A Good Conversation…

…about Textiles and Sustainability

I was incredibly inspired by the thoughts of all the #SeptTextileLove 2019 Instagram Challenge participants in response to the prompt on day 16, Sustainability. I have brought together our conversation from that day (otherwise it will be lost) and added a few thoughts of my own.

The 7 Rs logo was designed by Stig at Shtiggy.wordpress.com for a report by the GAIA Foundation.

Re-using and recovering materials and tools

The majority of textilers taking part use rescued, vintage, found and repurposed materials wherever possible, including old linen bed sheets, doilies, table runners, a child’s slip, denim, packaging, old samples, old clothes, old curtains, t-shirt yarn, old fabric swatches, fabric scraps, tea bags, old wire, onion netting and vintage Sylko threads. These are sourced from eBay, junk shops, jumble sales, previous projects, and your own homes and wardrobes.

“I’m constantly amazed by the abundance of high quality cloth floating around in the waste stream. I’m inspired by the rising awareness amongst makers as to the source of their materials and how destructive the industrialized cloth-making industry can be.” @green_grinland

“Using vintage fabric is more time consuming because of the sourcing, deconstructing and cleaning that’s sometimes required, but it’s worth it!” @yvettephillips_art

Using tried and tested tools:

“…what could be more sustainable than using 19 century equipment in your practice – I love using old lace bobbins and prolonging their working lives” @carolquarini


Damage/Repair was the prompt for day 4, we were treated to images of damaged clothing and beautiful, enhancing repairs inspired by the Slow Movement, Visible Mending, Boro and Kintsugi. My favourite story was from @thislittlethread_london who had a huge job repairing tulle, beading and tassels, resulting in “a gorgeous Art Deco style wedding dress that I love to bits!”.

Reducing waste

Some of you are working towards zero waste by using up every bit of fabric, or are considering how to reduce waste in your practice e.g. @nicolaruddtextiles with her weaving.

“I use #oldclothes and #recycledfabric in my work for both #economic and #ecological #sustainability. I even turn my #waste and #offcuts into #textilejewellery.” @nerissact

“I love how you can tear the fabric and I use the tiniest of scraps to create something else that will have new life”@carolineguthriedesigns

Reducing consumption by buying thoughtfully or using eco-dyeing/natural dyes

There was a discussion examing the provenance and production methods of yarn and fabric; buying from trusted ethical companies practicing sustainability. Lots of textilers also love working with natural dyes using locally sourced plants from their gardens.

The sustainability of wool, made from local sheep and alpaca fleeces, was also discussed. However, @generallycheerful warned about mulesing sheep:

“Now I’m the person that wanders around yarn fairs asking vendors whether their yarn comes from mulesed sheep and writes to yarn manufacturers to find out the same thing. It’s a bit of a pain but I’m vegetarian and only buy cruelty free toiletries and cosmetics and this just seems like an extension of that. Why shouldn’t this lovely hobby of mine be ethical as well?”

Using textile art to highlight environmental problems

Images of textile art highlighted environmental problems such as plastics in the ocean @gailbaxterlace and @bermiedignam, bleaching corals from global warming @imogenmelissa_embroidery, and were made into witty banners for global climate strike demonstrations @jessicagrimmartembroidery.

Achieving sustainability is a work in progress

I found the following comments very thought provoking:

“Handweaving is inherently unsustainable at the scale of our society. We just need too much cloth, even if we move away from fast fashion. We’d need a lot more weavers than we have. Why make things by hand if the machines can do it 5, 10, 100 times faster? Why set up warps where the thrums will waste a fourth of it, when you could roll on hundreds of meters and reduce waste?
Handweaving is inherently sustainable. You only make what’s needed, small runs of products that would not exist otherwise. The extra care in material choice and making makes for longer-lasting textiles. Call them “heirloom quality” if you want.
It’s not as simple as sustainable or not. It’s a different equation, different parameters. I don’t believe that handweaving is inherently better for the planet: but I do believe it has immense value, and can show us how to do things differently.” @fibraquarelle

“The juxtaposition of the digital fabric print and the vintage textiles illustrates a story about sustainability. If we are going to be sustainable, we have to be cognizant of today’s practices so we can preserve our resources for the present and the future. Current technology can be used wisely to produce what is needed and not an overabundance that goes to waste and into landfills. It is an awareness.” @veronica.fiberantics

“My studio is filled with natural fibre, natural dyes, tools and equipment from around the world. Some of what I use is even deemed organic however it’s likely harvested, processed and arrives using petroleum products. In truth a portion is probably made in places with little environmental or worker protections. I’d fooling myself to think my mostly “natural” fibre practice is anywhere near sustainable.” @misscaraway

The buyerarchy of needs, Sarah Lazarovic. There are five alternatives to buying new goods.

Thoughts on making

I think that The Buyerarchy of Needs is a very useful model for sustainability but I am disturbed by the position of ‘Make’, one step below ‘Buy’. Making is so much more than buying. Making transforms and/or consumes goods and energy, but it also improves the wellbeing of the maker and can transform their thinking.

“Louise Bourgeois said ‘The act of sewing is a process of emotional repair.’ Does anyone else relate to this? I often find that when I stitch or knit I quickly enter that blissful state of flow, where time flies, which is closely linked to happiness…… Repetitive, calming, meditative, creative; knitting and stitching make me think differently…..” @loubakerartist

“I am not convinced we should be aiming for sustainable. I think more likely we should simply be aiming to reduce as many things as possible as much as possible. And I think one of the things that will make living a new way of life imaginable is encouraging excellence and expertise. By consuming your time in developing them, you not only develop tools to change your mindset, but also will not have the time for consumption driven by boredom and the search for novelty.” @aimsonkate

And finally

What I have taken from this conversation is that sustainability is more of a mindset and a methodology rather than a one-off activity, and it can be applied to our making, tools and ourselves. It is an awareness; it is about asking the right questions, attention to detail and using our creativity. It has also inspired me in the ways I can be more sustainable and work towards zero waste.

“Day 16 #septtextilelove2019 @seamcollective – sustainability – this means so many things, from the tangible goods to the intangible feelings, politics, emotions, wellbeing etc. I think and worry about my minute contribution a lot. I try to buy less, be creative and thoughtful, engage in respectful conversations to develop more tolerance, patience, understanding, acceptance and joy, all of which cost very little but can be very difficult. For me, visiting the Boro exhibition represented the most poignant embodiment of sustainability.” @indigo_woad_to_this

Thank you to everyone who participated in our #SeptTextileLove conversation. I have included thoughts from as many textilers as possible, sorry if I missed you out, and I hope that I have represented our conversation faithfully.

What are your views on textiles and sustainability? How should our conversation continue?

Penny Wheeler

Additional links:
www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org – their mission is to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, including the fashion industry
visiblemending.com – inspiring mends and menders
www.loveyourclothes.org.uk – care, repair and upcycling tips and techniques

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