A Guide to Sourcing Ethical Fabrics

Sourcing Ethical Fabrics for the Hobbyist

The internet is a valuable source for ethical materials of all kinds. There are two websites that stand out:

  • You may already know about Etsy for finding handmade items. It is also a resource for purchasing crafting materials. A keyword search on Etsy for organic fabrics will yield pages of organic cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo fabrics to be purchased by the yard or in fat quarters.

Vintage fabric is also found on Etsy. Amounts, of course, are limited and there is no reordering

  • Another great internet source for vintage and organic fabric is Ebay. Of course sellers on Ebay, as well as Etsy, are comprised of a mixture of individuals and retailers.

Shop thrift stores, you never know what kind of treasure you will find. There are thrift stores that specialize only in crafting material.

Online fabric stores that only sell organic and fairtrade items are a recent development. A few years ago, these were impossible to find. Demand for more sustainable choices has created a flood of full service organic fabric stores.

Do your research. Become familiar with brands that are certified ethical and the retailers that sell them.

Sourcing Ethical Fabric For the Small Business or Home Business

Buy deadstock fabric. This is extra fabric that has been leftover by a manufacturer, wholesaler or a designer. Not to be confused with factory seconds, deadstock is quality fabric that was not used due to a variety of reasons.

Recycled fabrics are a sustainable alternative and are readily available from websites.

There is a new technology that uses discarded cotton clothing and disposable nonwoven items that have been cleaned and shredded, and combines this with sustainably grown new wood pulp or Lyocell to make a new fabric.

Recycled polyester is a sustainable product that comes from bottles and discarded  polyester clothing. Recycling polyester uses less energy and water than manufacturing virgin polyester. Plastic bottles and polyester are a perfect candidate for recycling because they can be recycled again and again.

How to Recognize Ethical Fabric                                          

Whether you sew as a hobby or you own a small, home-based design business, there are ways to identify ethically sourced and organic fabrics. Here are a few certification tags to look for.

The GOTS Certified label stands for Global Organic Textile Standard. A GOTS certification  ensures textiles are made from organic fibers and any chemicals used on the fiber, such as dyes, meet environmental standards.

The Bluesign certification guarantees transparency and traceability in all aspects of the supply and manufacturing chain.

A Naturland certification denotes fair trade, social responsibility and  organic farming on a regional level as well as worldwide.

Fairtrade International and Fairtrade America ensures a fair living wage and improved working conditions to all workers in all steps of the manufacturing chain.

OEKO-TEX ensures all fabrics and accessories that carry their certification are tested and approved for containing no harmful substances. They also ensure socially responsible and environmentally friendly workplaces.

Quality Control In Fabric Cutting

Cutting For the Crafter

Quality Cutting Methods For The Home Sewist

Having sharp tools is the best method. You should own a sharp pair of fabric shears that are only for cutting fabric. Never cut paper, it will dull the blades.

Make it a habit to change the blade of your rotary cutter each time you start a new project. Cutting with a dull blade takes too much work and it can fray your fabric.

Make sure you are well rested. Never try to cut pattern pieces when you are tired or sleepy. It will only lead to mistakes.

Cutting Tools For Home Sewists

Aside from fabric shears and manual rotary cutters, there are a few electronic devices that make precision cutting simple and fast.

The electric rotary cutter can cut several layers of fabric efficiently. Most models operate at  multiple speeds and come with self sharpening blades, this keeps you from having to replace the blades so often. There is even a cordless rechargeable cutter. They vary in price from $50 to $200.

There are a number of precision fabric cutting machines on the market now. Some of them even perform multiple jobs. They come in various sizes and the prices range from $130 to $600.

Cutting For the Small Business Owner

Steps in Controlling the Quality of Your Cutting

  • Fabric relaxation applies more to knitted fabrics than woven. Fabric stretches when it has been rolled up on a bolt. After a length of fabric is unrolled, it should be laid out and left to relax for 12 to 24 hours before cutting.

