I wanted to set out the choices I am making in my attempt to sew in a more sustainable way. So my plan is to write a series of short articles on different topics. But I realised my eco sewing journey started a long time ago, in that middle period between ‘make do and mend’ and the current fashion of recycling and upcycling.
There are two aspects to it, and one of these is the eco as in economical. I was born in 1961, to parents who had married five years earlier. Their attitudes must have been shaped by both the wartime restrictions and living in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a ‘waste not want not’ type of place. Certainly things that might come in useful were kept, just in case, it’s what you did. Along with mending. Dad’s socks were darned. Clothes were mended too. Mine quite often I suspect, I was the muddy, messy one. Hems were taken up or let down as appropriate. Many of my clothes were hand made, Grandma had been a dressmaker and Mum always did lots of sewing. I have very fond memories of ‘cut out ready to sew ‘dresses’ ordered for us from magazines. With an older sister we would have the same dress in different colours, but I would also have hers when we had grown. If only they still did those!
But back in the 1970s and wearing nylon tights for school, we mended ladders in them. You just did. I started sewing properly at about 16 I think. I still have some of those dresses and skirts, they don’t fit, but they do make really good bunting now. My Grandma had made my Mum’s wedding dress, and I chose to wear that for my own wedding. I had enjoyed wearing the bridesmaid’s dress that had been my Aunt’s, a long time before vintage was fashionable.
Later, when I was expecting my first child, I made all her cot and pram sheets from the better parts of worn sheets. I think this was the first sewing I did that was a conscious choice of reusing something rather than letting it go to waste and it was done as much for that reason as for saving money. Old sheets always came in useful for something though.
My first conscious rescue and re-use of fabric was to take the lace off a worn out blouse that was being thrown away by someone and to use it to trim an underskirt for my little girl. Not for economy, and not for the environment, but because it was beautiful. These three different aspects of sewing with old textiles form the basis of my eco sewing today.