Slow(er) Fashion is for Everyone

decoration spool 1

A start-where-you-are, one-step-at-a-time, use-what-you-have, guide.

Here we are in Slow Fashion October again! It kind of snuck up on me, actually; we just got home from traveling for shows, and if it were any other challenge/focus for the month, I probably would have just let it go. But not this one—it’s too close to the heart of what I think is important. I remember last year being amazed at how articulate and thoughtful everyone was being around these topics on Instagram. As I sat down to write an introduction to where I’m at this year, I surprised myself with how much I cared about what I was writing, and the idea for this post sprang into my head.

I almost didn’t write it though. It just feels too big. I’ll never cover it all, and I’ll leave out things that are important … which I probably will. But it turns out I care more about what I want to say than about how I might screw it up, so here goes.

It bothers me when people complain about the idea of Slow Fashion being elitist or exclusive, because to me at the center it’s about buying less, and being more thoughtful. It’s about the power of choice, and the fact that every single choice makes a difference, whether or not it’s a difficult or expensive choice. It starts with small steps that almost everyone can absolutely do, today, and if we all moved just a little bit toward Slower Fashion, it would mean a massive shift in the way the fashion industry operates.

These steps are roughly in order of difficulty. Each one has actions (readily available things we can all do) and ways to level up (which are more involved and could also make a bigger difference), plus notes for those of us who already make part/most/all of our own clothes.

In case you are still wondering what all this is about or why the heck you should care (but miraculously still reading), I invite you to check out this article about how our level of clothing consumption has reached the point of totally overwhelming any market for secondhand clothes.

One last thing before we start: although I’ve tried my best to keep this list simple and actionable, trust me, I know it can seem like these are humongous problems, way too overwhelming for any one person. But I can honestly say that the deeper I dig, the more I come through the uncomfortable feelings into a space where I feel better about myself, and what I’m making and wearing, and even about my place in the world. Each of these actions, even the ones that seem simplest, can have ripple effects into the rest of our lives as well, making things seem just a little bit slower and saner. Taking it slower has been such a healthy and fulfilling choice for me on quite a few levels.

 

refashioning scraps

 
 

1. Buy Less

This step is available to anyone who is buying clothes, anywhere, and has a budget for anything more than the bare necessities. If everyone did only this—nothing more than being more thoughtful about what we bring into our closets—it would be a true fashion revolution. Opting out of the constant consumerism which is so much a part of our economy that it’s also part of our culture is a big deal.

Actions:
Before you purchase an item of clothing, ask yourself some of these questions:
Do I need this?
Can I see myself wearing this frequently? Does it go with what’s already in my closet?
When I look at this, what message does it send? Is that the message I want people to get when they see me?
Do I need this many?
Is this so cheaply made, or so trendy, that it won’t last me very long?
Am I shopping for something I really need, or is this “retail therapy”?

Level Up:
Try to buy pieces that will last longer, either because of more timeless style and/or more quality materials and construction. Instead of buying several cheaper pieces, wait and use the same funds towards one better quality item.
Unsubscribe from emails/newsletters/magazines etc. that make you think you always need more and promote seasonal “must have” items. If you enjoy shopping and contemplating your wardrobe, you might try a project like the Wardrobe Architect (designed for makers, but with exercises that work whether you make or buy most of your clothes) that encourages thinking about and honing a personal expression of style, rather than following trends.

For Makers:
I would not encourage you to be less creative, or spend less time using your hands and your favorite tools. However, it’s all too easy to switch from consuming finished goods to consuming materials, with as little thought to their origin and future usefulness. The same questions above can apply to fabric and yarn, or to potential makes. If you should find yourself in the enviable position of having already made everything you need, consider learning a new skill, taking on a longer/slower project, and/or making something for someone else who can really use it. Check out the very thoughtful Stash Less series for a lot of exploration of the emotional reasons we stock up our stashes, and ways to avoid doing it.

 

sw sweater palette

 
 

2. Care for Your Clothes

If we started treating our clothes like things we cared about, instead of disposable items, that would be another big cultural shift with big, positive ripple effects.

Actions:
Wash clothes only when they need it. When washing, soak clothes longer and agitate less. This may require turning off your washer and setting a timer to remind you to turn it back on. Use the delicate cycle.
Hand-wash. It’s ridiculously easy (and also saves money and chemicals if your alternative is dry cleaning). I wrote about my favorite method in this article for Seamwork.
Use a clothesline or a dying rack. It lets your clothes last longer (by saving the abrasion of the dryer) as well as saving energy.

