What can you make from scraps?

Playtime is over! Having just completed the Exploratory phase of my MA By Creative Practice, I’m now entering the Developmental stage. 

More and more I’m inspired by images of water - rolling seas… 

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droplets in pools, light reflections

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… and so on - and my visit to Brunei and Hong Kong has strengthened that.

Coupling this with my interest in sustainability has led me on to chenilling this week. For those of you who don’t know, chenille is a type of yarn that is very fluffy and is a fabric made from this yarn. There is also a third definition made from layers of fabric that has been slashed, and this is what I’ve been making.

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Here’s what I did. First things first - I ordered a slash cutter. You can make chenille fabric (also called faux chenille) using scissors but using a slash cutter is easier on the hands and reduces the chance of blisters.

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Next, I found some fabrics to work with. The purple and green fabrics are cotton remnants from a clothing manufacturer, the blue is left over curtain lining from the previous house we lived in (20 years ago), the print is a top my DD discarded and the gold paper lurex is actually new. It hurt to buy new for this project because I wanted to make something beautiful and interesting essentially from waste but another inspiration currently is icons and the way gold lifts everything. Who doesn’t like a bit of bling?!

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I layered up the fabrics, pinned around the edges and made 1 cm lines across the bias.

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Then I sewed along the lines in deep blue thread.

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It looked a bit wobbly at this stage but I pressed on...

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… cutter at the ready!

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I found it easier to insert the cutter if I snipped the fabric to get started using sharp scissors.

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Then I cut between the sewn lines, TAKING CARE NOT TO CUT THROUGH THE BOTTOM LAYER!!!

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I could have just washed it at this stage and the job would have been done but I decided to add some of those waves that have been pestering my mind.

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I marked lines across the bias in the other direction, lazilly just using the width of a ruler as a guide. It turned out to be just the right width! ;)

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Then I sewed across, folding over one half of each strip in turn. 

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This tool was very helpful. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s the other end of the brush that came with my sewing machine. 

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Wow, that gold!

Then I sewed back and forth alond the lines, alternating the direction, like feather icing on a cake.

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And here’s the end result! And I love it! I love the colour combination and how the gold really sings out. In fact I love it so much I couldn't bear to take it to the next stage, which would have been to wash it.

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So, strictly speaking, this piece isn’t chenille at all, it’s simply manipulated fabric. Hmm.

Ok, THIS is chenille!

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I followed the same principles but this time I used scraps of fabric as a layer. Not the sort of gal to throw stuff away, I have plenty of scraps.

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I should mention all the fabric I used is woven, not knitted.

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Again, I used green cotton for the base layer, then just placed scraps in layers on top.

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A layer of gold, then purple cotton kept the scraps in place.

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1 cm lines sewn.

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Fabric slashed, manipulation begun!

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This time a lot more colour showed through.

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And I was brave enough to complete the final stage - washing! It’s best to wash the fabric with an old towel or a pair of jeans (I used both) to roughen up the fibres. Then I tumble dried it to fluff it up even more.

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A few loose bits came away but that’s to be expected when using scraps as it’s hard to predict where the cuts are when you are slashing the top fabric. The end result is fluffy, thick and snuggly!

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I love both versions of this journey into chenilling and can see uses for both. I’m most impressed that they have come from remnants and scraps. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. A scrap is just that, but when you put it with others! I feel a garment coming on!

Beautiful Brunei

This is the first post for a while as I have been so busy with uni work, and preparing for and enjoying the trip of a lifetime!

Spoiler: this post is likely to be full of superlatives!!!

Never having travelled outside Europe the chance to visit South East Asia was like a dream. DH was offered a week’s work at the wonderful Jerudong International School in Brunei Darussalam and I was able to accompany him. From there we visited our DD in Hong Kong and spent a lovely week catching up with her and seeing the sights.

For those of you who don’t know (and I confess I had to look it up) Brunei is on the island of Borneo. Yep, think rainforest!  

DH worked his little socks off as he usually does, but the school made sure we had time to explore a little, including a boat trip up the Brunei River into the mangrove forest and a swim in the warm, bath-like waters of the South China Sea.

We were collected from our hotel at 7am (school starts early in hot countries) after a substantial and unfamiliar breakfast. 

It seemed odd to be offered baked chicken and fried noodles but I suppose no stranger than bacon and hash browns. A good vegan option was delicious vegetable dahl. The porridge was definitely different though, made with rice and eaten with optional sprinkles of crispy fried onions, pulled pork, chopped spring onions and mushrooms! 

