Listen to the episode
14. Mindful Fabric Selection, Part 2 – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
M8021 by McCall’s
Multi-Sport Skort JALIE 2796 by Jalie
Adrienne Blouse – PDF Pattern by Friday Pattern Co
The Ultimate Scrap Busting Project: DIY Pouf Pattern! by Closet Core Patterns
Fabric Stores mentioned
Fancy Tiger Crafts, based in Denver, carries hemp blend fabrics
Deadstock Fabric is NOT as Sustainable as You Think, virtue + vice
What is Greenwashing?, Business News Daily
Nicole: You asked me if I like linen, I’d be like, that stuff that’s itchy and wrinkles? Like, no thanks! I just think about my grandma who if she were alive today, she would totally dunk on me for wearing wrinkled linen clothing or lyocell or whatever clothing.
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer-turned-entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare – that’s C-H-U-A-N – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at@ i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your co-host Nicole. I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the council of the three fires: the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American, and I’m a woman, and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.
Ada: Oh, that is a deep V on the wrap dress.
Nicole: Uh… We can talk about the wrap dress too.
Ada: What pattern is that?
Nicole: It’s a, it’s a, it’s a McCall’s pattern. It’s one that I’ve had for a while, uh… 8021?
Ada: Okay, have you made it before?
Nicole: No. And when I first got it, it… So it’s a, it’s a special occasion pattern, it’s, you know, and I don’t love this make, I’ll be honest. But it’s growing on me because the pattern itself is super cute and if you look it up using the hashtag, you’ll see that most people make it as a party dress and it’s a very easy pattern, like super easy, very not size inclusive. Big Four, that’s how they roll – but in my head, I was like, this will make a great simple wrap dress that I can then, with this particular fabric, you know, it’s a crepe, it’s a poly crepe, fantastic pattern, I love it, and like, it will also be a nice swim cover up so that it’s versatile for travel and whatnot. But I forgot when I first made it, I was like, this is a bathrobe, this was like, a bathrobe! And I was like, how do I not make this look like a bathrobe? And I think you had said…
Ada: Like, how you make it closed so you aren’t flashing people?
Nicole: No, it’s more just like, it just looks like a bathrobe to me and not a wrap dress, and I was like… Okay, um… I guess, this is what it looks like and so I haven’t put… So I do need to still install the snaps into it, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to do it because I do want to be able to wear it open as just a swim cover up, or it would even be really cute with just like, shorts and a T-shirt underneath, or even like jeans and a T shirt. It’s, it’s, I made the version that goes to my knees but you can make a shorter version. Ehhh… I don’t know, yeah, I just feel a little bit meh about it, but I’m gonna wear it because I think it actually does look nice but… I feel less excited about it. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that, like, where…
Nicole: You… People… Other people are like, this is, that looks great. What are you talking about? I’m like… Hmm, I believe you. Like, I have to take your word for it, but, um, yeah.
Ada: I, too, have had that. I actually when my sister arrived, I pulled out like a good chunk of my closet, of both ready-to-wear and a lot of me-made wearable toiles that I just wasn’t in love with, or didn’t fit exactly right. And, I think I was talking about this last time, but I basically pulled them out for her to try on – she sorted through them, some of them were automatically like, no that’s not my style, and she tried on about half of them and she’s keeping the first pair of Clyde pants that are too large for me and then, I believe, the first or the second Atlas top with the weird darts that don’t quite fit my bust, and another ready-to-wear shirt. And there were a lot of like, me-mades in there that I was like, not love in love with this, or it needs a small fix, and I’m not, I’m not a big, like, fixer. After you make something like, I hate seam ripping but I was really proud of myself that… I… There was one of… I made two of my Jalie skorts and one of them I accidentally sewed in the shorts, like, rotated 90 degrees.
Ada: So the side, the side pockets became a front and a back crotch.
Nicole: I mean… You could still use it that way, if you want?
Ada: Yeah, I posted it on my Instagram stories and everyone’s like, hahaha, that’s hilarious! And, I wanted to wear it out yesterday and I was like, you know what, screw it. Like, I have 15 minutes before we go, it’s a knit, they’re both like, knit poly, like all the, it’s two different fabrics, but they’re both knit poly. And I was like, I could seam rip this, like, it’s just a zigzag stitch, I didn’t surge anything. So I just went at it, it took out of the 15 minutes I gave myself, it took me 12 minutes to seam rip and 3 minutes to reattach correctly. But I was really happy I did that. So now I have a pile behind me of the things that my sister didn’t want, that I think I can probably adjust if I just give myself, kind of the mental space to make it actually work for me.
Nicole: Yeah, it’s, for me, I feel the same. It’s difficult for me to make those final tweaks. So I need to do the thread, thread loops on the sides for this [producer note: Nicole was gesturing to her McCall’s 8021 “bathrobe” dress in the video] to hold the belt and then I need to install the snaps and I’m like, maybe I’ll just do it on the plane or when I get there, because I… It’s hard for me too. It’s difficult for me to revisit something that I feel, feels complete-ish.
Ada: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nicole: Like, like, and if also I’m ready to move on to something else, I’m like, this is good enough. But I do need to, I think I could skip those steps for the vacation if I do and move on to something in terms of like, my timeline, but, but I know it’ll be harder for me to come back to this, if I don’t do it. We’ll see.
