I posted last week about ‘Slow’ in terms of making and creating, and how for me there are two ‘prongs’ to Slow: the supplies I need to make things; and the whole process of making.
I wrote in that post that I’m pretty good at the first bit, sourcing supplies sustainably, (it’s the second bit, the slowing down and enjoying the process bit that I need to work on), so I wanted to explore a bit more about why that bit of Slow is so important to me.
When I first learned to sew, it didn’t even cross my mind to think about the fabric and other supplies I was buying to make all my creations. I was like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop, and was so excited to see all the beautiful fabrics in the sewing store.
If I had stopped to think about it, I would have just assumed that making my own things, and my own clothes, was way better than buying them from the High St. For a start, there’s no issues around sweat shops and people being paid pennies to make the clothes. Or is there?
Well, yes, there is.
Sewing the clothes themselves is only one step in the process of making clothes, and it’s not only at the sewing up stage that the potential exists to exploit workers.
Cotton production is a huge industry, and conventional cotton growing uses vast amounts of water, and also pesticides. In fact, cotton production accounts for 16% of all the insecticides used worldwide. As well as being bad for the environment, many farmers and growers are unable to afford the protective equipment they need, and this has serious consequences on their health.
Once the cotton has been harvested, it has to be processed, turned into fabric, and dyed-all of which uses large amounts of chemicals all of varying toxicity, many of which are discharged directly into waterways.
So cheap fabric, much like cheap clothes, has far-reaching implications beyond saving us some money and allowing us to enjoy our making as cheaply as possible.
For those of us who knit or crochet rather than sew, cheap yarn fares little better.
I confess to sometimes wincing at the cost of yarn when I am looking into what to use for a project. When you add it all up, especially for large projects like blankets etc, it can end up being really quite expensive, and sometimes difficult to justify. And the temptation can be to head to the pound store to pick up lots of yarn for very little money.
However, most cheap yarn is not in fact made of wool, and is called ‘acrylic’. Acrylic yarn is made from petroleum based resources, and we all know that burning/using fossil fuels is not great for the environment.
I couldn’t find out much about the impacts of dyeing acrylic yarn on a commercial scale, or what chemicals are used, so I can’t really comment, but anything done very cheaply, and on a large scale, often means compromises in terms of what that process is doing to the environment.
I love sewing, and crocheting, and this year I will, will, WILL learn to knit, but once we started on our year of Buying Nothing New, and I began to learn about the impact of our consumerism on the planet, I was forced to face up to the fact that my creative endeavours, my hobbies, could actually be contributing to that impact too. And that in the same way as there seem to be many human sacrifices in far off places so that we can benefit from cheap ‘disposable’ clothes, the same applies to cheap fabric too.
I decided at the end of My Make Do and Mend Year, that I would no longer buy ‘fast fashion’ and have been shopping pre-loved ever since. And I quickly realised that if my conscience was telling me I couldn’t support the social and environmental consequences of fast fashion, then I couldn’t really support ‘fast fabric’ either.
I decided that if I wanted to carry on making and creating, and doing all these things that bring me so much pleasure, that I needed to ‘walk the walk’ in terms of what I was buying in this area of my life too. So now I choose to either try and source the fabric I need secondhand, or I choose to buy sustainable and ethical fabrics.
But I will be the first to admit that this isn’t always easy.
Sometimes this means my making is more difficult, even less pleasurable. Sometimes it puts me off full stop.
Sourcing fabric secondhand can be hard, especially if I am looking for something specific, and I have lost count of the number of times I have ended up frustrated and fed up at not having quite the right type, amount, or colour of fabric to make an item of clothing.
And if I’m being really brutally honest, the cost of ethical fabrics and yarns sometimes puts me off, especially if a reasonable amount is needed for something like a dress or some trousers, and I can definitely appreciate the lure of cheap supplies.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a stash. I think nearly all crafters do. But I think that sometimes it’s easy to forget that ‘stash building’ is not without it’s consequences. Mindlessly buying fabric and yarn, because it’s on offer, or cheap, or just really pretty, isn’t really a good enough reason for me anymore. And that’s where Slow comes in. It’s about being more mindful about what I need, what I am buying and the impact that it has.
I guess it comes back to the same thing as it does with all consumption: Buy Less, Buy Better.
And then Slow Down. Enjoy the process, instead of racing to finish and start the next thing (and buy more supplies!). That’s the second ‘bit’ of Slow for me, the bit I need to work on.
But actually, the two ‘prongs of slow making’ complement each other very well-who’d have thought?!