Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Soil to Soil Textiles: TED Talk

For some while I’ve followed the progress of the Bristol Cloth and the businesses at the Bristol Textile Quarter. I also enjoyed attending a natural dyeing workshop held by Botanical Inks. Recently Babs Behan from Botanical Inks has presented a TED Talk on textile dyeing. I have found the talk fascinating and thought that I would share it with you. Being a lover of facts and figures I thought I’d add a few science bits I found from my own research too.

A colourful pile of indigo-dyed denim

I was really struck, particularly when Babs talks about how dyes are used in relation to jeans. I had, clearly wrongly, always assumed that jeans manufacture had continued to use natural indigo dyes. I think this assumption had been because I know that indigo has a particular property whereby only the surface of the fabric is dyed and inner layers remain uncoloured. This means that as denim ages and gets worn the fabric takes on that faded look so peculiar to denim jeans. Apparently, indigo has been synthetically produced since the end of the nineteenth century and this is what is mostly used in the textile industry [1].

Chemical formula for indigo

That said, synthetic indigo and natural indigo dye are chemically exactly the same, however there are some differences that are worth noting [2]. Natural indigo can contain impurities like tannins, which some believe make its colour richer and more interesting. Synthetic indigo uses raw materials such as aniline and hydrogen cyanide which are highly toxic [3].

Cloth dyed with mauveine, the first synthetically produced dye

Babs also talks about azo dyes, which are typified by a characteristic nitrogen to nitrogen bond (N=N) [4]. Azo dyes constitute 60-70% of the dyes used in the textile industry [5]. Many azo pigments are considered non-toxic, but some are mutagenic, carcinogenic or provoke allergic reactions. The textile industry discharge large quantities of azo dye effluents (up to 15% of the dye is lost this way), with acute hazardous effects on the environment and human health. There is restricted use of azo dyes in textile and leather articles under UK law, however azo dyes can be broken down by skin bacteria into carcinogenic aromatic amines many of which are unregulated [6].

[1] Dyes used for denim dyeing

[2] Synthetic vs natural indigo dye

[3] Sustainability of indigo in denim production

[4] Azo dyes

[5] Use of azo dyes in the textile industry

[6] Aromatic amines as carcinogens

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Carbon Footprint of My Hobby

During a spell of web surfing I got sucked into reading an article on low carbon lifestyles. In particular, I found it interesting how we could remodel our lives to decarbonise. And yet, who wants to feel that that our lives are being impoverished? How can we use our creativity to “manage without” and yet still feel enriched?

Naturally, I turned to thinking about my hobbies, and more generally, the electricity-consuming hobbies in our household and I thought I’d see if I could work out an estimate for their carbon footprint.

My first step was to work out how to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) based on the energy consumed by the hobby over the period of an hour.

I used this website for the current carbon intensity in the UK. On the day that I did my calculations this worked out as 161g CO2 / kWh.

I started out with an easy hobby – Master Steely’s gaming. This only uses one appliance (his PS4 consule). According to this website, which shows how much electricity particular domestic appliances use, it shows that an hour of gaming on the PS4 uses 98.2 Watts per hour. This will therefore work out as

0.0982 x 161 = 15.81 g CO2 in an hour

Or, more accurately 47.43 g CO2 in a day (assuming 3 hours use, which would be an average over a week, with more use over the weekend than on a weekday).

I then looked at Mr Steely’s guitar playing. Sometimes he uses the amplifier and sometimes not, so I estimated that he would play it amplified for half his practice time.

The amplifier uses a 3 amp fuse, so that would consume at the absolute most 690 watts (230V x 3A = 690 W) before the fuse blowing would be an issue. Of course, from a safety point of view the amp wouldn’t draw maximum power and 40% power is probably adequate for practice.

0.69 x 0.4 x 161 = 44.5 g CO2 / hour or 22.3g CO2 in his hour of practice time assuming only half of it is amplified.

Next up, how about sewing? I decided that an hour’s worth of sewing activity would involve both using the sewing machine, the iron and some time where no electricity is being used devoted to pinning, hand-sewing or reading instructions.

An iron uses 1800 watts per hour, according to the website, but I reckoned that of my sewing time I would use it for perhaps 10 minutes in that hour.

(1.8 x 161) / 6 = 48.3 g CO2 for 10 minutes.

Most home sewing machines are in the 100 watt range. Again, I would imagine that I would use only 10 minutes of my hour, actually using the machine actively.

(0.1 x 161) / 6 = 2.7 g CO2 for 10 minutes.

So this makes a total of 48.3 + 2.7 = 51.0 g CO2 in an hour, assuming the rest of the hour is spent without consuming electricity.

I don’t spend much time knitting, but knitting by hand doesn’t require any electricity consumption at all, of course.

Summary and conclusion

I feel like I’m doing some science here today!

Hobby Estimated carbon footprint (per hour)
Gaming 15.81 g CO2
Guitar playing 22.3 g CO2
Sewing 51.0 g CO2

It seems that sewing tops the carbon footprint chart above, but that is estimating that I have used the iron for 10 minutes during my hour of sewing, which is a bit of guesswork on my part. However, generally speaking I only use the iron when I have a number of items waiting to be pressed; I tend to do the ironing pile at the same time as I might press a few seams for my hobby, so it may be an overestimate. It doesn’t matter, my calculation, crude as it is, does highlight that an iron is a big electricity consumer and should be used when only absolutely necessary.

