Sewing Meditations, Week 2: Ethics and Sustainability

Whew, this is a huge topic! To be honest, I’m a bit nervous to be posting about this, since it’s something I’m only just begun to think about, and I consider myself a total novice in this arena. However, I also think it’s a vitally important subject, both for the longevity of our sewing community as well as for our own emotional well-being. In just the short time that I’ve been sewing and blogging, I’ve noticed a marked increase in posts about sustainability and ethical resourcing, so it’s clearly something y’all are thinking a lot about, too. So, as I take a step back for Lent, I thought it would be good to follow up last week’s topic of “more vs. less” with a discussion about how to be more mindful in our consumer habits when we do choose to buy something.

In my mind, this whole issue of “ethical resourcing” falls into two categories: environmental sustainability and fair working conditions for factory employees. So, basically, there’s a “planet” side and a “people” side of the matter – and both are important. And, to me, both of these issues fall under the broader concept of stewardship. Now, to those of you who are church-goers, this is a terribly church-y word, but just hear me out for a minute. Stewardship is, quite simply, about using our resources wisely. Those resources could be anything – time, money, food, fabric, even our bodies!

In the olden days, “stewards” were caretakers – they oversaw the proper management of farms, vineyards, property, etc. Today, we have the tremendous power and responsibility to be our own stewards. We have a great deal of resources at our disposal, and how we make use of them strongly affects our overall feeling of contentment and well-being.

Just typing that makes me start to feel the weight of that responsibility – oof! Good thing we have an entire lifetime to get this stuff figured out! So, with all that said, I wanted to just jot down a few ideas about how we can begin to work towards this goal, and also list a few places for further reading on the topic.

  1. One easy way to start thinking about good stewardship of our sewing resources is to support our small, local shops instead of the “big box stores.” Of course, this isn’t always possible depending on our geographic location and what particular items we need. However, in general, I try to support my friends in small businesses (special shout out to Grey’s Fabric!)
  2. It can be difficult to tell what fabrics have been produced under ethical conditions, both in terms of environmental impact and fair labor. However, more information is becoming available, and here are a few articles and bloggers I’ve been reading recently that have been helpful:

-the fashion blog Birds of a Thread. Although this is mostly a fashion blog, the author talks a lot about which companies have policies about ethical resourcing, and how to find clothing that has been fairly made. And she sews, too!

-the current issue of Seamwork has a great article on sustainable lingerie sourcing, which includes a lot of helpful information that can apply to other sewing as well.

Birch Fabrics and American Made Brand are two places to find sustainable, ethically made fabric. (I found both of these sites through the Modern Sewciety podcasts!)

  1. Reusing and recycling old fabrics is another great way to think about ethical sourcing! Zoe of So, Zo, What do you Know, Portia of Makery, and Suzannah of Create, Enjoy are some great examples of seamstresses who either refashion or use old clothes for fabric in new garments. This cuts down on waste, and also provides a fun sewing challenge!

Now, as I said at the beginning of this post, I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface thinking about this. So lest I become too preachy here (which is NOT my goal!), let me be the first to say that I have a very long way to go towards good stewardship of my sewing resources! In fact, a big part of why I am posting on this topic is to ask for your advice. Is this a topic you think a lot about? How do you go about finding supplies that have been produced ethically and sustainably? What are you top tips for those of us just starting down this road? I would love to hear about your experiences!

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Sewing Meditations, Week 1: More vs. Less

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again – Lent, the 40 days of voluntary fasting and observance in preparation for Easter. It is a time intended to help us reexamine our lives, helping us adjust priorities that may have gotten out of whack or curb addictive or other harmful behaviors. Last year I gave up fabric shopping for Lent – an interesting challenge that yielded some very beneficial results. This year, I’m giving up peanut butter. Needless to say, I don’t think it’ll be necessary to blog about this one :P.

However, one thing I did want to do this year in addition to giving something up is to have a weekly blog series on observance and mindfulness as it relates to sewing and our creative lives – a sort of sewing meditation, if you will. As I mentioned last year, Lent isn’t just about giving something up – it’s about reflective living and conscious choices. It’s about examining our priorities and taking a good, hard look at our hearts and lives to see where we might need to “clean house.” So, whether or not you observe Lent – or any religious tradition for that matter – I hope you’ll join me in this journey!