Level Up:
Mend. Everyone should know how to sew on a button and do simple repairs. There’s no shame if you don’t though, as these skills have been largely abandoned. Luckily, they’ve been replaced by the internet, where you can find people willing to help you with almost anything (including right here on this site). There are even challenges and forums that focus on mending, like #visiblemending and #menditmay. Some locations also have in-person repair events (a fantastic idea)—check your local listings.

For Makers:
One of the benefits I’ve found of having a more handmade wardrobe is that it encourages me to take the best care of those clothes so they’ll last as long as possible. I’m not always the best about extending that care to my non-handmade clothes, or my husband’s non-handmade clothes … but that’s a step I could and should take.
Teaching your friends simple mending is another way to make a difference, and darning socks is way more fun in groups. Why not organize your own mending event?

 

What is that thing on the right anyway?  Not sure, a rug maybe?

 
 

3. Consider Origins & Life Cycles

This is where it gets sticky, but we’ll end with some hope. Acknowledging that the way most companies make clothes now does harm to the environment and/or to other humans, and that by buying those clothes (or that fabric) we are complicit in that harm, feels bad I know. But I also think that we have to know where we are in order to move on and make better choices. The other hard part is that this is where the choices get narrower. Clothes that are produced more sustainably and with fair labor practices are more expensive than clothes that aren’t, because the ones that aren’t are carrying a bunch of hidden costs we aren’t paying in money—but we are paying them in environmental damage and bad conditions for workers. As we hopefully move towards a more sustainable fashion future, it will almost certainly mean all of us buying fewer clothes, and paying more for them. I hope that we can navigate this transition with fairness both to the people making the clothes (and the ecosystems that produce the raw materials) and to the people buying them, but I definitely don’t have all the answers here.
Here are the icky facts: synthetic fibers (like polyester & nylon) are made from the same stuff plastic is: oil and tar … plus increasing evidence shows that just washing these fibers releases tiny synthetic bits that make their way all the way into oceans and the food chain. Most chemical dyes are toxic, and few of the countries where fabrics are now produced have good enough environmental regulations to prevent them being released into waterways and harming human health. Most yarns and fabrics are also treated with other harmful chemicals (bleach, agents that change the hand or finish, etc.) before they come to us. If, as that article on textile waste states, there is enough of these chemicals left in our garments once they reach the landfill to leach into the groundwater, surely they are also leaching into the wash water, and probably onto our skin.
Now that you’re thoroughly freaked out, may I remind you to take this one step at a time, and do the parts that seem achievable today. Some of this is subjective, or depends more on the individual case. Is it better to buy polyester made from recycled pop bottles, or non-organic cotton? I don’t know either … but I’m making my way as best I can.

Actions:
Choose natural fibers. I’ve been making this choice for a long time, out of personal preference and knowing that they wear better than synthetics, but knowing about the micro-fibers in the ocean cements this one for me. Even if they are treated with chemicals, biodegradable fibers usually find an easier place in the ecosystem.
Buy quality whenever you can. Pieces that last longer save resources.
Buy secondhand.
When buying new, buy things produced in countries with good labor practices and environmental regulations (such as the one you live in?) whenever you can.
If you can afford a couple of really special, locally made, responsibly sourced items of clothing (or the materials to make them), please buy them! But if you can’t, your choices still make a difference.
Pass on unwanted clothes responsibly.

Level Up: (Most of this boils down to research.)
Consider raw materials individually. For example, it takes less water and fewer pesticides to grow linen or hemp than cotton.
Choose minimally processed, low-impact dyed, and certified organic fabrics if at all possible. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label, which covers all stages of production. I’m not going to lie, these can be hard to find, and looking for them puts you in danger of being labeled a hippie. Nevertheless, more mainstream brands are starting to offer organic options, especially for cotton. (I found GOTS certified sheets at Target this year, very reasonably priced.)
Buy from brands that have a commitment to fair labor. Often these brands are concerned about the environment as well, so starting with either one can lead to both. The more questions we ask, the better. Searching for “ethical fashion” will give you a bunch of places to start.
Organize a clothing swap with your friends (this is an especially good way to pass on handmade/special items you aren’t using, and make sure they get a home with someone who will appreciate them).
Look for charities near you that can actually use your old clothes, and donate there.

