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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Solved: Leggings

 

The best thing about making a pledge or taking a challenge may be that it pushes us to find out what’s possible if we stay within certain boundaries. For example: this winter, I found myself in need of some new warm leggings, and a couple of challenges I had in one form or another meant I needed to be creative about how I got them. The results were so good—almost certainly better than whatever I would have come up with without the challenge.

 

upcycled leggings 1

 

One of my wardrobe goals is to have enough of the right clothes for winter so that I’m cozy (in other words not always cold and therefore slightly grouchy). For the coldest months, it turns out that means wearing an extra warm layer under pants or a long skirt pretty much every day. I’ve already figured out that wool and silk are much warmer than cotton knits (plus I love everything else about wool). I’m still following my fabric-buying pledge from #1year1outfit (until a full year has gone by this summer), which meant I couldn’t hop online and order lovely wool fabrics from New Zealand, even if they are organic. There are a few totally beautiful made-in-USA wool knits out there, but let’s be honest, I also have a budget. I can’t afford to splurge on every project, and I don’t want to for something like this where I frankly don’t care too much what it looks like, as long as it feels good and works well.

I was thinking about going to the thrift store for something else, and somehow I got the idea that maybe if I found a big enough fine-gauge men’s sweater, I could make leggings out of that. Such, such a good idea!

My layout works like this: I cut off the waistband of the sweater, including a little bit above it for seam allowance, and save it for the waistband of the leggings. I flip the sweater inside out and trim off the seams as closely as I can to separate the front from the back. (After making so many hats from reclaimed cashmere, I am an expert at deconstructing sweaters.) Then I remove the sleeves, in this case leaving the sleeve seams intact as much as possible. The front and back often have fairly different shapes (and a lot of times different grainlines) so I separate them completely at the shoulders after the sleeves are off, and cut from them separately. I cut the top potion of the leggings pattern from the front and back of the sweater, however they best fit. The lower leg comes from the sleeves, utilizing the sleeve cuff as the ankle.

 

sweater to leggings drawing

 

I used the same Espresso Leggings pattern as my first custom fit pair—there’s no going back from custom fit! The lower arm of the sweater was actually a little smaller than the original cuff on my pattern, but it stretched to fit over my ankle just fine. I laid the folded leg pattern over the sleeve, and started to cut where the leg became smaller than the sleeve.

For sewing, I joined the lower leg to the upper leg flat, pressed the seam open, and sewed down the seam allowances for a non-bulky join. Just don’t forget to add a seam allowance to the upper and lower leg when you’re cutting.

As I sewed the inside leg seams, I just merged my seamline into the original seam of the sleeve when I got to that point.

 

upcycled leggings 2

 

Working on these, I thought a lot about stretch and recovery in knits. All the sweaters I used had about the same horizontal stretch as the fabric I bought for the very first pair; with 4” stretching to about 7”, or 1.75%, so I could use the same size pattern. The sweaters had almost no vertical stretch though, which made the first pair of sweater-cut leggings feel a bit shorter on top than I wanted, so I slashed the pattern and added ¼” vertically above and below the crotch point.

I ended up cutting the ribbing for waistband much shorter than the top of the leggings, since it could stretch much further. The ribbing alone wasn’t quite enough to hold the leggings up, although I loved how it looked. For the charcoal pair, I added wide elastic on top (it may possibly have come off a pair of Bryan’s boxers with worn fabric). This holds up the leggings no problem. The elastic has the recovery needed, but it actually won’t stretch as far as the ribbing, so I had to cut it a little longer. This can make the waist look a little wrinkly by itself, but it all stretches out smooth on the body.

For the second blue/periwinkle pair, I wanted to see if I could use slightly less wide/firm elastic, so I tried some of the bra-band kind from my stash, which is soft on one side, inside the ribbing. That works too, leggings stay up with no problem.

 

upcycled leggings 3

 

The third green sweater had a narrow hem instead of ribbing at the waist. I decided to use that as a casing for narrow elastic, cutting two sections from the waistband and catching the elastic in the seams. After wearing this pair a couple of times, the jury is still out on whether it could use slightly wider elastic/more pull inside the casing … but if so it would be easy enough to unpick the little vertical seams at the top and sew it in.

 

upcycled leggings 4

 

Overall, I’m super happy with how these turned out! I answered a few leftover questions from the first-ever pair; like would elastic be enough to hold them at the low-waist level I like (a resounding yes!) and would they work in 100% wool (a big yes again!). Despite the fact that the pattern recommends fabrics with Lycra or Spandex, I like the all-wool version much better (the green and grey pairs are Merino, and the periwinkle is cashmere). These float like a warm soft cloud just touching my skin. They feel amazing and don’t bind in any way. If I were dancing on stage in them, I might care that the knees look a little baggy by the end of the day, but since these are under-layers only, I don’t at all.

