Thread Theory

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Let’s talk about Thread


Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-3

Today I want to share an inspiring fabric manufacturer with you.

Not too long ago, a thoughtful menswear sewist, Tyrion, emailed me to let me know that he saw a Canadian-made documentary called RiverBlue in honor of World Water Day (March 22nd).  This documentary follows international river conservationist, Mark Angelo as he investigates the fashion industry and it’s devastating effect on rivers.

Thread International recycled plastic fabric

The documentary put Tyrion on to an intriguing fabric company that seems to very successfully be manufacturing textiles within the US using recycled plastic bottles: Thread International.  Unlike many manufacturers that are similarly using recycled plastics, Thread International has aimed to create a transparent circular supply chain.  Their website contains all sorts of accessible information about the impact of their company at each stage of the manufacturing process – from collecting the bottles in Haiti to weaving and knitting the fabric in the US.

Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-9

Their fabrics have been used by big brands like Timberland and Kenneth Cole, but, most intriguingly for me, all of their fabrics are still available directly through their website by the meter with all of the relevant information listed for the home sewist!  Before we go any further and you start to worry that I’m advertising for Thread International, let’s confirm here that I’m not affiliated with them in any way and will not profit from writing this blog post…I was just curious about their fabrics and thought that you might be too!

I am always partial to natural fibers but I do not want to restrict myself and our Thread Theory customers to natural fibres if there are more sustainable and responsible options available. With that in mind, I delved in to the literature available on the Thread website.  Thread International has posted their 2016 impact report in the full.  I was interested to read that a Life Cycle Analysis was done on the canvas that they created in collaboration with Timberland.  This canvas is 50% cotton (new, not reclaimed) and 50% recycled plastic.  Thread International reports that:

It takes approximately 400 gallons of water to produce the
cotton that goes into 1 square yard of 50:50. It takes only 12 gallons of water to
produce the rPET-based thread and the final 1 square yard of 50:50 product.

This means that:

This means that 398 gallons of water are saved for every yard of Ground
to Good™ 50/50 Canvas when compared to the 100% conventional cotton
canvas it is replacing.

Thread International clearly reports that this is the major advantage of their recycled plastic thread.  The emissions emitted during manufacturing the recycled plastic yard is only 6% less than manufacturing cotton yarn.  The main advantages of this recycled polyester yarn is the massive reduction of water use and also the removal of plastic from landfills.

Other factors to consider, in my opinion, are the way that this fabric wears and also, it’s impact on the environment when the consumer/wearer is finished with the fabric.  Thread International mentions in their report that they follow a “circular economy” approach which means that the brands who use their fabric can inform their customers the following: Threads will take back the garment/product when it is worn out and will recycle it to create new fabric.  This is an admirable initiative in my opinion but it includes a lot of points where the chain can easily be broken.  A customer who buys a product may not be very engaged or informed about the product or might not remember, once it has worn out, about the offer to recycle the item by sending it back to Thread headquarters!  If the item were simply thrown out I suspect that the fabric would not degrade readily the way that 100% cotton or other natural fibres would.  The Circular Economy approach is immensely admirable but it will certainly take a lot of work to create that mental shift in consumers!

Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-2

Anyhow, after all of that reading and thinking, I decided to order the Swatch Box of fabric samples to have a look at them myself.  I really love the way that they feel and the textures achieved!  The only fabric that is entirely composed of recycled plastic is their 12.5 oz/sq yard canvas and I am surprised by how nice it feels.  When fingering through all of the samples it does not readily stand out from the blended fabrics.

Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-10

The blended fabrics, on the other hand, mostly consist of recycled plastic and recycled cotton.  Only one of the fabrics (from what I can tell) includes new cotton (not reclaimed).  I have not come across much info on their website about the process of reclaiming cotton…if you notice that section, can you show me where to find it?  I am curious to know more about the efficiency of recycling this fibre.

Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-8

At this point, I do not think it would make financial sense for me to order Thread International fabric for the Thread Theory shop since I would not be able to receive a very large wholesale discount (I order pretty small quantities compared to Timberland lol) and it can be pricey to bring large shipments over the border.  But, seeing as they are located in the United States and send worldwide, many of you can affordably order smaller quantities of fabrics through them directly!