For Makers:
You know the bad news here already: making something yourself does not erase the environmental or labor impact of the materials you’re using. The good news is: it’s easier to find responsibly made materials than finished clothes, and the more of the process you’re doing yourself (i.e. knitting or spinning your own) the more available and reasonably priced those materials tend to be. I have a list of sources for more sustainable fabrics, and there’s a good roundup of resource lists from the end of Slow Fashion October last year. It seems there are more American-made, domestically-spun yarns every time I turn around, which is a great thing! I know the local wool movement is also going strong in Britain, and probably other places as well …

 

TOCMC cotton 4

Photo courtesy of Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Co-op

 
 

4. Make

Making your own clothes is the final frontier of fashion independence, and opens up a new world of choices, both stylistically and in materials (new and repurposed). If these are skills you aspire to, start with small, doable projects (ahem, mending) and get a feel for the tools and materials. You’ll be able to grow your skills quickly, especially if you can find a good mentor/teacher.

Actions:
Try a new skill, like knitting or sewing. There are about a million tutorials and friendly folks online if you can’t find someone to help you in person. If you can, you’ll get a head start. Look for classes or ask crafty friends. Be patient with yourself, especially if you’re not used to working with your hands. New skills take practice, but they’re so worth it.

Level Up:
Already knit or sew? Try spinning! I’m only a little bit kidding. Spinning is aaaamazing, and perhaps the ultimate expression of slow fashion.
Learn any other new skill you’ve wanted to try. Leatherwork? Natural dyeing? Each one only increases the possibilities of what you could make, and for me at least, feeds into the creative whole with new ideas.

For Makers:
Help the new makers!

 

cartoon with both threaded small

 

So, I hope you’re convinced that you don’t have to run out and get a sheep and start from scratch in order to make a difference. (But if you want to do that, I totally have your back!)

I’d welcome your thoughts, resources, notes about things I forgot … take care everyone!

 

DIY Fabric Shower Curtain

 

fabric-shower-curtain-2

 

Hello everybody, it’s been a little while! I’m a firm believer in blogging whenever you can and feel inspired, not on a pre-ordered schedule, and I also think that most blogging apologies are a waste of time and just make you feel bad. Still, it’s been much longer than I meant it to be, and I’d like to echo Molly’s sentiments on Orangette: if I ever decide to leave this space for good, I’ll tell you so. It seems only fair. The way she puts it at the end of that post is so good.

The first reason for my losing track of online things was one of the better ones: for the second time ever, we hosted our annual family and friends craft retreat at my house last month. The first time we hosted it, two years ago, was when I had an inspiration—the infinite to-do list—that started a big difference in my thinking.

I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself this time. I felt calm and relaxed in the lead-up, and I even slept well before and during at least the first part of the week—proof that I’ve made progress as a human lately, and let go of some anxiety, even the good kind that’s more like excitement. (If you need this too, may I highly recommend the book The Three Marriages by David Whyte, which is full of deep insights about things in general, and came into my life at exactly the right time. You can also listen to a good interview with him from On Being.)

It was one of those times when being calmer and going slower actually ended up meaning that I got more done. We cleaned off the back porch, for instance, which probably hadn’t been done in the two intervening years …

And I made a new shower curtain! Well, “made” might be exaggerating somewhat. I took a length of wide fabric, hemmed it, installed some grommets, and there we go.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-1

 

I’d like to apologize to all of our previous guests for the old shower curtain, a cheap vinyl thing with one ripped eyelet, which someone bought right as we were moving into our house a decade or so ago, and had been there in various states of nastiness ever since. Incidentally, I also figured out that if I actually took the vinyl thing down, soaked it in the tub with vinegar and dish soap, and took a scrub brush to it, it came out clean—enough better that I decided to save it in case I need a waterproof something.

Back to the new curtain though: I’ve been slowly moving more and more away from synthetic materials and towards natural ones for all kinds of reasons. I got another push that way when I found out that polyester and nylon clothes shed tiny synthetic fibers in the wash which eventually find their way into the oceans, enter the food chain when they’re eaten by small critters, and never break down. I first heard about this on Science Friday a while back (but cannot now find the specific program). It came up again recently on Root Simple. This was one of those last-straw moments. I’m convinced, I’m done with that, and I’ve been trying harder not to buy any synthetic fabrics.

So I wanted a natural fiber shower curtain, and as I was looking for one and researching options, it occurred to me that I had in my stash some wide cotton fabric which was basically what I was looking for—lightweight but tightly woven. And with stripes!

I measured the old curtain to figure out what length would work best (a little shorter than standard turns out to be good for my tub) and if one width of the fabric would be enough (it was, but you could always add a seam if not).