So for this first week of Lent, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the idea of “more vs. less.” We live in an age of constant advertising, which tries nonstop to convince us how we need more, more, MORE of everything. Every day, my email inbox is stuffed with ads from seemingly every place I’ve ever shopped – clothing stores, cooking supplies, home making, and so, so much more. And, of course, my heart does a little leap every time one of those emails combines the words “fabric” and “sale.” I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I’m literally programmed to look for the best deals and immediately pounce on them, since they only last for the next 24 hours! Or 12! Or 6! Seriously, how can I pass up that opportunity for free shipping?!

It sounds kind of funny when you put it like that, but it’s so true – we’re programmed to see the need for MORE, and as a result our barometer for ENOUGH is nearly nonexistent. Recently, I started reading a fascinating book called “Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful,” which is about mindful eating as is relates to diet and portion control. However, the book is about so much more than losing weight – it’s about training yourself to make mindful choices about food. The author encourages you to think about things like, “why do I feel like eating? Am I actually hungry – do I need food – or am I trying to fill an unmet emotional need?”

I’ve found I’m tempted to fabric shop in a similar way – feeling like I need to when, in fact, I simply don’t. Now, I’m not saying fabric shopping is a bad thing – not even close!! My only point here is simply that we have been carefully trained to shop without thinking (I mean, just think about all the inane pop music that plays in most clothing stores – they’re literally trying to turn off your brain! Either that or I’m a music snob…:P). Now, maybe you are already very mindful about how you procure your sewing resources – a lot of you already are! – but I know I’m not, and that it’s something I need to work on.

So, if I had to provide a conclusion from those thoughts, I would say that one new goal of mine will be to cultivate a higher sensitivity to my “wants” – when is it ok to indulge that shopping desire, and when should I abstain? As a result, I have a feeling that contentment – that illusive, highly-sought-after ideal – will follow as a natural outcome.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Valentine’s Surprise!

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! I hope you are able to spend some quality time with the folks you love today :). I’ve got some awesome cooking plans for me and my man, so I’m pretty pumped! Oh, and in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d show y’all my underwear ;).

That’s right, it’s happened, my friends. I have finally fallen down the lingerie-making rabbit hole. With what seems to be the entire sewing blogger community stitching up their own intimates, I decided it was high time I joined the fray!

I still remember the first time I thought about sewing bras. A little less than a year ago, Tasia at Sewaholic posted about her experience taking a bra making class, and showed off her lovely first makes. I remember thinking, “oh, that’s cool, but I’ll totally never do that.” But then she kept posting her gorgeous makes. Then I discovered that Madalynne was doing it too. Then pretty much the whole sewing community jumped in when the Cloth Habit Watson Bra pattern came out, and I was that one awkward kid standing alone at the edge of the pool while everyone else was already having fun. MY TURN.

So now here I am, five bras older and wiser. So far I’ve just been working with the Watson Bra pattern, but have plans to branch out soon. I had wanted to start out with one of the fun kits by Grey’s Fabric or Blackbird Fabrics, but they were both sadly sold out at the time I got the pattern, so I decided to be adventurous and get my own supplies. It turns out Britex has a lot of bra making materials, so I was able to get everything I needed there. I’m actually kind of glad I had to figure it out on my own – I already feel like I have a better handle on the whole bra making process after spending the time figuring out materials.

My store-bought bra size has always been a 32B, but when I measured myself according to Amy’s instructions, I was more like a 32A, so I went ahead with the smaller size. The nice thing about bras is that they’re fast and don’t require a ton of fabric, so you can always make another one! I made my first attempt out of a random scrap of knit fabric and some swimsuit lining (I quickly discovered that I had gotten the wrong kind of lining on my first trip to Britex – oops!), and was actually quite pleased with the result.

