Sustainability and a New Direction

sustainable textiles

Are you a “sewing for best” kind of maker or is your approach more “everyday sewing”? I wouldn’t mind betting that when you first started to sew you were the former, but as time has gone on you’re morphing into the latter. It’s something I see a lot in my classes; when you start to sew the temptation is to make the “latest pattern” that’s all over social media even if it’s not quite what you would normally wear, and to buy all the fabrics; the brighter and more sparkly the better! Making high quality, wardrobe basics rather than fancy “special occasion” clothes doesn’t seem to appeal to most people new to sewing.

I was the same in my early days of sewing, but for a long time my favourite things to sew have been everyday clothes; core basic styles that will be the building blocks of my wardrobe. Those good quality basics that I know will get lots of wear.

sewing with knitted fabrics

Derwent trousers, Winnats tank and Kinder cardigan from Beginner’s Guide to Sewing With Knitted Fabrics. The kind of comfortable everyday basics that I live in.

This approach probably began back in the late 90’s when I wrote my dissertation all about the social and environmental damage caused by the fashion industry. Most informed people are now much more aware of these issues, but back then I was the only student in my year of my fashion degree to even consider it, my tutors didn’t really know what to do with me and sent me off to a researcher in a different part of the university for help.

sustainable sewing

That dissertation led me to work for a small brand producing a small range of clothes made from organic fair trade cotton, to complete an MA exploring ways to recycle textiles and the start of my lasting passion for sustainability in textiles, fashion and sewing. I suppose you could also say that despite eventually becoming a trained and experienced fashion designer, my dissertation was also the first step in my rejection of fashion.

Although making clothes for yourself is a good first step away from the fashion industry, it’s still easy as a maker to fall back into “fashion led” behaviours such as buying lots of low quality cheap fabric, making the “latest pattern” and building a wardrobe full of unworn clothes. I’d argue this isn’t much better than fast fashion shopping habits. I really believe that taking your time and enjoying the process of making clothes that get lots of wear rather than being kept for “best” is the most sustainable way to sew and was a big part of the inspiration for my new book “Sewing Basics For Every Body”.

sewing basics for every body by Wendy Ward

Working on this new book and the way my life has changed in recent years will mark a turning point for me in my practice as a designer. I’ve moved back to my hometown of Sheffield and have a brand new studio space surrounded by nature. I spend a lot more time outdoors walking my dogs, gardening and taking photos and feel a lot more connected to nature and the changing seasons. It’s forced me to slow down and reassess.

I’ve also had a pretty drastic destash as my new workspace is a lot smaller than my previous one, so I’ve been ruthlessly downsizing and selling or giving away things I no longer need or won’t ever use. Let me tell you what a relief that’s been! It’s so therapeutic to just let go of “stuff” and this process has also made me think a lot about my future direction. I really believe that being restricted in the materials and resources you have available forces you to be more creative. Here are just a few pieces I’ve made over recent years in this spirit…..

sustainable sewing sustainable sewing sustainable sewing

Over the years I’ve written a lot on this blog about issues of sustainability in the worlds of fashion and craft.  You can find them here.

Anyone can create anything with limitless resources; it’s takes real creativity to make something with less. So, with that in mind I’m going to be doing even more work on sustainability than I already have been. During that MA back in 2004 I investigated ways to recycle textiles and for a long time I’ve wanted to continue the work I started back then and that’s exactly what I’m going to do next year. It might involve clothing, it might not, but I’m really looking forward to a fresh creative challenge for 2020.

Remember, make every day your best day, you don’t know when it might be your last.

8 responses to “Sustainability and a New Direction

  1. Pingback: MIY March 2020 | Wendy Ward

  2. I totally agree with your point about re-use requiring more creativity. I don’t think that’s mentioned a lot but it’s totally true!

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  3. So inspiring, as always, Wendy! I love that we are having more and more sustainability conversations in the sewing world. I did not realise your link to this ran so far back! As a sustainability professional I get many requests from students that are interested in sustainable fashion and it’s great to help inform the young generation. And so great that we can take that into our sewing community as well. Please continue to share, teach and inspire!

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    • Thanks Alex, I suspected a lot of people might not realise just how long and how connected I’ve been to this subject so I thought it was time I shouted about it a bit!! I’ve been really itching to get back to it for a long time. Change takes time doesn’t it, but I’m really encouraged by the things I’ve started to see in the craft world recently. You’re doing great work too Alex, it’s going to take an army of us to make the changes we want but we have to start somewhere :o) x

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  4. This is so exciting Wendy I can’t wait to follow your journey. Hope you will be sharing it with us. So pleased your life has settled into a more “sustainable” pattern.

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