I made a deep hem on the bottom, and a narrower one at the top. The hardest part was hammering in the grommets. Typically for me, I liked the “wrong” side of the fabric better since it’s a little more textured and subtle, so I put that on the outside.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-3

 

I had a few questions, but figured it was worth trying to see what would happen. Would plain cotton keep the water inside my shower? Yes it did! Would a deep hem be enough to weigh down the bottom? It was! To be on the safe side as far as mildew, I’ve been wringing the curtain out after I shower, and then spreading it out as much as possible to dry. So far, it’s working really well, and it’s so much nicer to look at than the old one, it’s fairly ridiculous. I also like the idea that I can take this one down, put it in through the washer, and hang it to dry in the sun once a month or so, which should actually be easier than cleaning the vinyl one.

If you wanted a sheer curtain, or a liner for a more decorative fabric on the outside, I suspect that silk organza would be amazing (although I haven’t tried it, not having that much on hand). Something so thin but crisp and tightly woven should dry almost instantly, and look beautiful. Oh printed silk …

Anyway, I hope this give you all some ideas!

It feels good to be writing here, and I intend to do it again soon.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-4

 

Origins, Materials, and Connections

 

This spring, I explored cotton growing in the US—I interviewed organic farmers in Texas, read some fascinating history, and pulled seeds out of a cotton boll to try spinning them myself. Most of that research went into an article for Seamwork, which comes out today. It also ties in well with what I’ve been thinking about around the one Year, one Outfit project, which was the reason I bought local(ish) cotton fabric in the first place, and got curious about where it came from. I’m coming up on a full year since I jumped into that project, and I’d like to talk a little more personally here about what I’ve gotten out of it so far.

For #1year1outfit I pledged to buy new fabric only if it was made in the US, and the fiber was organically grown or otherwise considered sustainable. It’s easy to see a choice like that as restrictive, claustrophobic, or even self-righteous. But like a lot of similar times, I found that I was more creative because of the limitations I had set. I learned a lot, because the project encouraged me to look more deeply into everything from the environmental impacts of textile production to what it’s like to be a cotton farmer. But the best thing I got out of it was a feeling of connectedness and participation with the people, plants and animals that make what I do possible.

 

TOCMC cotton 1

I’d like to sincerely thank Kelly Pepper of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, who was so helpful in connecting me with farmers, answering questions, and also lent me the use of more great photos of cotton growing than I could use for the article. All photos in this post are courtesy of TOCMC.

 

I read Environmental Impact of Textiles by Keith Slater (borrowed through interlibrary loan). It was full of statistics and graphs as I expected, but also contained insights about the contrast between processing fibers by hand and by machine that I didn’t expect at all. Slater points out that tools for turning fiber into fabric by hand are relatively easy to make, and often operate on human power, burning little or no carbon in the process. Selecting the best quality fibers by hand takes more time and so is more costly, but it results in a better product, less waste, and less energy used. In contrast, the machinery needed to process fibers (“millions of tiny particles of flexible units”) at the speed necessary to satisfy demand must be “massive, complex, and expensive,” use huge amounts of energy, be environmentally costly to make, and concentrate the impacts of production (from noise to waste) in one place.

I learned that one of the most environmentally problematic areas in textile production is dyeing and printing (as well as other chemicals used in manufacturing and finishing fabrics). Most of these substances are toxic and/or carcinogenic, especially the first synthetic dyes developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, and used to be released freely into waste water. Thankfully, at least in the developed world, we now have regulations to protect our water and our textile workers, as well as some less-harmful dyes that have been developed more recently.

Textile production is a relatively small part of worldwide manufacturing and resulting environmental impacts, totaling less than 1% according to Slater, including transportation, machinery, and everything else he could find to calculate. Still it’s an area where we, the consumers, have a lot choice in what we buy, and I believe, we can have a big impact.

Ultimately, what I took away is that nothing comes from “the store,” or goes “away” when we’re done with it, even though our consumer culture very much wants us to believe that it does. Everything has an origin, and is part of a cycle of people and things that includes us, whether we’re aware of the rest of it or not. I want to know my place in that cycle, and respect the other participants in it—both the humans and the animals and plants, the communities and soils that make my life possible.

