Monthly Archives: March 2022

What to do with printed fabric packaging

I often think about the balance between individual action and collective action. I don’t place a huge amount of store by individual action. It is important, yes, up to a point. But if we want to rise to the collective challenge of the climate emergency we will need collective action as well. On the other hand–individual action is about engaging one’s own ethics, and it is highly educational. When I think about the amount of effort I put into avoiding plastic, I can see how thoroughly entrenched the fossil fuel industry is, in every aspect of our lives, and how hard it is to disengage from that without wider policy change. My diligent efforts have never extracted me from this. And nor can I find enough hours in the day to address all the textile waste going on around me.

I have been helping a dear friend with the textiles left in her family home after her parents died, and despite their extreme frugality, their mending and care for clothing, their dust coats and pinnies (aprons–) there is a lot of work to be done to attempt to deal with what remains in any ethical and thoughtful way. I have a lot of knowledge and capacity in this area these days and even so, I’ve found myself profoundly challenged. If I can keep to posting regularly, more on this later! But for now–all this is to say that it is heartening to see things that are thoughtfully packaged. Such as some soap nuts that a friend had bought, that came to me for some reason. These are just what they sound like: the fruit of a tree that contains a soap-like compound, that you can use to wash your clothes (and depending on your commitment and your assessment of the outcome–so much more!) They came in a nicely made, calico bag printed with the details of the contents. To my mind, really overpackaged. That is a biodegradable package (apart from the thread, as it turned out)–but quite a precious one in terms of the resources and time needed to create it.

This creates a different kind of issue: what to do with this calico bag? In the end, I decided to overdye it with indigo, so that the printing would be less visible. The images above are pictures of my indigo vat, living in a barrel gifted to me by generous friends, and in health after a year of dormancy. This took weeks of daily thought, learning and adjustment, and an epic day scouring my city for needed ingredients! My dyeing efforts were only partially successful. The printing resisted the dye. So then, to stitching.

This image doesn’t do justice to the colours involved, but you can see my problem with the printing!

I had wanted to try this kind of stitching for ages, and as usual, a low stakes opportunity like a recycled soapnuts bag is just the kind of opportunity I will grab with both hands and lavish hours of effort on! The thread is silk embroidery thread dyed with all kinds of plants over a considerable period.

Little by little, the text on the bag largely disappeared (and certainly drew the eye a lot less), and to me it now looks more like a treasure pouch and less like a piece of packaging.


Filed under Natural dyeing

When to stop mending

I do so much mending, and have posted about it so much, that people ask me how I know when to stop. People also ask me what to do with clothes that are beyond repair from their point of view. There is no simple answer. However, I’ve reached that point with a few things in my wardrobe recently.

I made this shirt in 2009. I bought the fabric from a First Nations business at the WOMAD festival with birthday money my parents gave me. There was not enough fabric to make the yoke facing from the main fabric so, as you can see, I made it from something else I had in my stash. The buttons were reused, and when I looked closely–one of the cuff buttons is not a match. This is something I’m often prepared to do. I must have liked the buttons enough to use them for all the parts that really show and accept one cuff not matching.

It has had a LOT of wear and given me a lot of pleasure. But it shows! The collar has worn through. The yoke and yoke facing are either worn through or so close, that turning the collar is not a solution. The plackets and vents are threadbare in places and worn through in others. There are holes in random places, some from thorns or wire and others from sheer wear and tear.

It is an entirely different colour than it was when new. This is the scrap pinned into my 2009 notebook, with a rehearsal buttonhole for good measure.

And… in terms of mending, this shirt has been on gardening duty for some time and almost reached the end when it tore most of the way from hem to the point where the sleeve joins the body under the arm. I couldn’t part with it yet and patched it on the inside up the main tear (with some not so pretty machine stitching), and on the outside where I had to, near the vent. With black fabric! It is a tribute to how closely people are not looking, that I’ve had compliments on this shirt even since this mend. They see what remains of this fabulous print, and look no further.

I have also enjoyed this shirt. But not for long. I bought it about a year ago, when I was scouring op shops for outfits for civil discobedience (you know–looking for sequins!) do follow the link–it’s fun! It is made of a beautiful fine cotton with a glorious print. It was very faded when I bought it, and very soft as things that have been much worn and washed often are. I made an exception buying something so pink, because I loved the print so much and it felt so good. It’s beautifully made. When I got it home I realised one of the plackets had a big tear right beside the placket binding. I patched it on the inside, and with no hope of matching the print, matched the weight of the fabric instead with another well worn shirt that had made its way to me in pieces. Poor choice of vintage thread made the mend less elegant than it could have been. Never mind! But now–I can see the interfacing on the collar, which is all that is holding it together, and the fabric has worn right through under the arms. Unless I want to apply an A4 sized patch… (it won’t be lightweight and cool and lovely after that), it’s reached the end.

And so–with a clear use for bunting having come my way, I decided these much loved shirts could finally finish their lives as garments. They are well past the point where they could become bags or lining. Bunting is a great application, where the beauty of the prints can be enjoyed and no more wear and tear will be applied to them. And, so, with my gratitude for those who grew, wove, printed and in one case stitched them, they have entered their next lives as elements of celebration.


Filed under Natural dyeing