I've posted on this issue before, but with the inevitable stepping up of my hand making (you'll noticed I avoid using the word 'crafting'. I hate it and all its, to me, twee connotations of pointless knick knacks that no one wants) this year, I've found that the environmental impact of what I'm doing is increasingly at the forefront of my mind.
Mainly, for me, the issue is the purchase of fabric or yarn (sure, I use some energy running my sewing machine, but it's a fairly negligible sum according to my energy meter). Every yard of cotton I buy, every skein of wool, has had some kind of impact. Sure, I've bought a lot of non-organic, non-ethically minded quilting cottons and yarns over the past couple of years. But since late last year, I've been making a real effort to move back towards more conscious hand making - that is, thinking about the journey that the raw materials have made to get to me.
For me, this has meant a couple of steps when planning a project:
- Can I buy British? Not possible with cotton, but it is possible to buy some great British yarns: Jamiesons for Shetland wool, Rowan's Purelife British Sheep Breeds range (the Purelife range also includes some great recycled yarns), Cornish Organic Wool, and countless hand spun and hand dyed yarns from up and down the country. I've not had cause to yet, but if I wanted to buy linen, I would also be able to buy Irish linen. I know that in the States it is even easier to stick to 'local' (i.e. American produced) products, as (a) there is still a lot of cotton grown there and (b) it's bigger. There are more sheep.
- Is there an organic option? I've taken the decision that if I am unable to find an organic equivalent, I won't beat myself up for buying the non-organic version, but I will always attempt to find an organic version first (I'm thinking particularly of cotton here). For instance, if I want to make a quilt in a particular palette I'll search for organic options first, then make up the difference with non-organics. Some basic colours, particularly cream, ivory, white, blues and yellows, as well as shirting, denim and twill, are available organically with very little hassle, and there is a huge rise in interesting organic quilting cottons, jerseys and wovens in actual nice prints and colours.
- Is there a lower impact version? For instance, if I'm not able to find interesting prints on organic cotton, what about a cotton/linen mix? Linen takes far less water and pesticide to grow than cotton, so even non-organic linen is relatively low impact. So, yeah, buying cotton/linen mixes like Echino and Kokka fabrics won't save the world single handed, but if you can substitute a few yards here and there with linen or linen mix, it's a few gallons of water or a bit of pesticide that didn't get used. There are probably plenty of other substitutions for fabrics and yarns that make a bit of difference, and every little helps, right? Incidentally, I'm still not sure about bamboo fabrics - I think some processing methods are great, but apparently there are some methods that are so intensive that they kind of negate the benefits of using an easily grown substance like bamboo. Also if you've used bamboo fabric, you'll know it wears our reasonably fast compared to cotton or linen, so it's not great for things you're hoping to pass on as family heirlooms. Brilliant for things like dish cloths and baby clothes though.
- Can I use up what I have? Most hand makers have got a stash of some description kicking around, be it yarn, fabric or paper. Where possible, I try to actually use this stash rather than automatically buying more. Again, if I can't find what I want in amongst what I've got, I'm not ruling out buying more, but I always try to really think about whether I can cope with using a mint green half a shade lighter than I'd originally intended, but that I already have a couple of yards of.
- Am I maximising what I have? Every last scrap of fabric or yarn can be used somehow. Whether it's colourwork knitting or postage stamp quilts, there are fabulous and gorgeous and imaginative ways to use up scraps. Or maybe someone else you know would use them? I occasionally read blog posts from quilters who don't save any scrap smaller than a fat eighth, for example, and it just seems like such a waste. I know I (and I'm sure there are other weirdos like me) love scraps almost more than actual yardage of fabric - there's something so exciting about digging through a scrap bin!
Sorry for the ramble, I've been thinking about this a lot recently and I just wanted to share some thoughts.