What exactly is an eco-friendly blanket? It’s a blanket made from GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified flannel that won’t create any microplastic waste when washed. Microplastic waste is basically the lint that comes from synthetic fabrics, like fleece. Recent studies show that it’s a huge environmental hazard because it ends up in the water supply when the fabrics are washed. Fish ingest the microplastics in the water, then other animals eat the fish. After a while we all end up with microplastics in our stomachs. Yuck.
With just a few adjustments, though, we can reduce (and hopefully eventually eliminate) microplastic waste.
How to reduce microplastic waste
The best way, of course, is to use only 100% natural fabrics. I’d love to do that, but let’s be real: synthetic fabrics are a lot lighter and more breathable when you’re exercising. Does anyone really want to go back to heavy cotton sweatpants for jogging in January? Not to mention how much longer synthetic fabrics last than natural ones. My fleece zip-up jacket is more than eight years old (I remember getting it after our puppy chewed a hole in my previous jacket), and it’s still going strong.
Since I’m not ready to give up all of my high-tech fabrics, I got a Guppyfriend Washing Bag to help. The Guppyfriend reduces microplastic shedding (lint) by 80%. Then it captures the microplastics that do shed in a filter. After washing, you remove the lint from the filter and dispose of it safely.
Although the Guppyfriend website recommends throwing the lint in the trash, it could still work into the waterways from there. To be extra cautious, I have been collecting the lint in a glass jar. Hopefully one day I’ll find a safe way to dispose of it.
What about cuddly fleece blankets?
Who doesn’t love a soft, cozy fleece blanket, right? Especially for cuddling on the sofa, or when you’re sitting outside and it starts to get chilly? The problem is that synthetic fleece blankets create a huge amount of microplastic waste. Wool is great for warmth, but it’s so itchy, especially if you’re wearing shorts. This is where the eco-friendly blanket saves the day (and the fish).
All you need is the right fabric. The GOTS certified, un-dyed flannel from Two-Sisters Ecotextiles is perfect. I really can’t believe how soft and luxurious this flannel is. We’re talking sleep-inducing levels of coziness here. Because it’s a twill weave, it’s really thick and warm, too. I honestly prefer my flannel eco-friendly blanket over the fleece one, now sitting in a cupboard. I think you will too.
What you need to make an eco-friendly blanket
- 2 yards of GOTS certified flannel twill
- 1 bottle of Rit liquid non-toxic fabric dye for cotton fabrics
- 5-gallon bucket
- Sturdy stirring stick (such as a broom handle or piece of PVC pipe)
- Measuring cup
- Hot water
- 1-2 old towels
- Plastic garbage bag or plastic sheeting
- Waterproof gloves (optional)
- Twisted embroidery floss (or binding of your choice)
How to make an eco-friendly blanket
In just a few steps, you will have a lovely, soft eco-friendly blanket that’s compact enough to bring anywhere. Here’s how:
Prepare the fabric
Start by pre-washing the flannel in warm or hot water with about 1-2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. You can do this in the washing machine. Trim any long threads that come loose after washing.
Next, dry the flannel on the temperature you plan to use for your finished blanket. This will allow the fabric to pre-shrink, which you want before binding it. I had a theory that not pre-shrinking the fabric, so the weave would stay more open, would help the dye take better. I tried one blanket each way and didn’t notice any difference.
Where I did notice a big difference, though, was in the blanket I decided not to pre-wash. I was hoping that because the fabric is GOTS certified, with potato starch as the main processing chemical, I could skip the pre-washing step. That would have saved some water and soap. When I tried it, the color was very uneven, as you can see here:
Set-up the dye station
Rit dye likes hot water, so set up your dyeing station before you mix the dye vat. This way the water will stay hot for as long as possible.
First, trim any long threads that frayed during the drying process. Next, put the plastic bag or sheeting down, then cover it with an old towel. The towel will absorb drips, and the plastic will keep them from seeping through the towel onto the floor below.
Tip: try not to step on the towel since the plastic below will make it slippery.
Get a chair that won’t stain if it gets splashed with dye, and put it at the edge of the towel. Find a good, sturdy stirring stick and put that nearby.
Mix the dye vat
After you have your dyeing station set up and your fabric prepped and trimmed of hanging threads, it’s time to mix the vat.
Boil one kettle or a 3-4 quart pot of water. Pour that (carefully) into the 5-gallon bucket. Next, add the hottest water you can get from your tap up to about where the lines at the top of the bucket start. This will be about 4 gallons of water total.
Next, add 1 1/3 cups of salt to the bucket of water. Some of the dye bottles mention adding 1 teaspoon of dish washing liquid as well, some do not. I tried it both ways and did not see any difference, so it’s up to you whether you do this or not.