Recycled Plastic Fabric from Thread International-4

I am really lucky that my favourite fabric supplier based out of Vancouver, B.C. carries a lovely line of sustainable natural fibres and also an intriguing selection of recycled plastic fabrics.  I have not yet ordered fabrics with recycled plastic content for our shop because I know many of us sewists have a firm preference for natural fibres!  What do you think, would a recycled plastic micro-fleece, for example, be a useful addition to our shop or are you firm in your devotion to hemp, linen, cotton and bamboo?

My current personal preference when choosing fabrics to sew is to purchase a fabric that falls in to one of these categories:

  1. The most sustainable natural fibres such as hemp and linen.
  2. Not as sustainable but very hard wearing and comfortable natural fibres such as bamboo blends.
  3. Practical and hard wearing technical materials featuring recycled content such as fleece.
  4. And lastly, non-recycled man-made materials that serve a specific function well (and will do so for MANY years) such as waterproof materials like Dintex.

I really hope that you will weigh in on this topic!  Let’s hear your opinions on fabric manufacturing!

19 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Thread

  1. Pingback: Mend, don’t toss! Visible mending, up-cycling and fitting. | Thread Theory

  2. Interesting comments from everyone, it’s seems that whenever anyone tries to make a “better” choice there are many reasons it’s a poor one. The truth is everyday in all we do we impact the earth in a negative way, we can only try to make our whole journey as gentle as possible. The 100 mile food challenge is diifucult enough but to add a 100 mile wardrobe challenge, to jobs, family, some down time I don’t think is realistic. Time aside there is a financial factor, many families just can’t afford to or just don’t have the skills/ equipment needed to achieve this lifestyle.
    Living in Canada R & i require three seasons of basic clothing, add to that some special occasion stuff eg weddings funerals. We have a loom, bed and sock knitting machine and local sheep. Add to this we have access to many plants that could be used to naturally dye. This would be ethical but is this how we clothe ourselves, hell no ! We also require( and enjoy food! We live on a (very) small acreage we could garden , keep a goat, chickens, gather wild mushrooms , berries, plants, put ocean water in the sun to harvest the salt this would be ethical but do we do all this, hell no !
    We do engage in many negative and unethical activities. We burn Heating Oil that is trucked to our house, we own devices such as IPhones, computers, major appliances that while convient burn electricity ( powered by fossil fuel) and will end up languishing somewhere maybe leaching harmful substances. We know we are not really, really good people so we try to minimize how bad we are. R cooks from scratch buying as much local as he can. We are getting back into gardening but no goats or chickens!!! We try to buy good quality appliances that will last longer. We turn out lights, combine car trips, hang clothes to dry, buy most Christmas gifts from local artisans, don’t frequent Tim Horton’s ( local independent coffe shop for treats and home filled travel cups for everyday), Walmart or the mall ( well sometimes I have to hit the mall but have it down to about every second month for aspecific errant. We buy local where we can, we then buy ” local” elsewhere which then travels to us ( some good ethics some bad) .
    All of this is leading ( hopefully) to my point. As I already said we need clothes to protect from the elements and there are laws about such things. For both of us natural fabrics are first choice but we like the nicer active wear fabrics like polar fleece, supplex, gortex, lycra swimsuit fabric ( me, no speedo s for R)and the wicking technical fabrics. I only sew what we will wear (a lot) and we do. Concerning capsule wardrobes it is a goal not something we are trying to downsize to. I try to buy good quality fabric in amounts that minimize shipping. I try to spend the time to make sturdy items that have good ” cost per wear value” I try to maximize pattern layout and use as many offcuts as possible. I darn and mend ( don’t mind darning, dislike mending), try to reuse fabric from unsalvageable items. I have a washing machine which is allegedly gentle on fabric. All that being said I have been know to snap up the $4 Joe Fresh jeans for the healthy, creativeactive preschooler who is hard on clothes, because I am human. Natural fibres will decompose man made not so much but I am open to recycled if the quality is there and will check into these products. . I know what I wear is grown, processed, dyed or manufactured somewhere that is not within 100 miles of my home. All I can do is tread lightly, weigh options, don’t use more than I need and get maximum mileage. Thank you for introducing thes products ( and debates, lol)

  3. Love this! Can’t wait to get my samples 🙂

  4. The story of stuff has a great video highlighting the problem with polyester. When washed this fabric looses plastic fibers that enter our water. These fibres attract pollutants and are subsequently eaten by our fish. When buying fabric I refuse to buy anything with polyester in it. Water is too precious to pollute this way.

