Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Environmentally Friendly Wardrobe

According to a PBS Newhour report, 13 million tons of clothing goes into the trash in the U.S. every year. Americans are said to be addicted to cheap, disposable clothing, and unlike Europeans, they prefer to have lots of cheap clothing rather than fewer high quality wardrobe pieces. I have no idea where Canadians fall in this spectrum--probably somewhere in the middle, since we exist in a sort of cultural halfway house. The Newshour report focuses on what is being done to improve the recycling of garment fibres. But what I'd really like to see is a move toward less disposable clothing altogether, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
If you are a knitter who makes sweaters, you already know the value of beautifully made clothing. A well made knitted piece can and should last for decades with proper care. That means retaining leftover yarn and buttons in your stash for future repairs, regular washing and proper storage out of season (no dark cupboards or drawers if you want to avoid moth holes!) Go here for some recipes for moth-proofing sachets.
Now think about what you can do with the rest of your wardrobe to move toward fewer and longer-lived pieces. Here are some suggestions:
1. Choose pieces that can be worn year round. For instance, I have a linen knee-length dress which I wear in fall, winter, and spring with leggings, a T-shirt, and a sweater. In summer I wear it as a dress, sometimes with a tank underneath.
2. Re-think what fibres you can wear in each season. The above dress is an example of how heavier weight linen can be worn year round. It all depends on how you layer it.
3. Choose classic (but not boring) pieces in neutral colours. My current fave is a slim, long knitted black skirt. I wear it in winter over leggings and at this warmer time of the year I wear it with a tank and a loose A-line grey linen shirt.
4. If you're going with neutrals, the focus shifts to the silhouette. The grey linen shirt just mentioned has a beautiful flaring A-line shape. A loose top like this looks fabulous with slim bottoms.
5. With classic neutral pieces, details become more important. The above shirt also has eye-catching unmatched buttons.
6. Pay attention to construction. Look for properly finished seams, seams where patterning is matched, and hems that don't ripple or pucker. Also go with natural fibres.
All of this means that in many cases you'll end up buying clothing NOT manufactured in sweat shop settings. It's often (but not always) pricier, but worth it. Look for clothing like that sold by companies like "Cabbages and Roses" (much favoured by Kate Davies) and Cut Loose.
You already know that most wool is an environmentally friendly choice for knitting. Check out companies like Green Mountain Spinnery or Custom Woolen Mills, where efforts are made to engage in sustainable practices.
Finally, when it's time to say good-bye to something that has truly worn out and is beyond repair, consider whether you can re-purpose the fabric by cutting and sewing it into something else. Remove and retain the buttons for future projects. 
So, what are you doing to keep your clothing out of the trash?


  1. I fully agree and I am slowly working towards this goal. Simple pieces I can dress up with jewelry, a nice scarf or fabulous sweater. Part of my issue with clothes is that I am going from a super large size to a small size. I was gifted with some shirt and pants from others who have been losing weight so I am not spending money right now. Eventually I will be buying some plain classic clothes with a few funky things thrown in. The clothes that I do have will be gifted to others so that they can have some nice things.

    I also wanted to comment that as I am reducing my weight, I am looking not at pre made clothes but clothes I sew. The sizing is so off on what a real woman looks like and the fashion industry is not interested in overweight, short women, 55+ whether or not I have money or not.


    1. First, congrats for taking action on weight loss. I recently made an effort to regain my waist after years of slow middle age weight creep. It makes dressing so much more fun. Sewing is a great way to build a quality wardrobe, especially if you are not a standard size, and who is? I got into knit design because I'm on the short side and so is my daughter. Best wishes for your wardrobe building and weight loss efforts!

  2. Thank you for a thoughtful and much needed post on this subject. It's near and dear to my heart! I have one sweater which was knitted for my aunt in the early '50s when she worked as a nanny in Norway for a year. There's something so special about wearing it.

  3. I've had this in mind for quite some time. No disposable purchases for me!