Maja Stabel: zero waste sewing

Maja Stabel, a talented Norwegian fashion designer and illustrator, designs beautiful garments from the simple, all rectangular shapes of her zero waste patterns. Previously designing for her own label Stabel, she now offers charmingly hand-drawn zero waste patterns (for free!) and holds workshops for home-sewers.

If you’re familiar with sewing, the odd assortment of scraps remaining after cutting out your pieces will be familiar too: long strips, curves and wedges of fabric which only the most passionate patchworker could re-use. About 15% of fabric in the fashion industry is cut away at the production stage and thrown out as waste.

Intrigued by the concept of zero waste in fashion, I reached out to Maja and have since also had the pleasure of joining in on one of her workshops (where I made this). Her passion for combining creativity and sustainability in clothes making is inspiring. And today I am delighted to share an interview with her here!

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I get the impression you were drawn to zero waste thinking as a sustainable approach to fashion design but also as a creative challenge of pattern construction. Could you say a little about what zero waste design is and your fascination for it?

Zero waste design within the fashion industry is about pattern construction – about designing waste out of the production of clothes.

I love that zero waste design challenges you to find new solutions and that you have to be creative with what you’ve got. When you distance yourself from the conventional way of constructing patterns, zero waste design can be a tool for innovation.

It’s hard to make the math to fit and the proportions right and at the same time make sensible use of the whole fabric piece and not waste anything, but this is what I think is fun and exciting; which makes zero waste a more creative design process for me – I’m forced to find new solutions.

 

You have previously designed beautiful zero waste garments under your own label Stabel. Now you’re offering zero waste patterns for people to sew themselves. What was your motivation for bringing zero waste fashion design to the home sewing market?

I really wanted to have a sustainable business model that was different from the conventional one where you produce new collections all the time that encourage consumerism and contribute to a growing waste problem. I wanted to cut the production phase – at least the one where I produce a bunch of clothes in India or China and would be forced to sell a huge quantity of clothes to make it go around. Probably I would have to sell a lot on sale as well because it’s impossible to estimate how much you are going to sell.

Then I thought that the way I make my zero waste patterns are very easy to learn and understand, so why not make people produce their own clothes? Last year I studied pedagogics and discovered how much I enjoyed teaching. I ran a zero waste assignment in a class and it was so much fun so that’s when I figured I could run my own zero waste workshops as well.

And now I just had my first workshop! (that I'm very happy you wanted to attend). I was so excited about how it would be and how it would be received; if people would like it and benefit from it. I thought about it for such a long time so I’m happy I just did it when the opportunity arose because it really turned out to be such a fun and inspiring day! Everyone was really positive and I think eager to learn and to sew something on their own which made it an easygoing and nice event. I had so much fun teaching and seeing people turn my design into their own by adding small details and finding new solutions.

 

Sewing things myself, I’ve often found it challenging to find sustainably sourced fabrics and notions. Do you have any tips on where to go or what to look for?

No, this is something I find very frustrating – it’s very hard to find sustainable fabrics. I recently found tencel fabric at a danish website and was super excited, but then it gets very expensive because of taxes and customs which is really annoying. Stoff og stil [a Northern-European fabric chain store] has actually started to stock some organic fabrics.

Are you also thinking of selling your own DIY-kits with fabric and notions to go with your patterns?

Yes! I'm in the process of creating DIY kits with zero waste patterns and Norwegian wool made at Krivi veveri [one of the few remaining Norwegian weaving mills].

I want it to be a 100% Norwegian product – that will be locally made by my customers. I hope this can inspire people to make their own clothes again.

 

Do you generally sense a positive change underway in the fashion industry with fresh approaches to sustainable fashion?

Yes, I feel that there’s something positive happening in the fashion industry – more and more people open their eyes and find better and more sustainable ways to make clothes. I think, and hope, that the brands who don't focus on sustainability won't survive. I think it’s especially inspiring that big brands like Levis and Stella McCartney take a stand and make an effort to be (more) sustainable.

But we have a long way to go and I think we, as consumers, are the ones who hold the power to really change it. We need to demand better and more sustainable clothes and we can do this by choosing the sustainable companies – we have to be aware of where we put our consumer vote. Alternatively you can buy secondhand or, of course, make your own clothes ;-)

 

As consumers it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the problems in the fashion industry and not know where to start or whether we can even make a difference. What would you say to that? Do you have any advice on where to start?

I guess I've already answered that, but to make it clear: the consumer can make all the difference!! And it is our responsibility to use our power and be conscious of how we shop. Start by choosing sustainable when it’s possible and if not, at least buy clothes with good quality that last, and always ask yourself if you will wear it a minimum of 30 times.

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Thank you so much, Maja!

You can find more about Maja and her work on her website, instagram and facebook.

How to refashion a jumper into a cardigan

jumper to cardigan refashion

I love cardigans. They are wardrobe work-horses: easy to layer, easy to dress up or down and as useful on cold Winter days as chilly Summer evenings.

As it happens, I inherited this cream-coloured, woollen pullover from my Grandmother about a year ago. And while I had used it quite a lot as it was, what I really wanted was a cardigan. So why not refashion it?

Want to try it yourself? Here is how I did it:

 

Jumper to cardigan, step-by-step

 

1. Centre front

Find the centre of the jumper by measuring across the top and bottom. Draw a line or sew a seam of basting stitches to mark the centre front line.

2. Zigzag & cut

On either side of the centre front line, sew a seam of zigzag stitches. I used a 3-step zigzag stitch. This step ensures that the fabric doesn’t unravel once cut, but it may not be necessary if your jumper is a tightly knit wool.

