The current buzzword among those who buy fabric and sew at home is “sew green.” This is code for using textiles made of natural and renewable plant and animal fibers grown without pesticides, manufactured in a way that produces a minimum of polluting waste products and leaves a smaller carbon footprint on good old Mother Earth. Further, to be considered “green,” fabrics must be manufactured under conditions that do not exploit workers in ways injurious to their health, and who receive a proper wage for their labor.

Soy, corn, bamboo, hemp and wood pulp are plant sources from which fabrics now are made, thanks to the magic and mystery of science.

I have, in the past, purchased wood pulp fabric, called Tencel, at a local fabric store. It drapes beautifully, is easy to sew and has a soft, wrinkle-resistant texture. I marvel that the fabric started out with the rigidity of a tree and ended up a supple fabric. It’s not an easy fabric to find locally and I wish it were.

I haven’t yet seen fabric made of soy, corn, bamboo and hemp at fabric stores, but I have purchased locally T-shirts made of bamboo and garments made of hemp. If I could buy those fabrics by the yard at local stores, I’d be the first in line.

Ready-made garments and household items like dishcloths and sheeting made of bamboo or hemp fibers are available at The Green Store in Belfast.

Yarn made of bamboo or soy is available from online stores that sell knitting supplies.

Quilters now have the option of using batting made from bamboo fiber, available at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

Batting made from recycled plastic bottles is available online at, said Evelyn Caruso, co-owner of The Cotton Cupboard in Bangor. Each pound of the Green Dream batting, according to the information on the Web site, keeps 10 plastic bottles out of the landfill.

Another aspect of the “green” philosophy pertains to fiber animals, such as sheep and alpacas. In order to be part of the “sew green” ethic, they must be raised in a humane way and fed with organically produced fodder.

According to an article by Samina Mirza posted at the American Sewing Guild Web site,, cotton, a fiber that may or may not be “green,” is grown in less than 3 percent of the world’s arable land. However, it accounts for 25 percent of the world’s pesticide use. Only .03 percent of the world’s cotton, the article says, is grown under “green” conditions. Cotton produced under “nongreen” conditions pours a whole lot of bad stuff in the form of waste products and chemicals into the environment.

She also writes that the humane treatment philosophy even extends to silkworms. Instead of boiling the cocoons to kill the worm, the worm is allowed to complete its life cycle, its silk harvested after the moth has left the cocoon. The silk fiber used from the empty cocoons is considered “green.”

One company that uses the principle of recycling in the manufacture of its products is Patagonia, which melts down recycled polar fleece and plastic bottles to use as a prime ingredient in creating the fabric from which it produces garments.

Malden Mills also produces polar fleece from recycled sources.

Clearly, those who want to “sew green” have some options to play around with.

Simplicity Pattern Co. encourages sewing “green” by offering several patterns that “repurpose” or “refashion.” One pattern is for a corset top made of old magazines and fusible webbing. Another pattern shows how to transform a T-shirt into a tote bag.

Clothing obtained at thrift shops are a good source of material for sewing projects. Garments made of linen, cotton, wool, silk and sometimes even hemp are out there just waiting to be snapped up. Reusing or refashioning old clothing is an easy way to “sew green.”

Due for publication in April 2009 is “Sewing Green: Projects and Ideas for Stitching with Organic, Repurposed and Recycled Fabric” by Betz White. Inquire at your local bookstore or library about this book or other books on the subject.

To learn more about sewing green, visit,,, and