So I’m officially set on leggings for a few winters at least! We’ll see how these hold up. They should be fairly easy to patch if needed, since I have the pattern and scraps. I consider the used sweaters a sustainable material source, especially since I can utilize ones that have small stains or holes in them (the little stitched leaves on the green pair are covering former holes in the original sweater). Making leggings this way keeps me within my pledge and my budget. Plus they’re awesome.

If you want to try this, go for it! For my fairly-small-but-very-pair-shaped figure, I need to start with a men’s extra-large sweater to cut the pieces as illustrated. Of course, you can patchwork them a little more if needed. The green sweater was in really good shape (except for the holes), so I got it even though it was a little smaller. I ended up piecing in wedges at the inner thigh to make up for not having quite enough width across the sweater body. It worked fine, but it was a little mind-bending to make sure all the pieces had the right shape and seam allowance, so I don’t recommend it for your first try.

Happy stitching!

 

upcycled leggings 5

 

Every Day

 

Here’s what I made with my special natural-dye printed fabric as part of my one Year, one Outfit project: an every day skirt.  In fact I designed the print with this skirt in mind.  Keep reading for some skirt-construction details, as well as thoughts about what I figured out and where I’m going with #1year1outfit after this.

 

1year1outfit skirt 2

 

For the pattern, I copied a skirt my aunt gave me ages ago.  It’s one of those items that I probably would never have picked on my own, but once it was in my wardrobe I wore it non-stop.  I can’t describe it better than to say that it’s the perfect shape for biking in: wide enough for easy movement but not so wide that it flips up in the breeze.

 

me with early plane 2The original skirt at the Udvar-Hazy Center during Me-Made-May ’12 (I made the pink top).

 

This skirt seemed appropriate for practically every activity.  The large-scale, colorful print also seemed to go with everything I owned, and was part of my inspiration while thinking about how to print my fabric.  Maybe needless to say, I’ve worn it so much it’s literally falling apart, and had to be retired after finishing the pattern.

 

mmm'14 day 9Pretty much the only time I document what I’m wearing is during MMM.  Here are the essential elements of the skirt from 2014, when I decided to draw my outfits.  Also pictured: the beginning of this sweater.

 

Although I was pretty sure the pattern would make a wearable skirt on the first try, I knew there would inevitably be some little things I’d want to change.  And I would have to be certifiably nuts to cut into my carefully printed fabric without trying out my new pattern first.  So I made one from stash fabric, green floral linen/cotton blend I bought ages ago and turned out to be great for this.

 

1year1outfit skirt 7

 

And I did in fact have a short laundry list of things to tweak for the second version, including the length.

Judging by the amount I wore this test version before the weather got cold, I’ll wear the snot out of both these. I just have to convince myself not to treat the natural-printed one as too precious. I’m also super curious about how the dye will hold up in real life, so hopefully that will help!

 

1year1outfit skirt 8This is my favorite thing to do with quilting cottons that I apparently couldn’t resist buying in the past.  I quite like these two fabrics together, especially since you can occasionally see the facing when worn.  This project made me consider making a lot more faced hems.

 

Once the pattern was tested, I was confident enough to cut out my printed fabric, but then hit a few delays, mainly in figuring out what other materials to use.  My original plan was to source the fabric as sustainably and “locally” as possible per my pledge, but to worry less about where the notions came from.  I’m a firm believer in one step at a time, in breaking things down so that I move towards my goals without feeling totally overwhelmed by the hugeness of what I’d like to accomplish.  Still, after seeing the beautifully creative ways that Nicki crafted her totally local clothes (she made her own clay to make buttons!) I was inspired to dig a little deeper.

There seems to be just one organic sewing thread on the market, Scanfil, which is made in Holland and available lots of places online.  I’d seen it around the web but hadn’t tried it.  After all, Holland is not exactly local to me, and I assumed it would be more expensive.  In fact, it turns out that it costs barely more per yard than the Mettler thread I normally get.  And that thread is made in Germany … so I got some of the organic stuff to try.  It’s silky smooth and soft.  I think it breaks a little more easily, but I had no problems running it through either sewing machine.  For topstitching I used it doubled (two spools) with a 3mm length, and I really like the results, kind of subtle but shiny.  If you try this, I highly recommend tightening the bobbin thread the way you would for buttonholes.

