  • December 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    I use mostly hand dyed batiks in my projects and I have heard that they aren’t necessarily made in the most environmentally friendly way because of the dyes used. However, I never throw anything away and even the tiniest scraps find their way into my quilts. My latest wall hanging is made entirely of fabric snippets from my scrap bags (which I sort by colours) and was inspired by a book by Cindy Walters who uses this technique.

  • December 10, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    I try to use my leftover fabrics in string piecing and sew with all cotton, but use poly batting a lot. I like the fluff of it! Also,
    I had trouble with your links, none of them worked for me. I will try again later.

  • December 10, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    As Jean mentioned, there are some technical difficulties with the server at the moment trying to reach Tracey’s site. This site was having problems earlier today too, but I’m not sure if the two are related or not.

    Please try again later.


  • December 11, 2008 at 7:54 am

    What a subject near and dear to my heart. I am a quilter from way back. Started out by cutting up old clothes.

    Now I have an fabric store (on the internet and Drop by with appt.) I advertise that I take scraps of all sizes 2″ and bigger. I have an Accucut machine and I cut them and make kits to resell for other quilters to use.
    I smiled to see the idea about the snipits. If the scraps are so small they are not any good for strip or paperpiece, then I put them in a pile to use for pillow stuffing. What a wonderful idea to use them for my dogs new bed. WOW.

    My husband and I recycle for a living. We take electronics of all kinds and disassemble them and recycle the parts. Love to see the quilters thinking and doing things about out world.

    Great topic, Susan

  • December 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I use cotton batting rather than polyester and try to keep my tiny scraps out of the dump by using them for stuffing things, but the truth is, for me, quilting is very much consumer-driven and an opportunity to purchase new and pretty fabrics. My fabrics bring me so much personal joy that I don’t care to give them up. On the other hand, I’m not much of a clothing purchaser and basically use and wear what I have until they wear out. It’s a trade off, I think.

  • December 12, 2008 at 12:49 am

    Wow – I had checked the comments board on December 7th and there was one lone comment from Peggi, who is on board with the recycling!

    4 days later and an explosion of conversation has begun! Good to read that this has started some thinking and nice to read how others are choosing the ways that work for them to follow the 3Rs.

    Very cool!
    Thanks again to Mishka for letting me post here – looking forward to reading more from you folks over the next few days!

  • December 13, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Like others, I try to be frugal with my fabric choices, using some recycled fabrics. I also try to use as much of the fabric as I can, throwing away none. I also freecycle and stuff with the bits, and sometimes donate bits and pieces to our school art classroom. The costs of organic fabrics are definitely cost prohibitive for me! I would love to be able to do more to purchase only sustainable products in my quiltmaking, but the selection is poor and costs are high. I use 100% cotton fabrics and batting, so at least there aren’t any petroleum products. I am aware of the downside of the cotton production and the coloring process, but at least it is better than synthetics.

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