In light of the Bangladeshi factory collapse there has been renewed attention on the manufacturing of mass-produced, high street clothing. Brands like Gap and Bennetton have come into the firing line for producing their clothes under poor working and pay conditions. This has resulted in moral condemnation and a few op-ed pieces on sustainably and ethically sourced clothing, with an outcry for better regulation and legislation to protect garment workers.
Meanwhile those who make their own clothes have sat on the sidelines, comfortably assured of their position on the moral high ground. If you make your clothes yourself then you can be sure that the conditions under which they were produced, right? The only worker who was harmed in the process of making that dress was you, as you battled to finish it before that all-important wedding or party.
But can we in the crafting community be so sure that the clothes we make have pure origins? I began to think about this after reading the horrific stories of workers trapped for hours under the rubble, all in the name of making a cheap t-shirt, and I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I couldn’t be that sure that what I made at home had any better provenance than a pair of jeans brought on the high street.
I’m not innocent in this debate and as I write this I am wearing a Gap vest top bought for a grand total of £5. In the last month I have brought clothes from brands who I know, or at least suspect, have less than perfect manufacturing standards and that does not even take into account the environmental impact of the clothes I buy. But being honest with ourselves about the goods we buy and the clothes we make is the first step to changing the world for the better.
To try and better understand the impact of the clothes I had made I thought I would look at some of the designs I had come up with and see if I could find out more about how they were sourced. My first port of call was the Taking Liberties dress that I made last year. It didn’t take much research to discover that Liberty Fabric is made in the UK at a factory in Lancaster. They have even posted a video of the fabric being printed on their website.
So far so good. But this doesn’t take into account environmental impact of this particular cloth, more on that later.
The fabric only forms part of the garment and the thread and its origins are just as important. In this case I used Guttermans Sew all Thread, which their website proudly declares is made in Germany. In both cases both Guttermans and Liberty make it easy to find out where their products are made of but there is still the question of where the raw materials come from.
I had a similar problem when looking into the provenance of the materials for my current knitting project: a Lion Brand Yarn pattern, entitled ‘My First Sweater’ (yes really!). This pattern calls for Lion Brand Wool-Ease Chunky in Wheat. On the Lion Brand website they make it quite hard to find out where their products are made. The ‘About’ section of the doesn’t list this information but if you dig about a bit you will find a blog post dating back to February 2012 listing the Lion Brand Yarns which are made in the USA. Wool-Ease isn’t on this list so that it doesn’t answer my question, and I don’t have the original packaging to see what they have declared on the label. Furthermore on the Lion Brand website it states that the fibres used to produce their yarn come from “all over the world”. What exactly this means is unclear to say the least, and it is hard to say where the other yarns in their product line come from.
The obvious answer to this would be for Lion Brand to add this information to each product listing online as done by Liberty and Gutterman. I think it would be a really positive move if a company like Lion Brand had the confidence in their supply chain to do this. Right now it looks as though they have something to hide.
Both My First Sweater and the Taking Liberties Dress were relatively easy to trace as I used products from brand name suppliers. However the majority of home sewing projects are made with fabrics that have no brand name attached to them. An example of this is my Administrative Pleasure Pencil Skirt project which was made with a polyester checked fabric purchased at Mandors, Edinburgh. When I bought this fabric the label didn’t specify where the fabric was made, something that was common to most of the materials in the shop and most suppliers in general. I have never questioned this before now but as we try to build a more sustainable society this situation is unacceptable. We no longer think it is ok to be ignorant of where our food is produced and the same rules should be applied to fabric production.
This takes me to the second issue around craft and making, which is the environmental impact of the materials we use. Polyester and Cotton, the two materials used in the projects mentioned above both have a hotly contested environmental impact. Cotton is one of the most pesticide intensive crops in the world and, even when produced organically, requires large amounts of water and energy to produce. Meanwhile Polyester is made from petrochemicals, is non-biodegradable and again requires large amounts of water and energy in its production.
One option when faced with this dilemma is to only make things using sustainably sourced materials, like my Fair Isle Wrist Warmers which were made with British wool from an ethical producer. That is an expensive option and one that doesn’t solve the larger issue of transparency in supply lines for all craft products.
