Showing posts with label sustainability. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sustainability. Show all posts

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

New Baby: New Clothes?

It's time to address a subject that I've had seven months to develop an opinion about now. I am of course talking about baby clothes and how I plan to dress my baby. What have we got for our baby to wear when she comes out? SO MUCH: is the answer!!!

After the first scan went well, I started hitting up the charity shops and a nearly-new sale for baby grows, vests and anything else that looked in good condition. At first it was a few things here and there, then we found that the charity shop at the end of our road sells all its baby clothes for 30p a garment! Umm, I went mental in there and hoovered up all the nice things, regardless of colour (i.e. gender) which seemed to really confuse the more conservative shop assistants, particularly when I told them we already knew the sex of our baby! And then the donations started to come in. Friends and relatives with babies and toddlers started giving us bags of baby garments (and heaps of equipment and other stuff). Even an associate of my best friend's dad who I have never met kindly gave us what must be over a hundred pound's worth of stuff. 

Sorting through it all I realised we had more 0-3 months things than we would possibly ever need so I had to place an embargo on myself when near charity shops and start donating some things to a friend of mine who is also expecting but not quite as prepared as we are in terms of 'stuff'. These two drawers pictured above and below are stuffed full with all of the 0-3 months clothes we now have, except for a couple of outdoor padded suits that won't fit in here. 

So, aside from a few pairs of tiny socks (eye-wateringly cute, BTW) and the trousers I have made (blog post to follow), EVERYTHING we have acquired so far, clothes, equipment, furniture, etc, is second-hand. The reasons behind this are predominantly ethical and secondarily financial. 


As I have talked and written about many times, I dress myself exclusively in self-made or second-hand garments, aside from bras and hosiery. I do this consciously and deliberately for a variety of reasons that I feel passionately about. My feelings about the environmental damage caused by the production and transportation of mass-produced garments, the welfare of the workers in those industries, the 'disposability' of fast-fashion and the comparative lack of satisfaction shopping awards us compared to sewing or thrifting are not going to go away because I'm about to become a mother. In fact the opposite is happening. I'm more aware than ever of the shitty state our global eco-system is in (BTW, have you watched 'The Island President' yet? Such an amazing film) and the way our capitalist financial systems prioritise profit over human life, safety and well-being, and I feel guilty and embarrassed about the world we are leaving our children. 

My daughter is not going to be in any danger from second-hand clothing that has been thoroughly laundered before she wears it. Nor from unbroken equipment or furniture that has had a good clean before she touches it. There is so much damn baby stuff already out there in existance that has barely or not even been used (so many of the garments I've bought second-hand or been given still have the original price tags on), it will not make me a bad mother for (re)using those existing resources rather than buying more brand-new mass-produced items that will be useless to us within a couple of months. 

In fact I believe the opposite. I believe I'm a better mother for trying, at least in some limited way, to put less pressure on the social and environmental fractures that unchecked consumerism is causing. I am the first to admit I live a far from 'perfect' life (if such a thing exists) in terms of my carbon foot-print etc., but I will at least be able to have something to say for myself when she inevitably asks me what me and her dad where doing to stem the damage our generation is inflicting right now.


Aside from the ethical reasoning behind buying (or receiving) second-hand things where possible for our baby, ourselves and our home, there is no denying that there are real financial benefits to be enjoyed. I've written and spoken in the past about how being self-employed since losing our jobs has had its ups and downs and how it helps to have a certain disposition to ride those waves. 

Recently Pat and I attended a four week course called Parentskool that was chock full of advice for first-time parents of 0-6 month babies. A lot of the discussions revolved around what items and types of items are good and not so good to buy for a baby, including buggies/prams, high chairs, breast milk expressing machines, clothing, cots/bedding, nappies and much more. After a couple of sessions it dawned on me that none of the other couples had any intention of buying second-hand items for their babies, aside from the items that friends and family had already given them. I guess prioritising second-hand options when sourcing things is now so ingrained in me that it occasionally surprises me when people that I can really relate to in many other ways don't feel the same about that too. Then thinking about it a bit deeper, I realised through all the discussions we'd been having that all the other couples were in a much higher income bracket than Pat and I so they didn't have that extra incentive to source the cheaper second-hand options. 

We are kind of in a funny situation in that we are classed (in the UK) as a low-income household, but not low enough to be entitled to any assistance or benefits. I have applied for and been told I'm entitled to Maternity Allowance (the self-employed person's version of a salaried employee's maternity pay) which isn't much but will help with my disappearance of income at the end of my pregnancy and first chunk of our daughter's life. Plus, when she comes along there are some benefits and assistance we will then be able to receive that are designed to help make sure she is secure and well-nourished. As I've said before, I'm not in the habit of overly planning or worrying about the future, so we'll see what happens. 

However, the upside of being self-employed and therefore more flexible is that, unlike the other Parentskool couples who all have complicated plans for their maternity and paternity leave and for what will happen when those allocations dry up, we have time on our side. All being well, touch-wood, Pat and I will be able to share childcare so one or both of us will be with her all the time. We won't need to worry about finding the cheapest nannies or nurseries to leave her with, or experience the guilt (not that anyone should necessarily feel guilty about going back to work) of leaving their baby with strangers, or wrestle with the frustrating reality that childcare costs about as much as the wages you are going back to work to earn. 

We've had a tricky spell, financially speaking, recently. And I'm sure that if we'd gone out and bought new all the things we've so far acquired second-hand, we would be in a really difficult situation right now. And there really is enough to concern ourselves with at the moment with the prospect of very shortly becoming parents. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Importance of Refashioning and Stash Busting

Today I feel a need to talk about why I think that refashioning existing garments and sewing from your fabric stash is really important. I was planning a post like this anyhow, but watching The Island President last night brought the whole subject to the top of my 'stuff to write about' agenda. Not that refashioning, stash busting or even the garment industry are at all directly discussed in this film, which is actually an incredibly interesting look at the politics of climate change. But when faced with the sad truth that millions of people, particularly those who live in island states (like The Maldives of which the truly awesome Mohammed Nasheed pictured up there is/was the president of) are currently watching their countries be washed away by the rising sea levels caused by global warming, and then being shown the depressingly self-interested politicians wasting last-ditch opportunities like 2009's Copenhagen climate change summit to do anything constructive to prevent the escalating destruction, it reminds me that every single person on this planet has some responsibility to try to make a change. Plus  we really don't have very long to try round the current status quo of elevated C02 emissions.

