Is Sewing Sustainable?
Sewing gives us the ability to use what we have. In terms of mending, upcycling, or putting the fabrics to use that have been lingering around for some reason or the other.
However, in my opinion the most important aspect of sewing regarding sustainability is the way it raises awareness about resources and labor that go into a garment when we learn to sew clothing ourselves. Producing clothing in the big factories far away in Asia is not so much different from home-sewing as one might expect when seeing the low prices fast-fashion pieces are sold at. There is no T-shirt-machine that magically produces pieces of clothing all by itself. Every piece of clothing is sewn by an (mostly underpaid) human – mostly women. Of course, there are many ways that make production a lot more efficient in the factory than at home. Cutting many layers of fabric at once, doing the same steps over and over again thousands of times, using fast industrial sewing machines … But in the end, it is a person that moves the fabric through these machines with their hands for every single seam that the garment is constructed with. Just as you do at your sewing machine at home. And once we have gone through this process for an entire dress or shirt, we know how many steps the construction of a garment involve. Learning (by doing) about the effort that goes into making clothes was eye opening for me and made me appreciate the value of textiles a lot more. I believe that after spending many hours (maybe even sweat and tears) to make a garment ourselves we treat it with more respect and take better care of it to make it last a long time.
Another aspect that makes sewing my own clothing a sustainable practice for me, it that it teaches me patience. When I feel the wish for new piece of clothing, I usually start thinking about what it needs to make it myself. What pattern could I use? Can I use materials that I already own? If not, I keep my eyes open to see if the right materials cross my path over time. When I have everything, I need, I need to find time to start preparing my materials: prewashing fabric, preparing the sewing pattern, the pattern pieces, sewing … Depending on the phase of my life and the size of the project that can take a very long time! Sometimes I notice along the way that I didn’t need this garment after all. There is no such thing as an impulse purchase anymore, because I am forced to think a lot about the project before it comes into realization. Of course, sometimes there are things that I actually need urgently, and if I don’t have time at my hands at that moment to make them myself, I usually try to thrift these pieces or sometimes also buy new. But to be honest, the pieces of clothing that we really need urgently are few. Most of us have plenty of garments in our closets to get dressed everyday in an appropriate manner.
To conclude, I think, sewing can be a great way to slow down our consumption of textiles and serve as an outlet for creativity and expression of our personality at the same time.
If this is a topic you are interested in and want to think more about, I can recommend the podcast Check your Thread by Zoe. And if you have some more time at your hand I can highly recommend reading the book Worn – A People’s History of Clothing by Sophie Thanhauser! The book tells the story of how textile production evolved over time and the role clothing plays in our history. The impact textile production had (and still has) on the environment and our society are devastating and worth learning more about!