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10 tips for sustainable sewing

Would you like to pay attention to sustainability in your sewing projects? But what is meant by the term “sustainability”? 

Regarding fabrics and textiles, these are for our company True Fabrics / Ubuntu World, including:

natural materials, fair working conditions, direct trade, traditional textile handicraft, cultural identity, Local engagement and Donations to aid projects.

You can find further information in our: True Story, as well as in the menu item: Sustainability and under ubuntuworld.info.

We have put together a few useful tips for you. These are aspects that we deal with ourselves in our sewing projects and as a company. Hopefully they will provide you with a first valuable approach to the topic. We do not claim to be complete and look forward to input and additions.

With this in mind, here are our 10 tips for sustainable sewing:

1. Transparency - where do the fabrics come from

When buying your fabrics, pay attention to certification and sustainability seals. Among others interesting:

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard): A seal for textiles produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, which checks the entire production chain in an internationally standardized way. A special focus is on the use of chemicals. There are two different levels of the seal - at least 70% from organically produced natural fibers or at least 95%. GOTS is a very high standard for organic materials. 

OEKO-TEX Standard 100: The certificate does not claim to check ecological sustainability, but only guarantees that the substance is free of harmful substances. Environmental protection and the working conditions in fabric production are irrelevant. It's all about consumer protection. It is expressly NOT a certificate for organic substances!

The OEKO-TEX Made in Green seal: includes the absence of harmful substances from OEKO-TEX 100, but also stands for environmentally friendly and socially responsible fabrics. In addition, the supply chains are subject to a transparency requirement.

IVN order: is a seal of the International Association of the Natural Textile Industry, which carefully examines the environmental and social compatibility of all production steps. This seal is considered the strictest standard for organic materials.

Fairtrade seal Certified Cotton: It is a demanding label that makes a significant contribution to fair relationships between trading partners and compliance with minimum social standards along the entire supply chain, and also strives for ecological improvements in the production of cotton.

But it doesn't always have to be a seal. Because such certifications are usually quite expensive and complex and are therefore often out of the question, especially for smaller companies. Therefore, pay attention to how transparent and credible your fabric dealers and manufacturers communicate their sustainability criteria. uh, where do the materials come from and the raw materials under which working conditions they are made.

Now sew sustainably with the sewing boxes from True Fabrics!

 

Sustainable sewing with the sewing box from True Fabrics

2. Quality of fabrics

When buying your fabrics, pay attention to theirs Quality and longevity. Nothing is more harmful to the environment if materials that are produced in a complex process only have a short life cycle and end up in the garbage after a short time. Key word: fast fashion & consumption reduction.

Read more on this topic in our blog article: “Your sustainable sewing project against fast fashion!” (coming soon).


3. Biomaterials

Another quality feature for a fabric is its ecological footprint. Therefore, pay attention when buying your fabrics Organic substances.

Unfortunately, there are no uniform legal regulations when it comes to the term "organic". So what exactly does organic mean for fabrics and how do I recognize it? 

Anyone who wants to buy organic fabrics expects a fabric that has been produced sustainably, from controlled organic cultivation or organic animal husbandry. But it's about much more than just the fiber. Have the fabrics been dyed and printed in a way that is not harmful to health, for example? How many chemicals were used? How high is the logistical effort until the finished fabric is under your sewing machine needle? How fair are the working conditions in the weaving and dyeing works?

If it is important to you where the fabrics were produced, who harvested and processed the fibers and how the fabrics were dyed, then there is the possibility to pay attention to the appropriate certification.
But keep in mind that certifications are always time-consuming and expensive and are therefore often out of the question, especially for small companies. This also applies to ours Togo fabrics or ours Aboriginal Designs! Therefore, the keyword here is: transparency!

And as long as the series of organic aspects is, the different certifications and seals for organic materials are unfortunately just as motley, which are intended to ensure that we also identify the organic materials as organic. Under point 1 - Transparency - we have summarized the most important seals for you to give you an overview. IVN-Best and then GOTS have the strictest criteria. 

4. Carbon Footprint & Environmental Impact

How can I reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of my fabrics?

Is this transparently communicated by the manufacturers?