'So what the hell does that have to do with my fabric stash, Zo?', you may be thinking. Well, manufacturing and transportation use phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels, not to mention use whole oceans-worth of water and release harmful untreated chemicals and dyes into the environment reclessly destroying natural habits. Therefore fabric production and distribution are responsible for much of the emissions that are causing the sea levels to rise, so by this logic I (and hopefully heaps of other people living comfortably in developed nations who have noticed that governments and Big Business clearly have little/no interest in making noticeable changes) have been making a real concerted effort to consume less newly manufactured products. For a few years now I've furnished my home exclusively with second-hand furniture, I don't run a car and use public transport to get anywhere that my legs can't carry me to, and am committed to using second-hand fabric or existing garments to make my own clothes, and buy what I can't make (knitwear, footwear, accessories like belts) second-hand. I know there are lots more areas in which I could make better choices to raise my sustainability game, like in the area of food which we are starting to focus on lots more (having just pledged to dramatically cut down our meat intake), but everyone has to start somewhere with one or two areas of their lives otherwise it's all too overwhelming.

(industrial fabric dyeing plant)

Fabric production and processing are notoriously wasteful and damaging industries, not to mention all the shipping and transportation that the raw materials and finished products go through to get them to where they need to be so they can be consumed by us. If you make your own clothes rather than buying them already manufactured for you, you are already cutting out a lot more shipping, trucking about and C02 emitting, as well as avoiding being directly responsible for the exploitation of millions of ill-paid workers suffering terrible and dangerous working conditions. However, as sewers I feel we can do more to discourage unsustainable manufacture, in particular fabric production and processing.

At this point of a debate on this topic, I often hear the (perfectly valid and understandable) argument, 'But I want to support my local fabric shop', or 'But so many people's livelihoods, particularly vulnerable people in developing nations, depend on production and manufacture'. Believe me when I say that I totally hear that argument and am aware of the complexity of this whole thing, and do not want anyone to be pushed (further) into poverty. But as has been proven over and over again, governments, manufacturing companies and retailers are failing to make changes to green-up their activities despite thousands of scientists spelling out to them and us all that no changes in practices equals irreversible global destruction that has already begun. As horrible as it sounds, it's hard to talk about the livelihoods of anyone involved in the production, transportation or selling of manufactured goods when, with no change, there will literally not be a planet that we can live on. Expect the phrase 'climate evacuee' to become more commonly used over the next decade.

So that is why I have decided to completely stop buying new mass-manufactured clothing and to dramatically reduced the amount of new fabric I buy to sew with. I know that I was incredibly lucky to have worked for a time for a textile recycling charity so had access to lots of second-hand fabric which I still have quite a bit of for my sewing projects, but even when it's all used up, I'll still be committed to avoiding buying new fabric and sourcing already existing textiles. It is hard, I'm obsessed with beautiful fabric as much as the next sewer, but I wouldn't feel comfortable freely shopping for fabric knowing about the damage fabric production and processing creates.

I don't know a single sewer that hasn't been sewing for more than five minutes that doesn't have even a modest stash of fabric, and I know literally no-one who doesn't have some unused garments sitting in their wardrobes or cupboards. If I have managed to avoid it so far, this is where I may sound a bit preachy: I think all of us who enjoy sewing should look to what we've already got to start our projects, if not always then more often. There. I said it. And if you don't like what's currently in your stash, or don't feel particularly inspired by it, then attend or organise a fabric swap with other sewers. That way you can off-load the pieces you just aren't feeling for pieces that do float your boat.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Refashion Friday Is Away. However...

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

Technically Refashion Friday is on holiday. I'm actually in Iceland for a few days with Patty and Mumma E and I've been a super busy bee recently so haven't had time to rig up a detailed Refashion Friday post in advance. However, I understand that you came over to my blog today because you wanted a refashioning fix, dammit! I understand, really I do. So may I suggest you head over to my Pinterest board entitled Refashioning Project Ideas where I have collated some awesome images and links from the interwebs (including the ones pictured here) that will doubtlessly get your refashioning whistle thoroughly wetted.

If you plan to get some refashioning done this weekend, I wish you a successful and happy session! See you when I return from the cold, dark, intriguing place...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Refashion Friday: It's Curtains for You

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

In the vein of reusing existing things for sewing projects rather than purchasing everything new, I want to chat today about an often over-looked resource: second hand curtains. I'm currently working on a dress made from a pair of curtains that I cannot wait to share with you, plus I have a Spring/Summer coat project lined up for the other side of the Winter that uses some amazing vintage curtains that I can't wait to get my teeth (scissors) into. So what's so good about using second hand curtains to sew with?:

They are cheap! 

Obviously this is subject to the prices in your local charity/thrift/op shop, but generally you can pick up second hand curtains for far less than you'd pay for the equivalent meterage/yardage of fabric. For example, I bought a pair of curtains made from navy spotty cotton sateen for £6. I was able to make a Ceylon dress and TWO cute Simplicity 2451 skirts for my friends (see above) from them. £6 for three garments-worth of fabric? Yes to that!

They can be big!

Unless you're dealing with a tiny kitchen curtain or something, most of the time we are talking about  a decent amount of fabric when you are buying curtains. More often than not you can get multiple skirts, bags or a dress out of curtains with plenty of room to mess up! Plus fabric designed to be curtaining is usually pretty wide which is all the better for squeezing in those pattern pieces.

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

They can be fun!

