In the (paraphrased) words of a certain Taylor Swift, makers gonna make. But what happens when makers can’t make? Whether it’s a hectic day job, family commitments, a house move, or just a plain-old loss of sewjo, there are inevitably going to be times in our lives when our sewing machine gets neglected.
I’ve been thinking lately about sewing productivity – or, more specifically, my lack of it. I hate the word productivity, and I hate it even more when it’s applied to my favourite hobby. But if I only find time to make two or three projects a year, does that make me any less of a sewist than someone who makes 20?
This month, the worst happened: my sewing machine broke. It wasn’t beyond repair (I hope) but it did need a long-overdue service. And the irony of it all was, it happened at a point when I felt at my most ‘productive’. I had my first project of 2019 (yes, really) all cut out and ready to go. I had lots of free weekends coming up. And my sewing machine was having none of it.
So, what’s a sewist to do? Quietly sob while scrolling through everyone else’s finished projects on Instagram? Sew an entire dress by hand? Finally learn how to knit? Okay, so that last one is quite tempting. What I actually did, though, was prep. So much prep. Pattern alterations and tracing. Cutting out fabric. Fusing interfacing. Overlocking edges. I had my own little factory line going.
By the end of it all I had three projects ready to sew, and another pattern ready to toile. That has never happened in my entire sewing life. Once my sewing machine is back in action, there’s going to be no stopping me. And although it used to be the part of sewing I would dread, I actually started to enjoy the process of it. Turns out that sewing is as much about the preparation as it is the actual sewing. Who knew?
3 ways to boost your sewing productivity:
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Bet you knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Yep – try to avoid the siren call of your sewing machine for a weekend and instead set aside the time for prepping your patterns and fabrics. This has been a revelation for me – and it took my sewing machine being out of action to discover it. I know it’s hard to resist the temptation to start sewing once everything is cut out, but you’ll be feeling smug as hell when you’ve got a pile of projects ready to go.
Choose projects you feel excited about. This seems so obvious, but lately I’ve fallen into the trap of only sewing ‘classic’ styles for fear of making something I won’t want to wear. But you know what? All work and no play makes sewing a dull hobby. From now on, I have no room for ‘meh’ projects in my sewing life.
Slow it down. This may seem counter-productive, but it’s never worth rushing a project. Trust me, I’ve done it more times than I’d like to admit. You will have to get the seam ripper out. There’s a reason why dressmaking is called slow fashion; not only will you make fewer mistakes, it’s so much more satisfying to take time over each and every step. Go on, give your seam ripper a day off.
Find your flow. I know this sounds like some kind of yoga thing, but I’m not suggesting you meditate while inserting an invisible zip (although maybe it would help, who knows?). It’s all about finding a sewing routine that works best for you. I just cannot deal with cutting out patterns after work; I don’t have the time or the energy. But I can sew in short bursts – say, half an hour to 45 minutes most evenings. And that’s what gets a project finished! Try sewing at different times and days to work out what suits you and your lifestyle.
There are so many reasons we sew – fun, learning, fashion – and sustainability is high on the list for me. I hate what fast fashion is doing to the planet and don’t want to contribute to it, but sewing your own isn’t automatically more sustainable or ethical. Synthetic fibres, damaging manufacturing processes and poor working conditions aren’t confined to the garment-making industry – they’re all there in the production and distribution of the fabrics themselves, too.
But there’s also another aspect to this I hadn’t considered until recently. Outside of London it can be difficult to find bricks-and-mortar fabric shops, so I mostly buy fabric online – and it often comes wrapped in single-use plastic. I always save padded envelopes where I can but it’s not often possible to reuse plastic wrappers and, although it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of planet-damaging things, the idea of adding yet more of these to landfill just to feed my fabric-buying addiction isn’t a pleasant one.
So, I’ve put together a list of online sewing retailers that use eco-friendly, recycled or recyclable packaging – it’s a work in progress and I’ll add to it as I find more, so feel free to comment with any I’ve missed.
Here’s to stash-shopping without added plastic!
Sewing shops using eco, recycled or recyclable packaging:
Backstitch: One of the few online sewing shops I’ve found with a packaging policy on their website, Backstitch have committed to not buying any more plastic packaging and instead use brown paper fastened with brown paper tape. They stock loads of amazing sewing brands too, from Atelier Brunette fabrics to Colette patterns.
Raystitch: Another shop with a sustainability policy on its website, Raystitch has switched to fully recyclable paper Jiffy bags, cardboard envelopes and gusset envelopes, plus 70% recycled polythene bags made in the UK that can be recycled with plastic carriers. And their fabrics are seriously stunning.
Pin and Sew:This one also has an environmental policy on its website – hurrah! Pin & Sew sell a gorgeous selection of jersey, French terry, ponte and sweatshirt fabrics, all hand-picked by founder Aga and sent out in compostable, degradable and recyclable paper post bags.
Offset Warehouse:Offering swoon-worthy fabrics and haberdashery that aren’t only eco-friendly but fairly sourced, Offset Warehouse tick so many thoughtful-sewing boxes. Their packaging is minimal, recycled and recyclable, and the fabrics are packed in tissue to prevent them from moving around in the cardboard box.
Faberwood:Faberwood’s unique fabric selection is lovingly curated by owner Fiona Trevaskiss, and as much thought goes into the packaging too – orders are sent in a cardboard box that can be reused or recycled, and also packaged in recycled mailer bags to protect your precious fabric purchase from bad weather during transit.
Sometimes, it’s the amazing things right on your doorstep that are the easiest to miss – and VV Rouleaux’s beautiful shop in Bath is one of them. It’s been just a 10-minute train trip away from me for a WHOLE YEAR, and somehow I’ve never been. So I was like a kid in a sweetshop – or, indeed, a sewist in a ribbon shop – when I popped over for their 1st birthday celebrations. Free workshops, celebratory cake and fizz, and racks and racks of haberdashery to browse – what’s not to love? Continue reading “Ribbon heaven at VV Rouleaux”→