As many of you know, I’ve been spending this year on a fabric buying ban as part of my The Year of Slow Sewing project. Now that I am about halfway through, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned and how I want to continue this slow sewing mindset beyond 2019.
One thing I’m considering is exclusively sourcing fabric from sustainable companies and resources. Reusing, recycling, and minimizing waste are such a big part of my everyday life. There is no reason I can’t bring those values into my sewing practice. Especially when there are so many great resources out there for acquiring sustainable fabrics!
I’ve decided to break this list down by category. In each category I’ve tried to explain the category of sustainability and why it is better for the environment. It’s very rare that one fabric will check all of these boxes, but if you find a fabric that fits in at least one of these categories you are on your way to a more sustainable sewing practice!
** Denotes sources added since first publishing of this post. These are not shops I was previously familiar with before writing, but I have looked over their sites and offerings for compliance before adding them here.
Second Hand Fabrics
This category includes fabric found in thrift stores, estate sales, on instagram destashes, etc. It was previously purchased and by another person who no longer wants or needs it and has decided to either donate or sell it. By using second hand fabrics you are keeping them from potentially being tossed in the landfill as well as not contributing financially to the production of more fabric. This is one of my favorite sustainable fabric sources as it’s alway like finding a diamond in the rough!
Second Hand Fabric Resources:
- Shop Well Fibre: Star is an amazing maker with a knack for finding beautiful vintage and second hand textiles. Every Friday on her instagram account she posts a new collection for sale. Act fast because they go quick!
- A Thrifty Notion: This is another great online resource for apparel sewing fabrics. These ladies run a retail fabric store as well as this second hand shop, so they really know what to look for in a textile! Subscribe to their newsletter so you don’t miss new releases.
- The Frade: This site was designed for sewists, quilters, and crafters to buy and sell their unwanted fabric. Their website is designed beautifully with great user experience. Shop by location to find fabrics close to you with cheaper shipping. It’s a fairly new operation, but the more people using it means more fabric available to us!
- Sierra Sewing Supply**: This is a new site I discovered after writing this post and my first add-on! Their focus is mostly on eco-conscious reorder-able fabrics but they do have a small second hand fabric section which I’ve linked here! (check back for updates!)
- Local Thrift Stores & Estate Sales: Some of my best second hand fabric finds have been when I was least expecting it. I always browse the sheets & linens section of my local thrift store for secret gems. Estate sales can be great for this too. Look for a group that organizes estate sales in your area to follow on Facebook. They will often post previews of the sale on their page before it starts. I try to stop by any sale that has a sewing machine in it.
- Ebay: Make sure you click the “used” or “pre-owned” filter when searching for fabric, because there are some actual fabric stores selling here as well. I’ve found some very surprising stuff when doing random eBay fabric searches.
- Craigslist: This is another great option for finding people selling off fabric in your local area. Often people cleaning out their mothers and grandmothers sewing rooms. But sometimes you will find local designers trying to get rid of excess fabric as well. I live in a rural area, so my town doesn’t have a craigslist, but I’ve convinced a few people in the bigger cities around me to tack on shipping!
- Facebook Marketplace: This one is a little more of a needle in a haystack situation, but its good to keep your eyes peeled for the occasional good find. Facebook is also a good place to look for local swap groups in your area that may be organizing events or just posting destash items for pickup.
- Destash Accounts on Instagram: Lots of people don’t want to go through the trouble of listing their used fabric on a trade site or on craigslist. Sometimes its faster to just sell straight to your community! Do an instagram search for “destash” and you will find tons of accounts dedicated to this very thing.
You may have heard a lot about Deadstock or Overstock fabric recently and been unsure as to what exactly it is. Deadstock is fabric that was purchased by a designer or clothing manufacturing company that did not get used in production. It can often be found in larger quantities and sometimes even by the bolt. Many independent fabric stores are now sourcing deadstock fabrics to make them available for you to purchase. This is a great sustainable option for those looking for something more specific or high-end then you may be able to find second hand. Or for those who just don’t like the hunt of shopping second hand. Similarly to buying second hand, buying Deadstock prevents these fabrics from potentially ending up in a landfill, and keeps your money from supporting mass production of new fabrics.
Deadstock Fabric Resources:
- Matchpoint Fabric: A fairly new online resource for deadstock apparel fabrics.
- Indie Fabric Stores: Many of our favorite indie fabric stores are sourcing deadstock fabrics for their shops these days! Indiesew has a label in each fabric description to signify whether or not it is overstock (though you cannot filter for this in search so its a bit tedious to clickthrough each one). Blackbird Fabrics conveniently has a separate section for designer headstocks! I wouldn’t hesitate to get in touch with your favorite indie fabric shop to ask if they carry any deadstock fabrics. There is a good chance they are but aren’t advertising it.
- Swatch On: I’ve just recently discovered this fabric supplier on line and I love that they have multiple categories for sustainable fabrics (in fact you will see them in the next two categories!) Click this link to be taken to their selection of deadstock fabrics!
- FabScrap: This amazing company collects unused textiles from all over NYC’s garment district. If you are lucky enough to live in the area, you HAVE TO check out their new brick-and-mortar shop. If not there’s still a way to get your hands on the goods! They sell scrap & yard bundles by color on their website. As well as select yardage, trims, and notions. Check back often as they update it!