Of course, this isn’t the full story, I haven’t taken into account the purchase of fabric and notions for my hobby, but then, this should be offset against the purchases of clothes that would otherwise be made, if this wasn’t my hobby. I started to explore this and found myself getting swept into the complexity of it all! I think this topic is worth a whole extra blog post on its own……

I hope this has been an interesting diversion from the usual sewing-related posts. I know there are some geeks out there, like me who love spreadsheets and stats!


Sustainability – 2019 in Review

This type of post for me is new, but I hope it will prove useful. Over the year I’ve read some interesting articles on fashion and sustainability. I’ve added some article links during the year according to what I was writing about, but others I’ve just read. I thought it would be useful to find a home for them, so I could keep referring to them as needed. Like a few people I’ve seen, I would also like to introduce a couple of sustainability goals into my plans, so this is a first step in coalescing my thoughts for the coming year.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about this superb book, Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline. I had started an RTW fast and started sewing in earnest, but this book really crystallised some of the thoughts I’d been having and made me determined to turn my back on the fashion industry and chart my own waters to my dream wardrobe. It’s taken a few years, but rather than just a niche opinion, I think there is far more public awareness on this topic, with visible protests at the London Fashion Show and figures inside the fashion industry speaking out about its environmental impact.

Extinction Rebellion at London Fashion Show

Extinction Rebellion at London Fashion Show

I particularly found this article about photo-shoots informative. I hadn’t realised just so overblown, and resource-intensive a fashion shoot had become. It may be a “small but concrete gesture”,¬† as Emanuele Farneti explains in his editorial to replace the photo-shoot in the January issue of Vogue in Italy, but it’s good to acknowledge every single move that is in the right direction.

Vogue Italy January issue

Vogue Italy January issue

This year there have been a slew of articles on the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Along with the usual alarming statistics there do seem to be many articles that suggest solutions on a local level, such as Swishing events (Clothes Swaps) and on an international basis such as ECAP (European Clothing Action Plan).

Party outfits and Christmas clothes have come in for attack too in the media. It seems that people are increasingly buying garments for one-off uses such as Christmas jumper days at work and for seasonal parties. I found there are some excellent tutorials on line for customising an existing sweater:

Tilly and the Buttons – Fairy lights Christmas sweater

Tilly and the Buttons – Christmas Confetti sweater

The Makery – Pompom Christmas Tree sweater

Amanda Claus – DIY Christmas sweaters

Christmas Jumpers

Christmas Jumpers

One of aspects that I find most irritating about my hobby is the number of scraps that I seem to generate. I am literally tripping over them; I’ve been on the look-out all year for creative ways to reduce and use these scraps. As far as small fabric scraps are concerned there seems to be only one way forward and that is the Closet Case Files Pouf.

I’ve also been following Liz Haywood on Instagram for a while and she has been making and modelling zero-waste garments. They look amazing, of course, but they particularly appeal to me as they don’t look like they have been made from just a square of fabric, they have real shape. Liz has a book coming out this coming year called Zero Waste Sewing: 16 projects to make, wear and enjoy.

I have thought this year about one of the forms of waste that I personally make. I’ve used sanitary towels for a long time and I’ve got fed up with packaging up my waste and putting it in the bin for land-fill. However, I’ve not been that happy with the other re-usable products on the market, such as menstrual cups or washable towels. That was, until I tried, these period pants, or as I call them “nappy knickers”.

They are incredibly comfortable and thankfully not like nappies to wear. I suppose that I have broken my RTW fast to buy these, but I think it was absolutely necessary. I had pondered making my own, but I just wasn’t able to see the pants and figure out how they were made, without buying a pair. I found later that there is a kit available for making this type of underwear.

Anne McClain, astronaut

Anne McClain, astronaut

Apparently, according to this article, these period pants has been only been on the market a few years. It makes me so sad that such an obvious and useful product wasn’t around for me when I was a teenager. Actually, to be honest the general lack of innovation and openness around this topic makes me angry, although it fits in with how women’s needs tend to be side-lined in general. Without getting too side-tracked I found this article referring to the difficulties of astronauts, Anne McClain and Christina Koch with their space-walk suits all too typical. Apparently, NASA has only one correctly-sized space suit, all the rest are too large!

I’ll be putting together a post shortly about how I can incorporate some of these ideas into personal goals.


Overdressed (Elizabeth L. Cline) – Amazon

Extinction rebellion die-in at the London Fashion Show – The Guardian Newspaper

Model, Edie Campbell speak out about fashion’s environmental problem¬† – Guardian Newspaper

Vogue (Italy) January fashion shoot – The Guardian Newspaper

Editorial about fashion shoots – Vogue Italy

The alarming statistics associated with fast fashion – Independent Newspaper

How to organise a swishing event – Love Your Clothes Initiative

ECAP (European Clothing Action Plan) – Wrap Organisation

Christmas clothes barely get worn – The Guardian Newspaper

Christmas Jumpers add to plastic pollution – The Guardian Newspaper

Floor Pouf РCloset Case Files

Zero Waste Sewing (Elizabeth M. Haywood) – Amazon

Period Pants Sewing Kit – Sophie Hines

Period pants – The Guardian Newspaper

Space-walk cancelled – The Guardian Newspaper