Green Quilting

In honor of Spring, and to celebrate five years since Jim and I opened our first WordPress account (Our View From Iowa,) I am recycling a previous post. (Recycling, get it?) All the links work but I haven’t reviewed them for relevance, nor updated the data in my writing. The original post was published 8/3/16.  

Over the years Jim and I have changed our living style to reduce our ecological footprint. We’ve made small changes over time, incrementally improving as we learn how to do things better. It’s meant buying less, recycling more, and upgrading to lower-energy lights and appliances, among other things.

Aside from basic daily living, my biggest environmental impact may be created by my quilting. Quilting has a cozy, natural image that belies the modern truth. From cotton production and fabric distribution, to all the steps we consumers take to complete a quilt, we make our mark when we quilt.

Cotton production uses enormous quantities of highly toxic chemicals, vast areas of land with undiversified agriculture, and fuel-guzzling machinery to plant and harvest. Post-harvest, only about 20% of US-grown cotton is processed by US textile mills. About 65% of US cotton is shipped overseas to be processed and made into something like clothing, bedding, or quilting fabric. One cargo ship, fully loaded, can carry about a million bales of cotton. The equivalent of about 11 fully loaded cargo ships will cross the seas with cotton from the US every year, one way. Much of that will be shipped back as finished products. A loaded cargo ship uses 86,000 gallons or more of highly-polluting fuel per day at sea. Then the cotton goes through incredibly toxic processing, sometimes in countries that have minimal worker-safety standards and poverty-level wages. Then it gets shipped back to me.

See my previous posts about cotton fabric production.
Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Frankly, this is very disheartening to know. I have long realized that my need to quilt is a luxury that the world might not be able to afford. For now I will continue. But I will choose to find ways to reduce my footprint on the consumer end.

Here are some tips on reducing your carbon footprint of quilting.

Fabric acquisition and use:
* Use stash you already have before heading to the store or ordering online — save on delivery costs of fuel, road and vehicle use, gasoline, etc. If you need help with that, unsubscribe to all the ad emails you get. If you want something, you know where to find it anyway, right?
* Trade yardage and scraps with friends or guild members.
* Consider acquiring fabric in the form of used clothing, rather than as new yardage.
* Use your scraps in projects. More variety lends more richness and interest, anyway. Consider piecing same-fabric scraps together if you need somewhat bigger pieces. I’ve done this in a number of projects and believe me, it’s not like anyone will ever see the seams.
* Save selvage edges to use as you would heavy string or twine. I give mine to my husband, and he uses them in the garden to tie plants up.
* Consider buying American-made quilting fabric (assuming you are in the US.) There are only two brands that pop out. One is American Made Brand fabric, in 75 solids. One is Made In America cotton from JoAnn Fabrics. For all I know, they may be the same company.
* Consider buying fabric made from organically-grown cotton. These will have lower environmental impact because of less pesticide and herbicide use on the crop. In addition, other parts of fabric production have strict standards for impact. See this article on sewmamasew for more details.
* Use your own tote bags for shopping; decline plastic bags, or any bags, at the quilt shop or the chain fabric/craft store.

Books, magazines, paper patterns, and other stuff:
* Buy new (to you) books and stuff thoughtfully. Is it something you already have but can’t find? Is there a different solution than buying new? Most of my book purchases the last few years have been used ones. Can you borrow the specialty tool from a friend?
* Subscribe to digital editions of magazines.
* Unsubscribe from paper catalogs; ask all the junk mailers to take you off their lists.
* Download patterns when you have a choice. Store the pdf on your computer or a back-up drive rather than printing out.
* Recycle quilty stuff by first seeing if others will use them — donations, free table at guild meeting, friends and those in your small group, free-cycle, craigslist, paperback exchange, consignment stores, used book stores, your library. Only then recycle by putting in the bin. Last resort is to throw these items in the trash.

In your studio:
* Unplug your iron so it doesn’t continue to draw current while you’re out of the room.
* Turn off lights and TVs and audiobooks and other electrical devices when you walk away.
* Switch to LEDs. An LED lightbulb will last about 20 times as long as an incandescent and about three times as long as a CFL. They also are less expensive to operate, meaning their energy use (and your cost for it) is much lower. See the interesting chart on this page to compare. I’ve added LED lighting in my studio and am so glad I did. I have an enormous amount of light at a bare increase in energy used.
* Put your computer to sleep when you walk away for awhile. Power usage drops to about a third while in stand-by or sleep mode.
*Prewashing fabrics? I can’t tell you the impact there. I prewash, not post, so I am not washing and drying batting. On the other hand, I do iron my fabrics before use. My habits on this won’t change, regardless. I prewash partly because the sizing and other chemicals in new fabric bother me.