 

TOCMC cotton 2

 

I just finished reading an amazing book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s kind of heartbreaking, actually, since she spells out what we in the Western world and in the US specifically have done to both the native peoples and the native landscape, and it’s inescapably tragic. But, she also offers a lot of hope, and a vision of how the world could be if we behaved as though we were part of it, participating in and nurturing the ecosystems around us, instead of pretending that we’re somehow separate from the rest of the universe. Of all the beautiful, powerful, potentially life-changing books I’ve read in the last year or two, this is the one I most wish everyone would read, the one that I think might be have the most potential to move hearts into action.

Braiding Sweetgrass reinforced my belief that our choices matter, the little things matter, and also that so very often when we do the best we can for the world around us, it ends up being the best thing for us too, bringing more joy and connectedness to our lives. I believe that a big part of the satisfaction which many of us feel is missing from our lives comes from a lack of participation with the world around us, and that part of how we can bring ourselves into a healthy relationship with the universe we belong to is to participate in its natural cycles as makers and creators. To me, this is the best part of using local and traceable materials; I can visualize the system I’m part of, the fields and farmers who grew the fiber that I’m now sewing and wearing.

 

TOCMC cotton 3

 

After this experience, I can’t go back to using anonymous, supposedly source-less materials—it would just feel so hollow. My year of #1year1outfit is over, but I’ve been changed by this project, by realizing the deeper connections that are possible. Although I may want to work with fabrics or yarns that no one is making near me (or even in the US), I can’t see myself choosing anything that I don’t know how and where it was made, that I can’t picture how it connects me to other hands, and fields, and creatures.

When I started this project, figuring out where my materials came from and tracing things back to the source seemed daunting and confusing. And it’s still true that taking any finished product (even fabric) and figuring out who made it can be nearly impossible. At this point, I’m looking at it more from the other side: what do I know is being made well, and what can I do with it? I’m looking for materials available with origins I trust, and they seem like more than enough to fuel my creativity for quite a while.

 

A few more Resources:

Through TOCMC I found out about Adele Stafford who is doing amazing work hand-weaving and making garments with US fibers, and writing so poetically about it at Voices of Industry.

Sally Fox has been experimenting with growing naturally colored cotton and biodynamic agriculture since the 1980s. She has fabric and yarn at FoxFibre, and pictures on Instagram.

My list of sources for sustainable fabrics is here.

The fabric I printed for one Year, one Outfit is here, the skirt I made from it is here.

 

Sustainable, American-Made Garment Fabric — I Found Some …

A big announcement, and a list of sources:

Hello dear fellow makers! I’m actually not sure where to start with this … I’m either feeling deadly calm or like I might jump out of my skin. So here goes—sometimes, you just ask the right question to the right person, and then there you are. Remember when I was fed up with the NYC garment district, joined up with One Year, One Outfit, and vowed to contact Imperial Stock Ranch* because they had made a fashion collection using fabrics from wool grown on their ranch and entirely made in USA? Well. I did. Jeanne Carver, who owns the ranch along with her husband, wrote me back. She had some fabric left from the collection (!!). She offered to sell it to me, so I could offer it to you (!!!). Big bolts of two of these fabrics, basically the wool of my dreams, are in a huge box in my studio, and on offer to the whole online sewing community via my Etsy shop, starting today (!!!!). All the details about the fabrics are there.

*The story of the ranch is really amazing, and way too much to tell here.  Check out this article if you’re interested, which also has some nice pictures of Jeanne and her sheep.

 

striped imperial fabric 1My idea was to photograph these fabrics in a way that was fresh and felt personal, giving you an idea of what is would be like to wear them, and also conveying how lovely they are and how fabric like this might be all we need.  But yes, I am wearing clothes underneath …

 

I can’t believe it! Can we jump up and down now?! I’m trying to be calm for another minute or so, because this may in fact not be the most exciting part. The MOST exciting part is that, according to Jeanne, even though only about 7% of the American textile industry that once was remains today, we can still make any kind of fabric we want here in the USA. So, the most important thing you can do to make more fabrics like this a reality (other than, obviously, tell everyone you know, and buy some if you can!) is to tell us what you most want. If we make another run of fabric (a lot of just a few types) with Imperial wool, what would you buy? What would you want to make—a coat? A dress? A suit?! What are the qualities that make a wool fabric special to you?

 

black imperial fabric 1The black fabric is hard to show here but truly lovely.  Check out the listing for more detail photos.

