Sustainable Fabric: Is there such a thing as Eco-Fabric?

Today’s prompt for the New Craft House Sew Yourself Sustainable challenge is ‘Eco Fabric’ but if I am totally honest with you, I kinda disagree with the term. Production of all fabrics take something away from the planet so none of it is ‘good’ for the Earth. What matters most, is getting as much wear as possible out of your garments. I don’t think that means everything we make has to be everyday garments such as knickers and plain white t-shirts. If you make a timeless dress and wear it twice a year for 20 years surely that would be just as sustainable as a pair of trousers that you wear 40 times in the next 12 months? (this ethos is largely why I make very few fitted pieces, most of what I sew is loose and flowy and will hopefully fit me at a range of weights and sizes – our bodies fluctuate and that is OKAY).

Even the buttons for this came from the charity shop and cost me 6p!

For me, the best way to *try* and choose sustainable fabrics is to buy secondhand and not create any demand for any new fabric to be produced. But buying secondhand can be time consuming, often fruitless, and not everyone is able to. Also, if you are looking for something specific buying secondhand can often be impossible. The fabric I am wearing in these photos is secondhand and was picked up at a local fabric swap. My lovely friend Catie brought a half-sewn dress that wasn’t going to fit her and the remaining fabric scraps to the swap. I jumped at the opportunity to turn them into something that would fit me. I unpicked the half-circle skirt from the dress she was making and added a button band down the front and a waistband – voila new skirt! Then I carefully cut the remaining scraps into a Helen’s Closet Ashton Top. I thought I might wear them together but I actually prefer to wear them separate and was actually wearing this top yesterday!

I honestly believe that if you love a fabric then you will wear it, and getting lots of wear out of something is the best way to be sustainable. Let me tell you how I know this… I sew with a lot of secondhand fabric (like this outfit!). I dye them to bring them into my colour palette, I refashion garments to make them my style. But for me to pull something out of the wardrobe and wear it, I have to *love* it. I recognise that is a huge privilege, I have enough clothes in my wardrobe to be choosy, not everyone has that luxury.

Many of the garments that have seen the LEAST wear in my wardrobe have been garments I’ve made from sheets/pillowcases that I didn’t love but sewed with because the fabric was cheap and available to me. Thanks to looking back through my wardrobe during One Year Sewn, I have been able to make this connection. Yes, secondhand or thrifted fabric is a great way to consume fabric without using any virgin materials, but if you don’t actually like the finished garment then that’s a bigger waste than actually buying new fabric that you love and can’t wait to wear the garment over and over again!

I’me wearing a slip in these photos so you can’t see my underwear!

This top was a perfect example, I wore it a few times before deciding that the fabric felt cheap and I didn’t feel good wearing it. This dress was an excellent use of time because it allowed me to toile a complicated pattern, but the duvet fabric is too thin to be suitable for a dress and is almost completely see-through (wanna good look at my pants anyone? Probably not.) Obviously, I am a flawed human being (aren’t we all?) and not everything I’ve made has been a great success, that’s why I am committed to my One Year Sewn reflections to make sure I am not repeating past mistakes.

Now, please don’t think I am suggesting that buying secondhand fabric isn’t a GREAT way to source fabric. (All of the garments in the above gallery are made from secondhand fabric). I made this dress and this one using old stained tablecloths I dyed, and these have been two of my most worn dresses. This gorgeous creation was made from a friend’s leftovers after she made a top and we swapped some fabric through the post, I absolutely love it and hope I will be wearing this for many summers to come! This top was bought as scraps leftover from garment production, I look forward to wearing this every autumn! (yes I have been wearing it already – is summer over yet???). This dress was made from some vintage fabric I bought in a charity shop, it took me almost ten years to cut into it because I believe it is Liberty Wool Crepe – literally my best charity shop find ever. This skirt is the softest linen, probably because it was washed a million times as a tablecloth before I bought it and made it into a skirt. I hope I am showing that secondhand fabric can be a true treasure BUT ONLY IF YOU LOVE IT. Don’t stop yourself from buying new fabric you love and make something out of a tablecloth if you won’t love it and wear it. You do you.

Do you sew with secondhand fabric? What have you made with it? Do you believe there’s such a thing as Eco Fabric? Let’s chat!

11 thoughts on “Sustainable Fabric: Is there such a thing as Eco-Fabric?

  1. Thanks for this lovely post I tend to agree but here in Australia there are a lot of destash FB groups where you can buy garment fabric fro other sewists. I sew almost exclusively with second hand fabric and notions and that suits where I find them

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm maybe I need to get back on Facebook? Instagram is my main social media of choice and finding destashes on there is a bit of pot luck. I have seen people have started using #garmentfabricdestash on there though so maybe finding IG destashes will be easier in the future!


  2. Early in lockdown I cleared my wardrobe. Stuff that I no longer wore or that had been given to me and I thought I might refashion, but never got around to it. I pulled out a pair of white linen wide leg trousers. I bought many years ago because I thought it was the thing to have linen trousers in the summer. I never wore them more than once a year. Instead of sending them to the charity shop I refashioned them into a cropped linen t shirt. I have worn this top more times this summer alone than I ever did when it was trousers. Now that speaks eco fabric to me. A new lease of life for an old unloved garment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a good post, and I think absolutely spot on. I love second hand fabrics, but definitely only buy fabric that I love: what’s the point otherwise? A few times in the past I’ve bought sale fabric that’s cheap as chips so as to qualify for free shipping… that is generally the stuff that lingers in my stash, looking very uninspiring. Now if I don’t love it, I don’t buy it, and this seems to be a much better rule to follow.

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  4. I adore this! Sewing for a fluctuating body is absolutely necessary, so is repurposing fabric. I’ve really enjoyed repurposing fabric from garments I no longer live into clothes for my kids. Two maxi skirts that I hadn’t worn in at least two years became shorts for my girls, embellished with vintage lace a friend gave me after cleaning out her grandmother-in-law’s sewing closet. Leggings become headbands or shorts. Curtains become totes,sheets that I don’t love make excellent pajamas. I’m committed to sewing on a dime and making practical items.

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  5. Totally agree with your observations. Buying less and secondhand where possible is the most eco way to go. This also means making less. I am nearing a year of counting how often I wear my clothes and can confidently say that if you are able to wear one garment 40 times in a year that means you either have very few items of clothing or you also have lots of things you are not wearing very much. I love to source fabric at charity shops but this normally means buying 2 things to make one, for example I make TATB Frankie t-shirts from charity shop buys but you need 2 large size t-shirts to makes one Frankie. I volunteer in a shop and the price of the unsold ‘rags’ has gone right down due to oversupply, so you could easily buy a bag of ‘rags’ from them for a few pounds and the charity gets more money and you get an interesting bag of fabric. Having said all this I went to Walthamstow this weekend and bought some fabric because I knew it would be used as its so lovely and felt like treating myself – sewing is my main hobby and I’m not perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with you – sewing is my main hobby too and I am not about to give it up when so many people buy a new phone every year, or change their car every three years without worrying about using up the earths resources. I have one pair of jeans and they get worn at least once a week so I don’t think 40 times per year is difficult for some garments, I also have one main winter coat which is worn every day from September-March but maybe I do have less clothes than many people? I do know I have lots (and lots!) of clothes that aren’t worn that much too though!

      Liked by 1 person

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