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Sustainable Crafting: Part 1

This post is the first in a series on sustainable crafting that will include everything from sewing to paper crafts to jewelry making. Today, we'll kick off the series with six sustainable crafting tips to guide you through any creative endeavor.

I enjoy crafting. I always have even though in the past--especially as I kid--I didn’t always want to slow down and read the instructions. Instead, I would assume that I could just reverse engineer the final product and figure it out on my own. I ended up with a lot of interesting-looking final products that way. Or worse, I would get frustrated and stop halfway through the project and all of my time and materials would go to waste. In the past, I also tended to buy a lot of supplies without a clear plan to use them, and again those supplies would just sit unused.

Thankfully I’ve learned to slow down, read the instructions, and use proper techniques (most of the time). As a result, my results look much better, and I actually finish the projects I start!

One thing I’ve become more conscious of as I’ve been doing more crafting and creating lately is the environmental impact of my hobbies, including waste (both at home and upstream), pollution, and human concerns surrounding production methods. I once went down a four-hour rabbit hole in the middle of the night trying to figure out the farming practices and production methods for a single type of fabric. Was the fiber organically grown? Was it processed using chemicals? Were the workers involved in the processing and weaving of the fabric given safe working conditions and a fair wage?

So much of what goes on during the production of the things we use is invisible, it’s almost impossible to know. And while mending, altering, and repurposing old clothing and craft materials is a great way to mitigate some of these concerns, the bottom line is there will be times when we need to make and/or buy something with new materials. Plus, even if I repurpose an old garment for something else, if it was originally produced using unsustainable methods, it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem: we need to figure out more sustainable methods from the get-go. (Check out my post on Upstream Waste for more information on this “invisible” waste).

Thinking about all of this can suck the joy out of our favorite hobbies pretty quickly, which is not the point at all. Creating and mending clothes, hats, blankets, decor, and other items by hand is a wonderful way to learn self-sufficiency, gain an appreciation for the work that goes into creating the items we use every way, and can also cut down on waste when done properly. And as always, the goal is not to be perfect, it is to do our best with what we can afford.

This post is just the first in a series that I will be doing on sustainable crafting, with posts dedicated to sewing & quilting, knitting & crocheting, paper crafts, and jewelry making. I’ll also do a post (or maybe a few!) on using up scraps and odds and ends. For today, I’m going to share some general guidelines for sustainable crafting. Don’t worry. I will go into more detail for each material type in my future posts.

  1. Assess what you need for your project. Commit to only getting the supplies you need and wait to purchase anything more until you’ve finished your current project. At the very least, try not to have more than 2-3 projects in the works at any given time (for example, I might have one sewing project and one crochet project going simultaneously). Avoiding the temptation to amass lots of extra supplies will ultimately cut down on a lot of waste.

  2. Start with repurposing. If you do have old clothes, sheets, curtains, or other items see if you can repurpose them into something useful. Even if you don’t have enough material to make an entire finished product, you may be able to incorporate the repurposed item into parts of the final piece (for example, a worn-out baby blanket can be incorporated into a homemade teddy bear along with an all-natural fiberfill).

  3. Certifications matter: Become familiar with terms such as Organic, OKEO-TEX, and GOTS certification when shopping for crafting materials. While you may not be able to afford items with these certifications for every single project, using them where you can support the suppliers working hard to produce materials in sustainable ways

  4. When buying new, search for items made with natural fiber and dyes, even if they don’t have the certifications listed above. These items tend to incorporate less plastic and fewer chemicals in their production, which is easier on the environment. They will also be biodegradable or compostable at the end of their life cycle.

  5. After natural fibers, look for recycled materials. There are many fabrics made from recycled polyester, terry cloth, and other materials (both natural and synthetic). Recycled paper and thread are also pretty easy to find now.

  6. Shop small: Small producers (either local or those that run small online shops like those on Etsy) tend to be less wasteful overall, and they are also easier to get in touch with if you have questions about production practices and environmental impact.

You can use these guidelines individually, in combination, or you can think of them as a hierarchy. For example, if you take these guidelines individually or combine a few, you might purchase fabric made from natural fibers from a small shop. Or you might go to a big box store, but you’re able to find something that is organic and GOTS certified.

However, you might also want to evaluate purchases in a hierarchy like this:

  • Do you already have a project you’re working on that needs to be finished before moving on to something new? No…

  • Then do you have unused materials lying around, or do you have something you can repurpose for your project? No?...

  • Then look for something with a certification such as GOTS or OKEO-TEX. Can’t find something with those certifications...?

  • Then opt for natural fibers as the next best thing. Can’t find that either...?

  • Look for recycled materials. If you still can’t find anything that works, at the very least explore sourcing your supplies from a small or local shop.

This may not be a perfect evaluation system, but I find it to be a handy tool to find the most sustainable materials for a given project, while also being realistic about the materials that are available and that I can afford.

Be sure to catch the rest of my posts in this series. Next Up: Sustainable Sewing where we take a deep dive into issues surrounding fabric production and ideas for sourcing sustainable fabric and other materials and Sustainable Knitting and Crochet where we discuss ideas for purchasing and repurposing yarn, as well as ideas for using up all of those little odds and ends we can't seem to let go.

Also, be sure to check out my post on Six Essential Skills for Zero Waste living for inspiration and learning resources to help you acquire new skills! If you're looking for more tips on being a sustainable consumer, be sure to check out my post about the Best Online Sustainable Shopping Alternatives.

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