Sewing has been one of the most important skills I have learned. I picked it up when I was working a temporary holiday position at Hancock Fabrics before they went out of business a few years ago. It was under the fluorescent lights and dingy white walls (that probably hadn’t been painted since the early 90’s), when stocking the shelves full of acrylic yarns, cotton quilting fabric, and fancy polyester prom dress organza, that I discovered in the stacks of clearance fabrics: linen.
What on earth is linen? I had no idea at the time. But it was the fabric that would spur the beginning of my sustainability journey.
I knew what polyester was at the time…or at least I thought I did when I considered it the plastic-y fabric that always clung to my skin when I perspired. I knew cotton was the good one- the one that grew as a plant. When I did an internet search, I learned quite a lot of exciting facts about linen: it keeps you cool, it’s almost always organic because it naturally repels pests, and it actually helps you relax as the vibration frequency of the molecules are complementary to our skin.
It was then that I knew I had to begin making things with it. From a psychedelic 70’s-inspired linen quilt for my sister, to a plain striped linen skirts for myself, sewing has been irresistible since I learned how magical natural fibers can be. 🙂
The next few months were a whirlwind of staying up til 1 A.M sewing on my mom’s 1960’s tabletop sewing machine, hiding clearance bolts of fabric at my job (so that no one else could purchase them before I could) 😉 , and learning everything I could from WikiHow and YouTube about general sewing technique.
But amidst all the exciting and beautiful aspects of handcrafting quilts or clothing, or simply mending, lies something I protest as best as I can: plastic.
Thread spools, needle packaging, phthalate-coated cutting mats (actually pretty much everything in a store is covered in phthalates), plastic sewing machines, and let’s not forget synthetic sewing materials like polyester jersey or nylon thread.
In addition to all of the terribly toxic chemicals covering mass-produced craft supplies, many materials are also unethically sourced. I have spent the last few years wrestling with the system- trying to find the best options I can.
I included this diagram because it reminds me why I learned about material sourcing. It’s so important to me that we recognize that environmental problems are not abstract ideas of what could happen, but heartbreaking realities of what DOES happen to the people of every country when corporations go unchecked.
We never seem to talk about the problem with metal… it’s commonly known that plastic is problematic, but there are specific metals that are ONLY mined in Third-World countries, and the miners pay the true price. I believe it’s important to keep in mind that gold isn’t ethical…which means those 18k gold-coated sewing needles I bought a few years ago at Joann aren’t ethical either.
Back to plastic- which is made from a reaction of petroleum and coal. The country of Africa is overrun with crude oil drilling and petrochemical production. These industries keep the people of the country in poor health due to water contamination, and ruin the land. The oil is drilled by multinational corporations like Chevron and mostly shipped overseas…as the people of Africa are too poor to be able to afford their own resources. When we support plastic packaging production, we support Chevron 😦
Lastly, this diagram is helpful to remind me why I shouldn’t fall into the trap of buying Egyptian cotton thread at Michael’s just because it’s “natural”. Africa is a poor country with scarce water, and cotton takes up way too much of it.
So…back to beginner sewing supplies!
Check with family and friends first. Next, I’d recommend checking one or two church-run charity shops because they are more likely to sell any small-ticket items (like needles) that would otherwise be thrown out by larger thrift chains like Goodwill. Lastly, if you have a small local fabric shop in your town, by all means purchase some needles there 🙂 Here are the most necessary beginner sewing items, in my opinion, listed alongside suggestions on how to acquire them.
You definitely need these…
- Needles: One set for general hand sewing, and one set for embroidery if you are interested in being able to embellish any mending that you do.
- Thread: I’ve opted for vintage thread bundles from sellers on Etsy Organic cotton is better than conventional in terms of pesticides, but still uses an inefficient amount of water and land. So, I don’t really like the idea of purchasing new thread…that is, until they start making hemp thread.
- Measuring tape: I was given one from my mother, and like with all of these items, check with friends or family who sew before you buy anything new- but if you can’t find one, I’d recommend ordering a vintage/used one off of Ebay.
- Seam Ripper: You will want an ergonomic one, without a doubt. Seam ripping is not for the weak of heart.
- Pins: I have seen these at church-run charity shops, but not often. If you buy these new, make sure they are appropriate for what you plan to sew.
- Machine: I had the good fortune to find a (working) 1953 Brother Window-Matic at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore. I’d recommend looking for a machine that is gently used, and searching on Ebay to make sure that parts are easy to acquire when you have a repair. I have a cheap portable Brother sewing machine as well that has served me pretty well for the last few years…but it’s almost all plastic, and the end is near.
Here are a few of my sewing projects from last year.
The top in the upper left was a pattern of my own making…and also the first time I had sewn a blouse. Made of 100% Tencel twill in charcoal grey. Things I learned from that project:
- My body shape requires a different type of bust darts for comfortable movement
- Change your machine needle for EVERY sewing project you do. I serged all of the pieces before realizing that my needle was dull This added snagged edges to the seams inside.
- Polyester thread is NOT compatible with natural fibers. I was reading a 1980’s couture sewing book at the time that confirmed this fact. Petro-fibers like polyester and nylon don’t gently break in over time like natural and semi-natural fibers.
The yoga crop tops were inspired by some $80 yoga tops that I saw online. I actually made the black one from a pair of workout pants from DAV 😀 I was thrilled because they were 60% Pima Cotton and 40% Modal, and only cost $1. From these projects I learned:
- Thick cotton jersey sews very well in just about any sewing machine that has a zig-zag stitch…it really isn’t necessary to buy a machine that has the option for a knit stitch.
- Aldi bags never fail for home pattern making
Last pictured is my black linen nightgown/housedress. I made it because I was inspired by black babydoll dresses on Pintrest. The linen, purchased from WonderLinen on Etsy, feels the best of any I’ve bought before. From this project I learned:
- 1/4 inch seam allowances aren’t something I like…I opt for 1/2 to 1 inch now.
- Careful pattern planning makes projects go WAY faster
I’ve talked about a lot of different aspects of crafting today…but I saved the most important tip for last:
START! 🙂 You’ll be so happy that you did!
I hope I’ve given you some useful information today if you are a sewist or interested in becoming one. As always, thank you for visiting my blog today!