When faced with this information it can be hard for one person, working on a small number of projects, to have confidence in their choices. For me the first step is to be more aware of where the materials I am buying come from. Just because you made it yourself doesn’t mean that the piece is ethical, sustainable and environmentally sound. We all need to be more aware of the impact of our decisions and demand transparent supply chains from manufacturers and clear labelling on all craft products.
This February saw the latest and greatest edition of the Stitch Lounge, where a team of designers and makers pitched their tallents against the clock for another 48 hour sewing challenge. This edition saw a combination of graphic and monotone prints and orange, red and yellow fabrics with a few outliers including lace, fringe, and pvc just to keep it interesting.
I chose to keep the pattern simple using a slight variation on Vogue V8615 and layering the fabric choices to add depth. For this I worked with a lace material, similar to that used for lace curtains, and lined it with a beige poplin for the bodice and what can only be described as a sheer orange plastic material for the skirt. There was lots of fraying drama but with perseverance, and a little help from my friends, the final dress looks great.
I wholeheartedly recommend the pattern, its simple to use and alter and the results are flattering. Check out some more images here on Flickr.
I think everyone would agree that this was the best Stitch Lounge so far, with some beautiful creations on the catwalk. A big thanks to Carrie and Mark for organising another great event.
Hot on the heels of my previous post, the one and only Stitch Lounge returns to Edinburgh next month. The Stitch Lounge is a 48 hour sewing project where designers are challenged to making an outfit in one weekend using only the fabrics provided.
The next Stitch Lounge will be held on the 9 and 10 February 2013 at Inspace in Edinburgh. Its free to take part but places are limited. Bookings open next week, follow The Stitch Lounge on Facebook to find out more.
Check out previous posts on The Stitch Lounge to find out what you will be getting yourself into.
Mini Maker Faire is coming to Edinburgh this April! The event is being run by Edinburgh International Science Festival and applications are now open for people to take part.
If you make awesome stuff this is a great opportunity to show off your work and meet other people excited about making things. A couple of years ago my beloved and I showed some work at the Maker Faire in California (check out the awesome picture!). We had an amazing couple of days and met some really interesting people. It really inspired me and gave me new ideas for future projects. I would absolutely recomend taking part!
The event will be held on the 7 April at Summerhall and the deadline for applications is the 1 February 2013. Applicants can make anything from knitting, weaving and sewing to electronics, games and wearable technology. You can find out more at the official Mini Maker Faire Edinburgh website.
Sometimes it feels like a project just isn’t meant to be. Well over two years ago I cast on these Fair Isle pattern wrist warmers, full of good intentions. One flat move and a lot of messing around later – I had made a quarter of one warmer and knitted half of that back to front (I still have no idea how I did this!). So I gave up, unravelled what I had and consigned the wool and the pattern to the back of my knitting stash box.
But two years later I still hadn’t managed to crack the Fair Isle knitting technique so I decided to start again. A couple of years of knitting of practice made the pattern much easier and they knitted up in less than a week! The pattern is designed by Vala Jonsdottir and can be brought from Ravelry for £2.50. I highly recomend it – the pattern is easy to follow and fun once you get the hang of it.
The moral of this story is, if you’re finding a project too hard, try having a break and then try again!
If you live in the Dundee area and your looking for somewhere to do your Christmas shopping this weekend then look no further. From 14:00 – 18:00 on Saturday 1 December DCA will be holding a Christmas Craft and Design Market with fabulous makers and designers of all kinds selling there wares. There will also be mulled wine and christmas carols to get you in the festive mood. Find out more information on the DCA website.
I haven’t been very good at posting recently but i’ll be back soon with an update on the Passport Dress and my adventures in Fair Isle knitting. There will also be an exciting announcement for all makers and crafters in Scotland. So watch this space…
This weekend sees the next episode of the one and only StitchLounge this time with the theme FOR MEN ONLY. Intrepid participants will have just one weekend and only the materials and machines provided to produce a collection of menswear garments inspired by Paris fashion week.
All the sewing places are now full but there are still guest list passes available to watch Sunday’s catwalk show which will be followed by a screening of ‘A Man’s Story’, a documentary about Ozwald Boateng. Tickets are free just sign up here.
And if that doesn’t convince you here is the trailer for the film: