In a diversion from the normal sewing tasks, Young and I got started on a project to make sleeping bags. I haven’t made any technical outdoors items before, but with some research we determined that making the bags would cost about 25% that of buying them (even though we don’t have the cost-savings benefit of buying materials in bulk.) Good sleeping bags cost around $500 retail.
The fabric, notions and zippers for each bag cost about $75 apiece.
The filling was a bit of a quandary. I started having emotional discomfort after reading a bit about the production of down (i.e. feathers). Sometimes it involves plucking live birds. yuck yuck yuck.
but down lasts a long time (up to 25 years), so we took the approach that I’ve found feels okay for leather products….buying used from ebay. In this case, it was a comforter used for display in a retail store- an item that would have retailed for $600 and was being sold for $104. Additionally, it had 40 oz of down in it, which would have cost over $250 were we to buy it from a down manufacturer.
An aside- synthetic fabrics and filling are often petroleum-based. So one could easily argue that synthetics are just as animal-unfriendly as actual animal products. One is just direct, and one indirect. Further- synthetic fillers only last a few years in sleeping bags. not very sustainable.
Down is also about twice as light and warm as synthetics per volume…and the plan is to use these sleeping bags for an extended walking trip. (Details are still forming…)
When I think about animal-based textiles, I try to keep in mind that synthetics are really not an environmentally-conscious alternative- they require extensive chemical production processes, and often have petroleum inputs. So the only environmentally responsible vegan fabric I can think of is organic cotton– NOT practical for winters anywhere.
I’m very comfortable with organic wool (sheep are domesticated creatures. have you ever seen how miserable an un-shorn sheep looks? )
Silk, while definitely not vegetarian, is relatively low-impact: it can be produced in small quantities in small factories. (silk worms are killed in the production, with the exception of peace silk – an extremely expensive product). Silk is also extremely warm- I’ve heard a tale that one of the first Everest climbers wore a custom-suit made of 7 layers of silk.
more details later.