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Every morning there was something new but always accompanied by deliciously succulent fresh fruit – pineapple, papaya and more types of melon than I ever imagined.

Jerudong International School educates children aged 2 to 18 years. You could be forgiven for thinking you had walked onto a university campus in the UK, the site is so large and so state-of-the-art, with its three swimming pools, its full-sized theatre, its library and halls of residence. 

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But it’s the confident, academically advanced, and delightfully friendly children which stick in the mind most of all. Expectations are high here and so are the achievements. This sounds like an advert! 

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But this really does feel like a very happy school with a family vibe to it, despite its size. A lot of this must be down to staff, who are mainly from the UK with some from Australia, South Africa and a few other countries.

DH delivered 20 sessions, two assemblies and a PD talk, which encompassed a great number of the children and staff. 

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I was privileged to go on a school trip with the Early Years department to a local supermarket to buy ingredients to make smoothies back at school. We also had a drink in a café before getting back on the coach. 

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The next day I spent some time in another early years class where I had a tour and spent some time with the children, most of whom spoke English, but not all. I’m very grateful to the staff for sharing with me so generously.

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Our downtime was spent sightseeing and eating. The never-to-be-forgotten boat trip to see the proboscis monkeys, the long tailed macaques, the monitor lizards, common kingfishers, egrets, and sea eagles in their natural habitat was an experience it will be hard to beat. 

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Three hours flew by and I felt so full afterwards, as if I had breathed in the whole jungle!  

Kampong Ayer is the largest stilted village in the world and is built in the river itself. 

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It is a place of contrasts from the monsoon-battered houses which look as though they are held up by willpower alone, to the brand new homes which have been built to encourage people to stay living in this unique community. Equipped with its own police station, fire station and schools this village seems to have all its needs met. 

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I found the sun-bleached colours of the wooden buildings very beautiful and inspiring. Sailing by in our little boat, we were given many friendly waves from dads and children fishing from platforms and jetties. No swimming in these crocodile infested waters though!

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So, when is she going to write something about textiles, I hear you ask! Well to my delight there were fabric shops all over the place! 

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I did an initial recce of some, taking photos to decide how best to spend my dollars, but found the turnover very fast and some of the fabrics I had photographed had sold out when I returned a couple of days later. 

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Brunei is big on printed fabric with a lot of silks, wools and cottons made in Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Dubai on sale. Lots of eye-popping colour and pattern!

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There is a lot of fabric described as ‘machine washable silk’ which I’m still not sure is silk, even after several conversations! Other fabric described as ‘crepe’ I was told is made from crepe, so obviously some things got lost in translation. 

That said, I did manage to come home with a stash, some of which I know exactly what I will make into, and others I will live with for a while until each piece decides to tell me what it would like to be!

The week was packed and flew by and there’s so much more to say, but I’ll save that for another day. What a beautiful, beautiful place Brunei is! I’d go back in a heartbeat!

What’s the most amazing place you’ve been to, I wonder? Please share!

New year, new projects.

Christmas is well and truly behind us for another year and I’m relishing the familiarity of a routine once more. How many times over the break did you hear people ask, “What day is it?” Even a few days off throws us out of kilter somehow.

I’m really enjoying my MA course at Liverpool Hope Uni. I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the academic writing again but I wanted a challenge and it would be no fun if it was easy! Also, I no longer feel guilty for sitting at my sewing machine a little longer than I intended. I feel I have permission to play!

I have a list of new projects I’m itching to start on. Every year my resolution is the same – finish a job before you start another. Every year the resolution is broken. I really do need to finish a few things though as the WIPs are taking over!

Currently I’m playing with the book cover I started a while ago. I’m adding gold French knots and I need to buy some tiny gold beads. I’ll be padding some areas and I’m grateful to S and L for giving me ideas for how to tackle this in another way on a future project. 

For this cover I’m slitting the back and stuffing, then sewing up. This is because I didn’t know I was going to pad it. That’s where playing gets you!

I love the ideas that come when creative people get together. Chatting with S (a wonderful textile artist) and L (an extremely talented fashion student) gave rise to all sorts of avenues I want to explore.

Not one to have too many days off without making something, I made this sleeve for my Kindle Fire.

I used new synthetic felt for the lining (nice and soft), 

and the outside is cut from a pair of shorts my DD had put in the charity bag. 

Sorry, charity shop, my need was greater this time! I love this tapestry style fabric, it’s very me! 

