Making your own clothes will ALWAYS be much more ethical than buying something off from the High Street.
BUT I think sometimes it is easy to overlook the environmental impact of cotton and other fabrics, and yarn too.
Conventionally farmed cotton uses vast amounts of water (about 200 litres to make a t-shirt) and pesticides. And the farmers are often working in appalling conditions for significantly less than a living wage. And that’s before we even get to the sweat shops where the fabric is made, and the dyes that are added etc.
One easy way to ‘side-step’ all the issues behind contributing to the demand for conventionally farmed cotton is to source second-hand material. It might still have been conventionally made, but at least your purchase isn’t directly driving the demand for fabric made in this way.
So here’s my guide to where to find pre-loved fabric, haberdashery supplies and yarn!
Duvets and sheets are brilliant sources of large amounts of fabric! Sometimes if you are lucky, you will find some funky retro prints, but even plain bed sheets can be very useful to make plain garments that you can ‘bling’ up with some appliqué/ribbon etc.
Charity shops occasionally get donations of yarn, as well as things like buttons and zips, so it’s worth having a quick look everytime you wander past. Just be aware that some shops sell new wool too, so you don’t end up buying new wool by mistake! The other good source of wool from charity shops is hand-knitted woollens-I never seems to stumble across them that often, but if you do find one, and fancy having a go at rescuing and re-using the yarn, it strikes me as a pretty satisfying thing to do!
Whilst browsing the rails for hand-knitted woolies, also keep you eye out for real wool jumpers, as these can be felted and cut up to make things like hats and scarce, or felt brooches etc. Make sure the label says “hand wash only” and that it is more than 80% wool content, otherwise it probably won’t felt!
Nearly all charity shops have a great stash of knitting needles (and the odd crochet hook), but they tend not to keep them on display (some kind of H&S rule!). If you ask, they will usually scurry off out the back and come back with a box bulging with all different sizes of needles for you to rummage through.
And the last thing to keep your eyes peeled for is patterns and craft books!
Vintage Fairs and Flea Markets
These are great places to have a mooch around, and usually have stalls with gorgeous vintage fabric, haberdashery and things like vintage knitting needles.
My local vintage shop often has great little stashes of vintage and retro fabric, as well haberdashery and things like buttons.
Vintage Fabric Shops
The biggest online retailer of vintage and retro fabrics, is the wonderful Donna Flower. Her online shop has been such a success that she now has an actual bricks and mortar shop in Barnstaple!
There are lots of other vintage fabric shops too, so it’s worth doing a Google search and spending a pleasant hour or two with a cuppa browsing them!
There is lots of vintage fabric on E-bay-just do a search and start scrolling! Many of the online vintage fabric shops also sell through E-bay too.
It’s also worth checking out for yarn, and things like crochet and knitting needles.
As ever, with E-bay, just make sure you check the ‘Used’ box on the left hand side of the screen, to make sure you are only shown the pre-loved supplies.
Jumble Sales and Car Boots
I LOVE a good jumble sale. Whatever happened to them? They seem very few and far between nowadays. If you see on advertised near you, do try and go along for a good old rummage!
Car boots are also good places for picking up things like curtains, which can be a really good source of lots of fabric for not much money.
Join your local group, and keep your eyes peeled for people getting rid of old bedding and curtains.
If you have something specific you are looking for, then post a WANTED and see what the community can provide.
The Make Do and Mend-able Pre-Loved Craft Stuff Facebook Group
I started this group on Facebook a few months ago, as a resource for people to buy/sell/swap/gift pre-loved craft supplies. I figured that there must be a whole host of people with bulging craft stashes, that might appreciate a group where they can pass on any excess bits from their stash, as well as ask to see if anyone has something they are looking for.
Not for supplies (obv) but a g rest source of craft books-my local library must have a ‘crafty’ buyer, as the sewing and yarn sections are really well stocked with lots of the most current books.
Where are your favourite places to scout out gorgeous vintage fabrics, and haberdashery for all your dressmaking needs?
And do you struggle to sometimes find exactly the right bit of fabric secondhand for your dressmaking project? This is the problem I often have-I have a
vast reasonable stash of fabric picked up from various places, but never it seems, quite the right colour/fabric type for the thing I am wanting to make. I’ve decided that for #mmaw2015, I am going to explore the world of new (gasp!) but ethical fabrics and notions-stay tuned for my guide to these, coming up!
PS. If you are looking for where to buy a secondhand sewing machine-check out my guide here. And for more resources for all things Make Me a Wardrobe, check out this post here!
I love you blog and so enjoy reading about your make do and mend lifestyle. I am trying to do as much as I can in my own little way and often stop and think about what I’m doing after reading your information.
I was wondering if you have ever thought about about a sewing pattern kind of library or loan service? I am beginning on a new kind of craft making bags and clothes using primarily leather and pre used vintage fabrics. I’d love to be able to use patterns that have been pre loved also! I have a few original and copies of patterns and would like to increase my library do you know of any one offering this service or are there any of your lovely readers willing to ‘loan’ patterns for such a use? I think patterns have to be over 60 years old to be able to reproduce them for commercial purposes but I’m not too sure about that? Any information would be great. Keep up the blogs it’s wonderful!
