'It's Not East Being Green' - 18 Tips for more sustainable making

'It's Not East Being Green' - 18 Tips for more sustainable making

Time, money, access, knowledge…these are all significant barriers to living more sustainably. The truth is our current society isn’t set up for people to live sustainably so to try and do so requires extra…everything. It’s not easy. Despite this, we still think it’s a challenge worth embarking on, remembering the goal is to be ‘more sustainable’ NOT the perfect human being whose monthly rubbish fits into a bottle cap.

We’ve put a lot of work into researching which fibres we believe have the lowest environmental impact, however, we acknowledge that sustainability isn’t just about what you buy, it’s also about how much you buy and what you do with it.

To this end we wanted to share a few ways we think can help make our sewing and knitting practices ‘more sustainable’. This doesn’t mean we do all these things all the time, we’re only human after all. But it gives us something to aim for.

Planning Stage


Yeah yeah we know, call the Fun Police. This is probably the most obvious but also one of the most difficult to adhere to. The pull to hoard fabric and yarn is strong, we feel it, however, one of the keys to sustainability is simply buying less so the more we can sit down and plan out our makes the better. 

The planning process is quite complex and probably quite variable. Sometimes you see a fabric or yarn you want and it can take a while to work out the pattern; sometimes you choose the pattern first and then the fabric or yarn; and sometimes it all comes together in a moment of what can only be described as divine intervention (how good are those?). But more often than not it’s a bit messy and confusing and even a bit stressful. We’d love to dig our teeth into this particular aspect of making.



It’s easy to get carried away wanting to make more ‘exciting’ projects but sometimes the really satisfying makes can be the simple ones that you actually wear…a lot. Take an honest look at your wardrobe and work out what clothes you realistically need and will fit your lifestyle. There are loads of wardrobe planning tools online to help guide you through this process. One example that we particularly like is Capsule Wardrobe 101 created by Unfancy, fashion and style blogger. The pie chart in which you break down the types of activities you spend your week doing is particularly interesting and can really help identify the types of clothes your wardrobe needs versus the ones your wardrobe wants.



For some people this may be getting a colour consultation. For others this could mean going with your gut and sticking with the colours you know you like to wear and not getting swayed by what’s ‘trending’ or an amazing colour that actually goes with nothing else in your wardrobe. Yeah I’m looking at you mustard linen, purchased when it was all the rage despite it being a colour I have literally never touched in my life (no diss on the colour, it just doesn’t work for my colouring).



Take some time to get to know your body proportions and shape including typical measurements but also vertical measurements (torso length, leg length, neck length). Patterns aren’t designed to fit ALL bodies, the better you understand your own body the better you can pick patterns which are likely to suit and feel comfortable on you and/or require minimal/simple adjustments. For example, through sewing I have learned that I have a very long torso and short legs so I always check the rise measurement on trouser patterns before I purchase. Luckily this is an easy enough adjustment to make (provided the pattern has a side seam!) but it helps guide me to which patterns are worth buying and which probably aren’t.




Following on from our point above, patterns aren’t and can’t be designed to fit ALL bodies. Every body is unique and everyone will have their own fitting needs. One of the greatest joys of being able to make your own clothing has to be the ability to make your clothing fit you and not the other way around! It’s complex and time consuming but we believe it’s worth it. A good start is getting to know your body shape and dimensions and then learning to select patterns that are more likely to suit these so you hopefully have less adjustments to make. There are lots of online resources regarding fitting, you can take online or in person classes (if these are available to you) BUT it can feel quite overwhelming. This is an area we hope to explore and provide support for in the future.



This is an area of personal style and preference but some fashion styles are more conducive to being ‘more sustainable’ than others. For example, looser, less-fitted styles work well with more sustainable fibres whereas clothing which call for a great amount of stretch generally require synthetic fabrics, which are notoriously bad for the environment. We personally love this looser style and think it’s a look worth getting behind. There are also a growing number of knit fabrics that have decent amounts of stretch due to their innovative knitting processes without the addition of elastane.