As ever, this prototype is for just for me (mwah, ha, ha!) but I’ll make another more refined one to sell, as I still have the other leg of the shorts. ;)

What’s on your machine currently? Anyone out there upcycling a discarded garment or two? I’d love to read your comments!


Happy New Year, whatever it brings

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all enjoyed a happy, peaceful Christmas.

Looking back over the last year I expect your life has been a little like mine, highs and lows, moments of sheer joy and others of difficult trials. Most lives seem to be rollercoaster rides, sometimes all in one day! I feel so blessed to know that even when I walk in the darkest shadows there is light at the end.

The Flash, 1st January 2017

I’ve been following Proverbs 31 posts for a few years now and this one posted yesterday (http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/start-the-new-year-prepared) struck chords with me. Not only does it confirm God’s promise to be with me through all life brings, but it sits well with my aim to make life more simple.

This Christmas I requested thermal socks, 

warm slippers, 

and Wendy Ward’s new book 

from my family. Modest gifts by some standards, but exactly what I wanted and needed. What we give to someone doesn’t have to be a reflection of how much we love them. It also means we don’t have to spend Boxing Day finding places to stash everything! I also appreciate the consumables – smellies and food – which are useful and indulgent at the same time!

A gift from my Goddaughter was this beautiful journal. 

One of my very favourite bible verses! I struggle with being still! But it’s so wonderful to know that even in the times I’m squirming most, God is in control.

I wish you all a very happy year ahead, filled with love, light and laughter and with peace and assurance when times are tough.


And the winner is...

Thank you for your entries to my competition. You came up with some ingenious ideas! Well done to everyone who took part, but the prize goes to Amanda ‘Titch’ Acton for her idea to use a bag to store childhood keepsakes, such as hospital wrist band, first tooth, first curl, etc. So adorable!

For those of you in the Cheshire area, why not come along to the CAP Christmas Fair on Saturday 10th December at Christ Church Hall, Crook Lane, Winsford, CW7 3DR. I will be selling my bags and there will be lots of other stalls and activities. It’s a charity fundraiser which should be a lot of fun. See you there!



Have a greener Christmas

What’s on my sewing machine? CHRISTMAS!!!

I have a stall booked at the CAP Christmas Fair on Saturday 10th December at Christ Church Hall, Winsford, and I’m up to my ears in Christmas fabric.

I’m busy making reusable gift bags, to reduce the amount of waste wrapping paper that goes to landfill each year. Yes, I’m attempting to single-handedly save the planet! Ok, a major exaggeration, but every little helps and you can help too by reducing the gift wrapping you use this year.

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I see my gift bags as an investment as you can use them year on year, especially for family gifts – just snaffle them back when the present has been opened.  

If you would like to win a set of three Christmas gift bags, write your suggestions in the comments box below for how you would reuse a reusable gift bag. Have a look at my original post here, with some comments, so you get the idea. The competition closes on 4th December as is open to anyone in the UK. Good luck!

Ode to Autumn

I can’t believe how the last seven weeks have flown! It’s been such a busy time – the harvest has been coming thick and fast on our allotment...

our church has moved back into our beautiful, newly renovated building...

we’ve been on holiday to our favourite place in the whole world...

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and I’ve begun a Masters Degree! 

Join that to the usual hectic family life and you will see why I haven’t blogged for a while.

My degree is MA by Creative Practice, specializing in Textile Design, at Liverpool Hope University. Having graduated as a Bachelor of Arts when dinosaurs roamed the earth it has been a huge step for me to go back to uni. I felt completely out of my depth for the first few weeks but the panic is subsiding and I’m enjoying it so much, learning new skills, reviving existing ones and getting my brain in gear again.

So what’s on my desk and sewing machine today? My Contextual Journal (which records my arty influences)...

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a recipe (find it here) for apple cake (we have an abundance of apples)...

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this verse (reminding me STOP once in a while, stop panicking and give thanks)...

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a cover for my Contextual Journal (Work In Progress)...

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and Christmas reusable gift bags (Christmas Fair, Christ Church Hall, 10th December)...

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and this video.

I’ve been thinking about how plastics pollution relates to the textile industry for a little while now, and yes, I have cupboards full of synthetic fabrics and yarns. But in the meantime, what can I do to reduce the amount of plastic that passes through my hands? I’ve set myself the target of making one change every month for the next year.

As a general rule I’m going to try NOT to buy stuff in plastic containers, wherever possible. So, glass jars instead of plastic pots, etc. This is not always possible so for this November I’m going to buy stuff in the biggest plastic container I can find and/or afford. So instead of buying 250ml of shampoo, I’m buying 700mls. 