 

1year1outfit skirt 4

 

I usually just use a thin, firmly-woven fabric for interfacing, and I’ve been looking for a new source since I ran out of the perfect interfacing fabric (origin: total mystery) found in my mom’s stash.  I got a swatch of every fabric I thought might work from Organic Cotton Plus, whether made-in-USA or not, but ended up rejecting them all and using another bit from my stash.

While I was at it, I ordered a zipper made with organic cotton tape.  The only difference I can see is that unusually, the zipper matches my fabric perfectly.

 

1year1outfit skirt 6Guts.  I think I’m finally getting the hang of making the inside fly guard thingy like it’s supposed to be.  This lining fabric is a super soft linen, also from stash.  The cute little pocket applique is due to an unfortunate moment while rotary pinking …

 

I should say that the skirt fabric itself is quite nice (I linked to the fabric I bought in the printing post, but as of today it doesn’t appear on the Organic Cotton Plus site, they must be out).  It has a twill weave.  It’s on the thinner end of what I would consider for this project, and very soft and drapey for a cotton.  It was also crooked when I got it, but easy to pull straight (check out how I do that in this article I wrote for Seamwork), even after printing (phew!).

I had this skirt shape in mind I was printing, and knowing that fabric I print tends to be sparser in design than commercial fabrics, I included a section of dense motifs at the bottom of the yardage, and took full advantage of that to cut all the small pieces for the waistband, etc.

 

1year1outfit skirt 5

 

So there you go, my finished project!  Since I joined the #1year1outfit challenge late, I knew I wouldn’t make a whole outfit by the end of the year, but I really wanted to see how I could integrate making more conscious choices about the new fabrics I buy with what I already do.  And in that sense I succeeded!  I’m wearing my skirt below with things I previously made from secondhand garments (this shirt and this camisole if you’re curious), a scarf woven by my grandma, and mended socks.

 

1year1outfit skirt 1

 

Moving forward, I’ve decided to keep going with my no-new-fabric-unless-sustainable-and-made-in-USA pledge, at least until July, which will make it a full year.  Even though at some point I’d like to add in some of the wonderful artisan fabrics from around the world I found during my fabric research, I do think that being on this materials “diet” is really helpful in encouraging me to be thoughtful in my choices, and creative with what I do with them.  I’ve loved being part of one Year, one Outfit, and it’s really fit in well with a lot of the other things I’ve been thinking about, and helped me move forward in directions I’d like to go in.

I have enough of this delicious wool yarn from Mountain Meadow to knit a sweater, and that is totally next on my list of sustainable/local-ish/slow fashion garments to make.  It will probably be next fall before it’s done, but that’s fine with me.  In the meantime I’ll continue to work from stash, and search for more local fabric options, and I will definitely keep you updated!

 

1year1outfit skirt 3

 

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!

 

Maybe I’m Over It

Over the purple corduroys, the NYC garment district, the whole thing.

I’ve been to New York City twice ever, both times since I’ve had this blog.  Both times I went to the garment district, and I haven’t written a thing about it either time. The first time, a couple of years ago, it was just crazy and overwhelming. We had the truck with us, and let me just say I will never, ever, drive any vehicle to NYC again if I can possibly help it, much less one that qualifies as quasi-commercial and definitely oversize. The truck is fine in Chicago, but as it turns out, not all at fine in New York.

 

floyd bennett field camping 3Our truck in the parking area for camping at Floyd Bennett Field, by far the most post-apocalyptic National Park Service site I’ve ever been to.  It’s staffed by friendly New Yorkers who, when they find out it’s your first time in the city, will tell you everything, starting with “So there’s five boroughs …” to making sure you have quarters for the bus.  I am not making any of this up!

 

Anyway, we went to NYC again this past winter, along with traveling to an opening of Bryan’s work at the Griffin Museum of Photography outside Boston. I actually have a dear cousin who lives in Brooklyn, so we made a side trip to go and see her (completely vehicle-free, with only the luggage we could carry). I thought it would be much better and I would love it. It was better without worrying about the truck, but I was still overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person who naturally absorbs most of the stimulus coming at me in a given day, and likes to have a while to process it. There is a whole lot of stimulus coming at you all day, every day in New York—before you even get to the shops full of ceiling-high mounds of fabric in every color.

 

nyc street view

 

The garment district, while fascinating, is not geared for a thoughtful experience. It’s fast-paced. There are millions of choices packed together, but not a lot of background on any of them (any, really, beyond the fiber content and maybe a country of origin). I’ve tried to be more conscious about my fabric choices for a while now, but I knew I wanted some fabric to make another pair of pants, and it seemed ridiculous to be surrounded by what felt like all the fabric in the entire world, and go home with nothing for my project. So after some debate, I chose something purple and stripey and soft, brought it home, and a couple of months later, cut it out.

