Have you ever wondered, "What's the deal with organic fabric? I'm not eating it. Is there a point?" If you haven't wondered that, I've probably wondered it enough for the both of us. There's a lot of confusion, opinions, and emotions surrounding the word organic. It may not be something you've considered when thinking about your fabric, but in the true quilty nature of loving all things fabric, let's dig in!
Confession time: Not too very long ago I was pretty sure "organic" just meant “more expensive and probably dirtier, but gives you social status.” Even though I really liked my own definition, I eventually realized that I may not have all of the facts.
I was driving in the car for a very long time with my husband, and in our desperation to stay awake, we listened to the entire first season of the podcast Science VS. It wasn't until listening to the episode on organic food that I truly felt the mysterious fog surrounding "organic" begin to clear away.
- relating to or derived from living matter.
- relating to a bodily organ or organs.
I knew it! I knew that particularly deformed organic bell pepper looked like a bodily organ!
OK but for real, that’s a pretty non-helpful definition. But don’t worry. I’m about to let you in on my definition of organic, and why organic fabric is actually pretty great. Organic produce… well, that’s for you to decide.
Organic Fabric Q&A
For the sake of simplicity, I'm only going to reference fabrics made from cotton – which does not include some substrates such as linen, as we know since we all read about sewing with linen...right? 😉
What is organic fabric?
Organic fabric is fabric made from organic cotton, which is cotton grown without the use of pesticides. Here’s how I understand pesticides: they do a good job hurting the pests you don’t want, but they can also hurt other things by contaminating soil and drinking water… you know, stuff you don’t want contaminated.
The organic process doesn’t stop there, however. Organic fiber is bleached using oxygen-based bleach instead of chlorine, and dyed with low-impact dyes. Everything from start to finish is focused on doing the least amount of damage to the earth as possible.
Is organic fabric better for the environment?
We kind of covered this already, but let’s just be clear: when it comes to keeping the earth safe, companies producing organic fabric are trying really, really hard and hold themselves to a high set of public standards. Public being the key word here. You have to check a certain number of boxes to get that "organic seal of approval."
This doesn't mean that nonorganic cotton farmers are not holding themselves to high standards too. This is a conversation I have had maaany times because my father-in-law is a nonorganic onion farmer in Michigan. He holds himself to very high standards and is the hardest working person I know. However, because he is a small farmer and can't afford certain organic requirements during his process, he is not "certified organic."
Nutshell: You know what you're getting when your fabric is certified organic – safe, environmentally friendly farming practices that do the least amount of damage to the environment as possible. Unless you do the research on farming practices of nonorganic cotton, you do not have the same assurance when purchasing nonorganic fabric.
The quilt above is the Hexie Stripe quilt made with Birch Fabrics organic fabric. Get the pattern in the shop!
Why does organic fabric cost more?
Companies that go organic don’t do it to save time or money, that’s for sure. Pretty much all of the intentional choices made by organic farmers and company owners take up more time, or more money.
Low-impact dyes are more expensive, it takes time and money to fight pests and weeds without harmful chemicals in your arsenal, and the harvesting and cleaning process takes more time and resources because organic companies are usually dealing with smaller batches, and aren’t using certain chemicals to help speed up the process. It’s all pretty inconvenient, to be honest, but for those who are committed to organic business, it’s worth it.
Check out some of my favorite organic fabric from Cloud 9 Fabrics!
Click the image to get the fabric.
Is organic fabric better for babies or those with sensitive skin?
Organic fabric, especially when it’s used for clothing, is going to get a lot of skin time – this is why people with sensitive skin pay pretty close attention to what they’re brushing up against all day. The same goes for babies, or the people who pick out their clothes, I guess (when do babies start picking out their clothes? Three months or something?)
Since the organic process cuts out literally every harmful chemical, you know that the end-result is going to be easy on the skin. If you or your baby-child is prone to allergic reactions, this is a good way to avoid a lot of potentially allergenic substances
Where can I get organic fabric?
There are two leading organic manufacturers in the quilt world.
- Birch Fabrics: If you have visited my Free Quilt Patterns tab, you can see that I have been collaborating with Birch Fabrics for a long time and it’s no secret that I looooove their fabric, especially their solid cotton poplins. Birch's prints are whimsical, fun, AND are always printed on low-impact fabric.
- Cloud 9 Fabrics: Have you sewn with the Cloud 9 Cirrus Solids? They are the epitome of responsible, creamy gorgeousness. I like to think they’re the fabric embodiment of me. JKjkjk! I'm not that responsible.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Organic fabric vs. Nonorganic fabric. Do you have a favorite company or go-to fabric collection? Do you have farmers in your family too with first-hand experience? I'd love to hear all of the different perspectives.
Aaaaand if you haven't, be sure to check out some of my free pattern collaborations with Birch Fabrics!