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Instead of 300mls of handwash, I’m buying 10 litres! 

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Yes, it’s a lot and I have to find space to store it but it will last a long time. It uses less plastic and it’s actually saved me some money too. And now that I’ve tidied under the bathroom sink (another job that’s been on my long list for a while!) the handwash is stored away very neatly.

I know this is not possible for everyone. I know it makes a small impact. But if everyone does something it surely must be an improvement. And it makes us THINK! We can’t continue to treat the world as our rubbish dump, can we?

Please comment with your ideas for how to reduce our plastic consumption. I’ve already got my ideas for December and January, but I would love to hear your thoughts.


Refashioners 2016 Jeanius

This is my first time entering The Refashioners Community Challenge. The Challenge runs through August and September each year and this year the task is to refashion jeans into something wearable or usable. Right up my street!

After going through the list of what I could make I realised I wanted to make something I needed, not just wanted. Those who know me will know I like bags. (Understatement.) For a while I’ve thought of making an anti-theft rucksack with a concealed zip, so here’s my Jeanius Rucksack. Ta-da!


I’ve never made a rucksack before and had no pattern or real idea where to start, but, why would I let that stop me? Sound familiar? I’m fairly new to blogging and now that I’m writing this I’ve realized all the photos I SHOULD have taken along the way, but bear with me.

I began with a pair of my son’s jeans which he had outgrown several years ago but were just too good to throw out. I cut the front and back panels from the best parts of the legs (the backs were least faded). I did not want the rucksack to look like it was made from old jeans, but I did want it to nod in their direction. I machine embroidered stripes down the front of the rucksack, which in my mind echoed the topstitching on jeans.


I cut the back panel in half and inserted an exposed zip. Because I didn’t want to actually BUY anything for this project I used a zip I had to hand, which was actually about 2 inches too long. Then I made a storm flap to cover the up of the zip.


The sides and base were cut in 4 pieces. I added more embroidery where I attached the top section to the sides, partly as embellishment, partly to hide the seam.

These next photos are VERY IMPORTANT! They show how I became skilled at unpicking overlocking because I sewed it all up before adding the straps!

I used purple grosgrain ribbon for the straps and because this rucksack is mine, all mine, (mwah, ha, ha!) I didn’t use adjustable fasteners. It fits me! I also would have had to buy fasteners which was not what I intended for this project.

I added a fabric stop-thing (who knows what this is called please?) at the base of the zip and the thing looked finished. HOWEVER, I really wanted a pocket inside, but equally didn’t want this to show on the outside. I thought through some hammocky-swing type ideas, (which would have involved more unpicking – aargh, or stitching in the ditch) but then had a light bulb moment. In my stash of this-will-come-in-useful-one-day fabric I found an old shirt of my husband’s. It was not the colour or pattern I wanted but it had a pocket!I made a lining with a pocket already in place and Bob’s your uncle!

What would I do better next time? I’d make a pattern. I’d make the sides wider. I’d add the handle and straps BEFORE overlocking. I’d make a better job of the lining. I’d take more, and better, photos. Having said all that, I LOVE it! I hope you do too. Thanks for this great Challenge Portia. Roll on next year!

With a nod to Tom and Barbara Good.

This time of year is always especially busy if you have an allotment, and although the season hasn’t been great weather-wise, there is still an abundance to deal with.

So, juicy pears are being scoffed at every opportunity and the rest baked into pear and blackberry cakes, (we don’t yet grow blueberries!) pear crumbles and pear and ginger muffins. Tomatoes are transformed into jars of sauce, some chunky others smoother, for pasta, stuffed vegetables, etc, and jalapenos and shallots have been pickled. 

We were also fortunate enough to have a neighbour bring us a bag of damsons this week which we’ve made into jam and damson gin. So the peppers are not the only thing which will be pickled!

We aim to make at least 52 jars of tomato sauce, one a week for the year ahead and a few extras to give to children who turn up empty handed and leave laden.

Here’s our recipe. It makes about 10 large jars.

1 large bowlful (see photo) of chopped onions. I know this shows a bowl of pears but its to show the bowl, not the contents!