Reblogged this on is-was cottage and commented:
I was about to write a blog on jazzing up your home on 2nd hand or what you already. I never look at curtains/bedding/clothing as what it is. I look for its potential.
Stripey shirts (in similar colours) can be mustered into patchwork throws, bedding, table linen and the like. Curtains can be made bigger with a toning fabric of a similar colour.
And there is a lot to be said for picking up something to be stored for later use, just because you like the fabric. Over the many years of building my stash I have come to notice similar patterns or colours. It will happen to yours too!
Thanks for sharing! Sounds like a fab idea for a blog post 🙂
What a brill blog! I refuse to buy from Primart because of their working practices, even from a charity shop too.
Can I adapt your hashtag to Make Me a Home?
I read JP Flintoff’s ‘Sew Your Own’ last year. I’d recommend it to anyone concerned about the clothing industry or crafting one’s own clothing. Quite light-hearted too.
I have been fortunate to meet JP Flintoff in person and do a couple of workshops with him. He is really inspiring and very funny too! I saw One of his knitted jumpers and honestly I’d give an arm and a leg to be as good a knitter!
Oooh, you lucky thing-he’s a bit of a hero of mine!
It’s on my reading list for this year-just need to track down a copy!
Hi Jen, yes I unwind wool from garments I have knit before and the children have grown out of, I also use duvets etc for my sewing. I don’t throw any food away and recycle madly. But I also buy new stuff too. I think what we need is balance, not just throwing away and buying new for the sake of it. That’s what I hate, the consumerism of always having to have the latest “thing”! I buy new when the old has come to the end of it’s life not just because I fancy a different colour.
You’re a star Hilary!
Love your blog Jen it’s so interesting! I do try to reuse and repair where I can but admit to buying new on occasion.
I am trying out a new venture making items primarily with leather and pre used fabrics. I made a slouch handbag from a suede coat not long ago!
I was wondering if anyone has got a library or loan service of pre used sewing patterns? I Have a few vintage patterns and a few copies from originals of bags (which is my main interest) but would love to add to my library!!
That’s a great idea-I’ll do some research!
Reblogged this on The Creative Ginger Tree and commented:
This is a pretty awesome guide. Check it out!
Thanks so much for sharing!
I loved it! I am doing a Thrifty Thursday series but your post was so concise and full of great information that I just had to share it.
Jen, super suggestions here! May I add a couple of thoughts?
COTTON – Harvest cotton from your own old clothes. Oftentimes only certain areas are worn out: e.g. fabric perishes at the seams or at cuffs & collars of a shirt. Clothes that have perished in this way are not fit for the charity shop so harvest the cotton: big panels are handy for tops, skirts and baby clothes. Leftovers can be used as dusters/rags.
WOOL – Like Hilary I actually unravel yarn from sweaters/cardies I’ve knitted and re-use the yarn. If you do pick up for wool at a charity shop, wash it as soon as you get home to avoid a moth infestation.
PATTERNS – If you find vintage patterns, always check the instructions and if these are missing measure the panels. Modern patterns tend to include the seam allowance but for many years this was not the case so check if you need to add it before cutting up harvested fabric.
And then there is the ethical dilemma that I’m trying to navigate: is it always more ethical to make your own stuff? Not all our clothes come from sweatshops or for far-flung lands with minimal labour laws. E.g. clothes manufacturing is returning to Europe, e.g. Portugal, Lithuania but even the UK. And people should be allowed to make a meaningful living, have their skills recognised… Although I am a big fan of making a lot myself for many reasons, I also recognise that buying essentials made by others provides others with a livelihood. I don’t have a perfect answer for this dilemma but I do consciously try to balance what I make myself with how my puchasing choices can contribute to the local economy and how they can provide others with meaningful, dignified employment.
I guess, the more we delve into living in a socially and environmentally kinder way, the more complexities we uncover but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile trying! It just makes for a more interesting journey.
Totally agree with you about choosing where to spend your money. Since the official end of My Make Do and Mend Year, we have bought some new things, but we have bought much more consciously, and deliberately chosen to ‘give’ out money to companies that we feel share our values.
Thanks for pointing out that it is worth asking in charity shops if they have any knitting/crochet needles.
My pleasure 🙂
Reblogged this on Paring Down in London and commented:
This is such a good post, very useful and well thought, I am reblogging it because I want to keep it as reference. Thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing!
I recycle tshirts a lot at well, when my partner put grows them or they don’t fit anymore I cut off the sleeves (dishrags) and refashion them into vest tops for me , then when they are compleatly wrecked I make them into tsgirt yearn and knit rugs and bath mats x
Some great ideas Frankie-thankyou!
I have a huuuuug, e stash of charity shop retro duvets, once I move house I’m going to get my sewing machine out and start using it to make things for me and the new house 🙂
Yay! Good luck with the move 🙂
Excellent post. My local vintage charity shop also often sells sewing machines. I have found a couple of real treasures there, much better than buying a new one.
A vintage charity shop-that’s a total win-win!
Im not buying any new (or second hand) fabric for 2015 (EEK!) but am going to use whats already in my stash. I will, however, accept donations and have put word round the department that Im accepting sheets, cushion covers and pillowcases, especially in retro prints. Those I cant use/ dont like will get taken to our local Charity shop.
Great idea Jo-you may well end up overwhelmed!
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What a lovely post, so full of ideas and great photos.
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