Ada: Last week, we started talking about mindful fabric selection, and we walked you through the resource usage and waste that the fashion industry creates, as a result of our overconsumption. We mentioned that on an individual level, the best way to have positive environmental and social impact is to try to pick quote unquote sustainable fabrics. We tried to demonstrate why this is easier said than done by looking at mainstream fabrics and their pros and cons. For example, recycled polyester keeps plastic out of the landfill, but it still sheds microfibers in the wash. Cotton is natural and will biodegrade, but there’s a huge massive problem that we unpack on crimes against the Uyghurs in China, Uyghurs being subjected to forced labor, which includes picking cotton in Xinjiang. Now this week, we’re bringing you part two of mindful fabric selection. We are picking up where we left off, by continuing to cover some mainstream fabrics that you may also want to consider when sourcing fabrics for your sewing projects. We will also touch upon greenwashing, especially in the context of deadstock fabric. Then, per the course, Nicole and I want to share what sustainability means to us and how it shows up in our own sewing practices before we wrap up with some other best practices that we found in our research for this episode. So, Nicole, over to you.
Nicole: So, let’s shift gears and talk about another type of fabric. Bast fabrics are actually great and from what we can see, much greener than anything we’ve talked about today. This kind of fabric is sourced from plants with a stem consisting of a woody core and a fibrous bark. Bast fabrics include linen, which is made from fibers of the flax plant and hemp. Now, plants that are used to make bast fabric have a small carbon footprint compared to other natural fibers. They tend to require less water to cultivate and process and are more resilient towards pests and diseases. In fact, hemp is claimed to be one of the best alternatives to cotton, and I can’t say I’ve sewn with hemp before, but before I started sewing, if you asked me if I like linen, I’d be like that stuff that’s itchy? And like, no thanks! I just think about my grandma, who, if she were alive today she would totally dunk on me for wearing wrinkled linen clothing or lyocell or whatever clothing. I just think like… But anyway, learning more about linen itself in the last six months or so has me interested in it, and I think, I did make my first linen dress recently and now I want to take a look at linen for colder weather which, I didn’t even know was a thing like linen in the winter? We talked about this, Ada, and I know you’re a big linen fan, right?
Ada: I love linen, all year round, if you didn’t know, now you know. There’s different weights of linen – light, medium, heavy – so I am here for it. You can wear it all year round, I do. And like you said, another fabric that is similar to linen is hemp and before you get all like, isn’t hemp that scratchy rope stuff on me [producer note: Ada is wearing a Friday Pattern Company Adrienne blouse made in a hemp blend knit]? The Adrienne blouse that I’m wearing today is a hemp cotton knit. It is not scratchy at all. You’re probably gonna be like, but Ada, you said you’re not a total hippie – why are you wearing hemp? And, I would like to point out, the industrial hemp and fabric produced from it, don’t contain any THC, the active ingredient in marijuana – I know, I live in Colorado – and, again, not that scratchy! It is a little stiffer, the handfeel is is definitely something you have to, kind of get used, to but if you like linen, might I suggest… Hemp? A lot of ready-to-wear brands and some fabric mills are starting to produce more hemp and organic cotton blend fabrics, both in woven and knit form. So, ready-to-wear, I’m referring to garments that you buy that are already sewn together, the opposite of sewing something for yourself to wear, I think most listeners know. Usually, what I’ve seen in ready-to-wear is a 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton blend, and in knit form it does feel like a stiffer kind of knit at first. It definitely has less stretch because there’s no elastane or spandex woven into it, but it does soften with washing. And, in the woven form, especially with that 55-45 blend, it really does look and feel very similar to linen, albeit sometimes with a few more of those like, slubs that you get in texture, and hemp fabrics are great because the hemp plant is hardy. Like you said, it requires very little pesticides or herbicides to grow, uses way less water and in the growing and processing, than cotton, in about 1/20th the amount of cotton. It doesn’t deplete the land it grows on and it can be grown on the same plot of land for over 20 years without negatively impacting the soil, unlike cotton. And, according to the guide to sustainable textiles, hemp can also produce up to double the fiber yield per hectare than cotton, meaning we need less land to grow hemp, which is amazing! And, it is super breathable and stronger than cotton, I can personally attest to wearing it. It is very breathable – you can wear it on a 90 degree day and sweat your butt off and be fine, and meaning, that means that basically if you make a garment with a hemp or hemp blend, the garment should hopefully last longer, whether you produce it or a ready-to-wear brand produced it.
Nicole: The… To me, like, hemp sounds really exotic and I like, I’m like, oh, interesting! And I’m reminded of our conversation from last season about orange silk, remember that?
Ada: Yeah, orange silk.
Nicole: So, I mean, I’m only, I use that to say like, is hemp hard to find? Since you’ve already sewed for it, like, can you, is it easy to find? I just literally never… I’ve never looked for it so I don’t know.
