The Life of a Garment


As I was pulling up my underwear yesterday my hand went through it as the elastic pulled away from the fabric with a soft ripping sound. As I looked at the damage in the mirror, my first thought was on what they would become next. Another part of me simply said “Throw them out!” Here is a perfect example of what used to be and what is now.

Long ago and far away, when I was small, worn garments were sorted by fabric and type. They were all useful still, just in another form. Would the collars and cuffs get turned on a dress shirt? Would the soft cotton knits become polishing cloths and dust rags? Would the old clothes be washed and folded neatly to be ready for the rag man? Could this dress be made smaller for a younger sister or turned into doll clothes? This may sound very frugal and time consuming to us now; and yet I wonder if there are not some good ideas for these strange times as well. Let me just touch on some ways Grandmother reused a garment.

We got chicken feed in calico cloth bags during and, for a time, after the War. When the feedbag was empty the seams were carefully ripped out and these one yard lengths of cloth became curtains, aprons, napkins or a child’s dress. Fancy church and party dresses became pieces for a special quilt. Linen was eventually turned into fine quality writing paper, and everyday clothing became rag rugs. We always had a rag bag to grab out of for wiping up spills, washing the car, and polishing our shoes.

The best pot holders ever were made from the cut-off legs of jeans, filled with a thick square of old cotton mattress pad and decorated with apples and pears cut-out of bright colored napkins. You never got burned through these no matter how hot the pot or the oven. Sweaters and flannel shirts with stains, or holes in the elbows, became mittens or glove liners. Big sheets became small sheets and table cloths became placemats or napkins.

Now that I am again thinking about what I buy and whether I need it, my rag bag has taken on new life – no more paper towels! Cloth napkins are more common again – no need for paper napkins. In the garden the tender plants prefer to be tied up with strips of cloth ripped off an old cotton t-shirt rather than a plastic and metal twist tie. All natural fiber cloths can also be composted.

So the life of a garment starts out decorating our body, becomes a different piece of clothing or a useful household item, then a rag or a garden tie and finally returns to the soil as compost. It could also become paper, filler for quilts, or a rug. So when you buy clothes, realize you are also buying something for the future, something that can be so much more than just a pair of pants!



I really loved this post. So much of what we do in our business is encourage people to rethink how they use fabric and to truly consider its whole lifecycle; this is exactly what we’re talking about! Thank you for your thoughtful words.


I am so glad to hear from you! Thanks for your comment and I look forward to hearing more about your business, Tara.

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