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How YOU can help save the world with embroidery

Author: Mandy Chamberlin  

Did you know that it takes about 2,720 litres of water to produce just one cotton shirt – a number equivalent to what an average person drinks over three years? 1

Approximately 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles2 and each year 5 trillion litres of water is used for fabric dyeing alone3!

You may be thinking that these numbers are pretty daunting, but these are the issues of the big manufacturers, right? Well not quite. What if I told you that Australians throw out 6,000 kgs of clothing textiles every 10 minutes4?

Everyone throws around the word “sustainability” and all the big corporates of the world are jumping through hoops to reduce their carbon emissions etc. But what does it really mean for the average sewer and/or embroiderer such as yourself? Do you really understand what the issues are and how decisions you make in your everyday life can help?

You can do your part to help save the world with embroidery?

If you don’t really understand much about sustainability, that’s ok. Honestly it’s so easy to be overwhelmed with all the information out there and everyone coming at you from every angle. And let’s face it, it is a complex issue that requires a little something different from everyone involved to really make a difference.

What is Sustainability and Why Should YOU Care?

If you look up the definition of sustainability in the dictionary, it’s probably not going to give you much in the way of understanding the issues at play, but it does give you an overall concept of what being sustainable means when it comes to living in the world.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, sustainable means being “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” In a sub definition, they say that it also means “Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.”

To explain this a bit more, sustainability basically means preserving the resources we have and using them at levels in which they can replenish themselves naturally, so that there are enough resources for us now and also for future generations.

At this moment in time, our world is currently unsustainable.

That’s a scary thought – if it doesn’t scare you, it should at least make you uncomfortable enough to ask, ‘What can I do about it?’

For those who don’t know me, I’m a big problem solver at heart and I’ll always be the first to point out the positive side of anything. The good news here is: what we do NOW can change the future. You have the power to make a difference!

I know you may be thinking, ‘but I’m just one single person, how can I really have an impact with the few things I do?’

Have you ever heard the quote by the famous cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Here at Echidna Sewing, we’re encouraging anyone who shares our passion for sewing and embroidery to do practical things to help achieve the goal of sustainability. Yes, YOU can help save the world with embroidery!

It takes over 7,500 litres of water to grow enough cotton to produce a single pair jeans.

Stephen Leahy, Your Water Footprint

Where to From Here?

There are several issues when it comes to talking about sustainability, and let’s face it, a small article isn't nearly enough to cover them all. However, I do hope this will be enough to inspire you to take some action in your own day-to-day life and encourage others to start thinking about some of these issues. Do some research of your own and look at ways you can recycle, repurpose and reuse!

Keep reading because I have some really useful tips and tricks for you.

What can we do about it?

If you own a Brother embroidery or sewing machine, you’ve made a start!  Did you know that sustainability is something that is at the core of the Brother brand globally? Brother Earth is one of the environmental conservation activities that they provide to work with you 5. Check out to find out more. 

By supporting the brands who are committed to making a difference, you are making a difference with your choices! 


Stop! Don’t throw those embroidery or fabric scraps away – recycle them!

  • Keep a container with all of your thread scraps. Sandwich them between two layers of washaway stabilizer in your embroidery hoop and stitch it together with some stippling.  Wash away the stabilizer once you’re done and you have a piece of recycled fabric.
  • Keep all your washaway and water-soluble scraps in a container and the next time you need some starch spray, dissolve them in water in a spray bottle and you’re good to go!
  • Keep old items of unusable clothing and bedding for the next time you need scraps of fabric to test designs on.
  • Use old items of clothing as applique fabric or for patches - check out the patches I’ve made for the local sustainable bag brand Outliv6 purely out of recycled clothing.


  • I know when we all start our sewing/embroidery journey, the first thing you do is raid your house for all the clothes you and your family no longer wear to use for practicing your new skills!  When did you last do that?  If you’re anything like the 75% of Aussies and Kiwis who have thrown away clothes at some point in the last year7, you likely have at least a few items currently in your wardrobe that either no longer fit or “spark joy” (do you see what I did there?) and are ready for their new adventure.  Instead of making their next adventure a trip to your local clothing bin, make it a trip to a new home to be made use of.
  • You could head to your local second hand store to donate the clothes, or you could ask in your local community or community Facebook groups if anyone is in need of some clothing. Better yet, pull out your sewing or embroidery machine and alter it, decorate it or turn it into something new that you’d love to wear again!


  • We all have “that pile”. You know the one with all your test stitches of designs that came out nicely but weren’t your finished version (no judging - we’ve all got one!).

  • Pop them back in your embroidery hoop and add a nice decorative border or decorative stitching around them and use them as a wall hanging in your home or gift it to a friend for their birthday or housewarming.

  • While you’re at it, pull out all your fabric pieces that are a bit too small to make bigger items with and create some simple shape Christmas decorations using an applique shape design adding a ribbon or a loop of fabric to hang it from the tree.

    If you want to really up your Christmas decoration game, you could pull out some of your small bits of fabric scraps and use it as stuffing for the inside to create a 3D effect.

It’s hard to believe the impact that clothing and textiles has on the world and our economy. As sewers and embroiderers, it’s important for us to understand the difference we can make and take action.

Embroidery is our superpower so let’s save the world and reuse, repurpose and recycle where we can. If you have any tips on how to be more sustainable, share them in the Echidna Sewing Facebook Community group. Let’s do this together!