Shopping, Sewing and Sustainability

The Mechanic and I try to live a sustainable life – we are vegetarian (except during international travel, when we want to try local specialties), do our best to avoid foods made with palm oil, we walk, bike or use public transportation on a daily basis, and rent cars when we are going out of town. We use as little water as possible, turning off the water during showers and while brushing teeth, and The Mechanic mostly washes dishes by hand to reduce water usage. We have CFLs or LED lights, reuse our plastic zip top baggies, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products as much as possible, take reusable bags when we go shopping, and turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t using. There is always room for improvement – I’ve recently been exploring environmentally-friendly toiletries and beauty supplies, and buying bulk food items like nuts. But for me, shopping is The Weakest Link.Plastic Baggies

Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and industry activist, said last year that fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. She knows better than I do, but there is no arguing with the fact that the fashion industry is not an ideal industry. From ethical treatment of workers to textile manufacture to shipping garments and shoes thousands of miles to billions of garments being thrown away, there are problems all the way through. Fast fashion, clothing that is turned out quickly after it appears on runways, has become the norm, as people of all ages flock to inexpensive trends as soon as they come out. Fashion Revolution Week, April 18-24 this year, brings attention to the nameless workers who crank out those fast fashion pieces, a movement inspired by and in honor of the over 1,100 workers who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  In response, some clothing companies pledged greater transparency with their supply chain, resulting in the Fashion Transparency Index, ranking clothing companies by results. But even beyond the idea of who makes the clothes the world consumes are issues involving the fabrics themselves – polyester is made from petroleum; creating cotton fabric uses an unbelievable amount of water; there’s the fertilizer used in growing those crops; and apparently the average American citizen THROWS AWAY 70lbs of clothing a year. The statistics are depressing.

Who made my clothes? I did!

Who made my clothes? I did!

So with an industry dirty from beginning to end, how do you incorporate sustainability into what you put on every day?


I love these pieces but maybe for the same price I should have just ordered three yards of Liberty of London fabric…

I could smugly answer, “Well, I make my own clothes,” but that is not only an incorrect answer, it doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t make ALL my own clothes. I don’t know where the fabrics I purchase are made, or by whom. I’ve never even looked to see where my patterns are printed! Because I have limited local fabric shopping options, I tend to order most of fabrics, which means transportation emissions from the warehouse where the fabrics are kept; don’t even think about how the fabrics were transported to that warehouse. And I still buy fast fashion – I love my Liberty of London for Uniqlo purchases! So what is a sewist and fashion addict to do?!

For starters, I try really hard to not buy clothing any more “just because.” I actually find that I would rather make most things anyway, and that I’d rather *wear* the things I make. It’s more fun to make cute reflective garments than basic tee shirts, but I may need to start doing that as well. I love Spoonflower because of their eco-friendly system: digital printing of fabric leads to less waste of fabric, ink and electricity; they don’t need to store potentially unpurchased fabrics that could end up thrown away; many of their fabrics are made in the USA or organic or both; they support small designers by giving them a platform; and the Sprout Patterns printed on fabric reduces even more waste! If I could buy all my fabrics from Spoonflower, I would.

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

I have started researching companies that do engage in eco-friendly, ethical creations. H&M and Uniqlo aren’t doing too badly on the Fashion Transparency Index, and I do like H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection, even though most of it is fancier than I’d ever need. I don’t know that I have the patience to simply not buy – I’m a bit like a magpie: Oh look, something shiny! But if I can focus on a list of places whose practices I agree with, at least my purchases are supporting what I believe in. I haven’t fully identified those companies yet; the ones I have found have very expensive clothing. On the other hand, the pieces I own that I’ve spent the most money on tend to be the pieces I love wearing. Hm… maybe that should be my new shopping strategy: only buy expensive things! Hahahaha….

In terms of sewing and sustainability, I will be testing out my first few download-and-tape-together pattern from indie pattern companies, and looking around for other places to order fabric. I need to find some patterns that can act as basics, so I don’t need to buy those but can quickly whip them up. I would love to be able to sew everything, but I simply don’t have time, and then I get impatient for something new, and then I go out an buy. Hm…. So really, what this all boils down to is being happy with what I have and not wanting anything new! But that seems boring to me – I need to make it work in more eco-friendly ways! And either way, I need to think about the carbon footprint of the USPS/UPS/FedEx way my orders get to me. Buy all the fabric all at once?

What are your favorite sustainable ways to shop and sew?


2016: Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Happy 2016!

Yay, new calendars!

Yay, new calendars!

I love a new year. Like a blank slate, a brand new notebook, it has so much potential. What will happen in this new year? Some ideas floating around, but I have learned that no matter how I plan, things always seem to turn out differently…. Nevertheless, I love the feeling of starting over, of reinventing myself – who can I be this year?!

I love this "Line a Day" Five Year journal, and this year I get to start a brand new one. What will these pages hold at the end of it?!

I love this “Line a Day” Five Year journal, and this year I get to start a brand new one. What will these pages hold at the end of it?!