Obviously you have to let the curtain fabric dictate your project, rather than going second hand curtain-shopping with a specific sewing pattern/project in mind. But the discovery of something unexpected and using your nous to figure out a cool and creative use for it is a whole super-fun challenge in itself.

Whilst I was working for TRAIDremade we were lucky enough to receive a lot of donated second hand curtains to make into clothing. One particular style we developed to sew from curtaining was this 'paper bag' skirt (see the two images above). Even though the sewing pattern was the same, making the skirts from different curtain patterns lent each garment a unique feel and it was exciting to see the outcome from each curtain.

Playing with the scale of designs can also be a source of fun. For example, I really enjoyed making the skirt pictured below (another Simplicity 2451, incidentally) to see what effect you could get by making a mini skirt from such a large print design. Another great example of this is the wonderful dress pictured at the top of this post. It's a really interesting and clever use of curtaining to form the bodice that has then been combined with a solid coloured fabric skirt, almost giving the impression of two separate garments.

Words of warning:

You can be super lucky and find curtains that have never been used, but if they have been, have a look for any fading or stains. If you find some, don't panic, it may well be that the you can cut around the stains or faded areas and still utilise the cool fabric for a project. Fading in particular will usually only be around the edges of the curtain where day light has hit them, it may well be that the centre of the fabric is still great.

Fading, however, can indicate a further problem, particularly if the curtains are vintage and old. Like all vintage fabric and garments, old curtain fabric can be 'rotten', meaning that it can rip very easily. That is what eventually happened to floral skirt pictured above. Still, I had a good 9 months of use from it before I discovered the hard way that the vintage curtain fabric was no longer up to the task of being worn and moved around in!

(image source)

So next time you fancy a sewing project that won't break the bank, why not head to the charity shop/thrift store/op shop and scour the curtains section? Happy hunting!

What about you? Have you had any successes (or failures even) of sewing with second hand curtains? If you have a link, please leave it in the comments section, I'd love to check it out!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Refashion Friday Inspiration: Patchwork Back Button Shirt/ Blouse

Hello!!! I'm back! Massive thanks to the three super-talented bloggers who shared such awesome posts on this blog and generally kept my seat warm whilst I was away getting married and honeymooning. They did such an ace job, and in truth I'm a little intimidated to get back in the driving seat!

Now, I'm imagining that you'd probably rather be checking out pictures of my wedding dress and hearing about whether or not I bought half the fabric in NYC's garment district! My apologies but I require a little more of your patience, I promise I will start sharing those things from Monday, starting with the all-important wedding dress post. In the meantime, I'm going to get back on the blogging track with my regular feature: Refashion Friday.

So, please set aside thoughts of special glamourous dresses if that what you stopped by for, and instead take a look a these patchwork effect shirt/blouse remakes. They may look a bit crazy, but making something a bit crazy out of arguably the most boring type of garment out there (mens office shirts) fills me with glee! For these garments I used a really basic blouse pattern as a basis and cut up several unwanted mens shirts from which to cut out the various pieces. 

I cut the front of the blouses from the back of the original shirts by placing the centre front of the pattern on the fold, and similarly cut the back of the blouses from the front of the shirts incorporating the buttons and button plackets so the final garments buttoned up at the back. The original shirt hems were also included to skip the need to hem the final garment. 

The sleeves are 1940's style puff sleeves with a wide sleeve band. The overall fit of the blouses is fitted with waist shaping darts on the front and back, and that combined with the puffy sleeves and self-drafted Peter Pan collar produce an overall very feminine silhouette and feel which contrasts nicely with the traditional, male-centric origin of the fabric. If you ever checked out any of my previous shirt/blouse refashions, you'll know that I like playing with these gender contrasts when refashioning garments. 

I love the idea of wearing a garment like this to a job that requires you wear smart attire. It could be seen as a cheeky nod to formal working environment, plus you'd be sticking to the dress code rules whilst also bringing refashioning, sustainable clothing, creativity and 'hand-crafted' to the type of working situations that are rarely associated with those things. 

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Guest Post: The Water-Cost of Cotton

At the very beginning of the year, Grace, one of the writers of Bad Mom, Good Mom wrote a fascinating post about the planetary cost of cashmere and suggested I publish it on my blog also. After all, if you've uncovered some mighty important information that deserves to be proliferated, you'd want it to reach as many interested peops as possible too. Then recently she let me know she has another science-related clothing production post up for sleeve. Fortuitously, she'd chosen a topic I'd been planning on covering myself but was having trouble figuring out how to approach. So, let's here what our 'resident science expert' Grace can tell us about the water footprint of cotton...

I sew mainly with cotton, often from reclaimed/recycled materials.  Why sew with reclaimed materials when it takes so much more time and fabric is (relatively) cheaper than time? Because I think so much about things. For instance, I think about the energy, water and chemicals embedded into finished goods.  Are they used optimally?  Can their useful life be extended?  I honor the makers and the materials by putting them to their highest use over and over again before destruction. How did we lose touch with the wisdom of our grandmothers?  "Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it do...or Do without." Cotton is one of the most water and chemical-intensive crops, using up about 3% of the world's arable land and freshwater and consuming about 15% of the chemicals used in agriculture.  Each pound of "conventional" cotton (enough for a adult t-shirt) is embedded with about 700 gallons of water and a third of a pound of chemicals! The numbers change slightly, based on where and how the cotton is grown:
  • is it irrigated or watered by rain?
  • is it organic (more labor, water and land required) or conventionally-grown? (conventional = herbicide and insecticide inputs)
Is this the highest use of the land and the labor?  This is not an idle worry because children have been pulled out of school and sold into slavery in order to grow "fair trade" organic cotton at prices the first world is willing to pay.  Moreover, cotton destined for wealthy nations is often grown in countries where food is scarce; the water, land and labor diverted to growing cotton could have been used instead to grow food. To learn more, Waterfootprint and NRDC are good places to start.  If you follow the waterfootprint link (and I think it is worthwhile), it will save you much confusion if you know that they break down water use into three types:
  • Blue: surface (river, lake, etc) and well water
  • Green: rainwater (least energy-intensive)
  • Grey: amount of water needed to dilute pollutants generated by the crop to safe levels
Excerpts from other sources

From waterfootprint's cotton story:

The water use of cotton has often great local impacts. In Central Asia,  for example, excessive abstractions of water from the Amur Darya and Syr  Darya for cotton irrigation have resulted in the near-disappearance of  the Aral Sea.

