In pursuit of stash zero: sewing sustainably in lockdown

Crew neck sleeveless top with pleated neckline in blue and multicoloured floral viscose fabric hangs on wall
Burda Style 6914 – a worthy stashbuster

After last week’s lengthy trilogy on creativity and sewjo in lockdown, it seemed like time to return to the topic of actual sewing. But ‘actual sewing’, as it turns out, (after a bit of digging around in the nether regions of my psyche), is something unhelpfully specific: by ‘actual’ sewing, it would appear I mean garment sewing.

As I mentioned here, garment sewing hasn’t really been getting much of a look-in lately. I have been sewing, sure. Some might say (not naming names), I have been sewing in an extreme and obsessive manner, barely sparing time for the household chores…

It’s what I’ve been sewing that has shifted gears. Without being able to imagine going out for drinks with friends in a new dress, racing into the sea in a new cossie, or sauntering into the office in a neatly tailored jacket, long-planned projects lost their shine. Some plans were hard to let go of. But let go I did. Consigning them to the backwaters of fancy did not seem like a hardship. It was a relief. High-falutin plans can always be resurrected if circumstances change.

What I found was that my head was clearer and, rather than feeling bereft and cut-off from my beloved hobby, I was sewing more prolifically, and more purposefully, than ever before. Inspiration had taken flight, but practicality was reigning from on high; lists were written, briefs and hierarchies of projects orchestrated. For the first time in my sewing life, it seemed like everything and anything was possible.

By everything, I mean all the mundane crappy tasks you leave for next week because, frankly, there are more fun things to sew. It also meant I had the headspace for all the things you could sew for other people but don’t because, well, there’s that dress. And all this not because I had more time – I definitely had less – but rather because the time allotted to sewing had transmuted and reformulated itself into something new and unfamiliar.

What I found was that my head was clearer and, rather than feeling bereft and cut-off from my beloved hobby, I was sewing more prolifically, and more purposefully, than ever before.

I was no longer coveting new fabrics, and scouring the internet for new ideas. Instead, I was mopping up. While at first it felt like creativity had fallen through a trapdoor, in fact I found myself being more inventive; willing useful and aesthetically pleasing things into being from scraps and remnants requires ingenuity. Limited time and resources combined with thrift is a creative archetype: necessity is the mother of invention.

The result? A four month and counting marathon I fondly call the pursuit of stash zero. Stash zero is a halcyon day (or living nightmare, depending on how you look at it) when every last scrap of fabric in your collection has been used up. The reality is that a stash represents hours and days and weeks and quite possibly years of hard slog. To reach stash zero is, for most of us, an unlikely event.

A magic meeting of ancient fabric and trusted pattern

Some makers do not have a stash – they buy as and when they need for a specific project. In truth, there is only so far I can go with the pursuit of a clean slate. I never had a clean state to begin with; many of my fabrics were given to me by my mother and grandmother when I was a teen, and lingered on in my collection for decades. Some of these are fabrics I continue to hold onto for sentimental reasons – though I love the way they look, they are just not the sort of thing I would wear. Some fabrics are simply unloveable – retained because I suspect they may have a future purpose I cannot yet imagine.

For those of you who see hoarding as sheer folly, bear witness to this: pictured, right, is a pair of smart work trousers (the last work-related garment I sewed before realising work as we knew it was long gone). They are made from an unforgivingly strange faux linen polyester I’ve been carting around for nigh on twenty years. Prior to that, this poly horror had stalked the fabric stashes of the earth since before I was born. This ancient and mysterious cloth got on astonishingly well with a tried and tested pattern: they did a little dance, made a little love, and got down to, erm, becoming a damn fine pair of trousers.

The quest to shop my stash wasn’t one of those, ‘I won’t buy anything for a year’ things, which always has a bit of an ascetic vibe I could never live up to (to wit: don’t want to). Eventually – and the hour is not far off now – there will come a point where, barring a few sentimental treasures, there is nothing left to use up that can be used up. Then I will buy what I need, when I need it. To be clear, I’m not waiting around for that moment. For my birthday, the big 40 no less, I spent about a month (conveniently coinciding with Me Made May) carefully considering what I really wanted to make, what I needed in my wardrobe, what would have long term benefits – and, most importantly, be used up with relative speed – and I received a bunch of sewing-related presents I am very happy to have in my life.

The result of all this is that much of my sewing over the last few months has been rather unglamorous. It irked me, somewhat, to be starting a sewing blog at the very moment I had stopped consuming all the fabrics and all the patterns. Sure, I did make a few new garments from my stash along the way. A few one metre makes from viscose remnants (see picture, top left), a Zadie jumpsuit and a Zadie dress (the pattern was a birthday present). Nevertheless, the fuel on which Instagram thrives – bright colours, big details, frills and flounces – was lacking. I couldn’t muster the stamina for so much as a statement sleeve.

