Getting Intentional About My Me-Made Wardrobe

My family composts, we recycle, we use reusables rather than paper or plastic. I make our favorite reusables for other folks at pen&thimble. We try to be thoughtful about what we buy and where. But I always want to push us to do a little more. This year, I’m making time to create a sustainable and long-lasting me-made wardrobe.

Sewing Garments

During the pandemic, I started getting serious about sewing garments. I’m lucky enough to be in the business of working with fabrics, so I came to garment sewing with a knowledge of fabrics, patterns, and I had most of the tools.

My favorite pieces I’ve made so far are the Gypsum Skirt from Sew Liberated.

I also knit that cardigan! It’s the Lighthouse Cardigan by Brandi Cheyenne Harper

And this modified Gemma Top by Rae Hoekstra of Made By Rae

I’m also wearing a scarf I crocheted. It’s the Doppio Colosseum scarf designed by Fay Dashper-Hughes.

Yes, the skirt and top are the same rose linen. Fabric is expensive and it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. So that means I’ll have a lot of pieces in the same colors. It’s a slow process. It’s not about the brand new hue or cool new print for me right now. But I seriously love this color so it’s a delight to keep working with it!

Knitting Garments

I also became a knitter during the pandemic. I came to the world of yarn in 2018 as a wool-allergic/sensitive crocheter of mostly cotton and linen yarns. And four years later I am a wool-loving, and now wool-tolerating, knitter of wool!

I do want to note that in the world of knit vs crochet, I stan both! Crochet is beautiful, varied, and often underestimated. And modern crochet, where my preference leans toward, is gorgeous — just look at Moorit Magazine for examples. But sadly, crocheting hurts my shoulder and back in a way knitting doesn’t so until I can figure out what I’m doing wrong with my crochet hook, I’m primarily a knitter these days.

Some of my hand-knit socks drying after a hand wash.

This year I’m getting more intentional with my knitting. I have a goal to finish one pair of socks every month. So far I’m on track! And I want to knit myself some staple garments that will stand the test of time.

Like this fresh-off-the-needles sweater — DRK Everyday Sweater by Andrea Mowry

It’s a perfect fit!

One of the things I love about knitting is that the materials can be reused. I knit the sweater above holding two strands of yarn together. Both strands were from two different crochet projects that didn’t quite work out. So I repurposed the yarn to make this knit classic piece!

I’m taking my time and trying to construct garments and knits that will pair well together and last for many years. It doesn’t mean I’m never shopping for clothes again. But I am buying less clothing for myself because right now it’s more fun to make and wear my own!

I’m going to use this space for me-made wardrobe updates this year. You can also follow my making journey on Instagram and the new Making App. I’m @gillianstitches on both. (Making app is a cool new app from Making Magazine that is kind of like Instagram but more quiet and for makers. So like old Instagram but 99% of the content is craft/making related — sewing, paper crafts, weaving, knitting, crochet, pottery, woodwork… all the things!)

I am always thinking about how I can apply my pen&thimble tagline — less waste is a bright idea — in my everyday life. When it comes to my me-made wardrobe, it is my goal to reduce clothing waste, purchase less fast-fashion, and just enjoy my handmade wardrobe endeavor. It all feels like a very bright (and fun) idea!

Let me know if you have any questions about my me-made wardrobe! I’d love to answer them in future posts!

You’ve Got (Eco-Friendly) Mail! Switching To New Eco-Friendly Mailers

In a previous post, Can Shopping and Shipping Online Be Eco-Friendly, I talked about the carbon-emissions side of shipping. But today it’s all about another concern — mailers.

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com

Counting Costs + Keeping Prices Low

As a small handmade business, I’m always counting. The price of a product isn’t just the materials. I count the materials, my time, packaging costs, shipping costs, accounting costs, business license costs, marketplace fees, web hosting fees, office supplies, and so much more. Keeping prices competitive and profitable is a tricky business in and of itself. And more so as I move toward more eco-friendly options rather than just low-cost items.