Ada: I guess I was really surprised that it is kind of hard to find, it’s getting easier for sure. But when I started to look for it, only a few shops had it, and, and still not every shop carries it. It can be a little bit more expensive, I will say that, then a pure cotton blend. So I found, like the one I’m wearing, this knit from Matchpoint Fabrics who no longer are in business but Matchpoint Monthly is the same woman, Michelle, writing that beautiful newsletter and she had a lot of, her whole thing was about sustainability, so she had some knit options in different colors. Then I started to see at my local craft store, Fancy Tiger, that they have had some in the past, although I think by the time I saw it on the website, they had already sold out of like the good colors so it was like the weird colors I didn’t want to make something out of that were left, and recently on my trip to New York I went fabric shopping and was able to find quite a variety of colors, in terms of like, neutral colors and pinks, plums, greens, blues, that were all the same 55-45 blend in knit, at least, that I was really happy with, so it is out there, you definitely have to look for it, not everyone will have it, and if you’re looking for it, you’re probably going to find it in a more like quote unquote sustainability-minded fabric shop than, you know, anywhere out there. I’ve never seen it, to be fair, at any like, big box fabric shop or chain like that.
Nicole: Okay, well that’s interesting. I, like, many things while working on this podcast, I always want to, I always learn something new and want to take a look myself, so thanks for that info.
Ada: Yeah, I will say also, like, I own 2 ready-to-wear dresses made from the same 55-45 blend in a woven – it does look very, very similar to linen, so much so that when people who don’t sew, like, see me in those dresses, same dress, different colors, they’re always like, “Ooh, nice linen dress!” And I’m like, “It’s actually hemp.” But if listeners are curious, the designer of those is Aliya Wanek – A-L-I-Y-A, last name W-A-N-E-K – and she is based in Oakland. And I happened to find her and some of my new favorite slow fashion folks in the Bay Area at a sample sale that they were doing together, a few years back, so really grateful to have found them, still follow her, she makes a lot of stuff with linen and hemp ble- oh, sorry, not linen, hemp and cotton blend, so if you’re curious or you want some inspo, you want to know what the handfeel will look like, or the drape, definitely check out her page because she makes with the knits, she makes sweaters and sweatshirts, and she also makes fantastic dresses and robes.
So, besides my love letter to hemp, let’s talk about deadstock next. So, deadstock is pretty much fabric that hasn’t been able to sell. It might be old, it could be fabric with minor damages that was rejected by the company who ordered it, surplus fabric because the company who purchased the fabric ordered too much intentionally – or not – or scraps from a factory’s cutting room floor. And it’s important to know that deadstock isn’t the same as what’s called “available stock fabric”. Available stock fabric is fabric that a factory overproduces because they know it will eventually sell, like a plain knit jersey that’s commonly used in T-shirts. And this happens for a couple of different reasons. Fabric production involves a huge complex machine or set of machines that dye, print, knit and weave fabric and require multiple people to operate. These machines are so big that they basically take up an entire city block or multiple. And it is far easier for a mill to produce extra fabric to sell at a discount rather than to shut the machines off as soon as the order is fulfilled. And this extra fabric is never intended for the landfill. Instead, they know it will end up being used to make lower price clothing for a developing economy, or if a mill is really unable to sell that fabric, they could just leave it in storage or pass it on to a fabric jobber. Now, I think the term jobber has been more and more commonly used, I think in the sewing world recently, over the last few years. But a jobber is basically someone who takes fabric from various places to resell at a premium, and they’re just like another cog kind of in that fashion supply chain.
Nicole: I have never heard of that one before. So this was before this episode, I was like okay, today I was this old when I learned about jobber.
Ada: I listen to a lot of fabric and sewing and fashion podcasts. So maybe it’s just me.
Ada: So, Mood Fabrics is a major jobber who makes deadstock and available stock fabric accessible to home sewists, like us! And before you go hurrying to their store or their website to part ways with your hard-earned cash, we do want to remind you that there have been various instances, recently and not so recently, where Mood partook in some form of cultural appropriation when it came to their designs, and even ableism when talking about having fabric stashes and glorifying mental illness. So, people have called them out on Instagram, but they have been ignored by Mood in return, so, just a reminder. And in addition, their online stock is pretty different from what they sell in their actual physical store in New York, like, there’s much more non-deadstock online. So if you don’t live in New York, and you’re just shopping online, you may not actually be making that green of a purchase as you might think you are.
Nicole: I can’t say that I’ve shopped Mood yet, but it’s interesting that they are a jobber and are part of the supply chain. Now it seems that deadstock isn’t even really as eco as, or green as we’re made to believe and it sounds a lot like greenwashing to me.
Ada: Oh yeah.
Nicole: And Ada used, yeah, she… You used the word “greenwashing” a couple of times early on, so let’s go ahead and just define it for our listeners. The term “greenwashing” was coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, and in short, refers to when a company spends more time and energy promoting how environmentally friendly it actually is, rather than focusing on the actual reduction of its environmental impact. So, all show, no action type thing.
Ada: The irony.
Nicole: Well, we put up a Business News Daily article in the show notes that discusses the history of greenwashing in a little bit more detail, and goes beyond fashion and fabric. Now, from our research, the biggest problem, as you may have already picked out, seems to be transparency. We could never be certain that fabric is true deadstock or if it was simply overproduced, just to make more money, like Ada explained. And also, even if the fabric was really deadstock, mills don’t have to disclose why a company rejected the fabric, they don’t have to disclose to us consumers why. So while we may not know it, we could either be buying lower quality fabric, or even worse, fabric that isn’t meeting some sort of health and, you know, compliance requirement in its production. And so that’s all we have on mainstream fabrics today, and their pros and cons. And next up, Ada and I want to dig into what sustainability means to us as individuals, and how this shows up in our sewing practice. There really isn’t a one size fits all method that works for everyone, so perhaps again, by sharing our personal stories, you’ll be inspired to figure out what’s right for you.