NRDC's From Field to Store: Your T-Shirt's Life Story

Every cotton T-shirt starts life in a cotton field, most likely in China, India or the United States. It takes anywhere from 700 to 2,000 gallons of water to produce about a pound of conventional cotton – enough for a single T-shirt. Cotton grown in the United States uses comparatively less water; however, about a third of a pound of chemical pesticides and fertilizers go into each pound of conventionally-grown American cotton.

US EPA water trivia

Over 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt.

Wall Street Journal

A new wave of research on "virtual," or embedded, water has given companies and governments new tools to track not just the water that they consume directly, but also the gallons that are embedded in everything from dishwashing detergent and Argentine beef to Spanish oranges and cotton grown in Pakistan. A cup of coffee takes roughly 35 gallons. A cotton T-shirt typically takes some 700 gallons of water to produce. A typical hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce -- more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets. The bulk is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

10 Things That Will Change How You Think About Water 

Access to water: 1.6 billion people in the world -- one  in four -- have to walk at least 1 km each day to get water and carry  it home, or depend on someone who does. Just to provide basic water for a  family of four -- 50 gallons -- that means carrying (on your head) 400  pounds of water, walking 1 km or more, for as many trips a day as  necessary.

Peak oil? Try peak water.

From the food and grocery industry (great charts!)

It is estimated that the average Briton drinks between 2 and 5 litres of  water per day and will use about 145 litres for cooking, cleaning,  washing and flushing. If the embedded water used in the production of  the goods people consume is also taken into account however the daily  use per person in the UK may be nearer 3400 litres (Source: Waterwise).

Guardian article about how UK relies on 'virtual' water from drought-prone countries

Britain and other rich countries depend heavily on importing hidden "virtual" water from places that regularly experience droughts and shortages, according a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Although  the UK is notoriously wet, it is estimated that two-thirds of all the  water that its population of 60 million people needs comes embedded in imported food, clothes and industrial goods.  The result is that when people buy flowers from Kenya, beef from  Botswana, or fruit and vegetables from parts of Asia and Latin America,  they may be exacerbating droughts and undermining countries' efforts to  grow food for themselves, say the authors.

According  to the report, the average Briton uses nearly 3,000 litres of imported  water a year. One kilogram of beef needs 15,000 litres of water to  produce, more than 10 times the amount required to produce the same  weight of wheat. A T-shirt requires 2,700 litres.

It's not hopeless. 

Small changes from many people can have a big impact.  I drink one cup of coffee per day and then switch to tea and water.  I eat beef about once a month instead of weekly.  My husbands worn-out shirts are sewn into clothing for myself or for children.  Scraps can be turned into pieced quilts.  Scraps too small to use can be dampened and used for quick clean ups (instead of paper towels) before they are thrown into the trash.

I could send the dozens of promotional t-shirts from events that our family has attended over the last few years and never wear to Goodwill and turn them into someone else's problem.  They could languish in the store for months (everyone here has too many of these t-shirts) or they could be sent halfway around the world to cloth some other family , incurring shipping energy costs.  After visiting Tanzania and seeing how western t-shirts worn with locally made cloth wrap skirts free up arms needed for work, I feel OK about sending some of my shirts overseas.  But, mostly I try to put them to use in place as you can see in my photo tutorial here.

Massive thanks to Grace for providing us with links to so many useful and fascinating sources of information. Remember, you can find more ideas for reusing cotton fabric garments, including T-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts, on my Refashion Resource page.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Refashion Friday Tips: How to Select Jeans for Refashioning

(image source)

I very much believe that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' ways to do anything when making garments. There are indeed a whole load of techniques, methods and approaches you can learn, but it's personal preferences and inclinations that determine when and how any of them should be implemented. This is partly why sewing is such a creative activity. And sewing's openness to interpretation and free-wheeling is even more pronounced when it comes to refashioning or remaking existing garments, when  maybe your text book's technique suggestion might not apply.

Because there are no 'correct' or 'incorrect' approaches, I am no more qualified than the next sewer to make a judgement on how to refashion unwanted garments. However, I have spent an unusually large amount of time thinking about and 'practising' the art of refashioning over the last couple of years during which I have accrued lots of tips, tricks and techniques that might come in handy to those who are a little newer to it. Equally, I'm sure there are loads of things I can learn from other sewers, and that's why sewing blogs are so frikkin' awesome!

All my 'Refashion Friday' posts will be about reusing unwanted garments that are very common and easy for most people to get hold of. It shouldn't be too much of a challenge to source any of the basic garments from a charity shop/thrift store/op shop, if not from cupboards in your own home!

Today I want to talk about one of the most common garments on the planet: jeans. With something as ubiquitous as jeans, surely we can come up with some awesome things to do with some of the unwanted ones? Of course we can! But first up, with jeans being in such ready supply, what should we look for when picking some to start a refashioning project?

What do you plan to make? This is going to have a big impact on what pair of jeans you choose. Broadly speaking, most projects I've seen that started out as a pair of jeans fall into one of two camps.

(image source)

The first are projects that still very much retain a jeans-like appearance like cut-off shorts, skirts made from unpicking the inside leg-seams and stitching them down in a different position (example pictured above), simple shoulder bags made from the top of jeans, and so on. For these types of projects, you need only concentrate on the appearance of the top section of the garment and the sizing.

The second type of jeans-based projects use the original garment as a source of denim fabric. This camp of projects are my personal favourite because there are less restrictions in terms of imagination, but they can also require a bit more thought when selecting the initial garment/s.