However, I, like so many others, find it hard to keep my resolutions. So this year I’ve decided that maybe a personal mantra will help me stay on track. I just need to keep repeating something to myself that will remind me of my goals.

I decided to adapt the phrase made famous by Benjamin Franklin, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” into simply “Healthy, wealthy and wise.” This reflects all the different areas of my life that I constantly strive to improve, so it’s easy to group my specific goals under these three topics.

Benjamin Franklin, portrait by Joseph-Siffrein Suplessis, circa 1785. Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin Franklin, portrait by Joseph-Siffrein Suplessis, circa 1785. Wikimedia Commons


I’ve been lazy with my healthy eating habits and regular exercise, and my pants are beginning to not fit quite as well, oops! Time to reset and get back on the bandwagon. There are many things I need to do to clean up my act, but two challenges in particular that I want to focus on:

  • Eight hours of sleep. More specifically, go to bed at 10pm, rather than 11pm or later. This is a bit of a struggle and The Mechanic and I practiced a bit this week (although not last night!). My goal is to be able to get up earlier and do some yoga before starting my day, and that means going to bed earlier.
  • Cut down on sugar. I’d love to say that I’m going to cut it out completely but I can’t give up lemon bars and pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies. I can, however, retrain myself to only eat them for true celebrations – Valentine’s Day, birthdays, holidays… I don’t want to eat it everyday anymore. I know it’s addictive, so this won’t be easy.

    Right after I eat all these champagne cupcakes that I made for New Year's Eve...

    Right after I eat all these champagne cupcakes that I made for New Year’s Eve…


Saving money, or rather, not shopping, is a huge struggle for me, and it partly stems from the constant need for excitement. New clothes, after all, are quite exciting! But I don’t need much, and I want more savings. So there are two things I want to do to help myself:

  • Rein in impulse shopping. I want to only make myself things, or buy from my Stitch Fix subscription, or buy really cool shoes, not all the cool shoes. I tell myself I’ll behave and then I find myself with something in hand. Stop it, just stop it!
  • Set up a “Family and Friends” savings account. I love buying stuff for family and friends, and this year I want a dedicated savings account and have money automatically transfer into it, so when birthdays and holidays and vacations roll around, I have funds specifically to spend on them. Having it separated will work better for me; I know from experience.
This is the Boden skirt that inspired my color blocked dress that I made this fall. The skirt was on clearance so I ordered it. I love it! Last purchase, I promise!!!

This is the Boden skirt that inspired my color blocked dress that I made this fall. The skirt was on clearance so I ordered it. I love it! Last purchase, I promise!!!


Wisdom comes from different sources. I’m thinking not only of being knowledgeable and fluent in current events, but also of being wise when it comes to my actions, especially in regards to sustainability and my purchasing power. I want to think about what I do and buy and how it impacts the planet. For example, I recently read that bar soap is more environmentally friendly than shower gel, and although I don’t really like bar soap, it is making me consider trying some. The Mechanic and I are already pretty green, so now it’s time to take it up a notch.

Sometimes a different perspective is all that is needed to want to make a change. Here, the National Mall as viewed from the Washington Monument, on a recent, perfectly clear day.

Sometimes a different perspective is all that is needed to want to make a change. Here, the National Mall as viewed from the Washington Monument, on a recent, perfectly clear day.

Even if you don’t create formal resolutions, do you find yourself resolving to do things better or differently in the new year? Or do you make resolutions at another milestone, such as a birthday? What prompts you to make changes or improvements in your life?

Here’s to a healthy, wealthy and wise 2016!



A Celebration, a Book Review, and a Giveaway!

This is my 200th blog post! I’m so excited about that – I never thought I’d reach that point! It’s also almost the third anniversary of my current job, which amazes me as much as it excites me. I’ve never had a job this long, and to be starting my fourth year just blows me away. (Yes, I worked as a dresser on Broadway for 7 years, and toured with Disney on Ice for 3 years before that, but different shows = different producers = different supervisors = etc etc etc. Not the same.)

So to celebrate, I am combining a book review with my first ever Giveaway! I’m giving away the book I am reviewing! How fun is that?! But wait – what book is it, you ask? Let me show you:

Win at ShoppingIf you are a long-time regular reader of this blog, you have probably already heard me talk about my friend David Zyla and his book, The Color of Style. I’ve asked him for advice on fabrics, and even attended a fashion show at the National Arts Club that he emceed. I really love his book on color, because it helps each individual find the colors that work best on them, based on the colors in your eyes, hair, hands, etc., and for what reasons (i.e., your formal, romantic, and dramatic colors, what that means, and when to wear them). I’ve seen it in action, so I know it works. And I’ve slowly adjusted the colors of my wardrobe to fit “my” colors. I’ll review it for you someday to better explain all that.

My copy of Color Your Style, along with color chips I picked based on the book's advice

My older copy of Color Your Style, titled The Color of Style, along with color chips I picked based on the book’s advice. (Apparently they’ve redesigned it since I bought it in 2010!)