Now move the bucket to your dyeing station, set it on the towel, and start stirring. When all of the salt is dissolved (it will no longer feel crunchy when you press the stick against the bottom of the bucket), shake the bottle of dye really well, open it up, and carefully pour the dye into the vat. Stir the vat for a minute or so to mix it thoroughly.
Dye the fabric
This is where the magic happens! Shake the fabric out so it is not folded or creased anywhere. Then slowly lower it into the dye vat. Stir the vat constantly for 60 minutes to get a full, saturated color. Try to stir in different directions, prodding the fabric to keep it from bunching and twisting.
Using your hands and/or the stirring stick, lift the fabric from the vat every few minutes to turn it around a bit and undo any twisting.
This step is pretty self-explanatory. Follow the directions on the bottle and rinse the fabric until the water starts to run clear. This will probably take about 20 minutes. I found it went a little faster when I used the 5-gallon bucket as a rinse bucket. I filled it in the tub, rinsed the fabric until the water was really dark, then dumped the water in the toilet to avoid staining the tub.
Once the water starts to run clear, wash your blanket in mild soap with the old towels you used for this project. I always follow this wash with a load of dark laundry, just in case. So far none of our clothes has picked up any dye from the blankets.
Bind your eco-friendly blanket
This is the last step. I discovered during the Waterproof Personal Picnic Blanket project, though, that it doesn’t take nearly as long as you would think.
There are several ways to bind the edges of a blanket, including a simple sewn hem. I like the look of a blanket stitch and love that you can add another color this way, so that’s what I recommend for this project.
Before you start binding the edges, remove (once again!) any loose threads:
If your fabric has uneven raw edges, now is the time to square them off. Cut along one thread (you can do this by pulling it) on each raw edge to get a straight line. Then, cut-off the selvedges (the edges where the weave is different):
Note: you may notice that you blanket has a slant to it. This is because twill is a diagonal weave. The twill pattern is also what makes this fabric thick enough for blankets, so I’m ok with it not folding into a perfect rectangle.
Next, it helps to round the corners. Use a large bowl or dinner plate to make a nice, smooth curve:
Trace the curve with a dark pen:
Then cut along the marking:
Repeat these steps for all four corners.
Now you can start binding. Double-fold the edges for a 1/4″ – 3/8″ hem as you blanket-stitch all the way around. Smooth and ease the fabric around the curves as you go:
You can also fold, press, and pin the hems before stitching them. That’s too many pointy pins in my lap as I’m blanket-stitching in front of the TV for me, though.
Tips and tricks:
- If stirring a dye vat for 30-60 minutes sounds tedious, try having a blanket-dyeing party! Here’s a photo from one we had in a friend’s garage. It was a great space with a sink and a nice, smooth floor. The day was nice and warm so we kept the door open, although the neighbors might have wondered what we were doing, stirring our vats with brooms.
- To dye a larger piece of fabric, use a large plastic tub, more water, and at least two bottles of dye. Also, be sure to keep the salt in the same ratio as recommended on the bottle.
- For a child-size eco-friendly blanket, use 1 yard of Two-Sisters flannel and follow the directions on the dye bottle for one pound of fabric.
- You might notice that your blanket is a little stiff and not as incredibly soft as it was before you dyed it. Don’t worry, it will get soft again after you use it, kind of like breaking-in a pair of jeans. Additional washing will also help with this.
- Always wash your blanket with darker colors until you are sure the color will no longer bleed.
- To refresh flannel that has been washed many times and is starting to pill, simply brush it with a soft bristle brush. This will help break-up the pills and release the smooth, fluffy fibers again.
A note on colors
Between my experiments and the dyeing party, we dyed nine blankets in Rit dye. From that pool of data I can offer the following guidance on color selection:
- The name of the color is usually more accurate than the color printed on the bottle. For example, Teal turned out a true teal, but the color on the bottle looked kind of dull.
- Getting an exact color match to your decor will be really difficult. The more flexible you can be with your desired color, the better. You can always re-dye.
- It’s helpful to choose the embroidery floss after dyeing your fabric to get the best color match (or accent!).
- The twill weave of the flannel gives these eco-friendly blankets a look like denim. If you look closely at a pair of jeans, the fibers in one direction are dyed darker than the others. The same will be true of your blanket. This also gives it a nice, soft look.
Once you get the hang of making an eco-friendly blanket, you can reduce microplastic waste even more by replacing all of your synthetic fleece blankets. Since these blankets are compact when folded or rolled, they’re great to take to ballgames and picnics, too.
Eco-Friendly Blanket Discount!
Two-Sisters Ecotextiles is offering a 20% discount and free shipping on orders over $50 for this project. They will ship internationally, although customs and normal shipping charges apply. So get a group of friends together for an eco-friendly blanket-dyeing party, and have fun while reducing microplastic waste.
As always, feel free to ask questions or leave comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to Creatorvox to get new posts right in your email. You can also follow Creatorvox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more tips and tricks between posts. Thanks for reading, and happy making!