 

over it purple pants 1

 

And I got exactly what I deserved for picking fabric I had no background on, no relationship with, and so no idea what to expect—it behaved terribly. There’s some stretch in this stuff, which I’ve avoided in wovens in the past, and I’m going right back to avoiding it like the plague. It kept stretching as I was sewing it, throwing off my alignment and topstitching, moving the pockets around even though I basted them in place, etc. Plus, it’s weirdly clingier around my bum than the non-stretch fabric I’ve used in this pattern before.

 

over it purple pants 2

 

Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t the worst pants ever.  I like the color, and they fit me reasonably well, which is enough to almost certainly ensure they’ll get wear when the weather gets cool again. And, they have the nicest inside waistband and zipper tab of any pants I’ve made so far, so I learned something there.

 

over it purple pants 3

 

But, the whole experience just brought home what I hadn’t been able to articulate. In my head, before I went there, the garment district was a mythical paradise of fabric. But it turns out; it’s not my Mecca. It may sound a little blasphemous to say so, but I don’t think the garment district even has the fabric I want. I think I’m over it.

So what, exactly, is the fabric I want, you may reasonably ask? Well, what I really want is unreasonable to ask for in our current culture. I want fabric that not only do I know where it comes from, what labor conditions went into it, and how the fiber was cultivated in the environment where it grows, but I want to feel good about the answers to all those questions. I want to buy some fabric now, see it how it wears, and in 5 years, when I like what I find, buy some more of that exact same fabric. I want fewer, but better choices.

 

floyd bennett field camping 2

 

I have tried before to find some fabric closer to these ideals. I went on an online quest for organic wool a couple of winters ago (when I eventually bought this lovely stuff from New Zealand).  I had a few interesting conversations with fabric store owners through email. Mostly what I learned is that they don’t know any more about the origins of their fabrics than I do.  Often times even by writing to their suppliers, the most information we could possibly get was what factory the fabric came from.

At that same time I wrote to Mountain Meadow Wool, an American yarn company I feel really good about supporting, and suggested they think about making some knit fabric out of their American Merino. I got a really nice response back … but since then some blankets and finished knit goods have appeared in their line-up, no fabric yet … I do get it, I see why market research would indicate a much bigger market and profit by skipping the fabric and going right for finished goods.   Imperial Stock Ranch took it one step further and produced a high-fashion collection. But knowing that they are taking high-quality wool, sustainably grown in USA, all the way from sheep to fabric also in-country, and that none of that fabric is available for sewists to buy (that I know of, I’ll write them too, we’ll see)—it makes my fingers itch. I think it’s phenomenal how much single-breed, known-origin, small-farm-type wool yarn is available to knitters right now, and I know there’s a niche for fabrics made from the same materials.

The fabric for my first pair of purple corduroys was organic cotton & hemp, but made in China (under supposedly good working conditions). The biggest problem with it was that it didn’t hold up to wear long enough to be called well-made. How sustainable is anything that has to be replaced every couple of years, or less?

The best news in thinking about all this, is that there are other sewists out there on similar quixotic journeys to find (or make!) sustainable fabrics, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I can find them. And there is a lot going on right now.

I’m throwing my lot in with one Year, one Outfit, a project on this is moonlight to source “fibershed” textiles in your area, and make them into an outfit by the end of the year. Although I may not make a whole outfit by the end of 2015, I’m pledging not to buy any new fabric for (at least) that time, unless it meets (at least!) these minimum requirements: 100% made in the USA, sustainably grown also in USA, and not dyed with synthetic dyes, bleached, or processed in other ways that use toxic chemicals. At the very least, it will be a kick in the bum to do my homework, and some experimenting!

 

one year one outfit logo

 

While I’ve been thinking about this, some other thoughtful bloggers have also been researching and sharing around similar topics. This post of Zoe’s about organic cotton and whether it’s really better got me thinking about the fabric I really want to find. The other bloggers in the one Year, one Outfit project have done some good research. Mari’s post about what she’s found available in the Southeastern US was really interesting, and there are people around the world taking part and sharing what they find, there might be someone near you.  Then just the other day, Ginger posted about a designer making sustainable sweater knits available to home sewers! If you’re curious, I also definitely recommend listening to this 2010 interview with Rebecca from the fibershed project, which I also linked to from one Year, one Outfit.

Phew!  So, do you want in on some crazy back-to-basics fabric hunting? Interested in dyeing/printing your own textiles (because I think that’s going to be a big part of it)?  Stay tuned, updates will definitely be coming!