Sustainable sewing ideas for the home
Love Sewing columnist Elisalex is inspiring us to become self sufficient and sew more things for our lives that we don’t need to buy! Perfect if you’ve been inspired by Sustainability week on the Sewing Bee!
So do you want the good news? Or the really good news??
Well, the good news is that in sewing your own clothes, even if only every now and then, you’re already making a huge step towards living a slower, more sustainable life. In sewing even just a single item of clothing, you’re taking a stand against the horror that the fast fashion industry has become. You’re experiencing first hand the time, skill and patience it takes to sew a garment from start to finish, and I hope that the next time you see an £18 price tag on a pair of jeans you will seriously consider what miniscule percentage of that actually went to the woman or man who made them. In sewing your own clothes you are becoming more self sufficient, and in turn more likely to take the initiative, and develop the confidence to say, “Hey, I bet I can make/fix/do that myself”.
Feeling empowered yet? Now for the really good news.
As well as sewing yourself a killer wardrobe of unique clothes that fit and flatter your unique figure, you can also use your sewing skills to dramatically reduce the amount of disposable products coming in and out of your home. Fewer disposables = less in landfill = more pennies in your pocket = you and the planet that little bit happier.
In writing this article I spent some time wandering around my flat looking for disposable things that I could replace/phase out (I’m certainly not suggesting you dispose of all your disposables in order to make space for new stuff! Use what you have first, and then replace with stuff that won’t need to be thrown away). The list grew longer than I expected…
Kitchen roll, loo roll, those nice Kleenex Balsam tissues that don’t irritate your nose. Sanitary towels, tampons, cotton rounds for removing make-up, cling film, aluminium foil, single-use plastic bags, paper napkins… I actually started to feel a little sick when I stopped to think about all the needlessly disposable things we’ve come to rely upon so heavily. But there’s no point in wallowing in guilt or planetary panic, especially not when there are alternatives! There are environmentally friendly solutions to pretty much all of your household needs: homemade toothpaste, cleaning products, organic soap nuts to replace laundry detergent (I’ve actually made the switch to soap nuts and can vouch for their brilliance! I haven’t used ‘regular’ laundry detergent in over six months), and there’s a wealth of information online and in books like The New Complete Book Of Self-Sufficiency, No. More. Plastic., and Sustainable Home, but I wanted to curate a specific collection of sewing related projects that will help us to start eliminating unnecessary disposables in our homes.
Grocery shopping and produce storage
I’m going to start off by assuming that most of you usually take reusable shopping bags when you go to buy groceries. I say usually because I know how easy it is to get to the supermarket and realise that you forgot to bring any bags… duh! These days I keep a bunch of cotton tote bags in my car, as well as some hanging off the banister by my front door. If you feel like you could do with a car stash of totes, the new Clematis bag pattern by Sarah Kirsten is the one.
When it comes to buying and storing fruit and vegetables, you can eliminate the need for those flimsy plastic bags they give you at the supermarket, and even the paper bags at farmers’ markets, by taking a bunch of drawstring produce bags with you when you shop. I love the tutorial on Closet Case Patterns’ blog – they’re lightweight so they won’t affect the price when you weigh your veggies, they’re translucent so you can see what’s inside, and you can even use them as laundry bags to protect your delicates!
In a bid to phase out cling film and aluminium foil, I made a batch of wax wraps a few months ago using eco soy wax granules and some sheets of leftover cotton. Let’s just say that I haven’t perfected the technique yet… They were great for a couple of weeks, I used them to wrap my son’s lunchbox sandwiches, to keep cheese fresh, and to cover bowls of leftovers in the fridge. Before long, they started shedding flakes of wax and I’m afraid I went back to foil.
In the bathroom
I use cotton wool pads to remove make-up and cleanse my face every day. They’re organic, which may be better for the farmers and my face, but it also means that an extra 25% more water was used (at least) to get the same amount of organic cotton fibre as non-organic cotton, which requires less water to produce the same yield. Cotton wool pads also come in a single-use plastic bag, which I’d also like to avoid! Making your own make-up remover pads is super quick and a super stash buster too: I cut circles from some leftover linen I had and sandwiched a layer of cotton quilt wadding. I also love the tutorial by Salvage & Stitch which uses a layer of cotton and a layer of old towelling – nice to have the dual texture option when you need a little exfoliation! Just remember, always use natural fabric amd no polyester on your face!!
Hankies, napkins and kitchen roll
When was the last time you used a hanky? When you think about how quickly you get through a pack of tissues when you’ve got a cold, having a hanky or two up your sleeve might not be a bad idea. Just a square of soft cotton, hemmed at the edges (check out my tutorial on sewing the perfect mitred corner at byhandlondon.com!) and maybe even embroidered with an initial or two… The same process can be applied to making a set of napkins, thereby rendering those horrible paper napkins obsolete! Trust me, when you’ve used a homemade linen napkin, you’re never going back.
They may be amazingly convenient, but paper towels are undeniably wasteful. How about making a roll of unpaper towels instead?! Reusable squares of fabric that connect to each other with poppers, mimicking the snap-off convenience of kitchen roll, but with zero waste. I love the tutorial for ‘unpaper towels’ on A Beautiful Mess, and plan to finally get around to making a roll this autumn.
I hope this is enough food for thought to get you started. I could have gone on and on, but I would have taken over the entire magazine and I’m not sure that they, or you, would have been ok with that! Even small steps can make a difference – to your life, your wallet, our world. To quote the brilliant words of Fashion Revolution, “Be curious. Find out. Do something”.
All these projects make really great gifts for the people in your life who don’t sew, but want to reduce unnecessary waste.