Ada: I’m so glad we’re doing this because I meant to post about it on Instagram, and I just never got around to it. But for me, I do understand and I recognize that not everyone is in a place of privilege to make the quote unquote, most sustainable choices for themselves or their family. Like, the conventional option is oftentimes cheaper and more accessible, and if you don’t have the money to choose between that and a more sustainable option, I don’t blame you. I don’t fault you at all. Right, there have been times where I literally have had $20 in my bank account. And that’s it. And I understand now that I have, over time, gained an immense amount of privilege to be able to make more sustainable choices in my day-to-day life, in my business and how I run it, and in my hobby, which is sewing. And so, there are two points I want to make about sustainability. The first is that, for those of us who may have grown up with immigrant parents, we probably experienced some sort of ingrained scarcity mindset. And that is that mindset is inherently sustainable and a lot of ways, like a lot of the sustainable practices people tout nowadays, like reusing your mason jars or saving your Tupperware from takeout, buying in bulk, going to a refill store, have naturally just been part of my life because they were the more economical option for my immigrant family, and maybe yours too.
Nicole: Yeah, and there was a post that went around, gosh, sometime earlier this year, where it was like, Filipino moms have been sustainable for as long as they’ve been around, and it’s, it was a funny, like, you know, funny TikTok video or whatever. And it was like, opening up… I’m laughing, because, because this is still true. Opening up the butter, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” container and, oh, there’s leftover soup in there, and like, I mean, and, and it is, it is something that is just like, those types of individual actions. You know, I know that in our household were taken, they were taken from the lifestyle that my family had to live in the Philippines, like, we didn’t need to save butter containers, and I still save jars. I think my husband doesn’t like that like, like glass jars. I’m like, there’s just like a shelf of glass jars that I’ve washed and functionally sanitized to use again, but I just wanted to jump in and share that because I’m like, yeah, this, the Filipino moms are sustainable just cracked me up, because it’s just so relatable, so relatable.
Ada: And a lot of it goes back to like, cooking and food, right? So, on the weekends we used to have cifan [producer note: also known as Shanghai breakfast rice rolls], or like, congee porridge, and the toppings that you would put on it came in glass jars, because they were like, different types of pickles. So you had all these different jars of pickles. And eventually, when you got to the bottom of that jar, you would empty it, you would wash it out, you’d probably take the label off – or not, sometimes – and then that jar would end up holding like, dry goods in your pantry, or in your, in our closet. And so it’d be like, dried shrimp, or like dried beans, kind of stuff in there. And it was hilarious, because a few months ago, maybe last year even, we had bought those jars, we had finally gotten through with it, because you know, there’s only two of us, so there’s only so fast that you can eat those pickles. And, I had all these jars at one time, and my partner was like, there are too many jars and they don’t match – are you gonna like, what are we using these for? Like, can you just, can we get rid of them? And so, instead of getting rid of them, the next time I went to one of the refill stores around here, which if you don’t know what a refill store is, basically like, you bring a container or you buy a container there to refill like, home goods, so soap, detergent, all that kind of stuff. And oftentimes, it can be cheaper on a per ounce basis than what you’re buying at Target. But I brought all of them to this one store, and I was like, Hi, I know sometimes people come in and they can’t afford a jar, do you want like, five jars that I have cleaned and sterilized and taken the label off of?
Nicole: Yeah, no, that’s a good use of it. And we’ll go back to sustainability in just a second. But I wanna, like, you said about labels that just made me laugh because I just, um, I, my aunt gave me some cucumbers, and there’s no way I was gonna use them all, so like, I’m going to try pickling. But one of the jars where my pickles are sitting, which they just taste like vinegar so far, so I probably did wrong, but I didn’t even bother removing the label, it’s still like a spaghetti jar thing. And I was like, yeah, if I remove it, I’m going to do a crappy job, it was gonna be junk all over, or I can just leave the label on. So it’s like, this spaghetti sauce jar of pickles. I just, it was just, it’s just funny. Like, it’s so relatable. But go ahead, sorry, I interrupted you.
Ada: I mean, like, we just do these things in our life. And we don’t necessarily, I wouldn’t have seen them as sustainable until recently because they just like, the way we do things. And if these stories sound like you, I would challenge you to think about the small choices that you make each day that maybe you picked up from a parent, or an older relative, or a sibling that do end up being more sustainable, because they extend the life of goods or repurpose items around your house. And the second point I wanted to make about sustainability is specifically about sewing. I think in the sewing world we are constantly being prompted to buy, buy, buy, and we’re, that scarcity mindset is being used again because we’re being told this fabric’s going to be sold out or this trim or whatever, when reality, you know, when in reality, there’s so much fabric already existing in this world, we don’t necessarily always need to purchase new yardage. For me, I have, when I started sewing I did make some purchases – Mood was one of them – and now, after learning a bunch more, I tried to source my fabrics from existing sources, meaning I don’t actually buy a lot of new fabric from fabric stores. Like, the holiday season was my last big go at net new yardage from a fabric store that was new, and I spend a lot of my time trying to find good cuts at secondhand and thrift stores, creative reuse stores, and my personal rule is that I only buy the new fabric from fabric stores, if I know I won’t be able to find it, or similar fabric in good condition at a secondhand shop, or without a ton of work to do that because time is money. And so, that means that my fun prints and colors are usually thrifted, and basics like cream-colored, white-coloured, black linen, even branded fabrics like Merchant and Mills or Nani Iro, those I will purchase brand new because I know the chances of me finding it secondhand are just so, so non-existent. And, on top of that, I guess, with my fabric choices, I try to stay away from synthetics as much as possible, but where necessary, like activewear, I will opt for recycled materials like REPREVE fabric and recycled poly thread. So REPREVE is, I believe. made from recycled PET plastic bottles, like, soda bottles and stuff.
