I got the loveliest note from Katie at Papercut Patterns all the way from New Zealand! I noticed that Papercut really stressed sustainability in all their products from the packaging to fabrics! One pattern I looked into described how and why Merino Wool was a sustainable material. So I began to do some digging.
Organic materials such as Cotton, Bamboo, and Soy are very trendy these days. Bamboo especially makes a gorgeous fabric or yarn. It’s luxuriously soft, light, and has this wonderfully curious feel with a slight sheen and a slightly bouncy movement. It’s like a super smooth weighty cotton with a different personality. It’s the cashmere of cottons, I feel. Luxurious yet durable and without the luxurious price! And it’s completely plant-based and has the potential to be sustainable. I really never chose them for their eco-friendly virtues but they do indeed possess that benefit.
So… What is a “sustainable fabric”?
In short, it’s a material that is most friendly to our ecological system! It is something that doesn’t impact the Earth as much by depleting its natural resources or polluting its environment. In other words, easily reproduced in nature and gracefully recycled or returned to the Earth in the end. That in itself is really broad because everything we do impacts the Earth. So the degree of this sustainability can be really subjective. But the 3 major factors that define the sustainability of a material are:
*Where They Come From In Nature
Plant or Animal
*How They Are Cultivated And Processed
Does this resource grow back naturally and abundantly? Does anything have to be abused, killed, or used up for good? Does this resource require toxic chemicals or produce toxic emissions to process? How much waste does harvesting or manufacturing this material create?
*How Bio-Degradable They Are
Is this material recyclable, reusable, or at the very least can be returned to the earth in a natural way?
What Does This Mean To Me?
Many of these things are hard to identify when it comes to fabric or yarn. Even then, just because a fiber is found in nature does not mean it is sustainable. And just because a fiber is synthetic does not mean it’s less sustainable. Bamboo is a great example, it’s a natural highly renewable plant-based fiber which is also highly recyclable. But its level of sustainability varies. While most bamboo fiber is made from a by-product of harvesting bamboo, its manufacturing process makes it somewhat less sustainable. Certain processing methods require toxic chemicals and can leave chemical residues making it less eco-friendly. Whereas a Bamboo-Blend or a Natural Bamboo fiber can be more eco-friendly because its manufacturing process is more sustainable. The difference is one makes use of bamboo scrap waste (yet uses chemicals in the process) while the other does not (yet does not have the benefit of making use of bamboo scraps). So which one’s better? In the grand scheme of things, it really depends on many other far-reaching factors including energy consumption and CO2 emissions. But understanding what’s at the heart of it can help make identifying them more possible. And the potential for these small considerations is so great and all add up to an immense impact. So every bit helps and in this case the thought does count!
What Can I Do?
Next time you see a fabric or yarn, consider if it’s Natural (from the Earth), Organic (processed as naturally as possible), or even Recycled (from scrap material, repurposed, or converted)! And maybe some or all of the above. Try some eco-friendly things yourself, my DIY Fabric & Yarn post has a few do-it-yourself ideas for making your own fabric and yarn by recycling old clothes! Check out this uniquely sustainable synthetic by Bionic Yarn made out of recycled materials! It is a hi-tech thread spun from plastic bottles and mixed with other fibers that is woven to create an extremely durable new breed of fabric. Novel! There are so many new innovative textiles with sustainability in mind these days. It’s quite exciting! And there’s a wealth of information on the handy world wide web to read on. So do some digging. Come up with what seems right to you. Start by doing your best to be eco-conscious and go from there!
EarthPledge.org provides an excellent resource for sustainable textiles and is a great place to start. Their FutureFashion section has a very informative page on sustainable fibers along with sustainable techniques and a comprehensive textile library of fibers and their virtues.
More information about sustainable fibers, fabrics, and yarns to come!
How much more do-it-yourself can knitting, crocheting, and sewing your own things get? By making your own yarn or fabric! But how without learning a whole new discipline for each? Well think about resurrecting some old yarn or fabric for some truly Do-It-Yourself Do-It-Yourself. A great economical and eco-friendly way to save too!
2 Ways for DIY Fabric
Save all old clothes, linens, curtains, etc. Perhaps these fabrics or textiles can be used for sample garments or muslins, a bunch of small zippered pouches or wallets. Or for quilting. I know I have a sea of denim that would be better put to good use than thrown out or donated.
Shop thrift shops, Good Will, or Salvation Army for large-sized garments that can be cut down to harvest their fabrics. You may find that there are many vintage pattern gems to be found and for beyond cheap to boot! Very economical especially if you are experimenting with ideas and techniques. Also great for making sample garments, just look for garments made out of materials that most closely match the final garment you’d like to create.
2 Ways for DIY Yarn
Make some T-Shirt Yarn as seen here from some old t-shirts for some unique projects like braided, knit, or crochet belts, necklaces, and accessories. Great for re-dyeing! New Dress A Day has a nice video tutorial on dyeing fabric.
Buy a sweater at a thrift store to salvage the yarn. Harvesting this yarn will require patient unraveling and soaking in lukewarm water to smooth out the yarn. Drying, then re-winding CraftStylish has a nice write-up on this. With very detailed steps in how to go about unraveling. Neauveau.com also a nice tutorial. More on harvesting yarn here on Re-Nest.com that includes choosing the right sweater and looking for wool rather than synthetics.
Shop it up! Keep your eyes peeled for good thrift shops in your area. The dingier the better because you are looking for cheap prices and large-sized garments less likely to be found in more hipster-style vintage shops. A great way to “shop” without feeling guilty considering you’ll be recycling old garments while supporting your hobby!
Save your scraps! Not for quilting but for swatches. I like to save a swatch of each fabric or yarn in a fabric or yarn book for swatches. Or keep them with your pattern notes. Be sure to include handy information like the manufacturer and pattern or yarn weight and color code. And of course the material or fiber content!