Since Karen asked, and since I feel like we’re really on the cusp of something here—a growing interest in how our fabrics are made and where they come from which I very much want to be a part of—I’m also going to list the other suppliers of traceable, sustainable fabrics I’ve found so far below. I did a lot of this research while looking for fabrics for my One Year, One Outfit project, and I also love how much discussion is going on around this as a result of Slow Fashion October, so here you go:

 

Fabrics Made in USA

Organic Cotton Plus is probably the most comprehensive source I have so far. They have a big “Made in USA” section of organic cotton fabrics grown and processed here. They carry lots of undyed and colorgrown fabrics, both knit and woven.

Alabama Chanin is just all kids of cool, sustainable, and handmade, and they sell American made organic cotton jersey in 50 colors! I haven’t tried it myself yet, but since it’s the same fabric used in their collections it should be awesome.

Vreseis is the shop of Sally Fox, the pioneer of colorgrown cotton in the US. Everything she does is done with so much thoughtfulness. She’s now raising sheep and wheat to make a true biodynamic farm. Her shop offers a few fabrics, as well as yarns and fiber.

O! Jolly! is a newer, smaller, knit-fabric-making operation. Her commitment to sustainability comes through a little more in this interview on Ginger Makes (where I found her) than on her website, but she does offer colorgrown cottons, and lists origins and knitting locations for some of the fabrics, including some new wool knits which list the breed of sheep and that they’re American raised—yahoo!

Honey Be Good also specializes in organic fabrics and has a “Made in USA” section, which as of writing has mostly wooden buttons, and some printed jersey.

 

Fabrics Made Elsewhere

Simplifi Fabric (which I found through Sew Pomona’s list) has a fairly big section of fabrics made in Canada (and a few in the USA).

Hell Gate Fabrics is a new venture from Sonja of Ginger Makes, bringing us fabrics made mostly in Japan, where labor and environmental practices are much better than in many other countries producing textiles.  She plans to expand her selection of organic fabrics as her suppliers do.

The Fabric Store is where I found the organic merino jersey (from New Zealand) I used to make these tops.  It’s holding up well so far!  This store has locations in Australia, NZ, and Los Angeles.  Although they don’t have a full-service website, they do have a very friendly and comprehensive swatch service if you tell them what you’re looking for.

Offset Warehouse carries fabrics from all over, and they are quite transparent about where each fabric comes from and how it was made, if it is certified organic or sustainable, etc. They carry some truly beautiful and low-carbon handwoven/handprinted fabrics from around the world.

Many of the participants in One Year, One Outfit have been doing their own research and listing resources near them. You can find them listed here.

If you’re a nerd like me you can also browse the GOTS listings to find businesses making all kinds of things certified under Global Organic Textile Standards wherever you live. I haven’t made any amazing discoveries by doing this yet, but you never know …

 

black imperial fabric 2Bryan kept coming up with slogans like “fall in love with fabric again” as we were shooting these photos.  I like this one because it feels true, and it reminds me that doing something you feel great about can also be fun.

 

Really, the list of sustainable fabric sources is not as sparse as I thought it would be going in. One thing is clear to me: we make a difference when we choose to buy our materials with some thought and care as to how they’re made! The more demand there is for sustainable fabric, the more of it there can be. So, who’s with me? What’s your dream fabric?! Maybe we can make it happen!

 

Heat Setting Fabric Ink, and “Green” Printing

Heat setting is the last step for a lot of fabric inks, including the ones I used for stamping (Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink).  The heat bonds the ink permanently to the fabric, so you can wash it and your design won’t come off.

So, how to do it.  The most foolproof method is what the manufacturer recommends: ironing.

After the fabric ink dries on the fabric, set a household iron at the highest dry heat (no steam) that will not scorch the fabric and with a cloth or paper between the iron and printed material, iron on each side for 3 – 5 minutes. This will make the ink withstand repeated washings.

from speedballart.com

 

The first time that I did screen printing and stamping, I decided to look for alternatives, since I wasn’t too excited about ironing each part of the skirt I had stamped as directed above.  I emailed the company to ask about other methods, and just how hot the ink needs to get.  I got a helpful answer back, including the answer, 350-375° F, and the suggestion that I could try heating my items in the oven.

 

My oven set method: Preheat your oven to 400 with an extra metal pan inside to pour water into.  Boil some water.  Fold your printed piece and wrap in scrap cloth or place inside an old T-shirt, so that any scorching or oven gunk goes on that and not your creation.  You can also put old fabric or paper between items if you are worried about transfer of ink.  Don’t make your fabric bundle so dense that it will take too long for heat to reach all of it.  Place your bundle on a cookie sheet.  When the oven gets up to temperature, turn it off.  Open the door and pour a cup or two of boiling water into the extra pan.  Quickly pop in your cookie sheet and shut the door again. Leave everything inside with the door shut for 10 minutes.  If you have an oven thermometer and a window in your oven, you should be able to check that the temperature stays above 350° for at least a few minutes.  Common sense note, this method will not work for synthetics (although I did a partly polyester apron and it seems fine) or anything that will melt at those temps. If you have a piece with meltable parts, like nylon bag handles, you will need to iron the design/printed part only.

