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Sustainability in Sewing

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Hi everyone! I’m Anna from Finland and I’m a recent entrepreneur. I run my own small business of sustainable fashion (RAILOclothing), portrait photography and content writing. I’m so happy Maddie chose me as one of her guest bloggers – this is a great way of telling you about sustainability in sewing, which has been a passion of mine years before I even dreamed of starting my own business.

Being a nature loving person, I have always recycled, reused and reduced. That’s how the idea of having a sustainable clothing business was first born. I was frustrated by the racks of unused fabric and clothing that I found in so many thrift stores and second hand markets. It started as a hobby, fixing unattractive clothing into pieces I wanted to wear myself. Shortly after, I found myself getting inquiries from people with the same sustainable goals. So I started making clothes for birthday presents, later on sold a piece here, another there, and over the years, set up a small Etsy shop.

These days, it’s so easy to find inexpensive clothing and fabrics, that most people don’t even realize they could use something else. The very core of my sewing business is to use thrifted and remnant materials – curtains, leftover pieces of fabric, old clothing and pretty much anything you can think of. They are easy to find and, in fact, the older the materials, the higher quality they tend to be. Somewhere along the way, the fabric and fashion industries made a bad turn from quality to something they could use to maximise their profits. I bet you’ve noticed these days garments don’t last very long anymore… unless, of course, you make them yourself and only pick high quality materials.

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Something people are afraid of when using thrifted or old materials is that they might ”smell old” or have stains or other flaws in them. With every piece of fabric I use, I have the same routine. At first, I put it in a sealed plastic bag and let it stay in the freezer overnight. After that, if I want to be extra thorough, I give it a bath in vinegar and water (you can find tutorials online). Then I throw it in the washing machine and take it outside to dry in the fresh air. This should take care of any possible scents the fabric may have.

The next step is to iron and check them carefully for any stains or holes. I cut out anything that doesn’t look perfect but you would be surprised by how well these old materials have lasted! I love using curtains for my projects; they hardly ever have any stains or other flaws.

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Some other things I like to salvage from pieces of clothing are pockets and buttons. If you think of how long it takes to sew a nice pocket from scratch, you can consider using old pockets as saving a lot of time and money. Buttons can also be on the expensive side, so I never throw any of those out. Sometimes it’s even worth buying a stained shirt from the thrift store for 50 cents or so, if it has really nice-looking buttons.

Another thing you can reuse are waistbands, stamps and different kinds of cuffs and fabric belts. If you don’t want to use them for their original purpose you can get creative and turn them into totebag straps (or pretty much anything you can think of, use your imagination!)

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My main purpose of introducing people to sustainable sewing is to reduce the amount of waste that’s created in the industry every year. Take a good look into your closet, go to your grandma’s attic or just talk to your friends to see if they have bits and pieces of fabric or clothing they were going to get rid of anyway. Using these kind of materials will ensure you’re going to have a unique garment – or whatever it is you decide to make. Happy sustainable sewing!

(The skirt you see in these pictures was made from an old curtain and a waistband from thrifted jeans. Even the zipper was salvaged from the jeans. For DIY instructions for the skirt you can visit my blog)

21 Comments

  1. Reply

    Cathy

    Thankyou Anna for this post. I loved reading about your business.

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thanks, Cathy! It warms my heart that people are interested in sustainable fashion these days when cheap, “one-time-wear” clothing is available everywhere.

    • Reply

      maddiemadalynne

      I second Cathy – thank you Anna!

  2. Reply

    Iris

    Nice! Thank you – I am a beginner and have been looking at garments in stores, and thrifts in a whole new way – but this has just opened a new horizon.

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thank you, Iris! That’s exactly how I felt the first time I realized I could use finished garments as sewing material. Feel free to contact me if you want more tips!

  3. Reply

    thosewordsshewrote

    Brilliant post- Some really good, thrifty tips which I will definitely be using from now on. Anna has a new follower and fan- nice to meet you! 🙂 Lexie X

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thank you, Lexie – That really means a lot to me. Nice to meet you, too! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Alex

    Thank you for bringing up this subject! It’s really close to my heart and I only wish more people started using reclaimed fabric and other sources of textiles in their projects. I have only recently come to realise this and although I’m still working on my over 100m stash (though part of it is fabric from charity shops), it’s very rewarding to finish a project that feels even more environmentally friendly than your average home sew! Good luck with your business and please keep spreading the word!

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thanks, Alex – I’m so happy to find kindred spirits! I feel like sustainable fashion has just recently taken off, but there are still not enough of us to make a big change. Let’s do our best to tell people about it!

  5. Reply

    emeralderin

    This is really fantastic! I buy almost all my clothing second hand if I don’t make it myself, and I do find that older clothing is much higher quality than what you buy new. Your stuff is beautiful but your goal behind it is even better! I’ll definitely be checking out your shop!

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thank you so much, your comment made my day! And I’m glad people are starting to notice the difference between the quality of clothing today compared to what it used to be. 🙂

  6. Reply

    Veronica Darling

    So great to see you running a business this way! Maddie, I have to send you a note on your variety of guest bloggers, wonderful curating!

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thank you, Veronica!

  7. Reply

    kristina451

    Yay! Anna, well written! love it

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thank you, my dear friend! 🙂

  8. Reply

    Pearl

    This was a great post, Anna. I’m interested in sustainability and want to reduce the waste created in my sewing. I would like use reclaimed materials and even though I find brilliant inspiration like your work on the internet, I find it difficult to see how to use them. I will keep trying though. I like the way you used the denim waistband, pocket and zipper in the skirt without taking the whole top part of the jeans. The skirt and the other pieces in the shop look beautiful.

    • Reply

      Anna

      Thanks, Pearl! If you’re having trouble getting started with reclaimed materials, I suggest you try to find large pieces first (such as curtains and table cloths). It’s all about teaching yourself to look at things as fabric. When you’ve kind of reached the point of looking beyond the garment itself it’s going to be easier to find new ways of using them. When I find pieces of clothing instead of larger fabric pieces I always check if I could spare some of the original seams. It’s like a fun game, really – and it’s completely ok if the piece turns out something quite different that it was supposed to!

  9. Reply

    Sarwat AJ

    So very useful tips … thanks to madalynne, to make me meet you….. You got a lovely nice area for sewing

  10. Reply

    Caitlin J.

    Well written, Anna! This is a movement close to my heart, as well. I hope that more people follow our lead and begin to use sewing as a means to be more sustainable!

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