Size of the jeans. As with all refashioning and remaking of existing garments, the bigger the garment, the more fabric you have to play with. That is why, unless you are planning on making something from the first camp of projects that require a certain waist measurement, you may be best to entirely disregard women's jeans when shopping in the charity shop. The larger sizes of men's garments, when cut apart or unpicked, can provide you with a huge amount of fabric.

When trying to get the most fabric from the jeans, you'll find widest part will be what I charmingly call the 'under-bum area'. From the side seam to the inside leg, underneath the back pocket, is a wealth of denim. So, as grim as this sounds, this area might be your first port of call when assessing the condition of your prospective pair of jeans. Any fading, thinnest from wear or even holes (see picture above) will restrict the amount of harvestable denim from that section.

Similarly, you need to watch for other areas that are easily damaged through wear. To state the obvious, thinning, fading and holes appear most frequently at the knees and back heel area (see picture above). Both will effect how useful the legs of the jeans are to you, especially the knee-area. Fading is one thing: you might actually want to incorporate some cool knee-fading or 'designer' fading and worn effects into your project somehow. But be careful that the knee area  hasn't worn too thin or even become permanently misshapen (see picture below) through the original owner's wear and tear.

Side seams. Unless you are planning on only harvesting long strips of denim, you'll probably want to cut up along one of the side seams to lie the denim flat to get maximum use from the legs. You can lie the centre front of a pattern piece along the side seam and get a fairly decent sized piece out of some jeans. If that is something you might want to do, a straight legged style of jeans (se picture below) might be important rather than a flared or boot cut style that will have curved leg seams and restrict your options. Also, if you want to retain one of the leg seams in your project, before you get too scissor-happy, decide if it's the lapped seam with its twin rows of top stitching or the standard seam with no visible stitching you want to be at the centre of your pattern piece, as most pairs of jeans have both forming each leg.

Another point to consider if you choose to select men's jeans for your project is that dude's jeans are not made with any quantity of stretch (elastane or lycra). Unless you are dealing with some hipster skinny jean styles of course, (and if you are, good luck harvesting any denim from them!). Once again, it barely needs stating, but consider what type of thickness or properties of denim will work best for your project when choosing jeans to work with. Strong, thick denim (like the jeans in the picture above) can be ace for certain things (bags, facings etc), just as lighter or stretchier denim is better for other things. If you require some stretch for your project (maybe you are creating a bustier, for example), I'd advise trying to find a large size of women's jeans for your purposes.

(image source)

My final point is colour. Most likely, whatever you make from jeans will be formed from panels (ideas to come in future instalments of 'Refashion Friday') and it is also very likely that your project may require more than one pair of jeans. When faced with multiple pairs of jeans, its amazing how much variety within 'blue' or 'black' there can be. It can be a bit of headache if you want to match colours exactly to create a very cohesive look to your final project. When I want to create something with a single tone and shade, I often use jeans from the same brand (usually Levi's or sometimes Wrangler) as you have more control over the uniformity of colour. Please remember that lots of fun and interesting effects can be created by combining slightly or very different tones and shades of denim jeans in the same project (see picture above).

Now I fear I've either put you off trying to work with jeans because I've laid down heaps of things to consider, or you think I'm slightly mental for spending quite so much time thinking about other people's unwanted jeans!

Monday, 25 June 2012

'How to Change the World' by John-Paul Flintoff

If you read my review of his previous title, 'Sew Your Own', you'll know that I find author and journalist John-Paul Flintoff something of an inspiration. I felt he had lots to bring to our lovely sewing-blogging community through his thought-provoking discussions into the wider motivations and implications behinds the clothes-making activities that we so enjoy. 'Sew Your Own', for me, opened lots of avenues of thought, and raised some questions I was desperate to put to Mr Flintoff, so I was utterly thrilled when he agreed to spend some of his valuable time answering them for a small interview that I posted here. Then a couple of months ago I received an email from him sent to potentially interested parties announcing that his latest book, 'How to Change the World', had been published. I was definitely an interested party.  

In the interest of full openness and honesty, I received a copy of this book for free. This is because I was cheeky enough to ask for one, not because he or his publishing company were attempting to solicit favourable reviews. However, a favourable review is what I must give it because that is what it deserves. 

The simplest way to describe this publication is as a 21st Century self-help book, but the associations that may conjure do it a disservice. This book lays a path to help anyone with a drive to affect any change beyond their own internal world find their voice and harness their effectiveness to start to do what they feel could or should be done. Unlike a traditional self-help tome, 'How to Change the World' is small, succinct and measured, and this form makes his arguments all the stronger. With a potential mini-epihany on almost every page, he gives the reader the space and respect to apply his points to their own hopes and plans, without lacing each point with lashings of unnecessary or distracting examples or personal tangents. Which is not to say you feel detached from the author: Flintoff's deep desire for the reader to fulfil their own world-changing potential is what keeps this book warm and driven. Oh, and it's a great size book to buy if you're a commuter!

This little book has helped me see that my personal interest in and endeavours towards changing the world are very much valid, and in fact are already more defined and engaged than I had really realised. At times I feel guilty for focussing so much of my efforts on just trying to change my own and other people's habits of consuming clothing rather than spreading my efforts out over a broader range of environmental and social issues. But in fact Flintoff proves we are at our most effective when we fight for the causes that most inspire and impassion us. I'll definitely revisit this book again when my personal interests, views and missions inevitably shift or refocus. After I've lent my copy of this book to everyone I know, of course! 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

TRAIDremade: The Lifecycle of a Curtain

Last week the online version of UK broadsheet newspaper The Guardian ran a photo story in response to a new garment recycling campaign launched my the major retailer Marks & Spencer. Argueably Britain's most popular store, their new campaign, 'Shwopping', it their latest in a long line of M&S endeavours which seek to pitch themselves as an ethical company in the public consciousness. Check out their latest television advert below:

I know, I know. The insinuation that M&S have just invented the concept of donating unwanted clothing rather than throwing it in the bin is pretty grating. PARTICULARLY as M&S are, in my opinion, a clothing retailer guilty of sacrificing their long established association with excellent quality products in the 'race to the bottom', producing and selling an increased quantity of poorer quality items selling at a lower price and rebranding themselves (pretty successfully) as a 'fashion' destination.

