Friday, 19 January 2018

Plastic in your clothes

Many of you who sew will already appreciate that there are many 'plastics' in textile products.  However, for those of you who are not already aware, there are rather a lot.

Plastics have been in the news a lot since the airing of Blue Planet 2 on the BBC, and there was also a call in to You & Yours on Radio 4 earlier in the week that made me stop and reflect on the fibre content of the clothes we buy and wear every day, more on that later. 

Synthetic fibres are indeed Plastics by other names, those that occur in clothing and other textile products are;

Nylon - Used in lots of clothing products like tights, woven and non woven fabrics and mixed with other fibres in lots of garments. 

Nylon thread, fabric woven label and zip

Polyester - Used widely in knitted, woven and non woven fabrics and mixed with Cotton for cheap clothing and soft furnishings.

Some Polyester woven cloth
Acrylic - Most widely used in fleece and knitted clothing as well as mixed with other fibres for wide ranging finishes.

My waterproof jacket and fleece lining
Spandex or Lycra - Always used with other fibres to help knitted clothing keep their shape and have grater stretch.

Olefin - Prized for it's strength it is mostly used in carpets, car interiors and wallpaper.

Other fibres that you may think of as synthetic fibres like Acetate, Rayon and Model are in fact regenerated cellulose so do not posses the same properties as Synthetics because they will degrade and break down over time.

Acetate lining fabrics
All Synthetic fibres are derived from petrochemicals and take rather a lot of resources to get out of the ground, get refined into all the different chemicals like Gas, Fuel, Oil and Plastics.  The plastics are mixed with other chemical elements to produce the right plastic for each product, they have colours (more chemicals from a range of sources including metals, petrochemicals and manufacturing by-products) added and are then extruded (squeezed through a very narrow tube while still in liquid form) into fine filaments which are spun and made into textiles by weaving, bonding and knitting.

Seems like a lot of processing doesn't it - and it is.  In fact the textile industry as a whole is one of the most highly polluting industries on the planet!  Makes you think doesn't it.

Unlike natural and regenerated fibres, which will decompose in time and have natural 'enemies' to longevity such as moths, mould and mildew and natural decomposition;  Synthetic fibres, like plastics, will take thousands of years to break down naturally.  So the biggest no no would be to put old textiles in the bin for landfill.

Another thought that I had not previously considered before the You & Yours program this week, is that every time we wash our Synthetic clothes and soft furnishings like bedding, minute bits of the fibres break off and are flushed down the drain.  Scary!  And then it makes it's way out to the ocean and into small sea creatures at the bottom of the food chain - and finds its way into all complex sea life.  Really scary!!

So, what can we, on an individual basis, do to try and do a little less damage ourselves.

The first thing would be to wear your clothes a little longer before putting them in the wash, wearing once and putting garments in the wash is a bit much if the garment is still clean - most of us don't really get dirty so there is no reason to put it in the wash so often.  In fact, this will also extend the life of the garment and it will keep it's finish and shape better too so you will get better value for your money.  No brainer.

Secondly, send unwanted clothes and other textiles to charity shops or swap with friends.  Second hand is no longer a sign of poverty, it is right on trend - Vintage is the way to go to get clothes that are different, and the best way to create an individual look without breaking the bank.  Clothes and soft furnishings can have several lives before they wear out completely.

A third option is to remake your clothes and soft furnishings into something else.  I've remade old, and antique clothes into new garments of all sorts for myself and for many clients.  The possibilities are only limited by yours, or your dressmakers, imagination.

The trim on this jacket was originally part of an antique opera cape

This jacket has been made out of some curtains that were given to me, they were hardly used and I also made a full length coat too as there was so much fabric, these were bespoke client projects and the clients knew the origin of the fabric - it saved them a lot of money on fabric and the garments were very warm and cosy to wear.

Even if what you need to get rid of is really past it, take it to the charity shop or clothing bank.  Textiles that have completed their useful life can be shredded and made into other products like carpet underlay, insulation for other things and chemically recycled.

To put textile products in the bin that then goes to landfill is, in my humble opinion, criminal!

I want you to use the three R's when you decide to get rid of old (to you) textiles;

Reuse - Pass it on, swap it.

Rethink - Make it into something new, embellish it.

Recycle - Charity shop it or put it in the clothing bank.

Rather more than three R's, food for thought


This is especially important for Synthetics because they have such a long life and can do so very much damage in the environment.

I really hope this has given you pause for thought and a few ideas of how you can minimise your environmental impact.  If everyone did a little more - it would all add up to an awful lot of positive action.  And ALL OF US can help prevent scenes like this.



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