For example, organic fabric costs about $15.50-16 per yard, while quality cotton fabric of the same weight costs about $9.50-10 per yard. The bubble mailers I have used for a long time cost $24.50/case. Switching to a more eco-friendly bubble mailer costs $49.50 for the same amount. The bottom line, going green costs more money and that is tricky for small businesses with low margins. I don’t mean this as an excuse. Just to state a fact.

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
Working Lunch. The last time I was counting Etsy costs.

Holy Bubble Mailers, Batman

Mailers are important for online businesses. My primary job after making an item is making sure it gets to my customer safe and sound. So to be honest, when I started this business, my priority was to find quality mailers at bulk prices. I just wasn’t thinking about all the extra plastic I was sending into the world.

Last year, when my business kicked up during back-to-school shopping, I was struck with the realization that I was shipping a good deal of plastic out. Like wow!

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
One day’s outgoing. Yay! And also oof!

But I’m not one to just shrug my shoulders. I started looking into alternatives. I found an awesome company called Eco Enclose that specializes in making eco-friendly packaging and they send FREE samples! So even though I still have nearly 100 mailers to work through, I ordered some samples to try out. That way, when I run out (I haven’t yet), I’d be ready to make an eco-friendly switch.

Mailer Testing

I sampled everything. I tried thick 100% recycled/recyclable/reusable cardboard and padded mailers but they were too heavy and increased shipping costs by a significant amount.

I tried a more thin 100% recycled/recyclable Kraft paper mailer but my tester kindly let me know the mailer arrived with a tear. So no.

I tried a 100% recycled/reusable/recyclable poly mailer but my products don’t fill it out and it felt too flimsy.

Finally, I tried a bubble mailer made from 32.6% post-industrial recycled content (51% recycled content in the outer layer, 8% recycled content in the bubble layer, and 8% recycled content in the capping layer). These can be recycled and have an extra adhesive strip to be reused! I’ve sampled all the sizes and found one that will work for most items. It is smaller than my preferred mailer size so I’ll have to fold things up more than I prefer, but what a small sacrifice for more peace-of-mind.

No, 32.6% recycled content is not perfect, but it’s better. And it’s honest. And although they cost twice as much for a smaller size, I know they are the right choice. This options blends my desire to waste less and get items to my customers safely and at a low cost. Eco Enclose is also actively working on increasing the recycled content of these mailers. Look out for these mailers coming from pen&thimble soon!

Pen&thimble is Rolling Out Green Packaging Soon!

So that’s the story about mailers. If you have questions, feel free to ask! I’m always open to tailoring the way you get your mail too! When making a purchase, you can always leave note like “no extra packaging please” and I’ll be happy to send you your items with minimal packaging! More on packaging inside the mailer in a future post.

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

Confronting Composting Challenges

April is our get-back-on-track-with-composting month!!

We have the outside bin, we have the food waste, but we need a restart. So this is the perfect April #wastefreecurious challenge for us! Thanks to everyone who gave us suggestions on Instagram a few weeks ago! This was one of them and my husband and I both knew this had to be the one!

At the end of last summer, our bin became home to a bee colony. We ended up avoiding the thing because every time we (my husband) went near the bin, we (my husband) got stung. And we’re super Pavlovian like that. We tried to get a few bee people to our house to relocate the bees, but that didn’t work out. And our local farm CSA has composting so we had an alternative for the rest of the summer and fall, but we just sort of ended up out of the habit and stopped. Not for the first time.

We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit

OUR Compost Plan

We’ll check that the bees are gone, dump the contents of the bin in our yard debris pile, and start all over. Patrick feels pretty sure the bees are gone. So fingers crossed.