I find it infuriating and frustrating that whilst they are in part responsible for the sea of cheap, unloved and under-valued clothing currently flooding British wardrobes, they are offering the public the 'revolutionary' action of introducing clothing donation banks into their stores (no doubt for a limited period) to try and mop up some of this spillage of unwanted clothes. It's a bit like turning up to Pompei, post-eruption, with a dust pan and brush (but also having in part caused the disaster).

However, if their clothing banks and advertising campaign do manage to reach some people who are currently unfamilar with charity shops and clothing/textile donation banks and the fact that garments can be of use after they no longer want them, then actually get those people donating rathering than binning, then of course it will have been a valueable project. But I am irritated somewhat by the lack of information given about the onward journey of those donated garments, which is surely a key part of the message that should be included in this advert. And also the assumption that, by donating their unwanted items, that the public are then encouraged to turn around and buy more M&S clothing whilst they happen to be in the store. More clothing that will no doubt end up unwearable or unwanted equally quickly as the items just donated. I think that is what annoys me the most about the M&S TV advert, that the real issues and complexities of huge quantities of unwanted textiles either languishing in cupboards or ending up in landfill aren't in any way being adequately being addressed when the rabid consumption of cheap and poor quality items is in no way being discouraged.

Basically the crux of the Guardian piece I initially started this post to talk about is this: the concept of donating and reusing unwanted clothing, accessories and textiles is not a recent invention conjoured up by Marks & Spencer's marketing eggheads. It has been happening, usually with very little fanfare, for decades, and one of those companies that has been doing so is the charity I work for: TRAID.

The photos included in the Guardian piece trace the journey taken by some of the textiles the charity processes. I think it's important for people to get a chance to see more of what happens after an item of clothing has been donated into one of TRAID's textile banks (or any other clothing/textile recycling/reusing process). To get a sense of the whole food chain, of all the effort it takes and people that work hard to give each unwanted item the most sustainble future possible, maybe it would make people stop for a minute before going down the fast fashion route as often as they currently do.

The clothing, textiles and accessories that get donated to TRAID are processed and usually find themselves with one of three futures: resale in one of their London-based charity shops; sent down to the TRAIDremade studio in Brighton to be turned into restyled and remade clothing; or they get sold to a rag merchant who mashes it all up to become a variety of products like draft excluder or sofa filling. And luckily for those who are interested in what I do, the particular textile item the photographer follows, a floral curtain, is one of the items that ends up in the TRAIDremade studio for me to get my mitts on. Let's take a look at what happens...

TRAID receive its textiles through both public donation via banks like the one above and from industry. Occassionally clothing manufacturers with ethical targets to meet will donate us their end of line pieces (clothing or fabric), end of rolls, samples, etc. But the majority comes from the public.

All the donation banks are emptied by a team of van drivers and everything goes to the warehouse in Wembley, North London, to be processed. A couple of tough guys with protective clothing break open all the plastic bags, remove as many of the non-textile iems as possible, and send everything through a chute which leads to a conveyor belt.

A gang of about eight or so sorters (often comprising of some of the TRAID charity shop managers who must go to Wembley once a week to sort stock for their shop) pick through the conveyor belt's contents. They work quickly, selecting and sorting items into catagories (different quality levels of women's wear, menswear, childrens wear, home textiles, vintage, fabric, shoes etc.) literally throwing them into large metal trolleys positioned behind the belt.

The contents of those metal trolleys (pictured above) then receive some fine sorting, to check if there have been some miscatagorisation, or if there is damage not noticed previously. The items that can be sold in the shops get distributed  appropriately, for example, the shops that are in more family-orientated locations receive homeware and children's wear, whilst the more youthful and fashiony locations like Camden receive vintage clothing, and so on. This is why the shop managers are encouraged to do some weekly sorting, because they know their shop customers best. All the pieces of fabric, curtains and some un-resellable clothing gets delivered to the TRAIDremade studio in Brighton once a fortnight.

We don't use everything we receive. We sort through the delivery and work out what is and isn't suitable to make into clothing. Once the fortnightly delivery has been sorted, my boss and I figure out a plan of what to make over the next couple of weeks. As I previously explained in Tilly's 'A Day in the Life' interview, we create small batches (usually between four to nine per style) of garments rather than working a piece at a time for speed. Occassionally we'll make batches of a style we have previously made, but usually we'll adapt a pattern/style we have made before, or we'll create a new style.

A curtain like the one we are following, that isn't too 'curtainy' and has a nice, seasonal print and isn't stained or faded, will probably become a dress, skirt or pair of shorts. Our curtain became a dress with fitted bodice, dirndl skirt, half-sleeves and a self-bow. 

Currently, the TRAIDremade line can be found in the Camden, Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush shops with selected pieces also sold online. Here's our curtain-dress in the TRAIDremade section of the TRAID shop in Camden.

A sales assistant worked their magic and added it to a display. It looks nice, doesn't it (not that I'm biased!)?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sew Good: Sewing Workshops

On the last day of 2011, I laid down some creative intentions I had for 2012. One of those was:

'Teach a sewing class/workshop. The plans I had for this have had to be aborted, but hopefully an opportunity will present itself by the end of the year that will make it possible'

I feel strongly that sewing is an important life skill, and that pretty much everyone should have, at the very least, a vague knowledge of how to do basic sewing repairs and alterations. It's very sad that sewing, or at least genuinely useful sewing, isn't being taught in every school today. It is also really sad that the prevalence of dirt-cheap 'disposible' clothing make many people think that the necessity for clothing maintenance is now obsolete.

I think it would be optimistic to say that the general mentality of the UK population is shifting towards a more sustainble mindset, but it is clear that a certain sea-change is taking place and many 'early adopters' or more naturally sustainably-minded individuals are seeking out places to pick up sewing and dress-making skills. The fresh crop of sewing lounges offering access to machinery and/or sewing classes and is a well documented and heartening phenomenon and lays testiment to this trend.