So now he has teamed up with Eila Mell, a fashion journalist who has also published a book with Heidi Klum, to create How to Win at Shopping: 297 Insider Secrets for Getting the Style You Want at the Price You Want to Pay. Sounds good to me! David is a pro shopper, too – on the few days I worked with him on “All My Children,” we were surrounded by racks and racks of things he had purchased over the years for the characters. Fun!  But having worked as a shopper for shows, I know how hard that type of work is. So when a pro offers up tips, I’m always happy to read them!

The book is small and tidy, broken down into categories, each page full of advice. The topics run from analyzing your closet to more strategically shop, shop alone (sorry girls!), proper undergarments, determining how well made a garment is, to dressing for job interviews and dates, to buying clothes for your man (I’d never even try, frankly). I would quote some but assume there are copyright laws…  Suffice it to say, even if you think you know it all, you might not – I learned some really good tips in this book! Win at Shopping ChaptersDavid told me that his best piece of advice is to look for the clues in your closet so you know what you are shopping for. My closet is a bit ADHD, since it seems all over the place! No, I can see some themes – florals, stripes, teals and raspberries mixed in with grays and blues and browns. I know that I always gravitate towards floral prints, no matter what the runways tell me are “in” patterns. I will probably never be seen in an animal print blazer. It seems like obvious advice, but at the same time, its taken me a while to embrace what I love, and not try to dress like someone I’m not.

I would love to put this book in your hands, so I am going to give it away! Here are the rules:

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling us the worst shopping advice anyone ever gave you – and how soon  you realized it was bad advice!
  2. I will take comments until midnight on Friday, February 13th. If you post after that, too late. Surely it won’t take you that long to remember bad advice.
  3. On February 14, Valentine’s Day, I will use a random number generator to pick the winning comment. (That is, if I get 8 comments, it will pick a number between 1 and 8.)
  4. Then I will let you know that you won! Yes, I will ship internationally but can’t guarantee how long it will take to arrive!)

If you are interested in fashion and shopping even slightly as enthusiastically as I am, you should play along! Help me celebrate my 200th blog post, and my friend David’s new book How to Win at Shopping, by trying to win it! Win at Shopping Dedication


My Public Durable Commitments

Doug McKenzie-Mohr states, as part of his Community-Based Social Marketing, that individuals tend to stick to behavior-change commitments better if they have made them publicly, in a way that others can see the commitment, and basically hold them accountable. His research is full of fascinating examples that support this, showing that public commitments tend to be more durable than, say, a written pledge or a statement to someone else. DMM CBSM

I don’t have a better place for a public, durable commitment than my blog, so I am making two behavior-change commitments here, to make them public, and hopefully more durable. Knowing that you, Gentle Readers, have seen them, and can hold me accountable in the next several months, makes me more likely to try to stick to these changes. This is a good experiment as well! Will it or won’t it work?!

Public Commitment #1 – This year I will be officially vegetarian. I have been for a while, but sort of a “closet” vegetarian, who enjoys seafood while I’m vacationing on the coast, or with family for the holidays. I have been afraid to claim it so publicly, just to give myself some wiggle room. I believe in eating sustainably, and love the idea of shopping a farmer’s market, although we don’t usually manage to do that regularly.  So this year, I will make the commitment to be vegetarian. Unless I’m vacationing on the coast and have fresh-caught seafood.

Part of being vegetarian means that I will focus on learning to cook more. I really dislike cooking, but trying to make sure I eat healthy while restricting my protein to sustainable choices means I am more aware of what goes into my body. Hopefully I will learn to be less lazy when it comes to  my food! I want to be healthier, and break my sugar habit. I hope this all works itself out together.

I like this cookbook because most of the recipes seem to be fairly easy and use fewer ingredients. Key to actually getting me to cook.

I like this cookbook because most of the recipes seem to be fairly easy and use fewer ingredients. Key to actually getting me to cook.

Public Commitment #2 – I will not buy any new clothes until The Mechanic and I go to Europe for our honeymoon. Not go shopping?! This is like asking me to not breathe! But I am going to try to do it. There are a few exceptions: anything I need for the wedding itself; undergarments; sewing supplies; and the Athleta skirt I’ve been wanting for years that I was thinking of making into my “trousseau.” This is going to be really challenging – yes, I have a closet full of clothes, but I like to constantly refresh and restock, and spring clothes are always so lovely… And I’m sure I’ll need new work shoes for warmer weather… But I know I’ll find stuff in Europe, and I’d rather shop there, in the hopes of finding things unusual and unique. Or at least from an H&M in Germany, rather than Georgetown.

Okay, there, I’ve said it. No meat, no shopping. The first one will be easier than the second, although I’m setting a goal to cook twice a month, and that could be a problem as well. Seriously, I’d rather sew than spend time in the kitchen. And I’d rather buy new jeans in Germany than at the Gap, so I just need to remind myself, when the shopping bug hits, that I will find cool stuff overseas.

The Mechanic is snickering at me. I suspect he doubts my ability to not shop. I sort of doubt it too, so help me out! I’ll need the occasional reminder…