Past Compost Challenges

We haven’t done a very good job with composting in the past, to be honest. It has looked like a lot of starts and stops. But this will be our month to sort it all out. This month, we’ll be addressing these issues we’ve had in the past:

  1. Fruit flies attracted to the compost bucket in the kitchen. We’re going to try a new bucket or just make peace with fruit flies.
  2. Fragrant smell of food waste on the kitchen counter. Again, we’re trying a new bucket, but if that fails we will have to reframe that smell. “The sweet smell of waste reduction!”
  3. Our compost hasn’t really decomposed well in the past. We inherited our outside compost bin when we moved into our house 3 years ago. We assumed it was as simple as throwing food waste into the bin. It is NEARLY that simple, but in preparation for this challenge I did some research and learned there is more to it.
    • Our outside bin should be in the sun, not the completely shaded location it’s in now.
    • We need to stir it up once in a while.
    • The previous bin owners put a bunch of large sticks in there and they just won’t break down like leaves and food, so that’s why we’re dumping and starting over with a bottom layer of already decomposing leaves (yay yard clean-up!)
  4. We need to make it a system/habit. Like our previous paper towel and grocery bag challenges, for us the most important part of this challenge is just taking this month to focus our attention to make new habits and systems for composting.
We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

Our Composting Tools

  1. Compost Bin Outside
  2. Kitchen Compost Bucket
  3. Shovel To Stir Compost Down The Line

Backyard Composting Alternatives

You don’t need to have a big yard to better dispose of your own food waste. You don’t even need a yard at all!

  1. Vermicomposting – You can compost in an apartment kitchen or balcony or outside with worms and a bin.
  2. Many waste management companies collect food waste and compost in addition to trash and recycling.
  3. If you live near a farm, they may be happy to collect your compost. Something to look into!
  4. Meal plan so that you waste less food. I make a curry the same week I make quiche to make sure I use up all of our heavy cream and it doesn’t end up being dumped out!

Let’s Break It Down Together — The Food Waste, I Mean

Who composts already? Who is ready to try? Who is composting curious? Let me know! What could be more fun than talking about decomposing food garbage all month?

Shameless pen&thimble product PLug

And when it comes to wasting less when snacking is involved. Don’t forget to skip the plastic baggies and grab a reusable snack bag or a bundle and save! Eat it all or compost anything that remains and simply wash the bag when you’re finished! That’s easy no-waste snacking!

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up. And you’ll get pen&thimble exclusive coupon codes — yay waste free products for less!

Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit

Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

I don’t create for the sake of adding more things to a thing-filled world, but to encourage eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics and disposable culture. I think of what I do as making tools — bright, fun, and durable tools. But the creating is only part of the story. As creating inevitably leaves me with leftover fabric… a.k.a. textile waste.

Did you know that 16 million tons of textiles was generated in 2015? 2.5 million tons were recycled and 10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015. (EPA.gov) Stop and think about that. That’s a lot of clothes, linens, curtains, shoes, old teddy bears, and accessories hanging out in garbage mounds.

Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

It’s not lost on me that my own business — that’s all about creating eco-friendly products for the whole family — is simultaneously creating textile waste. But did you know pen&thimble fabric scraps have a more sustainable path?

First of all, I make very efficient cuts to eliminate fabric waste. My scraps are small so I can use more of the fabric to create useful items. I think less waste is a bright idea behind the scenes too! Secondly, my fabric scraps don’t end up in the trash bin.

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

So Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

Did you know that you can recycle your clothing, shoes, linens, old stuffies, and fabric scraps? I don’t mean just dropping off your clothes to your local thrift shop. Those socks that you just can’t mend anymore don’t have to be thrown away!

Locally, I take our textiles and my fabric scraps to a collection box that goes to baystatetextiles.com. Bay State Textiles sorts their textile donations into categories including: 1) reusable clothing for export, 2) fabric that can be cut into wiping rags to be resold to companies in the US to keep machinery and plants clean, and 3) small fabric scraps (like mine) are sent to US fiber mills to be ground down and made into new material.

How cool is that? Find out where you can donate your textiles the next time you are KonMari’ing your life or wondering what to do with the tiny scraps from your own hand making business or craft project. It’s as easy as googling “textile donation bins near me.”

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?
That was easy!

Waste-free! Sustainable! Reusable! Green! Are buzzwords these days, but make sure the businesses using them are taking steps behind the scenes to live up to those words too. I know first hand that many small and handmade businesses don’t have the overhead to do it all 100% green. But this is one important step that costs nothing and is doable.

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!