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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Sew Sustainable

Mar 31, 2022 09:00AM ● By Shauna Smith
Knowing how to sew in 2022 is an exotic skill. Sure, many homes have sewing machines tucked away in a closet somewhere and every once in a while, someone pulls it out and attempts to fill a hole in a pair of jeans or get two pieces of fabric to stick together long enough to get through Halloween. But to truly know how to sew is rare.
Sewing isn’t an easy skill to pick up. Operating a sewing machine is simple enough after taking the necessary time to get to know the machine. The challenge comes from handling fabrics. Unlike a piece of wood or steel, fabric is unpredictable. It shifts and moves all over the place in unexpected ways. It must be pinned down to get it to behave.
For millennia, fabric used to make clothes came from animals, plants and insects. Fast forward to today and the textile choices are endless, with new, chemically derived solutions being invented daily.
In the news we hear about how wasteful the garment industry is and how the processes used in creating the fabrics we love are damaging the environment. In an effort to make money in our fear-based economy, it is common for textile manufacturers to paint themselves “green”. A prime example is organic bamboo fabric.
Yes, bamboo is a renewable source of wood. Organically grown, it is great for making wooden products. But, to turn that wood into a fiber that is soft like silk and absorbent like cotton is a very chemically and resourcefully intensive process. There are also concerns about land clearing and harvesting methods used in creating “organic” bamboo. To say organic bamboo sheets are sustainable is a stretch.
While every step we take toward more thoughtful methods of developing fabrics is a step in the right direction, there is a difference between organic and sustainable when it comes to textiles. Organic is how the plant used to make a fiber or yarn was grown.
Sustainable, on the other hand, means conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Inherent to sustainability is the idea that people won’t degrade the environment for short-term profits. While organic
farming methods for raw materials used in creating textiles is important to the health of the planet, that doesn’t guarantee a sustainable fabric.
Some examples of sustainable fabrics include: hemp (low water usage), linen (low water usage), reclaimed (leftovers from manufacturing), recycled (made of discarded plastics) and vintage.
Another idea for a truly sustainable fabric is one that is made wholistically—from the loom and the loom operator, to the quality of the yarn, the supply chain, how the employees are treated. Sustaining joy, art, beauty and skill as well as the environment while a truly unique piece of fabric is created. Over the centuries, textile artisans have created looms that weave intricate, almost magical fabrics: jacquards, dotted Swiss, true laces, brocades, tapestries and more.
In our culture of fast, cheap fashion, these textile mills and fabric houses are closing down or switching to more modern and cost-effective methods so they can compete to exist. This is where true sustainability is lost. We lose the artisans, we lose the knowledge and we lose out on beautifully made fabrics. We are left with uninspiring, toxic and cheap fabric used to make disposable fashion.
Maybe there is still time to preserve the most sustainable fabrics through education and exposure. The best place to start is with sewing. When we sew, we see and feel the fabric up close. The more fabrics we work with, the more we begin to understand quality and the more we question why we only paid $35 for that fully lined jacket with 15 pockets and a hood, or $20 for a full length curtain with pleats.

Shauna Smith is a 50-year-old avid seamster of 45 years. She sees the universe as a web of textiles. A graduate from the Fashion Institute of Design in Los Angeles and the University of Utah with an emphasis on textiles, she is grateful to understand the world of fabric that surrounds us. You can find her almost every day at her Needles and Knots studio in Tucson. Connect at See ad, page 15.

Sew a Scented Sachet

Create a sustainable little object of joy for yourself. Like cooking for yourself, sewing brings a sense of satisfaction. It may not turn out exactly as planned, but you know what went into it.

•    fabric scraps (feel free to cut up that torn shirt you love)
•    a needle – sharps are good for plain thread or crewels for embroidery floss
•    thread or embroidery floss
•    rice
•    essential oils or scented herbs and flowers like lavender
•    ribbon or string
•    scissors

•    Cut out a rectangular piece of fabric 5” wide by 13” long.
•    Fold the fabric in half, right sides together.
•    Sew up the sides 1/2” from the edges using a tight backstitch so the rice can not slip out.
•    Fold down the top edges 1” to create a hem.
•    Vine stitch the hem in place, leaving a small opening to send the ribbon or string through.
•    Flip the bag out. Feed the ribbon or string through the hem.
•    In a bowl combine the rice and your essential oils until it smells right.
•    Let the rice and oil mixture sit over-night, so the oil will settle into the rice.
•    Fill the sachet bag with rice to your desired level of plumpness.
•    Pull the drawstring.
•    Set the sachet in a spot where it will do the most good. Remember that the essential oil could soak through the fabric, so keep the sachet from touching things that will stain from the oil.

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