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The only fitting issue I noticed was that the band was a tad tight, so I added 1/4″ to the back band piece. However, the band relaxed a bit the more I wore it, so now in retrospect that probably wasn’t even necessary. One thing I wasn’t so fond of in that first bra (and is an issue I’m still trying to figure out – any input is appreciated!), and please excuse my bluntness here, was that it didn’t really disguise when things got a bit chilly, if y’all catch my drift. Now, I’m not sure if this is really a problem or not – it’s just not something I’m used to, having worn super padded bras most of my life. What are your opinions on this – is it considered unprofessional to show up to work in a soft bra like that, or is it no problem? My husband thought it was fine, but, well…

So for bra #2 I tried adding lining to the cup as well as the cradle. This didn’t entirely fix the issue, but I did like the feeling of being slightly more “covered.”

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…and I made matching undies!

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I’ve literally never cared about owning matching lingerie sets before in my life, and now all of a sudden, I want to make ALL THE MATCHING SETS. In fact, I never really cared about my lingerie in any respect before now, and the only time I willingly entered Victoria’s Secret was to shop for appropriate wedding undergarments :P.

Anyhow, more details:

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So, of course, after two bras, I was just getting started. Ha. To avoid overwhelming you with too much more info in one post, I’ll save most of the rest for later. But since it’s Valentine’s Day and all that, I thought it’d be fun to show off my lingerie for the occasion :).

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Rawr!

Adventures with Scuba – Diving Right In!

I know, I know, my puns are inexcusable. But sometimes I just can’t resist…

Seriously, though, have y’all heard of scuba knit fabric? It’s a pretty awesome textile that has been making its way through the sewing blogosphere in recent months, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on some. Scuba knit is exactly what it says it is – the stuff you make scuba gear out of! (Or, at least, that’s what I’ve always assumed – correct me if I’m wrong!!) Essentially, it acts like a firm double knit, and has a thick, squishy texture. One fun thing you can do with this fabric is leave the hem edges raw, since it’s extremely stable. It’s basically an all-around awesome fabric!

…and a few weeks ago, I finally added some to my stash! In the spirit of my blogging resolutions for 2015, I attended the January Bay Area Sewists meetup, arranged by the fabulous Chuleenan of C Sews. This particular meetup was a fabric swap, so we all brought bits of our stash to swap. I’d never done one of these before, but it was truly genius – I arrived with five pieces I didn’t want anymore and left with five pieces I couldn’t wait to sew up. And I didn’t pay a penny! (Well, I did later when we all went to Stone Mountain and Daughter, but that’s another story…). It was an amazing experience to meet so many other sewing enthusiasts of all ages. We even had a few men! I’m so thrilled I went. And I went home with a yard of scuba knit!

Since I didn’t have much to work with, I decided to make the Colette Mabel skirt, which is the perfect pattern for small amounts of stable knits. I spent quite a while studying the print of the fabric and trying to figure out how to make it match up at the seam lines. I got so close to getting it perfect, but the whole mirror-image thing with the back piece messed me up. I’m still kicking myself a little for not seeing that sooner! So one side seam matches up perfectly, but the other doesn’t. Alas. But I still managed to get a pretty good approximation with the bit of fabric I had left, so all in all I’m still pleased.

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As far as the fabric is concerned, I treated it like any old regular double knit and sewed the seams on my serger. I decided to leave the hem edge raw, and cut around the lace-like part of the print for a fun extra effect. I was quite proud if myself for thinking that up, and I really like the result!

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(I promise I didn’t cut the front crooked – it’s the way I’m standing)

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The one thing I’m not so thrilled about with this skirt is that it rides up terribly when I walk in it. If I’m mostly standing still, it stays in place just fine, but if I’m walking much at all (which is what I do pretty much all the time!!), it rides up so badly I start to get stares from passers-by. I think this is because the scuba is such a stiff fabric – on my other Mabels, which are made of drapier ponte, this isn’t such a problem. Oof. Has this ever happens to you? Any advice for fixing this??

So it will probably be reserved for “standing only” occasions like parties or dinner outings. But hey, for a free skirt, I’ll take that!

Oh, and p.s., my top is another Deer and Doe Plantain Shirt, made from a gorgeous bamboo/Lycra blend I got at Grey’s Fabric during my November visit. I made it up right before Christmas, and it has been in constant wardrobe rotation ever since!

P.p.s. I made the necklace too :P. And yes, it’s driving me bananas that it ended up crooked in these pics!

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