  • Organic cotton vs. conventional cotton. The cultivation of organic cotton also requires a lot of water. However, the water consumption is lower than with conventional cotton. You can find out why this is the case and which aspects still speak in favor of organic cotton in the Kipli blog ...
  • colors as well. With dyed fabrics, you should pay attention to natural dyes and what standards the manufacturers of the fabrics follow, for example with regard to the disposal of waste water from fabric production. Fabric dyeing and a high use of chemicals often represent an incredible environmental impact. What hardly anyone knows: dyeing is actually the biggest environmental problem in the entire fashion industry.
  • Vegan – no leather? There are more than enough alternatives. For example pineapple leather (Piñatex), apple leather, cactus leather, mushroom leather, kombucha, cork leather, wine leather or paper leather.
    However, one should keep in mind that not all vegan leather is environmentally friendly. For example, this is the case with cheaply produced imitation leather. You can find more background information on this here.
  • Look closely and avoid fabrics made from natural raw materials that have undergone intensive chemical treatment. Due to the high use of chemicals and water, these materials made from natural fibers also have a high CO2 balance. A very common example of this is fabrics made from bamboo fibers!
    Bamboo is used to make viscose, and chemicals such as caustic soda and carbon disulfide are used to create a spinnable mass that no longer has the properties of the wood originally used. However, the textile is advertised as a fabric made from bamboo fibers.
  • Long transport routes. Also the fabrics of True Fabrics have a long transport route before they end up in our warehouse. However, it is important to know that we work exclusively without intermediaries. This means that the fabrics do not take a detour, but take the shortest possible route directly from the factory in which they were produced to us. In addition, it is important to us to offset and compensate for the unavoidable emissions caused by the transport of the materials. This is done via the compensation provider atmosfair.


5. Biodegradable

We admit it, we too True Fabrics do not manage to list our fabrics only in organic quality. Nevertheless, we would advise you to make sure that the fabrics are made from natural raw materials, which are therefore also biodegradable. These are among others Cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk, nettle etc.

Not biodegradable are synthetic fabrics such as:

Polyester, fleece, viscose, faux leather

For the production of synthetic textiles are current more than 52 billion liters of oil annually used. Although the water and land consumption is lower than with natural fibers, the energy consumption is immense. For example, three times as much CO2 is emitted as in cotton production and when the synthetic fibers are washed, this is released MikroPlastik into the waters.

are also problematic Mixed fabrics with a synthetic component. Among other things, this applies to the so popular Jersey fabrics too, which get their “stretch effect” from the knitting style, but usually also from the addition of spandex preserved. Other examples are coated cork or fabrics with a waterproof coating.

There are now new regenerative fibers made from cellulose fibers such as Tencel/Lyocell or Modal, which are made from sustainably managed forests and environmentally friendly solvents. These fabrics are wonderfully soft, flowy and have a cool hand, similar to conventional cellulose-based man-made fibers - and they even come in jersey. They are great for blouses, dresses, summer pants, etc. These fabrics are usually biodegradable, but not all Modal manufacturing processes are ecologically compatible. That's why you should definitely pay attention to the origin.


6. Reduce

Most (hobby) seamstresses have their own small stock of fabrics, which mostly consists of spontaneous purchases. If I really like a fabric, I can't leave it behind, even if I haven't planned a specific sewing project yet. I'll conjure up something out of it - I think to myself then... Well, who doesn't know that?

But here a rethinking is urgently advisable, don't always take everything you like with you. Rather search specifically, what you need. And make it clear to yourself: high-quality fabrics can not only cost 5 euros per meter. Think about what fairly produced and environmentally and skin-friendly fabrics are worth to you!

If you already have a reasonably large fabric store and would like to switch to organic, then don't just throw away your fabrics now. That would not be sustainable at all. You can use them for sample parts, for example, or use them creatively. Make filling snippets out of it, for example.


7. Zero waste

To avoid waste, only buy as much fabric as you need. Lay out the patterns so that you have as little leftovers as possible. Larger sections and scraps of fabric can still be used. Whether useful household helpers or small gifts... there are no limits to your ideas.

And if your sewing project fails completely and you feel like throwing it straight into the trash - then don't do it, but instead unpick it and use the materials again. You can certainly still make something nice or useful out of clothes that have failed, at least things for the household, such as kitchen towels or rags, should be in there!


8. Upcycling and refashioning

Do you have a worn-out, worn-out and broken sweater? Then see what else you can use. Broken clothing that quickly ends up in the garbage can be wonderfully recycled and processed. Combined with new fabrics, wonderful ones can be found here UPCYCLING– Projects are created. Zippers, buttons, buckles... you can of course upcycle everything that is still intact.

However, if the pullover can still be saved and you repair it or shorten the sleeves that are torn through at the elbows - then, strictly speaking, we are not talking about upcycling, but about REFASHION. However, the boundaries are very fluid here.

And no matter what you call it – the main thing is that old becomes new!
And once you start repairing old things, reusing them and creating new things from them, you don't stop doing it that quickly. You'll see, it's really fun!

In our blog article “Your sustainable sewing project against fast fashion!” (coming soon) you can read more about upcycling! Among other things, you can also find out here what so-called downcycling is all about.


9. Sewing Tool & Sewing Supplies

How sustainable are your sewing tools and accessories? It starts with the sewing machine - here, which sustainability criteria do the manufacturers of your sewing machine meet - and how durable is the good piece? Does the manufacturer offer a repair service?
Once you have decided on a model, take good care of your machine, clean it regularly with the lint brush and have it serviced every 2-3 years so that you can continue to enjoy it for a long time.