Allowing fabric to relax will cause shrinkage. You will need to measure your fabric prior to the relaxing process to ensure you have the right amount

  • Design a cutting plan or a layout to optimize the amount of cut pieces you can get from your fabric.
  • Create markers A marker is a stencil that illustrates how the pattern pieces should be cut. Markers are printed on a large sheet of paper that is placed on the spread fabric.
  • Fabric spreading refers to smoothly laying out fabric for cutting. Fabric is spread and stacked in layers or plies to be cut all at once.  It is a very precise multistep technique that can be done manually or by machine. For a small scale or home based business the manual technique is suitable.
  • Inspect Cuttings. The cut pieces are inspected to ensure the pieces have been cut to the correct specifications.

Cutting Tools That Can Be Used By Small Business

A fabric end cutter is a blade that automatically cuts fabric pulled straight from the bolt. This allows you to precisely cut large pieces or thin strips of fabric without having to touch the cutter.

High speed knife fabric cutter can come with clearance in one of three sizes, 5 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch. It is a handheld device with a straight blade that can make clean precise cuts through several layers of woven and knitted fabric with no frayed ends.

Fabric Quality Checking System

Quality assurance in the textile industry requires several steps that span from the sourcing of raw fibers to putting the final touches on the finished apparel. All these steps fall into one of two categories:

  1. Inspection
  2. Testing

Inspection and testing methods can be performed in house by the manufacturer, or outsourced to companies that specialize in quality control testing of textiles. 

The ASTM defines standards of quality for the textile and garment industry in all aspects of manufacturing. In addition, they develop testing methods and guidelines to ensure quality in materials and manufacturing practices.

The ASTM is not a governing body, they do not enforce their own compliance guidelines. However, their standards and procedures are respected and upheld all over the world. The manufacturer must adhere to the specifications set by their customers.

The Quality Control Process Has Many Steps

Fabric is inspected for defects in appearance. Fabric is placed on a lighted table and inspected for visual defects from a distance of three feet. 

A  4-point system is employed in which a number value from 1-4 is assigned to visual defects depending on degree of severity and length. The type of defects include snags, slubs, dirt, holes and variations in dye or pattern.

The finished product is inspected once again for defects prior to shipping. Any fabric that fails to pass inspection is considered seconds, or irregular and is not shipped to the customer.

Manufacturers also set their own standards for maintaining the machinery used in processing fabric. Spinners, looms, knitting machines and dye apparatus are inspected regularly and repairs are made when needed.

Testing requires scientific, quantifiable methods. Many times, machines are used to assure standards of quality.

The ASTM outlines areas and tests for durability, some of these areas are:

  • Tensile strength measures the amount of strength or weakness of the threads that compose a fabric. 
  • Tearing strength measures the quality of the construction of the fabric
  • Resistance to abrasion refers to how well a fabric holds up to rubbing or agitation.

Apparel fabric must undergo safety testing to ensure the amount of chemical residue a wearer is exposed to is below the allowable limits.

Chemicals such as formaldehyde are used in fabric finishes to control wrinkles and improve the quality of color. Too much formaldehyde is harmful to humans. The government places limits on the amount of formaldehyde residue that can be found in fabrics.

The federal government has mandated that fabric for children’s clothing and home decor must be flammable. Chemical compounds are added to fabric to stay in compliance and the fabric must be tested for safety, flammability and anti-static properties.

Apparel fabrics are tested for comfort or wearability. Apparel fabrics are evaluated for their air permeability, thermal conductivity, air resistance and air porosity. These terms all refer to breathability. Or the ability of a fabric to keep the wearer comfortable in a variety of air temperatures.

Fabric undergoes testing for a number of appearance defects. These defects include:

  • Surface smoothness
  • Color fastness
  • Pilling
  • Drape and stiffness
  • Wrinkle recovery

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