Nicole: Yeah, I’ve only just learned about the recycled fabrics with regard to activewear, because when I started sewing my first swimsuit, I already had the fabric for that, but, that you can actually purchase fabrics that are made from recycled bottles, plastic bottles, which I think is really cool. And something that I know I’ll be looking into for sure.
Ada: Yeah, there are a few ready-to-wear brands now that are like, advertising this dress with seven water bottles or whatever, to which I say yeah, recycled polyester fabric has actually been around for quite a few years now, it’s just, it hasn’t been quote unquote hip or cool. And I think part of my feelings around fabric is that I help sort fabric donations at a local secondhand reuse store about once a week, and that gives me firsthand access to some of these fabrics and notions, as well as supplies for my business. And I will say that shopping these existing cuts of fabric or even just examining all of them and measuring them so they can get priced, has made me more of a creative and resourceful sewist, because I can’t just say like oh, I ran out I’ll pick up another yard to finish cutting this pattern so I can have, you know, two sleeves or something. I have to make it work with what I have, which means that I get to reduce my own fabric waste when cutting out and more resourcefully use the fabric that has already been produced. And, I realized going into recording this episode, I guess I technically am a zero waste sewist? Not in that I use zero waste patterns – which I do want to explore – I don’t create scraps that go into the trash bin, all of my scraps have a purpose. So out of like, knits, I will cut scraps for underwear – they don’t have to be the same color and nobody’s going to see that besides me. I will also turn scraps of wovens into masks or small accessories. I will also turn them into like, fabric rope to kind of, what is it, braid them into like, a fabric rope rug that I’m working on. It’s a slow process because, takes a lot of work to make one of those, but it’s been a good way to use wovens and for anything that becomes like a little tiny slice or thread bits and stuff like that, I actually use larger cuts that I can’t use as a pattern piece and make them into tiny pillows, and everything goes into them as like, pillow stuffing, and I’ve been gradually making like multiple tiny pillows to stuff into my scrap buster Closet Core pouf because that pattern… Let me tell you, that pouf is actually quite large when you put it together.
Nicole: Yeah, I’ve heard.
Ada: It’s hard to fill it like, I have been at it, and admittedly, you know, I don’t have as many scraps because I’m doing all these things before that stuff becomes filling. But, I don’t, I haven’t thrown any fabric out to the landfill which makes me feel a little bit better. And, like I mentioned before, you know sorting all the fabric at the thrift store has put it into perspective for me, right, like the donations often come from estates or when someone’s downsizing or can no longer sew, and there’s literally so much fabric, dozens and dozens of yard per donation, literally, someone brought in a dozen garbage bags. And, seeing that much, it makes me really sad because all of this fabric, you have to think about, somebody originally purchased it, and it could potentially go to waste, if this store and organization wasn’t there to do the repurposing, and upcycling, and re-finding a market for this fabric, right. And I, seeing all that, never want to get to the point where if I were to unexpectedly leave the earth, right, or be unable to sew that I would have that much fabric going to reuse. And I’ve seen this also in, not only just the craft store, thrift store, the regular thrift store, like the Goodwill outlet bins, which is where all of the stuff that doesn’t sell in a Goodwill store goes after a few weeks, there is so much fabric in there, especially quilting cotton, that just goes there, through there on a daily basis. And a lot of the people who are there to make money as resellers aren’t picking up that fabric because they don’t know what to do with it, they’re not crafters, they’re not sellers, they’re after, you know, home goods and clothing that they can resell. And so, knowing that there is that much that already exists in the world, I don’t think I need to make or buy any more that’s really new unless it’s something I can’t find that way, like sometimes I really just want to like, save all the fabric and bring it home but then I realized that that would just make me kind of the same, right, as those whose stashes have ended up in the bins or at the creative reuse store, and so, I’ve become a lot better, I think, over the last year, about letting fabrics that I won’t use go so they can find a better home. And, you know what, usually like the ones that I’m hemming and hawing about, they get snatched up pretty quickly by someone who’s going to put them to great use, or sometimes I’ll send you a picture, Nicole, right, and you will ask…
Nicole: Sometimes, I buy.
Ada: Sometimes, you buy, sometimes other folks and friends want to support and do that. So, there’s my very long rant about sustainable selling practices. What about you, Nicole? What does sustainability mean to you, and how do you think it shows up in your selling practice?
