Sewing Green, an interview with Betz White!
In honor of Earth Day, we have a special interview with Betz White, author of Sewing Green. In her second book, Betz explores the ideas of repurposing and upcycling to bring new life to old items; men's work shirts become cute little aprons, worn sweaters are reincarnated as plush toys. Check out what she had to say below, and then head on over to Spool to get all the info on her book signing and to register to participate in her workshop this Saturday!
What sorts of things do you find inspiration in? How does having children influence your work?
I find inspiration in everyday things, from "pretty things" such as fabrics and nature but also from not-so-pretty things, such as discarded packaging. I try to look at things in ways that are different than what they were meant to be or do. If I can reuse something by changing it's function (like sewing Tyvek mailers into a tote bag, for example) perhaps I won't have to buy something new. My goal is not only to repurpose or recycle, but to do so while creating a new item of beauty and function. My kids inspire my work by sharing their perspectives about how they see the world. Kids are naturally inventive. It's the classic scenario of kids being happier playing make believe with the box than the toy that came in it. My kids are little pack rats and save almost every thing they can get their hands on for future craft projects.
Can you give us an idea of what a typical workday is like for you?
A typical work day starts with getting my two boys up and out of the house for school. When I come back from taking them to the bus stop, it's time for me to start my work day, around 9am. I have usually prepared a To Do list the night before which I consult first. I check my email to see if anything has come up over night that needs attention then I add it to the day's list. I take a peek at my etsy shop and my blog and then get started on my list. If I have any photography that I need to do for my blog or etsy shop, I make sure to handle that early in the day when the natural light is best in my studio. The bulk of the day is spent developing new work for my shop, tutorials for my blog, sometimes writing magazine articles, and hopefully some sewing. If I have any orders to ship or errands, I push them to early afternoon and run those quickly before the kids get home from school. From about 4-8pm, I'm wearing my "mom" hat, helping with homework, making dinner and putting kiddlies to bed. After that I go back into my studio and work a few more hours on things that don't need natural light or full brain power, such as editing my photos or uploading listings to my etsy shop. At 10-11 pm I head downstairs for a little TV time with my husband, usually to watch the Daily Show. Then I go to bed by midnight and do it all again tomorrow!
Many of the projects in your book reuse clothing and linens, which was a popular practice for families trying to stretch a buck during the Great Depression. Since people are cutting back and using less, how do you think the current economic downturn will effect the environment?
I think the economic turndown will be a wake up call to those of us who has been on the "fast fashion" bandwagon. It's so easy to fall into the trap of acquiring today's trend cheaply only to toss it next season when it's ratty and so-five-minutes-ago. When you buy good quality fashion and home items they will last longer and save you money in the long run. Repurposing items and sewing things from scratch can be an economical way to sort of "beat the system". You can get what you want at a fraction of the price and create something one-of-a-kind. You get the benefit both creatively (it's so fulfilling to engage in one's hobby) and the result is a meaningful quality piece that you'll want to keep and enjoy for a long time. Environmentally, it is more beneficial to reuse than to buy new. And when you do buy new (whatever it is) consider buying items made from recycled materials. It's not enough to recycle your soda can and newspaper, but to close the loop on recycling by buying/creating a demand for items made from PCW (post consumer waste). Without demand for recycled materials, recycling programs become unprofitable and eventually they won't exist, which would be devastating.
Last weekend I went through my closet and weeded out anything I haven’t worn in the last year and was left with an enormous pile! Do you hold onto everything until you can repurpose it, or do you simply save what you will need in the near future and donate the rest to charity?
It's often hard to hang onto old clothing as "crafting material" when we are making efforts to declutter our lives. I have a "Goodwill" box tucked in the corner of my studio that I consult on occasion for various projects. If the items are made of quality fabrics with little wear or damage, they are good candidates for repurposing. If you've got items that are in decent shape but you just can't see beyond that dated color or print, consider having a clothing/craft supply swap with some fo your crafty friends.
In your creative process do you design out of necessity or rather look at an item and decide what it could be reincarnated as?
I like easy and clever. When I design something made out of another item, I try to figure out how to maximize the best qualities of the item that is being repurposed. Great pockets? Nicely finished hem? Keeping it simple by utilizing existing features make the project a snap.
Now, for the most difficult question yet: Out of all of the wonderful projects in Sewing Green, which one is your favorite?
I have revolving favorites in the book. Right now my thoughts are on spring, so I'm liking the Easy Breezy Skirt (made from a pillowcase) and the Reversible Wrap Skirt (made from a vintage table cloth).
Special Thanks to Betz for sharing her work with us, and to Leslie Henkel for putting us in touch! Be sure to hop on over to Spool this Saturday to check out her workshop!