 

I have had good success with this oven method, I did the skirt below this way, without a steam pan, and it has survived years of washing and wearing without any noticeable fading in the design whatsoever.  In fact, I remember that I washed it before reading the manufacturer recommendation that you wait a week before washing the first time, and as I said it still looks great!  Some other folks that I shared the oven method with (and even myself once, when I didn’t turn off the oven – not a good experiment) have had some problems with fabric scorching around the edges.  I came up with adding the steam pan, since fabric can usually take practically any heat without scorching as long as the heat is wet.  I heat set a big batch of dish towels this way with my friend Megan a couple years ago, I checked in with her and she said that those designs have held up to lots of use and washing as well.

 

 

A couple of things that didn’t work: as extra insurance against scorching I tried wetting the old towel that I wrapped my last piece in before putting it in the oven.  Everything smelled like warm steamy fabric, but I don’t think it got hot enough inside.  I have also heard that some people use a commercial dryer, so I snuck into the laundromat with a couple of samples from my latest stamping day with friends.  I put all these test pieces though the wash 6 times, as I was doing laundry between then and now, and hung them on the line to dry.  They all show significant fading and some of the motifs are totally gone.  So for now my best suggestions are the ironing and oven methods above, I will of course post an update if I come up with a new and better way!

 

 

One more thing I’d like to talk about, and this seems as good a place as any, eco-friendly printing!  Part of what I love about DIY is the ability to turn something you wouldn’t use into something you will, and save resources and cash.  I hate it when I realize that I’m wasting supplies, or sending lots of extra stuff to the landfill when I’m crafting.

My tips for “green” fabric stamping are: for clean up, you only need a cup’s worth of water and an old toothbrush, and a rag.  When your hands or tools get messy, rinse them in the water, then wipe them on the rag.  Heat set the rag when you’re done to use again (it looks cool).  Reuse paint mixing cups by pouring out excess paint (into the trash, or onto something else?) and letting them dry before putting them away.  I use one plastic spoon to scoop paint for each primary color, and one to mix each new color.  I let all the spoons dry at the end and save them for next time.  The foam brushes I rinse in the clean-up cup, then a final time in the sink, and again let dry.  If you use something that’s still useful with paint on it, like a mailing box, under your paint jars to protect the table, the total waste is down to a little unused paint!

Well, that’s about it for this project, please feel free to add comments if you try printing, how does it work for you?  I’d love to hear more ideas for heat setting as well!  Stay tuned for more DIY . . .

 

Stamping on Fabric – With Hand Carved Stamps and Household Objects

 

Ok, so now you have a hand carved stamp.  Or, maybe you don’t yet.  How about stamping with something you already have around your house?  And, what gets me excited about either of these options: being able to use them on fabric and clothing.

 

 

Before we discuss fabric ink and stamping, let me talk briefly about how I set up these buttons as stamps.  I got this idea from a really creative slideshow (on Martha Stewart of all places) which illustrates using all kinds of things you might find around your house to make some interesting designs.  My favorite was the buttons.  Some things already have an easy point to grab them by without getting your fingers covered in ink (like long pieces of wood, which you can see printed in the top photo), but buttons, not so much.  I cut some pieces from a leftover dowel and a small wood block, just using a clamp and a handsaw, they don’t have to be perfect in any way.  I did some quick online research and a couple of sources suggested using some kind of foam to back your stamps, to give them a little more give for even printing.  This seemed like a good idea since buttons are pretty much hard to begin with.  I used tiny pieces of dish packing type foam (we get it as packing material with some supplies) glued to the back of each button and its piece of wood with ATG, which once again I borrowed from the photo studio.  You can use any type of glue as long as it will hold the object and be water-resistant enough to be rinsed after you stamp.  And, you could use just about anything squishy for the foam, just cut the pieces smaller than your object, otherwise the edges of the foam may print.

