Care about the Earth? Then you should learn to sew.
I got an email from Old Navy with “$6 leggings” in the subject line and it made me grateful that I know how to sew. Cheap clothes come with hidden costs. So if you care about the planet, you should grab your needle & thread (& sewing machine, if you have one) and learn to sew. All you need is a few basic sewing skills to be a better steward for the planet. How’s that, you ask? Let me explain.
5 reasons you should learn to sew if you care about the planet:
Lets you repair things & keep them in use longer. We’ve got to move away from our disposable lifestyle and start caring for items for longer. If not, we’ll be drowning in trash soon. Keep your jacket, your backpack, your grocery bags and more in use longer. Learn to sew tears & add patches to extend the life of your stuff.
2. Helps you appreciate the time it takes to make things. Try sewing your own pants and you’ll probably take good care of those pants. When you appreciate the labor involved in making textiles, you’re more likely to take good care & keep it out of the landfill.
3. Helps you avoid the emissions from shipping all those online purchases to your house. When you can make it yourself or fix what you have, you don’t need to order things online (shameless plug: No Trace shipping is carbon offset by Etsy! So feel less guilty about ordering from me 😉).
Lets you express your creativity. This isn’t a direct benefit to the planet, but it’s a pretty great benefit that I can’t ignore. Learning to sew lets you express your individuality. You’ll get into a flow state as you work on your projects. And you’ll create one of a kind pieces for yourself and as gifts for your loved ones! That’s invaluable.
Perhaps the number one reason you should learn to sew if you care about the Earth, though, is this:
Makes you question the price of cheap clothes. It’ll make you wonder how a company makes a profit on $6 leggings. Someone, somewhere pays the true price for those $6 leggings, and it’s probably the person who made them for you. That employee may work in unsafe working conditions, and/or work 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, and may live with environmental pollution from the factories in their local water and air.
CleanClothes.org breaks down the costs of garments (on average) and how much goes to the employee. It’s about 0.6%. The person who made those $6 leggings was probably paid less than 4 cents for their work. The rest of that $6 goes to material costs, factory owner profit, brand profit, transportation & factory overhead, and the majority (about 60%) goes to the retailer (when it’s sold in person) or back to the brand (for online sales). Many factory workers don’t receive a living wage, as you can imagine at 4 cents per shirt. As more of us understand this, we’ll start to make better choices with our purchases. We can seek out the ethical companies who are treating their employees well. And we can pay a fair price for the textiles in our life.
There you have it – 5 reasons you should learn to sew if you care about the planet. So get out there and start sewing! It’ll change your life, and may even change the planet for the better.
If you’re not sure where to start, head to my YouTube channel for video tutorials – I’ve got a whole series including this one – Learn to sew – to get you started.
Need a little help with a repair job? Watch this one on stuffed animal repair & this one on mask repair. They both go over basic skills that’ll apply to other repair jobs.
And check out this playlist for all of my zero waste sewing tutorials.
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the planet.
Do you want to learn how to sew? It’s easier than you thought :). In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to sew on a sewing machine.
We’re going to make a simple napkin together, so let’s get started!
Here’s what you’ll need to learn how to sew:
Fabric – you can use an old sheet for this project, or search the thrift stores for options, or go to your locally owned fabric store (HartsFabric.com in Santa Cruz has great options). You can easily make 4 napkins from a yard of fabric.
Thread. You can get thread that matches your fabric, or just use whatever thread you have on hand. I work with organic cotton thread, which can be hard to find, but it’s a great sustainable option.
Iron & ironing board
Marking pen or tailor’s chalk
2. How to set up your machine & thread it
Find the spot where your spool of thread goes.
Find a short post on the top of your machine, near the large spool, where the bottom bobbin goes to get wound up with matching thread.
Thread from the spool of thread to the bottom bobbin. There may be a path drawn on your machine showing how to get from the big spool to the bottom bobbin. You generally go around at least one or two metal hooks to create some tension from the big spool of thread to the bottom bobbin. To wind the bottom bobbin up, either press on your foot pedal or push a lever that’s just for winding the bottom bobbin.
Once the bottom bobbin is threaded, cut the thread connecting it to the top bobbin and bring it down into the hook plate area, under your presser foot. Thread the bobbin so that the thread is going AGAINST the notch in your hook plate area, as opposed to moving in the same direction. The idea here is that you want the thread to come off the bottom bobbin with more tension, vs. come off with very little tension.