If buying brand new fabric is more your speed, there are still ways you can make more earth-conscious decisions. One of those ways is choosing fabrics made with sustainable and natural fibers. The fibers are the threads themselves that are combined to create the fabrics. For the easiest route: stitch to natural fibers which will decompose quicker when discarded. And there are more and more sustainable fabrics being engineered daily like recycled plastic polyester, Tencel made from sustainable wood pulp, or Pinatex which uses discarded pineapple leaves to make a leather-like material!
To participate in this category of fabric sourcing you will have to do a bit of research. Many of your big box fabric stores will carry something that falls into this category. Check fiber content when purchasing and if you aren’t sure whether or not a certain fiber is natural look it up! You are generally safe with anything certified organic or recycled.
Keywords to look for:
- GOTS Certified
- Certified Organic
- Recycled – in regards to the fibers, i.e. recycled polyester which is made from recycled plastics.
- Natural Fibers
There are a few fabric shops I love that are doing a great job of making it easy for us by creating separate shop sections for sustainable fabrics.
A Few Sustainable Fiber Fabric Sources:
- Matchpoint Fabric: In addition to deadstock, this awesome new shop also has a section for “sustainable reorderables” mostly consisting of fabrics made of sustainable fibers. This is great option if you dont want to be limited on yardage. You may get lucky and find that some of them fall under the next category as well.
- D & H Fabrics: When Tammy started her indie fabric shop she had sustainability in mind. She has a whole section of certified organic fabrics.
- Blackbird Fabrics: Along with their deadstock section, Blackbird is making it easy for us to browse their earth-friendly fabrics. For this category, look at their Natural Fibers & GOTS Certified filters.
- Swatch On: In addition to their deadstock category, they have a great selection of sustainable Tencel fabrics.
- Sierra Sewing Supply:** Again, a new discovery of mine. What I love about their shop is the decent selection of knits! Most of the other resources I’ve found are very woven-focused.
- Sew Dynamic**: Another add-on discovery since originally writing this post! I’ve seen a lot of recycled polyester in RTW garments but haven’t had much luck finding it for sale by the yard. Sew Dynamic is our answer! This is a great resource for activewear fabrics that can be VERY difficult to find sustainably (I had some serious difficulty sourcing some for my yoga shorts). Will definitely be looking here when I’m ready to make some more active wear. They even have some great info in regards to polyester fabric care which is SUPER important when washing those recycled plastic fabrics.
- Offset Warehouse**: What I like about this shop is that it’s whole site is ethically minded. So you don’t have to sift through to get to the good stuff! They also have a great page on their site explaining why they choose to be Eco friendly complete with a great chart defining all the “eco” vocabulary you may come across when shopping for fabric.
- Bold Fabric**: These folks have a whole section dedicated to sustainable fibers, again making it easy to find what you are looking for.
- Meter Meter**: This shop is wonderfully curated with mostly natural fiber fabric. They also carry Lenzing Tencel! Located in Denmark but they ship worldwide!
- Loom & Stars**: This is a great shop I discovered watching the Fold Line’s youtube channel. Beautiful and unique ikat fabrics and other handwoven natural fibers.
Just because a fabric consists of natural and sustainable fibers, does not necessarily meant that it hasn’t been pumped full of chemicals by the time it gets to your hands. In fact, many fibers that are known for their sustainability (like bamboo) go through a rigorous and environmentally harmful process to be turned into fabrics. From natural dyes to recycled water, focusing on fabrics produced sustainably can be another great way to participate in the slow sewing movement.
This is another category that may require some digging, as there are few online stores specifically dedicated to fabrics of this kind. However many of the stores you already shop at may have a section of fabrics that fall under this and other discussed categories.
Keywords to look for:
- OEKO-TEX Certified – signifies a fabric is free of harmful chemicals from the manufacturing process.
- Lenzing Certified – While Tencel is made of natural fibers, not all Tencel is created equal. Among other great qualities, Lenzing Certified fabrics are manufactured in a closed loop system, eliminating waste in the manufacturing process.
A Few Sustainably Produced Fabric Sources:
- Blackbird Fabrics – Here they are again! This time, check their OEKO-TEX Certified & Lenzing Certified filters in the earth-friendly section.
- Swatch On – Has a whole section dedicated to fabrics manufactured with sustainable practices.
A Few Other Suggestions
- Prefer shopping in person? Talk to your local fabric store. They may already have a section with sustainability in mind. Or perhaps they are open to stocking more sustainable fabrics if they feel there is a demand for them.
- Don’t be a part of the problem. If you aren’t shopping exclusively second hand, try to only buy what you need. Check your area for organizations or stores that will recycle unused fabric scraps.
- Have your own de-stash. Contribute to the solution and help other sewists find second hand fabrics by creating your own instagram destash account, trading fabric locally in a Facebook group or swap, or trading fabric on The Frade.
This list is not at all comprehensive, these are just a few of my favorite and frequented sources for sustainable fabrics. If you know of another great one that I’ve missed I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below.
The most important thing with pursuing sustainability in your sewing practice is not to beat yourself up about it. Every now and then there will be a project that requires completely unsustainable fabric (looking at you swimwear!) Or you may see that perfect print on dreaded polyester or rayon that you just can’t pass up. It’s all about baby steps and changing your mindset so you are a little more conscious as you shop.
If you found this post informative and are feeling even the slightest bit more comfortable in pursuing sustainable fabrics in your sewing practice then I’d say my job here is done!
Happy Slow Sewing!