5 Ways to Make Your Sewing More Eco-Friendly

After stumbling upon #plasticfreejuly, I’ve been feeling super inspired to decrease my family’s wasteful behaviors. {Easier said than done when you have a baby in diapers.}

Since I can’t control how often my husband buys bottled water at the gas station, I started reflecting on things that are in my control – what can I do to decrease my impact on the planet?

Because sewing is my self-care and something that I do a lot of, I felt like it was the perfect area to focus on improving.

“Zero waste” feels completely un-achievable (for me), but I am a firm believer that small steps add up to a big impact. So, today I’m sharing 5 totally-manageable, realistic ideas to help you become a more environmentally-friendly sewist.

FIRST, what do I mean by “eco-friendly”?

According to Dictionary.com, ecofriendly is…

having a beneficial effect on the environment or at least not causing environmental damage

I like this! It feels achievable – don’t we all want to live a life that benefits the environment?! (If you answered No, this may not be the post for you! 😉 )

Like with just about anything, there is always room for improvement – sewing is no exception.

Below are 5 environmentally-friendly ideas to influence your sewing habits.

1. Sew reusable items

Is there something disposable that you use regularly? Is there a way you could make a reusable version?

Example: I pack my lunch/snacks everyday for work. I like to wrap my silverware so they stay clean. For a brief time, I was using paper towels for this. Then it occurred to me that I could (DUH) make some reusable napkins to wrap my silverware. So I did. They were super easy to make and opening my lunch box to find fun fabric peaking out at me makes me so happy. Win-win.

There are loads of tutorials out there for sewing napkins – this is the one I used.

The utensil holder below by @greenindyblog is way fancier than mine – the flap can be used to set your food on! Genius.

{Click the image to read how this can be made!}

More ideas of reusable items to sew:

  • My friend Shanika recently shared a tutorial for making your own produce bags.

2. Alter and repair your existing garments

I can’t tell you how many garments I have made (or purchased) that just don’t fit right. I love the fabric or the style, but there’s just a little something off that’s preventing me from enjoying wearing the item.

I have a bad habit of finishing sewing a garment and being done with it forever. Rather than taking the time to take apart the garment and/or alter it so that it fits better, I either try to make it work/get used to the imperfection or hang it carelessly in the back of my closet to collect dust.

A better idea would be to take the time to alter it. And if the finished product is too small to alter to fit, you could wrap it up and gift it to a friend or rip it up and make something new (like an outfit for your little one, a bag, some coasters or any other small project) with the scraps.

Just a wee bit obsessed with how fun these mended leggings look {source}

Additionally, as garments become well-worn, take the time to repair them. I’m guilty of wearing garments with holes in them or with buttons missing because I’m lazy. I’m on a mission to love my clothes more and I need to pour the investment of time into a few of them so that they will serve me longer.

Inspiration for repairing garments:

  • This slideshow from Martha Stewart has some really great tips for how to mend knit sweaters.
  • If you have a garment with a grease-stain that has already been through the dryer, try this to remove the stain so it’s wearable again.
  • To make mending more fun, you could use fabric scraps to DIY this mending kit!
  • This mended butt.
  • Cover a hole with an embroidered patch – like this.
  • This post has some great resources to get started.
  • Visible mending is less desirable in the crotch area, but let’s be honest: if your thighs touch (hello, everyone), it’s the first place to go. Here’s some inspiration.

3. Upcycle with material you already have

I love the challenge to refashion existing garments! As proof (& hopefully inspiration): check out my Thrifted Thursday posts!

One of my very favorite upcycled sewing projects was an old t-shirt from my Grandpa that I turned into a Montlake Tee. You can read more about it in this post from Me-Made-May 2017.

Top right: My Grandpa’s original shirt | Bottom right: My freshly sewn Montlake Tee.

Taking apart a garment to then reconstruct it into something new is so much fun! It’s a challenge to fit pattern pieces into a limited amount of space, but what results is a re-purpose of something that would have become trash and very little fabric waste/scraps {look at the video in Trish Stitched’s recent post to see what I mean!}.

Need some inspiration? I got you covered:

Another idea: The other day I bought new sheets for our bed. I saved our old worn-out sheets to use to make muslins for new garment patterns I’m trying. When I create a bodice muslin, I save the fabric to reuse for a smaller project to keep reuse of the material going.

Speaking of bed sheets, if you have cool printed sheets, here’s a tutorial on how to turn them into a dress. Or if you’re like me and have boring white sheets, you could try dyeing them!

4. Make use of your scrap fabric

It’s very tempting to toss your scrap fabric because at some point you’ll run out of storage {and if you’re a neat freak like yours truly, storing scraps is a bit annoying}.

BUT Meg of @sewliberated recently shared a Metamorphic Dress that Jen made from scraps of rayon fabric that blew.my.mind.! I’m already working on a Metamorphic dress, but I may be incorporating patchwork into a future version!

This makes my heart go pitter-patter! {more photos here, here, here}
Below are more ideas for using your scrap fabric:
  • Make fabric twine – a member of one of my quilt guilds showed us how to do this and it’s super easy! The twine is great to have on-hand for gift wrapping embellishment.
  • Use knit scraps to make a headband & woven scraps to make a neck scarf.
  • Find someone willing to use your scraps. Maybe you have a friend who sews or is learning to sew and could use scraps. Maybe you know a teacher or childcare center worker, etc. who could use scrap fabric for art projects. I have a friend who is crazy creative with scrap fabric so I pass mine on to her and at some point I will see a bag, fabric planter, shirt, etc. that she has made with fabric I recognize from my stash.
  • Make a scrunchie. {I heard they’re coming back in style so pack up your judgement and leave it at the door}
  • Make a mug rug – these are great for gifting with a coffee mug, some tea, etc. {You can download my free printable tags in this post}
Mug Rugs are perfect for fabric scraps & make great gifts!

5. Pre-wash new fabric with sheets or towels

It’s tempting to toss your new fabric by itself in the washing machine to pre-wash, but try washing it with sheets or towels that you wouldn’t mind if the new fabric bleeds/stains them. This will cut down on water waste and be more efficient overall (plus, we all love a lower water bill, right?!).

Photo borrowed from my recent purchase of the Metamorphic Dress Kit from Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics

For the safety of your fibers, try to wash your new fabric with similar material (i.e. try washing light weight / delicate fabric with bed sheets instead of towels).

What are some ways you make your sewing practice more eco-friendly? I’d love to gather more tips!


Author: Jordan Slice-Metcalfe

My name is Jordan. I'm a full-time working mom whose coffee cup is always half full (and probably still in the microwave). I've got a weak spot for rescuing old dogs, pretending pizza is a vegetable, negotiating dessert with every meal, propagating more plants than any home needs, dreaming of sewing projects while my husband is talking to me, and loving my tribe too deep.

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