I've always really enjoyed helping out whenever a friend or aquaintance has asked me a sewing quuestion or wanted to learn a sewing or pattern cutting skill, so I've been thinking for a while now that I'd love to share my knowledge in a more structured format. Whether my assistance resulted in someone discovering a new life-long passion for sewing, or simply making one pair of jeans last longer by helping their owner to re-hem them, I think it'd be a worthwhile endeavour.

Towards the tail-end of last year, I had high hopes and fairly developed plans about creating a drop-in 'sewing surgery' in the basement room of the Handmade Co-op shop here in Brighton. But unforeseen circumstances, plus the recent transformation of the basement from useful space to store room for junk, has scuppered those plans. And it was at that point that I laid down those creative aims for 2012.

Well, I very pleased to say that only two months into the new year, I have already had the opportunity to begin making good on that original endeavour. And I didn't need to look as far afield for that opportunity as I thought I would, either. As you may know about my job, I make clothing from donated clothing and textiles that sells under the name TRAIDremade. But the charity Traid's activities are myriad and far reaching. There is a small but fantastic Education team who organise lots of talk, seminars and workshops in schools, colleges, universities, companies, social spaces etc. This department is lead by a dynamic and interesting lady called Lyla (pictured above on the left) who, incidentally, features a fair bit in John-Paul Flintoff's 'Sew Your Own'. When I saw in Traid's newsletter that the 2012 dates were confirmed for the 'Sew Good' workshops Lyla and her team run in the Traid shops in London, I got in contact to see if I could come along and help out.

Which is what I did one (snowy) night last week. The workshop was held at the Camden shop after normal trading (pun intended) hours. Accommodating up to five members of the public, it was free as long as they confirmed they were going to attend, and could bring any garment/s or aspect of sewing/mending/alteration they wanted. They could have one-on-one assistance from one of the 'experts' or simply have access to the sewing machines and equipment.

From my perspective, it was an interesting evening seeing how Lyla and her ladies run these events. For a while I gave some help and advice to a girl wishing to make a polo shirt style T-shirt from a couple of patterns she was trying to frankenstein together. But the fact she had only brought one of those patterns with her kind of limited the amount of progress she could make in that session. I then went on to help another woman who was actually a journalist for the Metro who was there to write a piece for the free newspaper about the workshop and making an on-trend rip-off (see Karl Lagerfeld sweatshirt pictured below). Despite my dislike for the advert-peddaling free papers like the Metro that have been littering London and other parts of the UK for the past six year or so, AND my hatred for (what I view to be) the self-esteem damaging glossy 'Grazia' that she also writes for, the journalist was lovely and really good company. Anyways...

The fashion editor or someone had contacted Lyla in advance asking if PVC and sequins could be provided because, due to deadline pressures I'd imagine, the journalist had effectively already written the article, and was merely there so she could add the final 'annecdotal' flourishes and create the actual garment to be photographed for the piece. That was a bit frustrating for Lyla and myself because it would have been preferable for the journalist to attend the workshop, having brought any materials with her, and experienced what she could achieve in the workshop in a less contrived set-up. But I know that I'm being naïve about how journalism really works, and we are grateful for any exposure Traid can obtain.

Conclusions? Well, it was a very interesting experience, but I'm not sure how much of my sewing/pattern making ability I was really able to share at that event. Plus it was a long way to go (two hours travelling to London each way after having already worked a full day at the studio in Brighton) for no extra pay. Maybe it was that my presence was a bit superfluous and that with fewer 'experts' (there was four in total for five attendees) there would be more to do and you'd feel you had helped more by the end of the session.

I'm very interested in helping out Traid's Education team again, probably in different and perhaps more structured scenerios that they are currently working on (fingers crossed that some of those come to fruition because they sound exciting). I am also still very interested in my drop-in sewing surgery plan, or perhaps extending that to more structured workshops/classes, in Brighton. Those ideas are napping but haven't been put to bed.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cleaning Up The Fashion Industry

A few months ago I was contacted by a lady named Sarah (pictured above) and asked if she could interview me as part of the research she is employed to undertake in the field of sustainable fashion. Sarah, originally from the USA and presently living in Copenhagen, is currently employed as part of a large team funded by a Swedish company named Mistra who are apparantly researching lots of different angles related to sustainable fashion over a number of years. The aim is to discover ways to transform the global clothing industry into something significantly less damaging, both socially and environmentally. I don't know about you, but I was really heartened to know that there's an organisation putting serious time, money and effort into such an endeavour.

Sarah interviewed me as part of her 'early adopters' section of research. It took a couple of hours, and basically gave me carte blanche to witter away about how I feel about clothing and sustainability and what lead me to feel that way. Sarah, who has a personal interest in this field of studies, later agreed to permit me to interview her, as I really wanted to find out more about the her and her work and share it with my lovely readers.

Sarah: I work with the Mistra Future Fashion project. Mistra is a a Swedish foundation that focuses on environmental research [which] recently put forth
funding for an interdisciplinary research program concerning sustainable fashion called "Mistra Future Fashion." The research project consists of an international collaboration of researchers looking at all areas of the fashion system - from business models to textile production, to policy making and consumption: to better understand how we can push forward a competitive sustainable fashion model. My individual research project is looking at the consumption of fashion - with a focus right now on those who are early adopters of sustainable practices in their fashion consumption. My hope is that by learning from those who have taken a proactive stance, we can push the mainstream audience into more sustainable behavior. It has been a fascinating journey so far and I have met so many inspirational and interesting people who make me more conscious of my own behavior.

I should also say that Mistra has their own press department, etc - so nothing I say should be taken as official statements from them. This is just my opinions, beliefs, etc.

Zoe: How did you get involved with Mistra Future Fashion and how long have you worked for them? How long is this project expected to run for?

