As we near the end of Earth Month, how we take care of our tiny blue dot has been an important topic. One approach to taking care of the environment is through sustainable practices. And quilting is no exception. There’re lots of ways you can incorporate sustainability in quilting.
As a quilter, my creations have a direct impact on our planet:
- I order fabric, thread, and notions.
- I create quilts using new fabric.
- I ship my quilts to be long-armed.
- I print paper templates from my patterns.
- I create waste through my block and quilt trimmings.
Clearly, I’m part of the problem. But I can also be part of the solution.
Today I’m sharing some of the strategies and steps I use to incorporate sustainability in my quilting and share some ideas on how you can easily introduce some of these concepts in your own quilting journey!
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The Role I Play
I have a part to play in the impact my quilting creates, and I wanted to share a little about what sustainability means to me and how I incorporate sustainability in my own quilting practice.
When I first started quilting sustainability wasn’t on my radar. I was new to the creative practice, and I was just so excited to be diving into this new world of creative exploration that I didn’t really think about what impact that would have on the environment. But that quickly changed as I started to see my fabric stash grow and the number of scraps multiply. In all honesty, I was quite shocked at all the trimmings, remnants, and waste that my quilting was creating.
I went from being able to store all my fabric in one little box, then multiple boxes until I finally needed to buy a cabinet to store all my fabric and sewing notions.
It was at this point that I became more mindful and intentional in the materials I brought into the studio and, more importantly, started to strategize on how to maximize my fabric investments and save as much from ending up in landfills as I possibly could.
Why Sustainability is Important to Me
I’m a nature lover. I’ve always felt a special connection and appreciation for the trees and flowers we’re so lucky to have here in Quebec. My mum also spoiled me with stunning gardens growing up. I have vivid memories of the wall of peonies lining the fence along the edge of the street. Whether it be fresh lilacs, lilies of the valleys, peonies, or roses, there were always fresh blooms in the house. It was also a favourite gift my mum would send me to school with for my teachers.
It probably explains why I like to share blooms on my IG feed from time to time. It’s an instant joy seeing those colours and it also immediately makes me think of my mum.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve prioritized getting outside and enjoying being amongst the trees. There’s something that instantly calms me the moment I step outside, breathe in the fresh air, and just listen to the sounds of nature. You might have caught some of the shots I’ve shared from my walks. I’ve also shared quite a bit of my love for trees with you during the Little Forest BOM 😊 so I won’t dwell too much here.
Suffice to say, I want to help protect and preserve this natural beauty. This is why sustainability is an important topic to me and one that I want to do my part in to help be part of the solution.
How I Incorporate Sustainable Practices in My Quilting
From experience, I find that new routines and habits are best established when I use a simple approach.
I try not to overcomplicate things and I also like to start small – baby steps even! The list I’m about to share with you has evolved and grown over time. As I’ve sat with the concept of sustainability and what that can look like in my own quilting, I’ve tackled one approach at a time. Allowed myself to get comfortable with the new habit and then get curious about how I could dive in more.
I Re-use Trimmings
My sustainable journey really started with reusing trimmings. I was honestly horrified at all the trimmings and fabric remnants I was left with at the end of each quilt I made.
Fabric is expensive and I was equally concerned about how to maximize my investment as I was at trying to keep it out of landfills.
From a creative standpoint, I’m often not done with a colour combination or a fabric collection by working with it just once. This is where my improv practice shines!
With a few exceptions, most of my improv creations have been based on featuring fabric scraps leftover from patterned quilts I’ve made. I love to challenge myself to feature these odd trimmings to create an entirely different quilt. It speaks to the plethora of possibilities we can explore, and I just love seeing where each new journey leads. This is why Sustainable Quilting Through the Art of Improv is so dear to me.
Here are a few projects that highlight just how fun and diverse the results can be when you dive into your fabric scraps:
Another great way to use your scraps is to make scrappy quilts! I’m still diving into the fun to be had with scrappy quilts like my Rainbow Plus Infinity quilt – so fun!
I made that one after sorting my fabric scraps with the 7-Day Scrap Sorting Challenge. Sign up to take the challenge here!