If you are looking for sustainable haberdashery, you have to invest a lot of time. This is also the reason why we would like to make it easier for our customers to implement their sustainable sewing project in the future. That's why True Fabric has set itself the goal of offering sustainable sewing accessories in a timely manner.

What can you look out for when choosing sewing accessories?

⇒ Yarns

For example, pay attention to organic yarns and/or yarns with wooden spools. 

It is not always possible or sensible to use yarn made from natural materials or even organic cotton. But synthetic yarn can now also be purchased as an eco version. The Gütermann company, for example, makes sewing thread from 100% recycled polyester. The collected PET bottles are washed in various work steps, shredded into so-called flakes and melted. The new sewing thread is then made from it. And best of all: the whole thing is “Made in Germany”.

However, this rPET yarn is NOT biodegradable!! So carefully consider why a cotton yarn is out of the question for your sewing project!

⇒ Cutting mat

We went in search of sustainable cutting mats and found that there was hardly anything. Of course, cutting mats are very durable in themselves, but of course they are not biodegradable. 

We are happy if you know a manufacturer who takes the sustainability aspect of cutting mats into account.
We could only find a self-healing cutting mat from the Spanish manufacturer “La Canilla” find that two of the five layers are made from recycled material.

⇒ Scissors and rotary cutters

You can also pay attention to quality and longevity here. And buy them from manufacturers in Germany/Europe to reduce the CO2 footprint.

⇒ Filling material, fleece line / iron-on inserts

It's easy to get lost in the world of underpads! There are so many different ones for a wide variety of sewing projects. Choosing the right insoles is quite a challenge. You have to know a bit about it and get information or just try it out and learn which one is the right one. There are many sewing instructions that include Vlieseline. Yes, and which fleece line now? Oddly enough, this is often not included. Especially as a sewing beginner you can despair. And it is even more difficult to get hold of sustainable nonwovens. At least then the choice is very limited.
Especially in the creative area, for sewing accessories, it is noticeable that the sewing inserts for stabilization are mostly missing Polyester consist. Something like Decovil or Style-Vil does not seem to exist as an eco-variant. And we could only find quilter's grid or other patchwork fleeces made of synthetic fibers. 

It looks better with volume fleece. Here, for example, there is also Cotton fleece or soy fleece. Or nonwovens made from 100% recycled PES.

consider: underpads are through the adhesive coating too no longer fully biodegradable, even if the fleece itself consists of 100% natural material. It is therefore more sustainable to use sewn interlinings.

When it comes to the filling material, you can use cotton wadding, new wool or even corn wadding. Pay attention to the certification.

⇒ Buttons, zippers and Co

When it comes to buttons, you can find wonderful alternatives made of wood, metal, corozo, coconut or plant-based polymers. 

Zippers, buckles, sliders, square rings and so on are made of metal. 

⇒ Ribbons, borders and cords

There is a wide range of organic cotton or satin ribbons, braids and cords. Organic elastic is made from a blend of organic cotton and natural rubber.
Webbing is also available in a pure cotton version. 


10. Sew your everyday life more sustainably

Sewing yourself is of course sustainable in itself. And if you then take the many tips and suggestions to heart, you make a really big contribution to sustainability. If you now feel like integrating the topic into your everyday life, there are many numerous ways to sew everyday utensils yourself.

Whether bowl covers (instead of cling film), fruit bags (instead of plastic bags), make-up removal pads (instead of cotton pads) or gift bags (instead of wrapping paper)... there are many ideas and inspiration! Do a search and let yourself be inspired. Most of the sewing instructions that you can find online on this topic are super easy and quick to implement. So it's worth just trying it out.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, the topic of sustainable sewing is very extensive and complex. It is very difficult, sometimes even impossible, to always pay attention to all criteria. Nevertheless, it is up to us to pay as much attention to the aspect of sustainability as possible. 

You will inevitably have to make compromises. A certification or seal is not always more sustainable, for example if a small manufacturer does not have the resources to undergo such a certification. However, this manufactory pays attention to environmental standards and creates sustainable jobs in a precarious economic environment. Or if a non-biodegradable additive that you use in your sewing project then, conversely, significantly increases the lifespan or useful life of the product. 

However, it is worth paying attention to as many aspects as possible and questioning and examining your own actions. And then to demand this from the producers, manufacturers and dealers - and where there are doubts, to push for transparency. This is the only way to make the textile industry and thus our planet more sustainable and to use it. 

 

Write us in the comments how you design the topic of sustainability in your sewing universe. We look forward to a lively exchange and additions!

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[…] So if you want to sew sustainably, the first step should be to use up and reduce the existing stock of fabric. You can also find a few good tips and hints on the subject, e.g. what kind of seals you can trust, on the True Fabrics blog: 10 tips for sustainable sewing. [...]

valentina
2 years earlier

We like to sew new rompers for our customers out of old clothes.
I believe there is nothing more sustainable than upcycled sewing projects. Otherwise, we also attach great importance to GOTS-certified organic cotton. A really great article that everyone should read.