I don’t know about you but I am always, in big or little ways, thinking about how much of a footprint I make on the earth and how I can change that. From the dilemma of deciding to use rags *which requires water for washing) or paper towels (which involves cutting down trees) for cleaning, to reducing my water and energy usage. It is something I have always thought about and even though I know my lifestyle is far less consumeristic than most, I still think about it and try to improve.
This brings us to thinking about what we can do, as quilters and lovers of fabric. I thought it would be important to look first at statistics and the industry. Apparently the textile industry is a major contributor to waste and overuse of resources in the nation and likely the world. This applies predominantly to the clothing industry but there are some aspects that involve the making of fabric in general. According to EPA: “the generation of textiles in 2018 was 17 million tons. This figure represents 5.8 percent of total MSW [ municipal solid waste] generation that year. ..the recycling rate for textiles in clothing and footwear was 13 percent.”
There is also the process of dyeing fabrics and the use of water. One author notes that “According to the World Resources Institute, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt.” another article illustrates how “Each year, textile companies discharge millions of gallons of chemically infected water into our waterways. It’s estimated that a single mill can use 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric. So not only does this consume water, but the chemicals pollute the water causing both environmental damage and diseases throughout developing communities.”
I do not mean to offer up depressing or discouraging information but I truly feel it is important that we, as textile artists, be aware of the realities that are directly connected to the fabrics we buy. There are, in that respect, many things we can do to lessen our own footprint in regards to purchasing and using fabric.
There are many companies that are committed to reducing their impact in the textile industry by approaching the process differently. One company is Spoonflower which is a fabric printing company that is very environmentally aware. The fabrics are not dyed but rather just run through a printer. One of the exciting things about this company is that you can not only look for fabric but directly contact the designers if you have a fabric color/design in mind. Another exciting aspect of this company is that you can design your own fabric which can truly open up a wealth of creative possibilities in quilting. For more information on their approach and commitment to sustainability click here.
I wanted to add pictures from Spoonflower but you cannot copy any designs which I think is very respectable in relationship to protecting the artists. Here are a couple of pictures from their blog which shows some lovely fabrics.
Another company that offers fabric based on sustainability and earth friendly processes is Honey Be Good. This is an online resource that offers fabrics from various companies. There are many prints to inspire the quilter!
Organic Cotton Plus is a company that specializes in 100% organic cotton. They sell beautiful fabrics as well as raw cotton and wool. The have some very fun prints, as well as many solids and fabric choices for backing and batting.
I would suggest we look around more, become more aware of what companies are offering more earth friendly fabrics when we are in need of new fabrics. I would also suggest we not forget about fabrics that are naturally more sustainable such as linen, hemp and bamboo. I hear bamboo is found in a lot of batting these days! For me I am attempting growing flax this year. With my new love of spinning I will try to grow a smallish patch of flax and spin and weave up some linen! I will also try natural dyes.
We, as quilters, can also rely on the age old tradition of recycling clothing for quilts. Instead of throwing out a piece of clothing that is old, torn, or beyond repair we can cut it up and save it for a quilt. There are also local thrift stores, as well as yard sales, where we can find delightful prints and solids in clothing. In addition, think about using an old bed sheet for backing. My local thrift store always seems to have a huge surplus of sheets!
There is also the subject of quilt batting. I love cotton batting but there have been many times when I have made a quilt and bought a blanker at the thrift store for batting. I have found I like the polar fleece type blankets as they have a nice loft that never seems to flatten out. There are always, it seems, an abundance of baby blankets at thrift stores which make the prefect size for, obviously, baby quilts as well as art quilts/wall hangings.
Just doing one or two of these suggestions makes a difference. We can use new fabric mixed with recycled fabric, or just decide to back with an old sheet and we have done something to reduce our own footprint in the textile industry. Maybe we can switch it up and do a quilt of new fabrics and make the next completely recycled? Just thinking about it differently and not immediately buying fabric when we have an idea can make a difference. I also think that there is a more meaningful/artistic connection to making something that we feel has made a positive difference in the world around us. Right now I have a surplus of fabric pieces that I have accumulated from other people and have a bag ready to go to the thrift store! Any step we can make helps. I think it also gives us a greater appreciation for fabric, which we love.