A little tip to avoid stretched out, wavy seams when sewing with knit fabrics: try reducing the pressure of the pressure foot on your sewing machine.

Cut along the centre front line, between the two zigzag seams.

3. Button band

Attach a band of cotton ribbon or bias binding to the back on each side. This helps stabilize the button band when you later sew buttonholes and buttons.

I used bias binding. You then line up the cut edge of the jumper and the raw edge of the bias binding so that right sides are facing, leaving an extra 2-3 cm of bias binding at the top and bottom. Sew a seam along the fold line of the bias binding. Next, fold under the ends at the top and bottom, and fold the whole binding to the back. Pin and press. Finally, sew the band in place by hand for a neat, invisible finish. Do the same for the other side.

If you are new to bias binding, take a look at this tutorial. The same principle holds here, except that you are sewing a straight seam instead of joining for a neck line, and finally attaching the band by hand instead of by machine.

4. Buttonholes and buttons

Mark where you want your buttons, and sew the buttonholes.

My top buttonhole is a bit wonky due to the extra bulk of fabric at the collar. To avoid a similar problem, you could move the buttonhole further down, or sew it by hand.

Finally, sew on your buttons, and you are done!


Congratulations, a cardigan!

Desire to buy: How to stay mindful in a shopping culture

January, the month of new beginnings and high goals, is coming to a close. Have you started the year with a resolution to buy less, buy more mindfully or not buy at all? How do you stick to your resolutions while the sales are on to tempt you?

 

Be rational about it

Often, the advice for being more mindful about your wardrobe purchases is to ask yourself some timely questions before buying anything new, like:

Sound advice. But how far does rational reflection take you once desire has kicked in?

 

Awareness is not enough

In a recent episode of the sustainable fashion podcast Magnifeco, designer and fashion theorist Otto von Busch talked of the difficulty in bringing about a sustainable fashion. As he says on the podcast: awareness is not enough.

Drawing a parallell to food, von Busch points out that even when we are aware that sugar is bad for us, the craving for the snickers bar is still real, and in fact extremely hard to hold back.

He suggests the same emotional responses are present in how we relate to fashion. For, in a visual culture, continually re-inventing ourselves through fashion and social media is a way to feel acknowledged and loved. And we all want that.

How do we then deal with an unsustainable cultural desire for fashion?

Von Busch suggests we need to build other social reward mechanisms. We need to train building our self-worth in other ways than through the feedback loop of social media likes.

 

Emotional needs

It is a fact that a lot of marketing tries to get straight at your deepest emotional needs. The Maslow theory, with the well-known hierarchy of human needs, is much used in marketing. That is why, for instance, cars are often marketed for their safety, rather than for their luxury interiors or design. It appeals to your need for safety and security, the second most basic human need, according to the Maslow theory.

Fashion, I imagine, is often marketed to trigger your need for belonging, love and esteem. And in the case of fast-fashion, to the urgency of keeping up.

 

FOMO

Social media escalates that sense of urgency. FOMO, the fear of missing out, feeds on you continuously checking in on social media to see what others are doing. Apparently, you can’t help but compare yourself to others, according to this article siting a study from 2016.

Do we all need to unhook from social media?

There is a lot to be said for avoiding temptation. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. On the other hand you probably neither can, nor want to, completely shield yourself from the influence of the world around you.

 

Feeling cool - sexy - worthy - loved - good enough

If von Busch is right, the desire to shop is not just about the clothes, or the other stuff, you buy. It is an expression of your humanness. We are all social beings and we all want – need – to feel good enough.

The weird thing is how that translates into buying things.

Thought experiment 1: Your feeling good list

Take a moment to list twenty things that make you feel good and give you joy.

Are there things on your list that do not involve buying stuff? No? Then keep going.

Your list is a gentle reminder that there are other, more fulfilling things for you to do besides shopping. Armed with it, hopefully you will build resilience against that familiar pull to buy new things in response to an emotional need.

Thought experiment 2: Pop the lifestyle bubble

I heard a speaker at a conference once, say that no-one sells products anymore. It is all about selling a service and a lifestyle.

Well, what if you pop that lifestyle bubble before the purchase?

Imagine you want to buy something, like really want to buy it now. What if you stop for a moment and consider two related, but very different questions:

  1. What does the thing represent to you?
  2. What is the actual object you will take home with you, once you have paid?

Okay, here are two things on my wish list: a pair of trekking trousers from Fjällreven and a wax-canvas shoulder bag from Ruralkind.

Each of these things represent a whole lot more to me than the actual object itself. I look at the trekking trousers, for instance, and I see this healthy, wholesome, energy-filled life with authentic close-to-nature experiences and happy family adventures.

But, it is just a pair of trekking trousers.

With or without them, I will still be same old me, no more miraculously happy or outdoorsy than I am now. Okay, fine. But actually, I still need a pair of trousers for outdoor activities.

Yet, the British-made wax-canvas bag: it is just a shoulder bag.

Aah, well. I don’t really need another shoulder bag. What I need is the feeling of being cool, creative and interesting, living a hands-on, craftsmanship-type lifestyle. Another bag, however well-made and beautiful, won’t really fix that.

Of course, I can still buy the bag. (Or I could in theory if I had that kind of money.) But then at least I would know why I was buying it and why it probably wouldn’t change my life.

Bursting the lifestyle bubble before the purchase, makes it easier to see your real reasons for wanting to buy that thing.

 

Acknowledging our humanity

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is okay to buy new things. It is also okay to make mistakes. We all buy things for the wrong reasons sometimes. At least I do.

Feeling content with what you have is difficult. Not because something is wrong with you, but because you are human and have human needs, both material and emotional. If we want to address an unsustainable shopping culture, perhaps the first step is to acknowledge our humanity?