Sustainably Sourcing Fabrics

Sometimes you come across a service or a store that quite literally changes your life. It might be one little element of it, such as the products, the employees, or the general atmosphere. Or, if you’re really lucky, it’s a combination of all three, resulting in your happy place solidified right here on earth. I came across one such place, as the second Covid-19 wave hit Sydney in August 2020. What is this magical place? This is the humble Sewing Basket.

The Sewing Basket is a store owned and operated by Achieve Australia, an organisation that runs disability services across the country. All stock is donated and ranges from fabrics to sewing goods and machines, needlecraft, quilting, embroidery and more! Everything is so reasonably priced and it’s very easy to become addicted.

Larger fabrics on hangers...

 

My visits are of two types of nature; either a weekly browse for some fun fabrics for personal use such as clothes, or to source sewing supplies and fabric stock for my business.
Due to the donated stock you are not going to find the same thing twice. As a business owner, this poses a slight problem: I am never going to be guaranteed the same fabric over and over. The most gorgeously simple solution? Each piece that I create is so incredibly unique, all with it’s only history and story to tell.

 

 
Embroidery thread and bundles...
Lace and tuille...

 

When choosing a fabric, I look out for a few things. First and foremost is the design. Partly motivated by my own style, partly by what is trending, my picks are mixed. I love simple designs: neutral geometrics and stripes, and on the other side of the coin: big bold patterns florals and colours. My favourite flavour right now? Fun 70s browns, oranges, reds and greens!
 
Next is composition. This is where shopping second hand can get a little tricky, as most fabrics will be off cuts, separated from their tag or origin. There are a few tricks to figuring out what is natural and what is synthetic. The look and feel of the fibres is generally your first stop. Linen and cottons have a very distinct rustic look to them, whereas polyester can be very smooth and sometimes shiny. When I'm not 100% sure what something is, there's always the burn test. I take a cutting of the fabric and burn it with a match (get your parents permission before playing with fire kids!). If the fibre smells like burning paper and turns to ash, it's natural. If it smells like burning plastic, and gets kinda sticky, it's polyester.
100% cotton is what I look out for when sourcing for my beeswax wraps, tea towels, napkins etc. Polyester blends are okay with products like scrunchies, as they make it easier to clean. I'm less adverse to poly if it's already in the economy and needs using. 


Whatever the day, wonderful store manager Pauline always has something new to show me. Often texting me images of fun stock that’s just come in. If fabric is my crack, Pauline is my dealer.

 

Smaller swatches; bits and pieces!

 

Sourcing fabric this way is sustainable as it helps contribute to a circular economy. Rather than source fabrics that have been made new, I supply from other businesses that are redirecting stock from landfill. The textile industry is one of the most notorious in the world for waste. 679,000 tonnes of textile waste goes to landfill in Australia each year. The issue is colossal in scale. The mentality of the consumer and the maker needs to change dramatically. If we can begin to adopt a more circular economy of make > use > recycle/re-purpose/up-cycle > etc, then I sense that much of the world’s future waste would ease a little. But until then, there are so many resources that need love and attention. This is proven in little ways every day, when stores like the Sewing Basket are drowned in donation after donation, with almost too much stock to sell. 
And me? I’m standing outside waiting for them to open, wallet out and ready to buy it all.

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