I Make Mindfully
You might have noticed that I incorporate a lot of hand quilting in my practice. There’s a reason for this! It forces me to slow down and be selective about the projects I decide to make. I know I can’t hand-quilt that many projects in any given year. There’re a few reasons for this:
- My body can’t keep up! Ever since I had my bout of tendinitis, I’ve been very mindful of how physically demanding quilting can be. I want to be doing this for many years to come and so I’ve been deliberate in thinking through the projects I want to take on and where I want to focus my quilting time. It means I don’t make all the things. I make a few things and try and savour each of those creative journeys.
- One of the reasons why I create is to intentionally slow down, disconnect from the outside world, turn inwards for some quiet contemplation, and reconnect with my creative instincts. Life is busy. The world is noisy. And I find myself craving quiet. Hand quilting is a glorious act that helps me slow down. I even notice my breathing calms as soon as I settle in for a stitching session.
- I don’t want to rush! Life had been super busy when I found myself in need of more creativity. And the very fact that quilting is not something that could be accomplished in a day was what appealed to me in the first place. I don’t want to lose sight of that! And being mindful of not shying away from projects that take longer is yet another way I incorporate sustainability in my quilting.
Here are a few hand-quilted projects to inspire you to slow down too:
- Shattered Star Lumbar Pillow
- Sonata Modern Aztec Table Runner
- Reverberance Quilt
- Lunar Eclipse Wall Hanging
- Forest Talk Winter Star Quilt
I explore this concept of mindful making in the Are You A Fast Or Slow Quilter? A Discussion on Creative Sustainability.
I Use Digital Quilt Patterns
One of the main reasons Shannon Fraser Designs quilt patterns are solely offered digitally is to limit their carbon footprint. Not only am I trying to avoid unnecessary shipping, but I also always encourage you to only print what you need and refer to the rest on your phone or tablet. That’s how I approach things behind the scenes too! You can read all of my best tips for working with digital quilt patterns here.
I Use Up-cycled Fabrics
Another way I sneak sustainability into my quilting practice is by using upcycled fabric. I’ve done this in several projects, including:
I Shop My Stash First
Before I even think of buying new fabric, I first head to my fabric cabinet to see if I can make it work with what I already have on hand. This helps me keep my fabric contained in one cabinet (a personal goal to keep my stash in check). It also means I’m saving as most of the fabric in my stash I purchased on sale. There are some basics I always like to have on hand (I’m looking at you linen and solids), so I stock up when they’re on sale.
I Look for Fabrics that are OEKO-Tex Certified
When buying new fabric, I prioritize purchasing OEKO-Tex Certified materials, which means they’ve been tested for harmful substances and are harmless to the human environment. Every little bit helps.
I Use My Fabric Trimmings as Stuffing
There’s a bin under my cutting table where I throw all my itty-bitty trimmings that I know I won’t use in my improv practice. This isn’t meant as a ‘garbage’ it’s intended to collect bits destined as stuffing for my pillows.
It’s the perfect use for them as they create a lovely squish effect for your cushions and, depending on the size you’re making, it’s amazing how much ‘waste’ you can stuff in!
Take this floor cushion I made for Pips, which took several bins full of trimmings to fill her up.
Tips on How You Can Create a Sustainable Quilting Practice
I love that sustainability has become a widely talked about topic. It shows that our community cares about the impact we have on our environment and fellow makers are coming up with some super clever ways how to make better use of the materials we purchase and the trimmings we create.
Here are a few sustainable solutions that I thought you might love too:
- 10 Ways to Use Fabric Trimmings by Village Bound Quilts
- 7 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Quilter by Feel Good Fibers
- Composting Fabric Scraps & Batting in Sustainable Quilting 101 by Suzy Quilts
- Sustainable Quilting: Using Upcycled Fabrics in Your Quilts by Gina Halladay for We All Sew
- How to Reuse and Repurpose as a Quilter: Tips for Sustainable Sewing by Diary of a Quilter
- Make Franken-batting with Penny Spool Quilts
- Sustainable Quilting – Part 1 by Bridget O’Flaherty Canadian Quilters Association
- Sustainable Quilting – Part 2 by Bridget O’Flaherty for Canadian Quilters Association
For more quilty inspiration, check out:
- Quilting Notions You Need in Your Sewing Kit
- Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Machine Quilting on Your Domestic Sewing Machine
- Ultimate Aurifil Thread Shopping Guide
Hopefully, I’ve given you lots to think about! And that it’s encouraging you to take some baby steps of your own to incorporate sustainability in your quilting practice.
If you already are (yay!) I’d love to know your favourite way to incorporate sustainability in your quilting! Share in the comments below.
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