And what about batting?
Wow, this is a tough one, too. Polyester has the benefit of not being cotton; instead it is made from petroleum. Cotton has the benefit of not being polyester… Wool requires sheep, at about one sheep per twin-bed batt, depending on breed. And sheep require acreage, too, up to a half acre each. Compare that to cotton output of about 249 sheets per bale of cotton, and depending on location, about one bale per acre. So the number of cotton battings per acre must be many times the number of wool battings per acre, though otherwise the environmental damage is different, as well.

We also have other options. Bamboo is environmentally friendly and can grow prolifically without fertilizers or pesticides. Quilters Dream Green batting is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Without being able to do a more granular analysis, I’m not able to tell you what kind is a winner. I haven’t tried Quilters Dream Green, but it sounds like it’s worth trying. Other than that, I’ll probably continue to choose batting for each project based on that project’s needs and what I have easily available.

Do you have tips or ideas for green quilting? Please share in comments.  


Auction Haul

I can’t keep up… I tell people I will contact them (Mary, Jill… ) and don’t. I intend to do some financial paperwork (taxes?!?) and don’t. I plan to write blog posts, design quilts…

On the other hand, yesterday Jim and I got a lot of housecleaning done. While I wouldn’t put that in the category of FUN!, it does make me feel in better control somehow.

Last week my guild had an auction. It’s a great opportunity to donate quilty items to support a good cause. My guild provides quilting education through speakers and workshops; we encourage our area 4H quilters with prizes at the county fair; and most of all, we provide 150-200 (or more!) quilts and other items every year to the local community. At our auction in 2016 we made almost $2000. This year’s might have done even better.

Besides a good way to donate things, it’s also GREAT for buying! We sold completed quilt tops,  boatloads of fabric, a new sewing machine, two large cutting mats and many rulers, hundreds of books and patterns, a broad pressing surface, and notions galore. Items for sale were separated into lots. The lowest sale price for a lot was $5. The highest price was $300 for that sewing machine.

I bought four lots and a book for a total of $67. What did I get for my money? A haul!

Lotsa fabric, an interesting small quilt top, and a book. I did good.

This and That

It’s better to have too much to do than too little, isn’t it? I’ve been getting a few of my “too much” checked off my list, freeing up space for other things.

Tomorrow is my guild’s auction. We have one about every other year, bringing in a real auctioneer to lead the proceedings, and it’s a decent fundraiser for us. Since I’m both on the program committee and also president, I’ll have double duty during the meeting, as well as prepping for the sale. Guild members donate unwanted quilty things — wonder fabric (I wonder why I bought this!), kits, duplicate notions, projects in process — and the committee sorts and packages them into lots for bid. I went through my own quilt assets to choose some donations. The “big” thing I’ll contribute is a 24″ x 36″ Fiskars cutting mat, lightly used. Since I am not much of a shopper and don’t accumulate a lot, I don’t have other notions to donate, and not a lot of fabric.

Another thing on my list was a small repair. If you’re like most quilters I know, mending is NOT a welcome task. We don’t mend, we don’t do alterations, unless we absolutely have to. But my favorite purse was coming apart, with the zipper coming unstitched from the leather. Do you ever sew on leather? I figured this would be a tough project, simply from sliding a needle through the leather to restitch. In fact, the holes were large enough for me to do that easily. It took a couple of inches of backstitches to mend.

I restitched the last couple of inches.

This is the purse I got in Cuba. I almost always get compliments on it.

I also worked on my house quilt (AKA, the pink and brown strip quilt.) With Jim as my consultant, I tried arranging the flying geese a variety of different ways. (Remind me to post about all the different ways you can use them.) Putting them beak-to-butt, chasing around the quilt, is a traditional arrangement. But it seemed like way too much activity for the subdued center. We agreed it was better using fewer of them, arrayed wingtip-to-wingtip. Also, the set of geese included both teal and brown ones, as well as pink and red. I chose to only use the pink and red ones. (There are more than 80 geese left, more than enough to make an actual strip quilt. But that will wait for another time.)

Then it seemed that all that pink and red was a bit unrelenting. To break it, I used teal in the corner blocks, and a narrow border of olive green.

Notice that there are only two pieced borders in this quilt, the variable stars middle border and the flying geese farther out. There is absolutely nothing tricky about it. The rich fabric of the inner borders makes it look more intricate than it is. And the spacer blocks and unpieced strip borders mean that piecing accuracy and even “quilt math” is pretty unimportant.

Another busy week coming up, and plenty on my list of things to do. What are you working on these days?

Catching Up (Again)

Do you feel like you’re in catch-up mode a lot? I sure do. And it’s CRAZY, because my life includes few deadlines, and almost all the obligations I have are self-imposed.

