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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Greening a textile habit

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Learning to make for yourself the everyday objects that you need is liberating in a world where few people are engaged in any form of manual labour. There is something therapeutic about being able to craft something useful and beautiful. My go-to craft is crochet, but I am capable enough across a range of other needle crafts too. I know that in the past my stash building habits haven't been particularly green or frugal and I am working on changing that by using up the yarns I already have before buying any more.

Yarn crafts don't readily lend themselves to the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra. If you have the patience, old knitted items made from good quality yarns can be carefully unwound and the yarn washed and reused (a detailed set of instructions can be found here). The yarn from old cotton sweaters is particularly good for knitting and crocheting dishcloths. One of the projects I am currently working on is a rag rug, using inch wide strips of fabric cut from old sheets and crocheted with a large hook. This is a fairly fabric intensive technique, but the result is a hard wearing rug; thinner strips would lend themselves to pot holders, shopping bags and cushion covers.


Something else I have been experimenting with is felting (by experimenting, I mean that I accidentally shrank a jumper in the wash and then decided to go the whole hog)  - garments with a minimum 80% wool content are washed on a hot cycle with detergent or soap, which causes the fibers to shrink and mat together. It isn't an exact science - it may take several hot washes to fully felt a garment, colours may run and seams may mat together, but the result is usually a durable, insulating, non fraying fabric.


I am fully aware that a skilled sewer could have got a lot more mileage from those old sheets than my fabric strips; and that I need to get over my sewing phobia. Most of the raw materials that surround me lend themselves to cutting and stitching more than any other technique.  The world is awash with cheap, disposable fashion - an awful lot of fabric waiting to be taken out of the waste stream and turned into something useful. I am starting small - a drawstring bread bag made from an old tea towel and a felt pincushion are all I have managed so far, but now that I have a little confidence in my ability to (crudely) stitch two bits of fabric together, I am saving the old jeans and shirts that were previously destined for the textile recycling bank for some bigger patchwork projects.

By making things ourselves of course, we reduce the length of the supply chains that furnish us with goods and we have greater control over the ethical impacts of the objects we own. We also get to express our creativity; and the process of making things in itself can be a form of relaxation. One of the greatest advantages of making things yourself is that you can utilize a vast array of valuable resources that would otherwise go to landfill.

So, how does recycling and reusing fit into the crafts that you do?

9 comments:

Mrs. J @ roadlesstraveled said...

I cut up my husband's old t-shirts and sew them into squares to use in place of paper towels. We keep the used ones in a small garbage can, and when it gets full we wash them. :)

Pat aka Posh said...

I wish we lived closer so I could help you make items with used fabric.. its one of my favorite things to do. I always cut out the back legs of jeans and save them.. they make wonderful new looking jean jackets.. my husband has always had the nicest jackets made from his old jeans and no one can tell their not new or bought because the back of the jeans just doesn't wear out or fade like the fronts do..

Molly said...

I try and use up every bit of yarn from projects. Often leftover are just enough for baby-sized items or larger multicolored work. In fact a bunch of stuff I made for my new baby boy this year was made from the left overs of previous projects!

I find that making sure you have good quality tools for textile work is key to being green. For example I invested in a good quality circular knitting needle set and a nice collection of DPNS for socks and gloves and haven't had to buy needles for over 2 years.

Anonymous said...

Old bath towels would have to be the best, but I'm sure you all know that. I never ever throw one out.. To start, if I have a relatively new towel that frays at the edge, I overlock it...wears for years...then when they get past it...I use my overlocker to cut and hem in one easy go to use lots of small pieces for cleaning, polishing etc...even keeping some whole for big spills...they were so handy when a storm hit and the roof leaked...saved a lot of my stuff... my mum said in the old days they used them as sanity products and nappies. I always remind my daughter of this, if hard times hit.....Never throw out a towels!:)

Kathryn said...

I crocheted a rag rug from old sheets for my kitchen. I love it! However, it is heavy, so when i wash it it does take a long time to dry.

SuSu said...

I have accumulated a stash of old towels, sheets, and clothing that available for me to re purpose whenever the need or desire arises. Old jeans seems to have so many uses because the fabric remains so durable. I saved up my husband's work pants for a few years. He always wears them out around the pockets and at the bottom hem, so I still had plenty of nice fabric to cut into squares and make a nice warm quilt. Its one of our favorite quilts I've ever made, and it will last for years because of the sturdy fabric.
The problem with recycling clothing is that I can't bear to get rid of anything, because I see so many potential uses, so my stash of fabric is quite large and overwhelming. Also, I find it hard to decide whether it would be better to donate a used piece of clothing to a charity shop or to save it for recycling. If its not torn, stained etc., what do you think is better re-use in this case? To keep it as the original garment and donate it, or save it to turn it into something else?

Dea-chan said...

I had a friend that taught herself to knit on $5 -- she bought an ugly sweater for $1 to frog, she bought a wooden dowel for $2, a pencil sharpener for $.60 and a piece of sandpaper for $.25.

(She already had a saw and oil.)

Cut the dowel into even pieces, sharpen the points, sand it lightly, and oil lightly. You now have knitting needles! (I usually double point them). She frogged the yarn, and away she went.

Aurora said...

You all have some great ideas for reusing textiles. Another one I came across this week was cutting up T-Shirts into thin strips of yarn to crochet and knit with, something else I will experiment with.

SuSu - I kept a bag of old clothing just because I thought I could use the fabric one day. When I was decluttering I took a long hard look and realized I didn't actually like the fabrics and colours much, so sent them to a charity shop instead, someone else might love them. Now I keep the fabrics that I really like (even if they are still wearable)to use in crafts.

Amy said...

Hi Aurora, I rescued some fabric last year which is waiting (still, sigh) to be turned into some little zipped money bags. I'd like to learn to make zipped bags, drawstring bags, and skirts as I'd put these in Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I have used some fabric this year to wrap presents...not hemmed or anything, just tucked in and secured with a ribbon. And cut up old undies to use as cleaning rags when the elastic went on the waists. But I think I need to get a sewing-savy friend to do a few hours of creating with me though as otherwise I probably won't get to it (sewing phobia here too, and very busy besides!). Lovely post, hearing about your ideas and thoughts on reusing fabric! Food for further thought. Thanks, Amy