Zero waste patterns are growing in popularity and for good reason. Less fabric waste? Smaller scrap pile? What’s not to love? It is a different approach to today's garment making process involving several paper pattern pieces which are used as templates to cut your fabric. Instead there are no pattern pieces, just measurements and the occasional template which can be drawn directly onto the fabric itself.

It is an interesting process and one we have both found very satisfying. The resulting garments have a unique, oversized look which we think is very ‘cool’. And many of the techniques used in zero-waste design are drawn from historical garment making techniques, many of which have been lost but to the history books thanks to the industrialization of clothing manufacturing.

It’s fair to say Birgitta Helmersson has been leading the way for home sewers with her modern and stylish zero waste sewing patterns. But there are a growing number of designers making and experimenting with zero waste drafting techniques so give it a go!



Zero Waste Soft Blouse



Zero Waste Block Pant



A comfortable, well-fitting garment is much more likely to be kept and worn. Yes we are a pro-muslin, pro-swatching organisation (you’ve got the Fun Police on speed dial now don’t you).

It CAN feel a bit wasteful making a muslin for sewing but there are some ways to make it less so, such as using second hand fabric (old bed sheets are great) and pulling them apart to re-use the fabric (obligatory scrap busting blog to come). And no one said you can't wear your muslins. A few of our muslins have been relegated to pyjamas and lounge clothes. Which is a great way to get a feel for the fit and any areas you might want to tweak.

'Wearable' muslins are also a great option for more complex styles like pants, denim, tops with set-in sleeves etc. It allows you to practice the techniques you will be using on your 'good' fabric and it gives you the opportunity to take them for a spin IRL. Because we don't spend our lives just standing face to face with a mirror. We sit, bend, twist, walk, run, jump, maybe even do cartwheels in our clothes. It is good to know how a pattern is going to feel and hold up when put to the test.

So thinking of the bigger picture, if you are going to make a garment that you wear a lot we think it’s worth this initial step. Once you get a pattern to a point where you love the fit you can make it again and hack the pattern to make different variations rather than buying new patterns and going through the process all over again.

Swatching for knitting is for us a no-brainer. It really is the only way to ensure that your final garment will have the fit and drape that you want. It is possible to re-use your swatch yarn. Once you have finished your swatch DON’T cut the strands, just block it attached to the ball, that way you can simply unravel it. If you are swatching for knitting in the round you can still re-use your yarn. Brooklyn Tweed Swatching 101 is our favourite tutorial explaining how to do this as well as all the other super fascinating things you need to know about swatching!


Making Stage


This seems like another no-brainer to us but I guess we would say that. However, it just makes sense that buying fabric and yarn which has a lower environmental impact in its production is a more sustainable choice. The more people start to demand these fabrics, the more they will be produced and hopefully the demand for environmentally damaging fabrics will decline.

But where oh where can I find these fabrics and yarns??? Well, it just so happens that’s our thing at Paper Scissors Cloth so when you are done here check out our growing selection of beautiful and sustainable fabric + yarn.

Secondhand fabrics are also a great option if you have these available to you and can find fabrics that you will want to keep and wear.




It’s easy to focus on fabric and yarn and forget about all the smaller, but just as vital, components that go into a garment and carry their own environmental footprint. Thread, buttons, zips, elastic etc. can all be produced in a more environmentally friendly way than the traditionally available options. We have a growing range of sustainable haberdashery too! 




Products that are produced in a more responsible manner SHOULD and DO cost more. This is obviously a potential barrier but for those who can afford it we believe it’s an investment worth making. Quality products will last longer and are more likely to be cherished. Buying less but buying better is definitely the motto here.



Pattern designers will almost always provide visual layouts of how to place pattern pieces onto fabric BUT you don’t have to follow them. You can lay your patterns on your fabric however you like, provided you stick to the direction of the grainlines marked on each pattern piece. But even this is a bit flexible with certain areas of a garment and depending on your fabric you may be able to rotate some pattern pieces crosswise to the grain. We wouldn't suggest going rogue and squeezing in pattern pieces any which way. It is important to adhere to grainlines if you want a garment to sit comfortably on your body and fabric to hang nicely. But it is good to remember that the fabric layout instructions are merely a guide and not the only way to lay the pattern.