 

 

Ok, time to stamp!  For ink, I used Speedball Water-Based Textile Screen Printing Ink.  I have gotten it from Blick, local art stores, and chain stores.  On the jar, it just says FABRIC Screen Printing Ink, but if you look on the side it also says water based and non-toxic.  I really like that you can thin this ink as much as you want with water, and you don’t have to worry about it if you get it on your hands, which is pretty much inevitable.  Plus it is permanent on fabric with heat setting.  It comes in lots of colors.  I like to mix my own using the three primary colors; the “process” cyan, magenta, and yellow will give truer mixing results than the regular red blue and yellow.  You’ll also need white and black.  A tip I learned from Lena Corwin’s book Printing by Hand (I highly recommend this book if you are interested in more about printing!) is that mixing in a little of both white and black will give you a more subtle color (less screaming bright) and I love subtle colors.

To set up for printing, you’ll need ink, a little water for mixing, and more for washing things off (a big cup full with an old toothbrush for scrubbing is perfect) and a wet rag to wipe your hands and tools on after you rinse.  It’s easier to print on thin fabrics if you put down an old towel underneath to give the surface a little more give, which can allow more details of the stamp to print.  Putting all this on a big table you can wipe off is ideal, and it’s nice to have something under the messy ink part to catch drips.  I used a box since I figured it would still be good for shipping with ink on it.  I used one spoon to get out each color, one to mix my color with, and a small foam brush to hold the ink for stamping.  I let the spoons dry when I’m done, and wash the foam brushes to save for the next time.

 

 

When mixing ink colors, start with as little ink as you can, you’ll add more as you decide what to add to get the color you’re looking for (a color wheel can help here), plus you’ll be adding water, and stamping doesn’t take very much ink in any case.  Keep in mind that the ink will dry slightly darker in color than it looks wet.

Having scrap fabric to test on is essential!  The closer the fabric is in type, weight and color to your intended project, the better you’ll be able to see how the stamps are coming out.  For this project, I just used a small section on the edge of my fabric for testing, changing the color or the dilution of the ink a little bit at a time and waiting a couple of minutes to see how the results looked as they dried.

I like the ink to be absorbed into the fabric so that it doesn’t leave a hard or crunchy surface, but looks more like a dye.  To get this effect, I add water until the ink slowly drips from the foam brush when I lift it up.  The consistency you want may vary with your fabric, again, testing is key!

 

 

Here is my best fabric stamping tip: squeeze the ink out of the foam brush until it’s not dripping, and only releases ink when you press on it, like a stamp pad.  Then, gently press your stamp or object against the sponge to get a coat of paint.  You can see which parts are going to print by where the ink is on the stamp or object.

 

 

Keep the foam brush in one hand, and bring your stamp back to it for a fresh coat each time you print it.  The sponge will hold enough ink for a bunch of stamps before it needs more from the cup.

I found that a light coating of ink, and a soft rolling motion against the fabric with each stamping helped the full possible detail of the buttons to print.

 

 

That’s about it!  I place my stamps pretty much randomly, alternating whichever ones I am working with until I get a design density that I like.  It helps to step back and take a look, especially if you are printing something big that you can’t work on all at once.

For troubleshooting, take a look at the very top photo (click to enlarge it).  If you have too much ink on the stamp or the ink is too watery, it will spread out all around your stamp and the detail of the design will be lost.  Clean the stamp off, squeeze more ink out of your sponge, press it gently on just the surface of the stamp and try again.  If it’s still too flowy, add more ink to your color to reduce the water content.  If you don’t have enough ink on the stamp, you’ll get a pale ghost of an image.  If the ink is thick, like it comes out of the jar, it will dry harder and raised on the surface of your fabric, which you may want, depending on your design. If your fabric is wrinkled, iron it before you start.  Soft wrinkles won’t get in the way too much, but if you stamp over a crease, you can see it when the crease opens up.

One last troubleshooting thing: some objects print better than others.  Some of the buttons I tried had details too fine to print, but this will depend a lot on what fabric and how much ink you use, so test it out!

 

 

Here’s my finished button printed fabric.  I think it may become a skirt.

 

 

Stamping is also awesome for reviving finished clothes or linens that are a little too plain.  I used some of my aunt Barb’s hand made stamps to decorate this previously just beige thrift store skirt.

 

 

While your stamped fabric is drying, it’s worthwhile to clean off your tools, since this ink can eventually clog your stamps if left to dry.  Using the old toothbrush and a little water from your clean-up cup works great.

Next time, I’ll post about heat setting the ink, lots of options for this important step that makes the finished product washable!  Plus, a little bit about “green” crafting and less waste from what we make.

In the meantime, have you tried something similar?  I’d love to know what you did and how it came out!