Garment Sewing Mania

So, as you know, I’ve been sewing a lot of t-shirts for fun. I’ve basically created my own casual wardrobe this year…but only of shirts. I balance it out with a lot of stretchy pants I already own.

It’s not ideal, but it’s the thing I’m loving right now. Especially since I’m not going out and purchasing new clothes. These days I get excited when a new shipment of fabric comes in.

My next effort? A pair of stretchy pants. I know. I should aim a little higher. But I’ve never made a pair of pants. Seriously. And I’m not about to start with a pair of jeans which would be a tremendous amount of effort and I have no idea where my weaknesses are.

Well, OK, I know that I sit on my biggest weakness, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fit it. So I’m starting with something forgiving. I’ll let you know how it goes.(I’m not terribly optimistic.)

But just to give you a bit more information on my process: As many of you know, I have resolved to only purchase organic fabric for the foreseeable future. As time has gone on, I have only furthered my resolve in this area. The good news, is that the industry is slowly moving in that direction, since traditional cotton-growing is proving unsustainable to even the most stalwart purchasers. We’re talking about Levi’s and Lee and H&M and folks who are serious purchasers of cotton.

I wrote about organic cotton in detail here.

But another big concern of mine as I’ve been sewing, has been the amount of waste…fabric waste, that goes into garment sewing. Making a t-shirt requires the front and back of the pattern to be cut on the fold.

But that leaves a large amount of fabric untouched above the fold. Like half of it.

So I started something new. Of course I started editing the pattern. Instead of laying fabric on the fold, I placed it higher up on the fabric to make two pieces instead of one. I added a quarter inch to the area that would normally be placed on the fold to compensate for the additional seam allowance.

This gave me the ability to make a whole other shirt from leftover fabric. A few more seams, yes. But more clothes, yay! But what about the sleeves? What I found with the sleeves was that I often did not have enough width of my leftover fabric to accommodate the width of the sleeve pattern.

So I folded the pattern in half. I laid it out on the fabric and added the quarter inch seam allowance. I found that the slim line of the sleeve usually left me with enough fabric to make the sleeves with a seam. Instead of two pieces of sleeve fabric, I ended up with four pieces, two each per sleeve. One seam up the middle is barely noticeable.

These additional seams turned out to look structural on the garment. Before assembling, I gave them a topstitch over the side where the serger seam allowance rested. It holds the extra seam allowance in place perfectly, and adds a bit of interest. Voila!

I found that the looser tees left me with enough fabric to make a v-neck closer fitting tee, and the opposite was true of the cut of the v-necks.

Then I feel absolutely no guilt throwing away the remnants after that. they are just tiny bits and pieces.

Bit by agonizing bit, I’m learning about garment construction. And it’s only agonizing because I am not a perfect beautiful, lovely size. Well, actually, I am. But I’m just not what would be considered a model size. So I modify everything to fit in a comfortable way.

And I’m having fun playing with the absolute simplest of patterns. I invite you to try it. It’s fun, entertaining, creative, and most of all, utilitarian. It’s empowering.

Everyone, stay calm and sew on. These are crazy, unsteady times. Do something that steadies you.

(Pattern from Grainline studio. V-neck tee is my own pattern. Fabrics are from Hawthorne Supply Co., various lines, but all organic cotton interlock.)

Cotton Knit Serging

So this is the easiest garment pattern you will ever see. It works with knits, wovens, tissue knits, you name it.

It’s from Grainline Studio and if you’ve never heard of it, you might have been under a rock.or maybe just busy quilting. The name of the pattern is the Hemlock Tee. It’s available for free if you sign up for their newsletter.

I am not the fondest of pdf patterns but I managed to assemble this one without much trouble, and then used 810 gridded interfacing to trace the pattern. I got the interfacing at Joann’s with several coupons and spent, I don’t know, less than $2 for 6 yards. Seriously.