Nicole: I think, before I get to that, one thing I do want to re-emphasize, if I haven’t already, is just that, you know, if you have a large stash, if you buy a bunch of stuff, I’m not sitting here judging you right now, and Ada’s not either. I think that again, just that’s not, I think sometimes when I think about topics like this, I’m like, man, I am doing a shitty job. You know, like, I’m a terrible sewist. Blah, blah, blah. Like, that’s not what we’re doing here today, and that’s not how I see you if you are buying. So, just putting that out there again, because I feel like it’s important to reiterate. With regard… Yeah, I mean, we all have our own, how we handle these things. And like we said earlier, a lot of the responsibility is going to be the industry, but we do what we can as individuals to be a little bit better, I’ll just say that I am not to be held up as an example of sustainable sewists. Like I said earlier, I can very easily fall into the trap of over buying, I mean, like, literally buying for the joy of buying or just to acquire more things. It’s not just fabric, it’s lots of other things. I know that there’s a lot to unpack there that relates to my upbringing, and I’m sure my mental health, like, the scarcity mindset concept that Ada talked about earlier. And I’ll also say that if you are a serial over-buyer, I’m not saying anything about your mental health, I’m saying, I’m saying my overbuying is almost certainly due to my own mental health. But a couple of years ago, I started to become really overwhelmed with stuff, just like the sheer amount of stuff. Again, long before I started sewing. And I’m still currently working on trying to be responsible about getting rid of that stuff – usually, it’s mostly clothing, so it’s mostly things that I put on my body, and then I liked for a little bit, and then, just left. Of course, the pandemic impacted how my relationship with clothes and probably everyone’s relationship with clothing. And so I’m just like, stuck with all this stuff that I don’t wear and that I don’t want to wear it whenever life, quote unquote, returns to normal. So I’m working on responsibly getting rid of all that, and that’s an entire other podcast about what that is, but we did talk a little bit about sending stuff to Goodwill isn’t, might not necessarily be the best thing. So I’ve got, spent many hours working through that. But, of course, when I started sewing, guess what happened?
Ada: You bought fabric.
Nicole: Fabric all day, every day. And at the end, at the very beginning, I did not know what I was doing. Like, I was just like, this is pretty, this is cheap. This is, you know, like, and so all the stuff that I do want to get rid of now, is stuff that I did buy in those early months, because I was like, oh, I could use this, like, lots of quilting cotton. Like, what am I gonna do with that now? Now that I’m not making masks, right, but I guess I could use those for masks. You know, I can, I can try. You might have, you might have witnessed one of these transactions, Ada, but I can purchase dozens of yards at a time…
Ada: Oh my gosh.
Nicole: …And not bat an eye.
Nicole: And like, I can do it, like, and I’ll feel guilty about it later, but at the time, nothing can stop me. And so that’s part of my sustainability journey, that’s like, me trying to be more mindful about buying habits. And sometimes the word “mindful” is used so often it loses all its meaning, but for me, it’s really just trying to buy things that I’m truly excited about, not, not about the price, not about it on its own, but something that will have a purpose already in mind. And if I stick to that rule, which I don’t, all the time, that requires slowing down, like, that requires me to say, do I have a project in mind? I don’t ask myself, do I have a use for this, because I don’t have a use for any of this fabric. Like, it’s not, it’s pleasure, it’s something that I like to do. And then, if I really do love something, I make a note of it, and I come back to it the next day, or later in the day if the sale, sale’s still going, because I can’t stop being myself, you know. And, I think that these habits automatically curb the overbuying that I engage in and, that I can engage in, and have, even after I’ve said, no more, Nicole, I have fallen down that rabbit hole. And I do think that there are some sewing, there’s a few sewing challenges out there right now, but in the past, the… What was it? There’s a Whole… Whole 30 fabric challenge by Jacinta Green from Pink Mimosas by Jacinta. There was also a 60 day no-buy challenge earlier this year that you, Ada, and I, we did together and that was put on by Sew Legal Chick and I believe, Sheree’s Academy [sic]? But we’ll put links to like, those posts in the show notes, ‘cause I know that they’re going to do them regularly. But those types of challenges, for me, also help allow me to reframe my mindset with regard to consumption and it makes it easier because those types of challenges, you don’t feel like you’re doing them alone.
Ada: Yeah. Those…
Nicole: Like, I was messaging you a lot during the 60 day challenge. I was like, no, no, okay.
Ada: I mean, same, right? Like, there’s that level of accountability, when you do a challenge like that, that I do think really helps us and I like to call people who helped me with accountability or if I help someone with their accountability, my accountabili-buddy.
Nicole: That’s so many syllables.
Ada: So… I think it’s cute though! So, you are like, my…
Nicole: It is cute.
Ada: …Fabric ban accountabili-buddy. And I do think that when you frame it like that, it’s very similar to kind of that ban, now that I didn’t call it a ban, but like, that challenge that I set for myself two years ago to only shop ethically and sustainably made clothing, like having that and giving myself rules and holding myself accountable, like telling my friends, that’s what I was doing, that’s why I couldn’t buy this thing that they linked me to, really did help me think more consciously, I guess, about what I was buying.
