Staying Sustainable as a Fiber Artist

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As fiber and textile artists, we often think that we’re doing our part to help the Earth by creating our own clothing rather than heavily supporting the fast fashion industry. Truth is though, it’s very easy to tip toe over the line of sustainability and fall into the crater of a giant carbon footprint with our crafting. So how can you reduce, reuse, recycle your materials to overcome this dilemma?

Assess the Damage

To begin your journey to sustainability, take a look at what you use for your craft and see what can be replaced with more planet-friendly options. For example, are you knitting or crocheting with acrylic yarn? Acrylic is a form of plastic, and items made with it can take up to 200 years to completely biodegrade. This just means more plastic in our landfills, contributing to the problem.

This idea can be applied to many other areas of crafts, including the tools you use to create. Swap your plastic hooks and needles for metal or wooden variants. Choose cotton or bamboo fabric over synthetics like nylon and polyester. (Bonus points: cotton is better for sensitive skin, and bamboo is naturally antimicrobial!)

What other materials or tools can you think of that have non-plastic alternatives?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This classic motto can be applied in many ways to the way we look at our craft materials. The biggest way is by assessing where we source our materials from. I’m all about Michael’s and Joann’s for the latest and greatest in craft supplies, but their products often aren’t supplied with the idea of sustainability in mind. If you live in a pretty populated area or large city, you probably have a few cool, unique resources for craft supplies. You just have to do some research!

Explore Etsy and Facebook for small-batch yarn dyers in your area and consider supporting them. Check your local thrift stores for greatly discounted craft supplies (I have found a good bit of yarn at my local Goodwill). You can also search the Facebook Marketplace and find local sellers who may have some really interesting stuff! In Pittsburgh, we have an awesome store called Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse that sells secondhand, discounted supplies for any kind of craft you’re in to! Do some searching and see what your area has to offer.

Another way to reduce your material consumption is to consider providing “made to order” items instead of making them in bulk. This will ensure you only use the materials you need for an order. Using higher quality, sustainable materials also allows for a more boutique vibe for your items, so you can more accurately price your items to account for your time and effort (you’re an artist, you’re worth it).

Scraps & Leftovers

One of the biggest problems we face with sustainability is figuring out what the heck to do with all that leftover scrap from our projects. Yarn tails, fabric bits, thread, and more can build up in our garbage at a pretty fast rate. Is there any way to use these scraps to keep them out of landfills? Of course!

I’ve seen yarn scraps used in clear containers, like apothecary jars, and set on a shelf for decor. Some people will use small bits of fabric to make scrap quilts full of eclectic prints and textures. I personally find yarn and fabric scraps to be the perfect replacement for polyfill! Just grab some sharp scissors and chop those bits into even smaller bits. The closer you can get to fabric “fluff”, the better.

Packaging Handmakes

If you sell your handmade items, or even just send them to loved ones, you can take sustainable steps with how you pack and mail them. Try to refrain from using plastic bags or packing materials like bubble wrap, if possible. Opt for paper-based alternatives like egg crate cardboard inserts, shredded paper, and tissue paper for padding and protection. Look for paper mailer envelopes instead of the plasticy ones lined with bubble wrap.

At craft shows and markets, you can use paper shopping bags, or just ask customers if they even need a bag for their new goods. Most of my customers will just pop their new purchases in their purse or backpack! Also offer to email or text receipts to your customers instead of printing or writing them out on paper.

This applies to your retail packaging as well. Try to avoid packing items in plastic wrap, utilize paper as much as possible, and keep your packaging minimal. A simple hang tag can go a long way!

Lastly, do your best to encourage customers to recycle the packaging on their products. If you use paper gift bags, they can reuse them at holidays and birthdays for gifts. Paper can be shredded and used for padding packages, and even composted for gardens.

Spread the Word

While making sustainable choices for your own handmade business is great, we need to make it a mainstream way of thinking in order for it to have a major effect on the world we live in. Don’t hesitate to bring sustainability into your marketing efforts for your products. Features like 100% cotton, made with recycled materials, and sustainably sourced materials are a big deal to a lot of shoppers! You can also encourage your fellow crafters to jump on the eco-friendly bandwagon by doing things like promoting sustainable companies, using natural materials in your patterns (and naming them), or just talking about something sustainable that you do within your business.

Further Reading & Resources:

Acrylic Yarn Vs. Natural Yarn: Environmental Impact

Eco-Friendly Packaging & Shipping Supplies: Eco Enclose

Natural & Organic Fabrics: Nature’s Fabrics

Sustainable Fabric Options: Swatch On

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