To thread the large spool of thread, you’re going to work your way down towards the needle, going through a few hooks and turns on the way. Your machine might have a path displayed on the top, like this. But if not, you’ll likely thread from the large spool to around a hook or plate.THEN move into these two long slots/notches on the machine right above the needle. First, go down the long slot on the right, then go back up again in the slot on the left. You’ll find a hook inside the long notch on the left. Turn the large round knob on the right side of your machine to make the hook come forward if it’s not visible. Thread the needle into that hook and then back down again towards the needle. At the top of the needle, there will be a small wire or hook to hold the thread closer to the needle that you want to place the thread behind. Then thread the needle from the front to the back. Your machine might have an automatic threader or you can do it by hand or you can use a needle threader. Then put the top thread under the presser foot. You can also put the bottom thread under the presser foot if it comes out from the hook plate area. On my machine, it stays down in there.
Make sure your machine is set to a straight line stitch and that the stitch length is between 2-3mm. I once borrowed a machine from a friend that she thought was broken – it was just in a zig zag stitch instead of a straight stitch so it kept hitting the presser foot and breaking! Once we put it into a straight stitch, it worked great ;).
Make sure your presser foot is in the down position before you start sewing. There’s a handle on the back of your machine that moves your presser foot up and down.
Cut a scrap of fabric off or use a little rag and test some straight lines with your machine until you feel comfortable. The more gently you press on the presser foot, the slower you will sew so take your time. Repeat until you’re ready to tackle your napkin!
P.s. – If you want to watch a video of me threading my machine, CLICK HERE.
4. How to cut your fabric
You can make your napkin any size you want. 17” x 17” is a pretty typical size. The key is to add 2” to your desired final length and width before you cut it.
Another note: if your selvage edge (the part with the brand name printed on it) is wider than about ½”, you’ll want to cut that off before you take your measurements.
For this example, I made a 16” x 16” napkin. I cut the fabric to 18” x 18” (added 2 inches all around.
To cut your fabric, first fold it in half to make it a little easier to work with. You might want to work on a large table or on the floor to have enough space to spread out. Fold your fabric so that the edge is aligned evenly in at least one spot. Take your measuring tape and make a mark at 18” from the edge (if you’re making a 16” x 16” napkin). Make a few marks up the edge.
Next get your ruler and draw a straight line connecting all of the marks that you made on the fabric. Cut along the line.
Repeat this process on the other edge of the fabric by folding your fabric the other direction. E.g., if your fabric has a print with a direction on it, like flowers, fold so that the flowers are now pointed perpendicular to the direction they were pointed with the first fold.
Again mark 18” from the folded edge – make several marks along the edge. Draw a straight line connecting the marks with your ruler, then cut along the straight line, just like you did for the first edge.
5. Press & pin your fabric
Take your fabric to your iron and press it flat. Now you’ll fold up ½” on a side and then press it in place. Repeat this for all sides of the napkin – fold it over ½” and press with the iron. Then fold over each side another 1/2″ and press again. This way all the raw edges are hidden in your hem.
Take your pins and pin the newly folded & pressed edges. I put about 3 pins on each side.
6. Sew it up
Take it to your machine and place it right side down. This way you can see the hem and easily follow the straight edge.
Pick a spot near a corner (but not on the corner) and sew straight down the side, making sure to capture the hem with your stitches. Take your time, sew straight, and don’t go off the folded edge.
When you get to the corner, sew towards the bottom edge but don’t go off the fabric. Press the reverse button (it probably looks like a u-turn) and go back a few stitches. The goal is to stay on the corner and not go back onto the side.
Make sure the needle is in the down position. Then lift up the presser foot and rotate the fabric so that you’re positioned to sew down the next side. Press the reverse button and backstitch a few stitches. Then sew straight down this side. When you get to the corner, again go towards the bottom edge, backstitch a few stitches, rotate the fabric, backstitch towards the other side of the corner, and again go straight down the side.
Repeat this until you get back to where your stitches start.
When you get to the side you started on, you’ll want to stitch over the original stitches with a few stitches, then back stitch, then forward stitch again just a few stitches. This really locks those stitches in place so they won’t unravel.
7. Trim your threads
Once you’re done sewing, lift the presser foot and pull your napkin off the machine. Your machine probably has a blade you can use to cut the threads, or just cut them with your scissors.
Next, carefully trim the threads very close to the fabric without cutting the fabric.
Now you’re done!
Now you know how to sew! Keep practicing with simple projects and before you know it, you’ll be sewing your own clothes! Learning how to sew is taking a small stand for the planet. Appreciating the effort that goes into making your stuff makes you a better and more thoughtful consumer. And turning your old sheets and things into functional home goods is the greenest way to furnish your home.
Are you ready to sew? What’ll you sew next? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading!
Liz at No Trace
p.s. I’ve got a tutorial on sewing a snack or sandwich bag HERE if you’re ready for your next project :-)!
p.p.s. head over to my YouTube channel for more video tutorials by clicking HERE.