Nicole: Yeah. So, sustainability – number one is curbing the overbuying. That’s what it is for me. And it’s hard, and it’s a difficult thing to do. Oftentimes, it’s difficult for a period of time, and then it’s almost like a weight lifts after you’ve been doing it for so long. Like, 45 days is easier than 30 days of no buying, you know, but it’s a, for me, it’s a process. It’s something that I think, I hope I will break myself permanently of it, someday, but I am okay with being somebody who has to work on it. And the other side of sustainability for me is somewhat of a newer journey, and it is trying to pick more, quote unquote, natural fabrics and stay away from poly but like, I have loads in my stash, and there’s a lot of reasons to like polyeste,r like color, it’ll hold color really well, so you can get all these amazing, fantastic designs, stretch, drape, and…
Ada: Sweat wicking.
Nicole: Yeah, that’s true – yeah, that’s pretty valuable, that’s a valuable thing. But you know, I started to appreciate the feel of natural versus poly, especially this, like, nasty, hot, Midwest summer that we have. I think it is hot everywhere and nasty everywhere, but it was for some reason it was just particularly gross, I felt like. And I like when someone, I think, maybe it was you, or maybe it was a future guest, Joy [producer note: Joy Mao is a guest who will be appearing on a future episode], said like, this is gonna be returned to the earth. And I’m like, oh, I like that. That is, you know, if I can’t have control over where it came from, or at least there’s a limit to the transparency that’s available with regard to that, I can do what I want to do and like, compost it and return to the earth. But, I do want to say that I used to find it super snobbish when people would say things like, oh, no, only natural fibers is the only way for me to go for XYZ. And I think that’s an internal thing for me, because it feels like a person who shops fresh and organic and lovely foods from Whole Foods, looking down on someone who buys Aldi mac and cheese, you know, because they’re like, oh, that’s not good for you. That’s not good for the environment. I’m like, well, you know, I’d, like anyway, so maybe I feel this way because I’ve been on the side of not being able to afford something that’s supposedly nicer or better and wish that I could. So for me, like I get the appeal of natural fibers in terms of feel, but you know, I still like, I find that attitude just like, maybe less snobbish than I did, but oftentimes, people do they just sort of like, oh, no poly, you know, like, and we can have those judgments about the fabric itself but oftentimes it’s a judgement of the person which I’m like, not down with, I’m not, like, that’s not who I am, like, which is why I said a few minutes ago, like, we’re not judging people here.
Nicole: We’re talking about the fabric. What I want to be sustainable – slowing down on my buying, shopping with Ada when she sorts her fabric at her secondhand… And I don’t overbuy! Like, you show me stuff, and I remember you said there’s a pile, there’s like, I’m drowning in poly chiffon and I was like, I’m trying to skip poly but show me some of that, hahaha, some of it. So I mean, you know, that I also have to be careful about though secondhand, even, because I can say like, it’s so inexpensive and it’s better ‘cause it’s secondhand, and then I’m like, accumulating more and more and I can see that happening with me. And then to your scraps thing, I’m the same, so this whole, like, using the glass jars and the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”, like, you know, the… I don’t know why I said it with an accent, because I’m thinking of my grandma, but you know, like, the tubs…
Ada: Because that’s how your grandma said it when she put the soup in that container.
Nicole: Yeah. It’s true! Yeah, when there’s like, tinola, when I opened it up and I wanted butter, or “thing I could not believe was butter”, or “wasn’t butter”, but like, I’ve almost fully avoided throwing away scraps, like even tiny scraps. You remember you told me about doing the little mini pillows to manage the tiny unusable scraps and I really liked that. I have a separate, like, container for the definitely-not-functional scraps-but-will-be-used-in-the-future for maybe dog toys, or a pouf?
Ada: Ooh, that’s a good one.
Nicole: Yeah, I wanna… I would probably do like mini pillows, like a pillow, and then, like, wrap it in fabric because I can see a dog just…
Ada: Just chewing through them.
Nicole: Tearing into them and just like, tiny fabrics everywhere. Yeah, but I’d like to make one of those poufs – it’s very popular, it seems really huge, and it would be nice to just be able to turn every piece in there, like turn every piece of fabric that I use into something useful. But, I do want to acknowledge the mental load that it can take to keep all those scraps, so there’s the other side of it. It’s like having all these glass jars, having, you know, the margarine tub that like, why did I keep this? I don’t know. It was just something that I felt like, yes, it’s sustainable practice, but just want to acknowledge that sometimes wrangling all those scraps and keeping them is a mental load in itself. And, I have kept everything, but it has taken a toll you know, like, space wise as well, and so finding the balance between not having as many scraps, are you functionally using them like right away instead of keeping them aside for future use, I think is something that I know that I want to work on.
Ada: Yeah, you’re right, the mental load is… It is a lot, it is a lot to think about. And if you just don’t have the time or capacity to do that, I’ve been there. I think sometimes, currently, I am in that space a lot of the time, and no one is going to fault you, if you are unable to keep all of your scraps, because you’re a caregiver or you’re a parent, or you’re just busy or like, work is really bad, right? I think also, like you brought up, space is a premium, like if you sew in a small space, where the heck are you gonna keep all these scraps, right? And so, again, that is also a premium and a privilege that some of us have. To your point about composting, I never thought about that I compost my food scraps through a local drop off service, because even though my city offers it through our municipal service, my neighbors are terrible, and I don’t trust them not to mess with the compost bin, you know, when you got to put it out. And so I wish I could have an apartment composter. But I, like I shared before, have been using them as the pillows and stuffing, fabric rope, you could use the rope to make a rug or coaster and kind of all that stuff. A really cool one that I haven’t done yet is when you patch them together to make, like, a patchwork quilt. And I will say, it does take me time, and like you said mental space and energy, to figure out what to do with my scraps as I go. But I do see it as a way to be more sustainable. And, on the topic of money, to get more value for the money that I’m spending on my fabric. I will say that secondhand fabric is cheaper, a lot of the time – not always – than net new yardage. But for me, you know, having been at that point in my life where I had $20 in my bank account and didn’t know where I was going to get my next meal, like, I’m still thrifty, like, I like to still think that I’m stretching my dollar and what I’m spending on fabric as far as I can go.