I went a size or two larger than normal, because I wanted a really comfy, swingy fit, but I think I’ll try it smaller as well.

The whole pattern is really 5 seams and then hemming. That’s it. So the fun is all in the fabric, the variations, the sizing, the sleeve length, cropped, long, whatever you want.

As far as the hemming, I was so thrilled. I have never owned a machine that does a cover stitch, and I never really thought I needed one. Until I started to use it.

This particular shirt is made from 100% organic cotton knit from Hawthorne Supply Co. The fabric is from a line called Redwood, which I just loved. I can’t pass up anything with trees on it. Honestly, the knit was a dream to work with and feels like pajamas when you are wearing it.

I used a narrow cover stitch on both the sleeves and the hem. Yes, there’s a bit of fiddling with the thread and needles on the serger, but really not bad at all to switch from overlock (which I used on all the other seams) to cover stitch and back. After having switched back and forth a few times now, it’s like changing from sewing to embroidery. Switch a few things around, change a nob or button…done.

Wrong side sleeve hem.
Right side hem, bottom and sleeves.

I have a number of patterns to work on next, but I stepped outside yesterday, and GAHH. It seems too early for this! The daffies are coming! Anyway, happy first signs of spring.

The Biggest Trend 2020 and Beyond

If you know me, you know I love to follow the big trends. What’s happening in the world that can affect our daily lives and the sewing world? What’s changing? What’s new?

It’s always a good question to ask at the beginning of a year, but even a better one at the beginning of a decade.

I pay attention to the research all the time, but it’s grown louder and the number one trend of the future is simple:

Sustainability

This is a BIG category. And it can mean anything from recycling to eating less meat to driving a hybrid or an electric car to purchasing organic to turning down the heat in your home.

One of the trend-watching groups I monitor says that we have moved from eco-aware to eco-shaming. I thought this was significant. They did not break this down by age groups and I suspect that’s pretty important. I do not hear as many Boomers worked up about their SUV’s as I see young people who don’t really want to even learn to drive. The kids do, but only because it’s a necessity. And they almost certainly don’t want to have the burden of owning cars.

Like everything, that’s a generalization.

But, like it or not, it is reality. Humans need to be sustainable in everything. And we’re not. Not by a long shot.

If you understand anything about Climate Change, it’s this: Fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. You’ve seen the folks out there protesting – #KeepItInTheGround . That’s the biggest impact possible and the reason the Earth is warming. This is not my opinion. It’s backed up by research from every possible sector of science. Except, of course, the fossil fuel industry. (Even they are making changes. When Tom Skilling asked the CEO of Shell Oil “What is the future of Shell Oil?” he responded, “Not oil.” They are busy doing R and D on longer-lasting, more efficient batteries.) Just know that it took thousands of years for those fossil fuels to form in the Earth and burning so much of it in a matter of decades simply does not give the planet the chance to self-correct. And I assure you, the planet is self-correcting. But we’ve over-burdened it. And we have the technology to change, but not necessarily the political or financial will to fix things.

Tangential to that is the rest of the idea of sustainablity which might affect sewists in a more direct way. I wrote a blog about organic cotton right here.

Every aspect of our modern way of living is up for improvement.

What’s that ancient Chinese curse?

May you live in interesting times.

We certainly do. We can and must do better than we are doing now. I have made a pledge to myself to purchase only organic cotton in the future. But, you may argue, the cotton is only half the story. What about the processing? What about the dyes? To that I answer: GOTS certified organic cotton (Global Organic Textile Standard). They are doing the work of research for all of us.

We can no longer deny our place on the planet and our impact on it. Individual activity will almost certainly NOT solve the whole problem. We must work together within and across nations for the benefit of ourselves and others.

That is a challenge sewists can understand.

It’s Time to Get Real About Organic Cotton

When is the last time you thought about where your quilting stash comes from? Have you ever thought about the process, the transport, the distribution? How many of us have ever even recognized on a conscious level that quilt cotton is a plant?