You can even try piecing together internal garment pieces, such as facings or pocket bags, from smaller scraps of fabric. Just remember to add seam allowance where you will be piecing it together so it doesn't end up too small! Or how about adding your own style lines by cutting a CB or CF seam rather than on the fold. This may give you more flexibility in how you lay your pattern pieces. Better yet, check out this rad post by Lauren from Elbe Textiles, Patchwork Clothing - Scrap Busting 101, where she pieces together her fabric scraps to create the fabric for her garment.

And if you are super duper organised you can trace and cut out your pattern FIRST then lay it out to work out the minimum metreage you can get away with before purchasing your fabric (remember to include possible shrinkage if you try this approach).



We all get caught up in that sometimes frantic desire to get the project finished but there are many benefits to slowing down your making process:

  • It gives you time to focus on and advance your skills
  • Your finished garment will be of better quality which will last longer
  • You may learn to enjoy the sewing process more by focusing on what you are doing rather than trying to reach the finish line
  • Slowing down gives you the chance to think more deeply about what you want to make next rather than rushing into something



Once you find a pattern you like, make it again! We are all driven by a desire to make new and different things but the more sustainable choice is to find a small number of patterns you like and re-make them. You can make them new and different simply by using different fabrics and simple (or complex) pattern hacks.



If you have the space it’s worth keeping your scraps. There are genuinely great ways you can use them. If you are so inclined you can sort them into size. Love to Sew has a great Scrap Busting Episode on their podcast which is worth a listen.

The added bonus of using all natural fibres and thread, if you choose to do so, is that they can be composted so all those niggly bits of thread and off-cuts don’t need to go in the landfill.




Wearing Stage


Clothing care accounts for about 30% of a garments total carbon footprint (Fashion on Climate report by McKinsey & Company). This is an area where it’s pretty easy to make some small changes that can have a big impact on the carbon footprint of your wardrobe.

  • Natural fabrics breathe better so need less washing (probably less than you think)
  • Air your clothes out after wearing rather than washing them every time
  • Spot treat stains rather than washing the whole garment
  • Wash on cold as much as possible - most natural fibres prefer this anyway
  • Use an environmentally friendly washing detergent
  • Line dry rather than tumble dry, again most quality fabrics prefer this anyway
  • Use a guppy bag or similar device when washing synthetic fibres. This helps reduce (not eliminate) the shedding of micro plastics into the waterways

All of these acts are not only better for your clothes but also better for the planet.



Disposable clothing is so last decade, didn't you get the memo? Re-wearing your favourite clothes is an act of love and respect to your clothes and to the planet and it sends a great message to the people around you. One of my favourite things to do is shop my own closet, trying on different clothes in different combinations and with different accessories to find new and interesting ways to wear them. To be honest I also just love wearing the same damn outfit on repeat - if you love it, wear it!



Extending the life of your clothing by mending them or re-fashioning them is another no-brainer. A research report by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) in the UK has shown that increasing the active life of all clothing by nine months would reduce the annual carbon, water, and waste footprints of clothing by 20-30% each, and cut resource costs by £5 billion.

It’s not always the most exciting activity but again, we think you are far more likely to want to make the effort and maybe even enjoy the process of mending your clothes or re-using your fabrics if you really love them and can’t wait to get them back into rotation. Honestly, I can’t imagine finding much joy in mending a hole in a pair of $20 polyester leggings but were my favourite linen memade dress to get a hole you can be sure I’d be investing the time to fix it pretty quickly!


This all circles back around to choosing carefully and investing in quality. Higher quality, loved clothing will be worn for longer, be better cared for and is more likely to be mended and re-fashioned.

Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. - Vivienne Westwood 


*But what does our posse think? Does any of this ring true with you? What strategies do you employ to make your making more sustainable? What are the challenges you face in being a more sustainable maker? We’d love to hear below in the comments section.


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1 comment

A very well written informative blog and loved the humour thrown in as well. I’m really looking forward to the next entry and to see how you go with your on line shop as sustainability and recycling is very much on most people’s minds and especially the younger sector. Very enjoyable..Thank you Ainsley and Katherine.

Marjorie Sargent

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