The rush of emails advertising new fabric lines I received right around this year’s quilt market left me wondering whether we really need so much fabric. Yes, it’s lovely to fondle and admire bolts of new fabric designs, and it’s amusing to joke about the size of our stashes. However, it occurs to me that the glut of fabric is yet one more too-muchness that has bad consequences for our world.
Recent books have discussed the environmental and social consequences of fast fashions and fad tee shirts. Though it was published in 2007, this article in Environmental Health Perspectives provides a helpful summary. Since 2007 the pace of the fashion industry’s cycles has only increased. Recycling your clothes will help counter this problem, you say. In addition to the impact of the initial manufacturing process, recycling also has environmental impacts as there are so many clothes in that stream. In the U.S. alone more than half of our thrown away clothing is baled up, sold by the pound, and shipped off across the world for re-purposing. A short video about a northern Indian company that turns such clothes into thread gives a perspective altering view of our culture as seen by the workers.
I began by talking about bolts of fabric, mostly cotton, so I’ll focus on fabric for quilting, though the amount of waste with clothing appalls me. Melanie of Catbird Quilt Studio has written several posts about the production of cotton fabric. I think they’ll give you a sense of the industry’s size. Of course, not all that fabric is turned into quilting cotton.
Some companies offer organic cotton fabrics – Cloud9, Birch Fabrics, Paintbrush Studios – to name a few. A few online stores such as HoneyBeGood and Organic Fabric Company say they stock only organic and sustainable fabrics. It’s hard to tell from many of the descriptions just what the sellers mean by organic cotton. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton is considered the most restrictive standard for fabric. Some online stores note fabrics that meet the certification, but many simply say organic cotton.
What’s a quilter to do? The quilt at the beginning of this post sums up my approach. I’ve been trying to buy less fabric (sorry, fabric stores;) find ways to reuse items made for other purposes (clothing, curtains, linens;) and look for fabric at thrift stores. At the Salvation Army I’ve found five yards of quilting cotton for $4. If I don’t like fabrics I have, I try to dye/paint/print on them to make them suit me. I plan to try out those online stores that offer organic cotton.
I know my effort is a mere drop of water in the ocean, but I hope to spread the word. And I resolve to buy no more cheap, ill fitting tee shirts with the name of an organization/cause/cute saying on them. I know that millions depend on the clothing and fabric industries for their livelihoods, but there’s got to be better ways for people and our planet. Back to regularly scheduled quilting next time.
I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.