Sarah: I started working for Mistra this summer (2011) - and the project goes on for approximately 4 more years and my plans are to stay with it as long as there is research for me to do! I got involved because it related to my graduate research project - and moreover fulfilled a personal interest of improving the fashion industry's current practices.

Zoe: What was your background before working for them?

Sarah: My background includes a buying job in the retail sector (children's and junior shoes), Public Relations work with an advertising agency, general communications work with an art/design/retail firm and a break in between to complete my Master's in user centered innovation. The general "red thread" sewn through all of this is that I have a lot of background thinking about consumers: what they want, how they think, what motivates them. And Mistra allows me to use my power for "good", coming up with ways to motivate consumers to make more responsible decisions for the earth, for society and for themselves.

Zoe: You have a really interesting employment background, I can see why you must have made the perfect candidate for your current role! Your description of using your 'power for good' really made me laugh! At what point did you realise you were working for 'evil'?!

Sarah: In regards to the particular time that I realized I wanted to change paths - I have to say that it wasn't a cathartic moment as much as a general notion that I could not continue putting lipstick on pigs. And by this I mean, attempting to use the role of communications and branding to lift brands that don't necessarily deserve lifting. I had some clients when I worked in the agency that were truly honorable - making great products, humbly and modestly telling their story and working on continual environmental and social improvements. I had others however, that were so blinded by the need for "sales" in the short run that they couldn't really look beyond this, they just knew "green was in" and they wanted on that train without putting in the hard work, dedication and risk it requires. If I were, however, to cite the moment I knew change was needed it might have been when I was working on a processed food product called "stuffed and breaded chicken breasts" that should say enough I think.:)

Zoe: What do Mistra plan to do with the research that yourself and the other researchers are compiling?

Sarah: The general plan is to pave way for a more sustainable fashion industry - both in Sweden and beyond. The multi-disciplinary approach allows the project to attack the issue from multiple viewpoints as there are many stakeholders whose participation is required to make sustainable fashion a long-term possibility. The government, consumers, industry - all play an important role.

Zoe: Why do you think Mistra chose now to under go this research?

Sarah: I cannot offer an an answer to why Mistra made this decision, but can
offer my general viewpoint on the matter. First, I think (and this refers to your next question), Scandinavia takes a progressive approach to all areas of sustainability. Given that the region (particularly Sweden) has a thriving fashion industry, it makes sense to push forward a better standard for the region. Moreover, while sustainability in food, transportation and housing have made great strides in many Western countries, fashion seems to a bit slower on
the uptake - at least from the viewpoint of mainstream consumption. It is time to put more focus and resources on this matter, as the industry contributes to many ills that must be addressed, and consumers need to be aware and conscious of their decisions. Moreover, those companies that are taking a proactive approach deserve to be rewarded for their behavior.

Zoe: Do you feel Scandanavia is more forward thinking than other Western countries when it comes to sustainability issues and practice?

Sarah: I admittedly take a rosy view when I look at Scandinavia - often giving
the region a lot of credit for being more willing to take on progressive change than most. Having lived here for a little over 3 years (Copenhagen and Norway), it is my belief that the average citizen lives a more sustainable life than elsewhere (particularly my home country of America). It is done in a somewhat quiet manner - with everyday life consisting of public transportation, small living spaces, and systematic, government implemented sustainability initiatives for energy, food sources, etc.

I see a more high profile, individualistic approach to sustainability when I look at the UK or United States. Increased vegetarianism, off the grid lifestyles, hybrid cars - there tends to be more outward, individually expressed behaviors but perhaps the average citizen contributes less to the movement. But this is just my sense, I have little data to back it up:)

Zoe: I totally agree about the high-profile actions of the UK/US. I feel the UK makes lots of noise about sustainability with questionable amounts of action actually taking place. Even the UK's biggest offenders for stocking sweatshop-produced and environmentally damaging garments sell tote bags with random 'ethical' messages stamped on them. As if printing a bag saying 'Live Green' or something is sufficient.

I'm very fascinated by your point about how you view the different approaches of Scandinavia and UK/US, and in my view it was totally on the money. Not that I've ever visited Scandinavia, but I can really see that, from what I understand, the vaguely opposing approaches (collective, goverment-led V.s the responsibility on the individual) could represent the mindsets of those nations in general, broadly speaking. What particularly concerns me about the UK/US approach in regards to sustainability and ethical practices, is that it can seemingly absolve industry from responsibility, like industry has a right to say 'Well, we wouldn't create cheap sweat-shirt manufactured T-shirts if the consumer didn't buy them'.

What drew you to live in Scandinavia? And do you think the UK/US could, or indeed should, adopt a more Scandinavian approach in certain areas?

Sarah: It is funny you ask that. My husband's impetus for deciding to do his graduate work here was that he has hoped to use the Scandinavian approach to help companies in the US better facilitate CSR (corporate social responsibility). In that way, I think he is on to something. I don't think the cultures of the US or UK could ever shift drastically to model that of the Scandinavian countries. And if you asked people here in Scandinavia, they would reticently say that they feel their consumer and business culture has started to resemble the Anglo model a bit too much. That said, companies and organisations are little microcosms of culture that can absolutely be contrary to that of the country they do business in. And with that in mind, if companies were to adopt more collaborative and cooperative ways of managing their business, I think real change can occur.

But...then you have the issue of publicly traded companies with quarterly financial expectations. And that short term mentality is ultimately, at least in my mind, at the root of a lot of our ills.

One thing at a time though!:)

Zoe: You say that your research so far has allowed you contact with some inspirational individuals that have had an effect on your own behaviour, in what ways have your thoughts and how you live your life changed of the back of your contact with them?

Sarah: I have gotten more in touch with my own consumption. I think a lot
more about what I purchase, why I am purchasing it, and of course - where it really comes from. I find myself really trying to minimize the excess and feel joy in doing so.

I would like to thank Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions, and for doing so so thoroughly and thoughtfully. I, for one, cannot wait for the research being undertaken by Mistra and its army of researchers to begin making waves in the clothing industry. Thanks for reading!
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