Image from SeventhGeneration.com
"Caring Today for Seven Generations of Tomorrows" (www.seventhgeneration.com)
The first time I saw the logo for this company I was deeply moved. It clicked, it made sense. The company motto is taken from a Native American way of life. We should be emulating people who lived in harmony with the Earth for centuries. How did we stray so far by creating a culture that values buying so much cheap disposable stuff made far far away from here?
My eco-friendly efforts start at the beginning when I wash all my fabric. Not only do I wash with this detergent, but I wash everything in cold water in an energy efficient high capacity front-loading machine. I freely confess to machine drying the fabric as well, but that is to pre-shrink. After that, line drying is best.
Bubble mailers seemed the right thing to use at first. Even though my items are not fragile, the thought of a package sitting on someone's front step in the rain for hours is awful. Who wants a new handmade soggy tote bag? The plastic liner seemed necessary. Then came Eco Mailers (www.ecoenclose.com). What a fantastic product! Compostable. Tamper-proof. Can be used a second time with an additional adhesive strip. If you throw it away, it will biodegrade in a landfill within 60 months. AND they are comparably priced to bubble mailers. Genius! I plan to order all mailing products from them as I run out of what I currently have in stock.
Everyone loves a beautifully wrapped parcel. Etsy buyers have come to expect some sort of clever packaging from an artistic community of sellers. This always costs more, by the way! Elaborate packaging that would simply be thrown away doesn't work with my business practices. Enter the 100% recycled tissue paper and fabric scrap ties. You still feel like you are opening a present when you receive your order, but the paper is on its second life, you can recycle it further after opening, and the "ribbon" would have otherwise been discarded in my studio but now has a second life prettying-up your parcel.
Hand sewn alternatives to plastic rings true through most all of the products I offer for sale. Even the baby shoes are washable cotton as opposed to, say, Baby Crocs, faux-leather Robeez knockoffs, or even trendy 80's-retro Jelly Sandals.
My reusable bags speak for themselves. Saving approximately 500+ plastic lunch baggies from the landfill per child every school year? Totally worth the investment, in my opinion. How many of you recycle your clear plastic produce bags? Hmmm, thought so. The mesh bags are a great solution. I'd love to hear ideas for a solution to those bags I still use for grocery store meat, other than buying all of my meat at my local farmstand.
So much plastic has entered my life since having children. I thought I would try to do something about it. Tic Tac Toe, Memory, Go Fish and crayon rolls are great birthday gifts and have been very well received by other moms. Most of my toys are made for the holiday season, but I happily make crayon rolls all year long.
Previously I have made tote bags from upcycled, thrifted fabrics. I like using tablecloths because the weight of the fabric translates well into a tote bag. Everything I make is not upcycled for several reasons: 1) Plenty of people still have an "ick factor" with used fabric and simply won't buy those products. 2) There are so many gorgeous fabrics out there! I can't resist them, and I see no reason why reusable can't be gorgeous or fun or both. 3) When someone asks me, "Do you make snack bags in XXX theme because my Johnny would love to have those in his lunchbox!" I jump on the opportunity to make some. Not only am I helping along the next generation by encouraging green living at an early age, they will be excited about it and maybe their friends will think it's cool too. This is a no-brainer business practice, but it's just a good thing too. See my comments above about thinking forward to future generations.
Using organic fabric is an area I would like to explore more this year. Organic fabric is not just dirt-colored hemp--look at that gorgeous snack bag! The variety and availability is increasing rapidly. There are really beautiful and fun prints out there, though they are still more expensive than their conventional counterparts. The fiber is produced without pesticides and fertilizers, so the land from which the cotton comes is clean. That's a good thing to support. The fabric itself is not treated chemically before arriving at my door. That's another good thing to support. Produce bags made without any chemicals coming in contact with my organic produce? Yes please! Are most of the residues removed during my pre-wash? Probably, but I don't know for certain.
Image from swamplot.com
Is this the mess we want to leave the next seven generations ahead of us to clean up?
My new product tags from Moo.com
Buying Local, Sustainable and Handmade is GREEN. Do it now. Repeat often.
Let me share some of the preparation that goes into sewing a new product. I think seeing my process might help answer the pervasive question of why handmade costs so much more than mass produced.
Let's start with ordering fabric. I do not buy wholesale because I can't. Wholesale means buying fabric a whole bolt at a time (after gaining special vendor contracts)and I'm just not big enough. Plus I like to offer lots of variety in my products, listening to my customers' needs. Buying fabric by the yard or two or sometimes five suits my business right now, which also means that I'm buying fabric the same way you would. Not at a deeply discounted price.
After fabric arrives, I wash it. I don't just wash it in Tide, my commitment to being ecologically responsible carries over into all aspects of my business (another post on this is in the works). I wash all fabric in Seventh Generation detergent. There are several reasons for washing:
Washing removes chemical residues that make the fabric "pretty" on the bolt in the store. Many fabrics are chemically treated to make them shine a little under the store lights, make the surface smoother and even a little starched. I like to start sewing with a clean slate. Plus, all that residue can dull your machine sewing needle. Organic cottons are not chemicaly treated this way, but I still wash them to pre-shrink.
Washing is imperative if I'm working with upcycled fabrics. Gotta wash away that thrift store ick smell--you know what I'm talking about. You don't know the previous life of that fabric, and I'd rather not know. It goes immediately into the washing machine when I get it home!
Fabric comes out of the washer and dryer looking like this. You can guess what's coming next...
I iron it. Every last yard is ironed before I ever cut into it. Not only is it nicer to work with, when it's crisp, you can make accurate cuts. If you cut and then iron, your measurements will be far off, so this is a necessary evil. Best done while watching Downton Abbey.
Now it's time to cut. Measure twice, cut once. See above about expensive fabric.
Finally, some sewing! Don't forget to add the Dancing Threads RI label and a price tag when you're finished. Oh wait, I'm not finished...one more step.
Ironing. Again. This is one of the things I feel makes the final product look more professional. The steam iron is really your best friend when you're sewing. I would hazard a guess that I spend more time ironing than stitching, no matter the product.
Oh, but it is soooooo worth the extra effort! Do you think this bag is worth $15? Let me know in the comments.
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.