The ever-shrinking stash (post-tidy)

Yesterday, I read the latest blog from Vicky Of Sewstainability. ‘As I try to be more sustainable,’ she writes, ‘I don’t think it is a good idea to promote making something new every week.’ Her plan is to regularly blog about things she has already made. It resonated with me. It seems like a great idea to celebrate the things that already play a part in our lives, and to seek out continued enjoyment of those things, rather than always looking for the next fix.

I can’t write a blog about new things all the time. I don’t want to. This blog is for ideas, occasional new makes and, most likely, endless revisits. This website has been born into – and out of – a pandemic that has changed our lives in so many ways. It is an effort to grasp some of those changes and turn them into positives.

I will continue to make, and there will always be garments because, despite the current key change, that’s how I’m wired; unbelievable as it may seem, there are even items missing from my wardrobe – some high waisted black jeans, a waterproof jacket for summer, an insulated coat for winter. There will always be the need for replacements when things get worn out (if you know a small child you will also know that knees know no bounds). Not to mention all the things I want (or am pestered) to make for my kids, my husband, and the home. With sewing, the list always replenishes itself. Refashion, repurpose, remake. We need never get bored with a needle and thread.

Am I being precious? Quite possibly. But if the pandemic – and everything that has come with it – teaches us anything, it is that people are precious, the earth is precious, time is precious. Our choices as consumers mean so much more than we sometimes care to admit – by exercising those choices where we can, we retain a sense of control, however small, over our lives and, by extension, the lives of others.

So tell me, has the pandemic affected the way you sew, or how you consume your sewing fabrics and notions? Let me know in the comments below – I’m looking forward to a chat!

14 thoughts on “In pursuit of stash zero: sewing sustainably in lockdown

  1. At the beginning of the pandemic I went a bit nuts and really hit the online fabric shops. I felt as though we were heading into a world where I would need to hoard a bit more than I do already (in a lot of ways I’ve been preparing for the pandemic for years!) As my stash grew I felt secure that I’d have enough fabric and thread to last. Unfortunately now I have far too much and am reducing slowly. I’m doing better at that in recent weeks, but I still managed to buy another 6 metres worth just a couple of weeks back as there’s always just that one more thing I absolutely need!I will keep trying to limit new stash. At least I’m not hoarding like it’s the end of the world anymore.


    1. I totally get that, wanting to make sure you have enough in when we literally couldn’t leave the house! I don’t think there is anything wrong whatsoever with building up a stash – it all boils down to our psychology in some way and so what works for one person won’t work for another. That’s why I keep fabric for donkey’s years whereas some people have a strict one-in one-out policy… Those ancient fabrics just started to nag at me, and it felt like it might finally be their time 😉 Xx


    2. I adore reading sewing blogs that focus on sustainability! 😊. I’ve been sewing for about 20 months and was hooked on Instagram sewing accounts for the first 8 months of that. But I became jaded at the sheer amount of clothing that was being produced by some sewists – literally 2 pieces a week sometimes. And Instagram obviously loves makers who make loads (and thus post loads) so i was getting to see these accounts prominantly. I began to feel really inadequate about how slow i sew and few things i was able to make. And then I read Elizabeth Cline’s The Conscious Closet and became very excited about using what I have, buying second hand and recycling old/unwanted clothes into new items (old jersey tops of my daughter’s and jersey scraps have become knickers etc. I’m currently making a patchwork knitting bag out of jeans that are too paint splattered to be donated to charity 😀). When I do buy new fabric i try and buy sustainably produced fabrics (not cheap admittedly and I buy less as a result) but it makes me feel like I’m doing a tiny bit to help.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Helen! Thank you so much for your interesting and thoughtful comment. I can relate to that feeling of everyone making all the pretty things! I do make a lot, I must confess – its kind of part of the day job! – but I am trying to be more conscious about what I bring into my wardrobe now – and if that means sewing more for others, or useful things for the home, or recycling stuff, then that’s all the better. I must look up that book, it sounds good – as do your recycling/repurposing projects. Hope to hear from you again! Ruth 🙂


  2. Yeah, sometimes it’s good to know you habe a rainy day supply, but there’s a stash and then there’s a mountain, working on making it into a hill. 😂 @ukpoppyberry

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It seems to me if you sew, it’s only a matter of time before you end up with some kind of fabric stash. Mine is growing rather than shrinking and is certainly at the stage where I am unlikely ever to sew it all up, but a lot has been given to me or bought second hand. I don’t particularly feel the need to ‘use it all up’ because that would just mean ending up with a load of clothes I also don’t need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree that there’s no point in making clothes you don’t want just for the sake of using up your stash. Some of the ways I personally found around that was i also like making bags, pouches, soft furnishings, re-useable face ckeaning pads etc with fabric I wouldn’t want to wear. I’m not saying that works perfectly though. I made a cushion cover out of some leftover linen that i had made a top from. There was only enough for 1 cover but I live with a family member who has major issues with things not being in pairs. So i’ve had to actually buy more of that fabric just to make a matching cover so that i can use the first! It’s never straightforward 🙈

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your comment Helen – definitely wouldn’t advocate using fabric up for the sake of it. And I doubt I will ever actually get to ‘stash zero’ – more of a frame of mind to use what I have where and whenever I can 🙂


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