Nicole: Yeah, and there’s, I think for me, there’s a balance because I can then fall into, this cheap, I can get it, I want more, and like, the same thing with the space. Like, even if you have space, do you really want to fill it with scraps, you know? But, you know, that’s why I say as an individual, you have to decide what works best for you, and the push and pull of each different issue. And sustainability is never going to be a, something that everyone gets perfect all the time, unless you’re a crunchy granola hippie, or whatever you said, and even then the crunchy granola hippies probably drive cars, or whatever. But yeah. So, in our research, we also came across some common themes and best practices and being sustainable. So like I said, none of these are perfect, and as we discussed earlier, and said multiple times, that being an advocate for major change in the fashion industry will have a bigger impact on the environment than our individual actions. But still, some fun things to do and think about and so here’s, here’s things we can do, and we’ve touched upon pretty much all of these so it’s a little bit of a recap here. Like, wear more, waste less – not wear more items of clothing, but wear your items of clothing more – and this also applies to those of us who are turning fabric into garments. Now, I know we’re always attracted to the nice shiny thing we see on Instagram – I definitely am one of those people – but it would be helpful to ask yourself, like how often would you wear this? And I have garments where I made them because I wanted to make them, not because I was gonna wear them 10 times over. And I think that practice is something that I will try to limit in the future. Sometimes you just want to make the… What is that called? The frosting?
Ada: Yeah, make the frosting, make the nice shiny thing.
Nicole: Make the “sew frosting”. Yeah. But maybe think about doing that less, and when you do make, making things that you will wear more. So, wearing clothes for an extra nine months can reduce waste and water usage by 20 to 30%, so, there’s also compelling scientific reason to wear your clothes more. Now, a lot of us prewash our fabric – uh, well, we should all be prewashing our fabric… I’m not gonna say I do all the time, but, yes, we prewash our fabric but most people probably prewash on hotter settings to pre shrink and that’s fine. But, there’s a… Here’s a practice that our producer, Mariko, for this episode, follows. Now, she mainly sews with linen, but she prewashes on warm instead of the hottest setting and she does it only once. And from her experience, she sees no additional shrinking after subsequent cold washes, so maybe you don’t have to do the hottest, like, fire burning temperature ever, just do it on warm and then continue to wash on cold after that. And, something I talked about a lot, is stop shopping. Like, occasionally there are, you know, there are sewing challenges that encourage us to sew from our stash, which I think is another one that’s out right now, or do no-buy month, but you know, maybe this is something that we can think about all the time. I will say, I will confess that after the 60 day buy I felt like I was free.
Nicole: I felt like, I was like, now I can buy this, now I can buy that, and I think that it’s probably the opposite effect that the challenge was supposed to have on me, and I think, maybe it’s just one of those things where if you reduce, like you reduce your calories or something for like, to something extreme. And then when you’re allowed, no, you go back, you continue to go back to old habits, but like, the challenges are helpful to get you in the right mindset, but then, think about extending and continuing that mindset throughout your practice all the time. Take inventory what you have, of what you have, like, that helps a lot, I think. You know, if… As long as you, if you know what you have, you’re less inclined to just go out and get something that you feel like you need, when, I know, Ada, you’ve said multiple times, it’s like, well, I have stuff in my stash that would do. Maybe it’s not like, the latest and greatest, but this works for what I have, and then buying secondhand or vintage, and/or potentially deadstock, like, old fabric is fantastic for toiles. No, you don’t have to buy new muslin fabric if you’re going to make toiles, as long as the fabric that you’ve picked up has a similar drape and weight to your final fabric – give those old textiles a new life, instead of buying new.
Ada: Yeah, you might even be able to make a wearable toile. So, as you can see, there isn’t really a single way to incorporate sustainability into your sewing practice and certain ways might work better for you compared to others for a lot of different reasons, such as your financial situation, the time you have to sew and so on. So, we encourage you to take a look at what your sewing workflow looks like, and if you can, make small changes here and there to make it more green.
Nicole: And feel free to share your tips and tricks with us – I will take all the tips that I can get. This is a journey that we can all take together. You can DM us on Instagram or shoot us an email and we’d love to learn from you.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we will be welcoming Jennifer Wiese on our show. She is the founder of Workroom Social, a sewing studio based in Brooklyn, New York. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give a little back to our currently all-volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week, and our guests who also volunteered their time. The link to our Ko-Fi page can be found in the show notes. Ko-Fi is spelled K-O-dash-F-I, that’s ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective and you can find that link on our website, on our show notes, and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at @asiansewistcollective, that’s one word, asiansewistcollective.
Nicole: You can also spread the word and tell your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate, review, and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website – that’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at email@example.com. This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Erica Y and Eileen Leung, and produced by Mariko Abe, edited by Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.