    • Thanks for bringing up that point! That is an extremely good reason to avoid polyester…it is worrisome to think that recycled polyesters are being marketed as eco-friendly when they use less water to produce but really, as they degrade, they will be offseting their advantages by polluting waters with plastic fibres…I wonder if the way and amount these plastic fibres degrade differs hugely depending on the way the fabric is manufactured?

  5. Hi there, I’d like to chat more with you about your guidelines/preferences. Although hemp and linen are both sustainable within the growing of,
    the transport and human cost is not in my opinion sustainable. Until we have acsess to locally grown hemp and linen is it not better to support the non-gmo, organic cotton industry of North America instead of continually relying on cheap oil and labor to import these ‘eco’ fabrics? This company seems dialed in. Best, Whitney Page

    • Thank you very much for bringing up the environmental cost of worldwide transport – I think locally in perspective to food but often forget to think this way about textiles. I need to revise my preferences after thinking about what you said. Do you have a favourite source for organic cottons grown and woven in North America? I would love to look in to a few of these.

      • Hello, glad to hear it, I am currently sourcing front Spiritex in NC and love working with them. They source from the Texas Organic Cotton Co-op. Organic’s Cotton Plus has some USA grown options as well but I’m still researching for thread and elastic, lace, etc. thanks for responding! 😊

  6. It’s great to see a blended fibre that can be recycled, as in the past these have always ended up being downcycled into things like stuffings or insulation. I’d say I prefer to sew with natural fibres – it’s more enjoyable working with something that feels good under your hands and that presses neatly when you need it to. But there are times when you definitely need a proportion of polyester – for stretch, or for quick-drying workout gear. And having sewn a t-shirt last month from some 100% organic cotton jersey that had really, really poor recovery, I’m in favour of anything that produces clothes we’ll want to wear for years and years.

  7. This sounds really interesting! I would certainly be interested in fabric with recycled plastic content in your shop.

  8. That’s really interesting. I’ll have to check out their website. I didn’t know it was possible to recycle mixed fibers. I like natural fibers with a few exceptions: fleece (I prefer the Malden Mills fleece–they are the makers of Polartec, and their fleece is poly but very nice), poly wicking fabric for activewear, and nylon/spandex for swimwear. However, I sew mostly women’s garments. When I sew for my husband, I tend to use natural fibers.

  9. Great post! Have just them to arrange a swatch pack to Pretoria South Africa!

  10. Would be very interesting to see if their fabrics are good for outerwear – I wonder what the water repelling and drying qualities are like?

  11. That’s such a fantastic idea! I love the idea of wearing/using something that would’ve ended up as landfill. Esspesially for things such as bags!

  12. Wow. This looks cool. I’m going to order some of there French terry I think to make a couple lounge pants. I like the look of their canvas too.

  13. Very thought provoking blog. Thank you. As an avid sewer who has an enormous collection of second hand fabric that is used in preference to ‘new’ fabric for a range of reasons, some mentioned. It is encouraging to hear of very innovative ways of producing a fabric in an environmentally sustainable way that will give a product that is a pleasure to sew and wear. I will explore this product for a jacket for my son.

    • Thanks for bringing up second hand fabric – I should have included that in my list of fabric preferences! One of my favourite fabric shops in Victoria, B.C. has a bookshelf devoted to cuts of second hand fabric including a lovely selection of wools! I wish that I could find a better source for second hand fabric locally – the thrift shops in my town have very slim pickings and most of what is there are old polyesters. Though once a year a local charity holds a huge second hand fabric sale which is always worth going to!

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