1 large chopped aubergine (from the market this year, hopefully home-grown next year)

2 large or several small chopped courgettes (zucchini)

1 large bowlful of chopped peppers (capsicums)

2 bowlfuls of chopped tomatoes

4 sticks of celery chopped

a good cupful of tomato puree (shop-bought)

4 or 5 cloves of garlic

black pepper

oregano to your taste

  • Add all the ingredients to a large Maslin pan and simmer until tender.
  • Use a stick blender to achieve the consistency you want.
  • The sauce should be bottled into sterlised jars. Both the jars and the sauce should be piping hot. Put lids on immediately and tighten them up.
  • Stand the jars in a pan of gently simmering water for 20 minutes.
  • Remove them from the water REALLY carefully! We invested in jar-lifting tongs as we’ve scalded our fingers one too many times.
  • Dry the jars and label them. They will keep for up to 2 years but never do because we eat them way before that!

We’ve also been known to add mushrooms and chillis, but as you can see, it’s a very flexible recipe so you can adjust to taste.

This year’s damson gin is being made to a different recipe. Last year’s was deliciously syrupy but we thought we’d go for something more gin-like this time, so added less sugar. Here’s what we did.

2lb or 1 kilo of damsons

12 ozs or 350 gms of white granulated sugar

1 litre of gin (we use the cheap stuff and it tastes great!)

  • Wash the damsons.
  • Prick the damsons all over with a fork and divide between 2 sterilised Kilner jars (one litre size)
  • Pour half of the sugar into each jar.
  • Pour the gin over. It should fill the 2 jars to just below the brim.
  • Swirl the jars to mix.
  • Label.
  • Swirl the jars every day until the sugar has dissolved, then leave for three months in a cool, dark place.
  • Have a taste around Christmastime (just testing, of course).
  • If it tastes ok, strain and bottle it. You could add more sugar at this point and leave it a bit longer.
  • Leave for another three months.


I feel very blessed that we have an allotment. One seed goes in the ground and the harvest comes back tenfold, twentyfold, fiftyfold! Thank you Lord! Sometimes it gets a little repetitive (oh lovely, runner beans again!) and menu planning goes out of the window and it’s a case of, “What needs to be eaten?”, but it’s SOOO good to be able to eat freshly picked veg and fruit that hasn’t travelled miles to be here or been sprayed with chemicals. And we really appreciate every mouthful because we’ve watched it grow. We do buy a little veg, - we’ve not yet managed to grow a good crop of carrots in the last ten years! We freeze, bottle and pickle our surplus and make chutneys and jams. We’re a long way off being self-sufficient (as in the 1970s UK TV sitcom), but it really is a 'GOOD LIFE'.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

I’m not so bad. I recycle my glass, plastic bottles, cans, paper. I don’t use carrier bags. I write on both sides of the paper. I grow my own. I make resusable gift bags! I do my bit.

But there’s so much more. And the more I look, the more there seems to be.

A timely post from Megan Nielsen about polyester fabric hit home as I’ve been considering the pros and cons of man-made and natural fibres and fabrics for a good while now.

There is so much to think about. To scrape the surface:

– Are the origins of the fabric sustainable?
Plant-based, oil-based, animal-based? Not so straightforward as it brings into play the whole huge “Is farming of livestock sustainable and ethical?” question. With veganism on the rise (half a million vegans in the UK, that's about 1 in every 130, at the time of writing), where does that leave our fashion industry?

– Is the production of the fabric environmentally safe and ethical?
Almost all raw materials undergo processing using chemicals which affect workers and the environment. Some are worse than others. The jeans industry, for example, is horrendous when you look into the 
toxic chemicals, sandblasting, water usage, pesticides, and dangerous working conditions.

– Is recycling the way forward?
Yes, and no. Fleece jackets made from recycled plastic bottles seems like a wonderful idea! Fibres from said jackets coming out in the wash and being found in vast amounts in our oceans, and entering our food chain? Oops, who saw that coming? 

It’s a challenging issue for anyone who is creative. Every time we create something we have an impact on our environment. I like the ethos of Project 333 from bemorewithless. As someone who has spent x amount of years accumulating ‘stuff’, it was like a breath of fresh air for me to spring-clean my wardrobe this year!  I’m certainly not there yet, but it has made me think about my unnecessary consumerism. How many of us have clothing in our wardrobes that we don’t like, that doesn’t fit properly or still has the tag on, even though we bought it months (or years!) ago? 

So, I’m trying to buy fabric and yarn with the garment in mind, that I know fills a gap in my wardrobe, and not just because I’d like another tee or dress, or trousers. It’s not going to be easy and I do have a rather hefty stash to work through first! But I’d rather make something I need, in good quality fabric, that I will love wearing again and again and again. The fashion industry makes it’s money because it is ever-changing and trend-led. Who’s brave enough to ditch being fashionable for being stylish?