Right now I’m catching up from being gone several days. Jim and I were invited to a satellite launch at Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral) in Florida. It was Thursday, March 1. Without reservation I can say it was thrilling to be there, to witness in person. And I’ll also say, it was like watching a football game — you can see it a lot better on teevee than you can in person! 🙂 We’ll have more to say in a few days on our joint blog, Our View From Iowa. For right now I’ll tease you with this picture.

While we were still in the area, we took a drive through a wildlife preserve. I’m a lot more used to wildlife in the northern states than in Florida. We saw several of these ancient beasts.

Before we left on that jaunt, I finished the three “retreat” tops and their backs, and I made two of the bindings. They are now ready to quilt. The cool (and frightening) thing is, I upgraded my longarm. Yes, after intermittent fits over the last few years (my fits? or the machine’s?) I decided the old one had to go. I didn’t expect delivery of the new one until this week, but lo and behold, it was ready sooner. And honest-to-gosh, I’ve barely looked at it since then. Oh yes, I am eager to get started, but other things have been higher priority.

And my EQ7 software took to crashing after my computer’s operating system was updated. After some miscommunication between the EQ company and me, I did figure out a work-around. However, I’ve decided to upgrade my design software, too. And until I do, another project is on hold. Aye-yi-yi, as my friend Kristin would say.

Earlier this week I visited another guild to share information about the Mill Girls, textile workers in New England in the early 1800s. It was fun and gratifying — they were a terrific group. But my schedule has been kind of crazy.

AND THE MOST FUN OF ALL!!! I now have another cold, more difficult than the last two. (Yeah, all three colds in about two months. Maybe then I’ll be done with it for a while.)

So yeah, I’m catching up. This week I finally got back to sewing. My house quilt has been patiently waiting for weeks. There were (way more than) a couple of choices for what to do next. I could either maintain the proportions as square, or I could elongate it. Most of my quilts are square. I LIKE square quilts. But sometimes ya gotta do something different, and certainly this project is easier than many to make that transition.

I made 10 variable star blocks and cut non-square spacer blocks to put between them. Using spacers is a great solution for dealing with size problems, and also when a border of all pieced blocks is too busy. Variable stars have 17 patches each. That’s a lot of patches in a small block finishing at 5″, and spacers will show them off better.

This photo just gives a feel for how that will look.

After attaching the strips of stars top and bottom, I’ll frame the whole with another narrow border. At that point it will probably be time for some of the dozens of flying geese I already made for this quilt, back when it was going to be a strip quilt, not a medallion.

All of this reminds me of a post from three years ago, about something I overheard. It was short, so I will copy it here in its entirety: 

[Overheard] at the Chicago International Quilt Festival, one woman talking to another:

First woman, “I haven’t finished anything recently. Life got in the way.”

Second woman, “That’s the good news!”

Often I hear of “life” as an interruption to some other pursuit, like quilting, writing, or keeping up with television programs. It often connotes that something bad has happened, requiring our time, energy, and attention. It could be that a relative needs care, or we’ve been ill, or the college bills demand finding a second job.

But those aren’t interruptions, are they? Aren’t those the things we’re here for, taking care of others and ourselves? We are connected. Our relationships are (or should be) primary. That, of course, includes the relationship with ourselves. And the leisure pursuits are the luxury. To put it another way, the relationships are the sustenance. The hobbies are the dessert.

So the good news is that life gets in the way sometimes, that we have enough to sustain us that we can enjoy the treat when it’s available.

I Am The Mountain

I wrote this four years ago as a message to myself. When I stumble across it again, as I did today, I find it a good reminder to keep focus on what’s important. You’re welcome to take a look. 

Power bestowed on you by others can be taken away. Whether it is power by position or popularity, if the cool kids don’t like you anymore, that power is gone.

The real power, the kind no one can take from you, comes from within. It comes from understanding your priorities. It comes from balancing your time and energy on those priorities. It comes from calling on courage when confidence is weak. From trying new things, perhaps small things at first. When nothing bad happens, and when sometimes good results occur, confidence builds. With greater confidence comes greater courage. The two feed each other.

Power is in the present, always in the present. It comes from what you do, not what you did or what you might do. To be powerful, you must be in the present with it. That means not indulging in what-ifs. That’s just making up stories. If you want to make up stories about what should have happened or what might happen in the future, do it right. Write them down. Call them what they are, fiction.

Power can be used to create or destroy. (I choose to create.)

Some of the greatest power is in how you react. If someone pushes you down, stand up again. That is powerful.

I am powerful. I am the mountain.


The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.


Still Climbing Mountains. 57″ x 64″. August 2016. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.