Stash Less Challenge #1 – Making room for intentional crafting

The ongoing stash less challenge on the craft sessions blog has inspired me to rethink my approach to crafting. The challenge invites us, as makers, to be mindful of how and why we accumulate the materials – fabric, yarn, fibre, books and supplies – that feed our crafting.

On this first step of self-discovery I realised that, although I want to be, I’m not actually sewing at all. That is about to change.

#1: Taking stock

The contents of my overfilled fabric box and bursting yarn basket had spread to various table tops and into my clothes cupboard. The piles of fabric had become inspirational dead ends, oozing with maker’s guilt.

Minimise, was my first thought.

In the process I noticed I don’t actually hoard fabrics and yarns as beautiful gems in themselves. Rather less glamorously, I hold on to leftovers: single mismatching balls of yarn, fabric scraps, old sheets and worn clothes.

I’m riddled with guilt at the thought of throwing out fabric.

I find myself thinking, as I squeeze yet another worn t-shirt in with the other remnants: Hey, I could make something out of this! The thing is, I often don’t. At this point, I wasn’t making anything at all. There was just no inspiration to be found in that overfilled fabric box.


Tackling fabric guilt

Patagonia's infamous Black Friday ad (scroll right to the bottom) states that making a fleece jacket requires 135 litres of water and generates carbon dioxide 24 times its own weight. Even if it is made of recycled water bottles. According to Levi's a pair of jeans consumes 3800 litres of water and 33.4 kilos of carbon dioxide through its life-cycle.

This fills me with unease. If I donate old clothes to charities, am I then contributing to the undermining of local textile industries in developing countries already flooded with clothes no-one else wants? The True Cost movie suggests I am.

Perhaps. I don’t know. I just don’t know enough.

I want to respect the value of the resources that went into producing the clothes that pass through my hands. But I also need to be realistic about what I will actually make use of. The fact is, I'm not helping anyone stowing away fabric that will never be used. Instead, I’m starving my creativity on a diet of guilt.

So, I divided my fabric piles of guilt into three:

  1. Keep. Fabrics I can realistically make use of.
  2. Donate. Clothes I no longer use, but others might like, I donated to Fretex, the chain of local thrift stores also focusing on job creation for people struggling to get back into the job market.
  3. Textile recycling. Worn and torn clothes, socks with holes in them and scraps of fabric I would never get round to using I handed in to H&M’s textile recycling programme. You can read more about the recycling process in Norwegian on Benedicte Eie's H&M sustainability blog.

Importantly, I feel crafting should be joyful, not guilt driven. The creative process of turning inspiration into something tangible, learning new skills and savouring the slow process of making. These are the reasons I knit and sew in the first place.

However, another reason is feeling I’m doing something useful. Something worth while. This realisation hadn’t quite hit me until I was looking through my Grandma’s sewing things around the time of her funeral a few months ago.


Honouring my sewing heritage

Among her sewing things was a wool skirt in the making with the pieces cut out, pinned and neatly folded in a tote bag. To me, it representing so much of her. Her neatness, her style, her persistence. A precious bundle and a source of deep inspiration.

I thought about my own crafting: What do I want from my box of fabric and basket of yarn? I want inspiration, creative possibility, and the means to enable a more sustainable wardrobe. That feels useful and worthwhile to me.

I don’t want to feel guilty about every scrap of fabric waste generated by our little household. Nor do I want to contribute to more waste by making lots of things I don’t need or won’t use. For me, crafting makes most sense as a balance of joy and necessity. I am sure there is room for playful creativity in useful crafting projects, too. At least, that is the challenge: to embrace the creativity in restrictions, and not let them feel like a burden.