If these questions seem abstruse or even mildly annoying, you’re not alone.  So few people care about this issue. At least that’s the information I was given when I contacted some of the largest distributors of quilting fabric around.

Moda told me there’s no market (that’s us) for organic fabric. Oh yes, they had one line of it a while ago and it didn’t sell terribly well, so…they don’t even carry any organic fabric right now. Fatquartershop.com who sells fabric online said they have nothing to do with the content of their products. In their copy on their website, they describe whatever a manufacturer tells them to say, and distribute on demand. Period.

Fabric designers tell me they do not get involved with the fabric manufacturing process.  They license their designs and have no say in whether their designs are used sustainably/responsibly or not. This may not be true for all of them, but it’s common practice.

So who makes the determination about whether fabric should be organic or not?

Surprise! It’s you. And me.  We are the ones who define this market, and we will have to be the ones to require change.

The question is:

Do you think we need change? 

Let’s talk about it a bit.  Because I’m going to make the case that we have no choice but to put pressure on manufacturers to change their cotton growing processes. And we might have to start with our local quilt shops.

Here’s why:

–70% of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

–It takes 1,000 years to replace 3 cm of degraded topsoil.

–With current farming practices, all the world’s topsoil will be gone in 60 years.

This is not my opinion.

This information is provided by lengthy studies done by the Textile Exchange and reported in life cycle analyses done over spans of years.

Go ahead and google “How much topsoil is left?” 

Without topsoil, the world doesn’t eat, let alone quilt with natural fabrics.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for my kids and grandkids being unable to have food and clothing because of my simplistic, uneducated (and, frankly, selfish) choices.

I’ve seen some people make the case that organic fabric requires more resources. 

That is simply not true. Not when using any scientific methodology of measurement. Not when attempting to understand the life cycle of the product.  And certainly not when we entertain the implications of the alternative. On the contrary, we now have clear indications that water use on organic farms is far less than traditional practices.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the information on these two charts, but the explanation for them was very clear: Organic farming of cotton greatly reduces water and other energy consumption, and continuing on our current trajectory is simply not sustainable.

Here is where we encounter the power of market forces.

You and I can demand that things change. Manufacturers, distributors and farmers, all have little reason to improve their processes. Inertia and monetary fears will keep them all from advancing to more sustainable processes.

But the science tells us that we will pay a price one way or another. As consumers, we either start demanding organic cotton now, or we will not likely have access to any at all in the future. The choice is that simple and that stark.

But I’m just one person.

What can I do?

-Ask your local quilt shop to carry organic cotton. Be assertive. Those designers that you love? Their designs can be made on organic cotton. But folks like Moda (who is a HUGE distributor of fabric) think you don’t care. I’m telling you it’s time to care and care deeply.

Contact folks like Moda directly: marketing@modafabrics.com and let them know about your concerns.

–Do your own research. Here are a few links to explore:

–aboutorganiccotton.org

–textileexchange.org

Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

–Get the Facts About Organic Textiles

Hope is on the horizon.

But we must all start to act.

Folks like Wrangler, H & M and Nike are starting to recognize that their own businesses will not be around if they don’t educate consumers on organic products, and make the industry more sustainable.

The organic cotton industry has increased by 11% in the US from 2016 to 2018. But that’s not enough. Where does our quilt cotton come from? India? China? the US?

I don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to follow up. In the meantime, I will continue to work down my stash of fabric, and I plan on only purchasing organic fabric in the future. This is a statement I can only make because I’ve done a bit of homework on this and believe it is the best path for me.

I’ll be exploring more of the current manufacturers soon. The good news is that there ARE organic quilt fabrics out there. We just aren’t aware of them.

I leave you today with a current picture of my own garden out back. Our Midwestern loam is the finest on the planet. Everything grows here. But we need to be responsible stewards of the land, of our money and of our resources.

I’m ready to take the organic leap. Are you?