Fairtrade fabrics and support networks (My Sewing Club)

One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Fair Trade, is the fact that it creates networks. It is all about people coming together, joining forces and linking up arms to becoming stronger.

We all need such support networks. Especially in certain times of our lives when without the support, the encouragement and the strength that can be found in them, one can feel alone and hopeless against the many trials and tribulations that life has in store for us.

Last September three of my great friends and I, started our own support network: our ’Sewing Club’ which meets every Wednesday morning for a big dose of peer counselling and little bit of sewing… or talking about sewing!

It is definitely one of the highlights of our week and, although it is quite chaotic (3 of the ‘younger members’ of the club are our toddlers… so there is always a lots of mess, toys & snacks and negotiations about sharing going on in the background); we do our best to squeeze in a weekly agenda of everyone’s child-related concerns, illnesses, joys, worries… and just fantastic conversation about our crazy families, partners and dreams and hopes for the future.

My 3 friends (Sandra, Chrissie and Martina) already know how to sew and have been creating great stuff for many years (2 of them even sell their wonderful creations), but it’s all completely new to me. I decided to learn partly because I really wanted to expand the blog from just cooking to also creating and crafting with Fairtrade goods, and being that there is a fantastic range of Fairtrade fabrics, sewing seeming like a great area to venture into.

abuela y yoIt was also something I wanted to try in honour of my late grandmother Esteca (my mum’s mum) who was a bit of a celebrity seamstress in her day, designing and sewing the most modern and elegant fashion of her time in La Paz in the 60s and 70s. She sadly died very young and I never met her, but she has always had a strong, almost mythological, presence in our family…and somehow learning to sew, is like reaching out to her and taking a peek into her world…and, believe it or not, I feel very close to her when I’m working on my machine, I can almost hear her laughter and encouragement and always picture her hand on my shoulder keeping my pulse steady.

My mum and sister gave me my sewing machine for my birthday last year and are constantly teasing me because, according to them, I am becoming an ‘Achachila’, which is Aymara word that describes people or even things (like mountains) that embody the presence of their forefathers… they are just saying that I’m turning into an ‘old lady’ really, but with my jam making, crochet and now sewing … I can’t really deny it.

But back to sewing… I was really happy to start off my sewing journey with a collaboration with the super inspirational Offset Warehouse, a social enterprise that offers a huge range of hand-picked eco fabrics and haberdashery that, not only looks good, but that is also environmentally friendly and kind to the workers who produce the raw materials.

Offset goes way beyond just being an on-line shop… and offers a huge variety of services for the ethical consumer/crafter, like: a Monthly Mailing list with over 10,000 subscribers, 2 blogs (Sew Obsessed and The Swatch Book), weekly videos in their own YouTube page, masterclasses, workbooks, printable resources and articles covering sustainable topics, super popular and active Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages, and communities in Linkedin and Google Plus.

Charlie Ross, its founder, explains how Offset came about: “When we buy fabrics, we’re using them to make something beautiful for our homes, to wear or to give to someone else. There are so many reckless manufacturers who are destroying the environmental or just don’t care about the welfare of their own workers – and their trusting customers simply don’t realise it’s happening. I couldn’t bare the thought of something that I made harming other people, or the environment, which is when I started to look for environmentally and/or socially responsible fabrics. That’s when Offset Warehouse was born.

The fabrics that I stock on Offset Warehouse are all environmentally and/or socially responsible. We try and be as transparent as we can with the origins of the fabric and clarify exactly how each one is accredited. I source fabrics from around the world and stock them in several countries to accommodate International customers. These are some of the negative social impacts that I work hard to avoid and hope to one day eliminate altogether: sub-standard working conditions, exposure to chemicals, increased poverty and displacement.”

Undyed Cream TwillOffset kindly sent me this gorgeous Fairtrade undyed cream twill, which was hand woven in India by a cooperative certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO). The fabric is produced by over 2500 artisans that live and work in remote villages of Gujarat. The fabric was in its natural undyed state, grown without pesticides and is biodegradable. One of the most innovative values of this cooperative is that market research is shared between them, so that they are made aware of the current product trends and the needs of global customers. There are also constant developments made to improve both the quality and skill of the craftsmanship, combined with designs from qualified textiles and print designers, so that the weavers are able to compete with innovative, quality products on the market.

IMG_0777So, for my first project I decided to sew Christmas stockings…I spent many hours on Pinterest getting ideas, and then pestered my Sewing Club friends for advice about the design and method… and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts… I did it!

What I found is, that there is a huge amount of planning that takes place before you even touch the fabric… but once that bit is done, actually doing it takes not time at all and even a newbie like me can do it! There is also tons of help and advice from fellow bloggers and sites out there… so, if anyone is considering taking it up… fear not, you don’t need to know much… you just need to do your research and if you are lucky like me, enlist the help of your support network!