Information on sourcing fabrics, costumes, renting, laundering, and more.

The Joy of Clothing Swaps

Every couple of months or so, my friends and I get together and have a clothing swap. The way it works is simple: Everybody brings some articles of clothing that they never wear, we put them all in piles (shirt pile, dress pile, etc) and then we POUNCE!

There are always extra garments left over, and usually these either go to subsequent swaps or donated to Goodwill.

If you’re about to work on a show (probably a modern piece), it would be a great idea to hold a clothing swap and grab what you can for it…. and then grab some stuff for yourself!
The extra clothes can be saved for future projects, donated, or cut up and used as anything else you can think of.




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Laundering and Dry Cleaning

Laundering costume pieces every day- especially on a large show- naturally use up lots of water and energy. Try to use machines that have the Energy Star Label. Energy Star is the Canadian rating system for energy-efficiency standards for many different appliances, as well as building systems, lighting, electronics, and more. According to their website, “Standard-size clothes washers must be at least 59 percent more efficient than the minimum federal energy performance standard in Canada’s Energy Efficiency Regulations to qualify for the Energy Star mark… Energy Star qualified clothes washers must have advanced design features that deliver cleaning performance while using less energy and 35 to 50 percent less water. The washer extracts more water from clothes during the spin cycle. This reduces the drying time, saves energy and wear and tear on your clothes.”


More information can be found here:

In terms of soap, it’s a good idea to stay away from conventional detergents because of the amount of chemicals in them that can cause anything from irritated skin to a damaged immune system, and are obviously awful for the planet in general. There are tons of different “green” and “eco-friendly” brands out there. A couple of brands I’ve researched and/or used myself that work well are Seventh Generation (, and Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent ( Ecologo is a third-party certification program for environmentally-sound products, and they list many different types of bleaches and laundry detergents on their website ( Another option is to make your own laundry detergent. Here is an easy recipe using baking soda, borax, and natural soap:

“Green” detergents are gaining in popularity and many can be purchased in places like Planet Organic and Earth’s General Store as well as large grocery stores and Shopper’s Drug Mart. Here is a fun article about experimenting with different eco-detergents:


            Often, costume pieces can’t simply be thrown in the washer with everything else, so they are taken to the drycleaners. Simply put, dry cleaning is BAD. The process uses tons of chemicals, most notably tetrachloroethylene/PERC. PERC can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. PERC is also linked to menstrual problems and spontaneous abortions in females working in dry cleaning. On top of all this, there is a bit of research pointing to it being a carcinogen. And not only is it harmful to workers, but residual PERC left on clothes can continue to off-gas onto costumers, actors, etc. Yuuuuuck!

            A solution to dry cleaning garments is a process called “wet cleaning” which customizes cleaning procedures for each garment. Wet cleaning uses computer-controlled washers and dryers and special mild detergents that can be used on many different types of fabric. Gentle agitation is created using tiny air bubbles or ultrasonic sound waves (I know, right?) instead of mechanical agitation to remove stains. The garments can be pressed as usual after the wet cleaning process. A case study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency can be found here:

“CO2 cleanings” takes gaseous form of CO2 and pressurizes it into a clear liquid. Add soap and clothes and ta da! They are clean! A case study about CO2 cleaning can be found here:



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Thread, Needles, Etc.

I get almost all of my thread, buttons, zippers, and more from places like the Reuse Centre and Value Village. They often sell bags of unused thread of all colors for very cheap prices (less than five dollars). The same goes for buttons and zippers! If you need more specific or specialized materials, however, it’s best to look online. Here are a few different places to look:

   Near Sea Naturals sells thread made of organic cotton in many different colors, thicknesses, and spool sizes. They also sell buttons made of wood, nuts, glass, and even “naturally dropped” antler! Most of the ribbons, lace, and stuffing is organic cotton or hemp. This website also sells natural fabric and has a very big FAQ page. Transparency! This particular link leads to Peace Silk Thread, which is silk thread made in a small Indian fair-trade mill. The company, Aurora Silk, also sells some pretty cool-looking natural dyes that are apparently very vibrant and not harmful like traditional dyes. And it’s all fair trade!


   Fiberactive Organics sells all sorts of colourful, organic cotton thread. They will also create custom-coloured thread at no extra charge.

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Renting Costume Pieces

Renting costumes is like reducing and reusing at once! Here are a few places you can rent garments:

–       Timms Centre for the Arts

–       Citadel Theatre

–       Theatre Garage

–       About Face Mascots ( – 6836 82 Avenue- they rent out costumes and mascot outfits too… I’m sure there are plays that have mascots in them. The website recommends you pre-book costumes 2-4 week in advance.

Here is a fact sheet about textile recycling!

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Second-hand clothes & surplus fabrics

If you don’t have the time, money, or desire to order online, another option is to scour the following:


– Reuse Centre often has many scrap pieces of fabric that are organized by colour.

– Value Village is always a safe bet to find old fabric or costume pieces. Also, three words: After Halloween Sales.

– Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other consignment stores are often less expensive than Value Village, which means they are MEGA CHEAP!

– Caprice West ( is a store in the west end of Edmonton. They sell consignment womens’ clothes!

– Red Pony (located on Whyte avenue, near 102 street) has a great selection of modern consignment garments, as well as pretty formal dresses, jewelery, and some men’s wear too.

–  Vintage shops like Divine Decadence are a bit more selective in what they sell, and therefore a bit more expensive. However, there are still a ton of possibilities and you’re more likely to find a rare gem of a garment at these shops than while sifting through old snow pants and t-shirts at other consignment shops.

– It may also pay off to visit the costume shops of larger regional theatres for extra fabric that they may be willing to give away or sell at a reduced rate.

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When designing and building costumes sustainably, it’s important to not only consider what the play needs, but also how to get what you want in an environmentally and ecologically sound way… and by that, I mean things like:

           – Buy organically!

           – Buy second-hand!

           – Purchase surplus fabric!

           – Borrow!


Sourcing Fabrics


Buying organic fabric is one way to ensure minimal harm to the Earth when crafting amazing costumes. Here is an article on what exactly organic fabric is, and what standards need to be met for it to be considered so:

Essentially, in order for fabric to be organic, the production, processing, distribution, and sales of the product must keep the organic integrity that begins at the farm. For a crop to be considered organic, it needs to have a low impact on the environment as well as maintain the soil’s fertility and use minimal chemicals and pesticides. More information on organic textile standards can be found here:


There are small organic sections at places like Fabricland, but, unfortunately, you’ll either have to travel to Portland or take to the Internet to find the best selection of organic fabric. Seeing as flying around isn’t exactly good for the environment, and also expensive, here are a few websites I found that offer a decent selection:

  sells organic cotton with very cute designs.


  This website sells organic cotton, hemp, linen and blends of natural fabrics (silk, bamboo, wool, soy, and more). It is quite reasonably priced- all of their fabrics are between $5.00 and $13.00 per yard and cutting/handling/shipping is $9 per order. The only stipulation is that ten or more yards must be purchased, so it is probably a good idea to order fabric for costume mockups or projects that will need a lot of material.


Edmonton fabric stores:

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