Last year I made quilt commissions (three quilts, five pillows) for two wonderful people, all using clothing of deceased loved ones to remember and honor them.   One of these projects utilized button-down shirts, which I cut up.  The parts I couldn’t use for the quilt ended up in here:

My plackets, collars and cuffs stash had grown out of one box and into two.  I have long waited for inspiration to help me bring life to this assortment of cast-offs.

Cue my adored friend Chuck (who has the ego-pleasing habit of referring to me as an artist), and after a glorious afternoon immersed in abstract expressionism at MOMA, I was ready to begin

Plackets have a sturdy texture and form

I started by joining buttonhole plackets together.   I wasn’t sure where it would go, but putting two and two together, so to speak, seemed as good a way to start as any

I lined them up so they balanced in a pleasing way

I left logos and care tags showing for texture and to signal "repurposing"

When the rows sewn together reached the size of a square I stopped, and started a second.  The squares are 25 inches.

Modest Machine trotted right along with me

Two were done in no time and I hung them up to see where this was going

Thumb tacked to the wall through the buttonholes

It made sense to add two more to create another square.  Because the first were dominated by brights, the next would be milder

This square is all solids, mostly muted tones

And this is all patterns: florals, stripes, and checks

As I got close to having all four of these done I was genuinely giddy — so high was my anticipation for the result.  But it was a let down … what was wrong?

Though it was an irreversible decision, there seemed no other choice than to cut corner to corner, and the result was so much more engaging

It also conjures the quilt pattern "Diamond in the Square"

The next step is joining the pieces together.  This was not agreeable at all  … a diagonal or “bias” cut in fabric goes against the weave, and weakens it, makes it stretchy, bunches it up as you move through it.   It’s really just awful, especially when you’re joining multi-layer plackets of different depths.

But I loved the diagonal movement so much that I ignored the horrible sounds coming from my sewing machine

To rise above this unpleasantness, I thought ahead to what should happen around the edges — it wouldn’t do to have open-ended plackets hanging off into nowhere.  The answer was right there in the plackets, collars and cuffs box

There's something very pleasing about the rounded corners of cuffs

Coupled together and back to back in a row, the cuffs would suitably corral the bold stripes of the plackets.   I lost no time joining lights and darks

Joining one cuff to another is simple; joining the duos and quads and so on is not

I liked the theory that 188 inches of pleasingly rounded cuffs would frame the inner composition.  The execution was another matter.

The best way to join separate and thick pieces of fabric is with a zig-zag stitch.   This involved taping a cuff row over each side in turn and peeling the tape away while carefully feeding into Modest Machine, who bulldozed through it like an overenthusiastic dog let off leash to chase birds.

The resulting stitches ain’t pretty.  I winced at first, but this piece isn’t a quilt in the traditional sense (it doesn’t have fill or backing), so it needn’t have pretty stitches.

It’s about reusing discarded materials in unexpected ways to create something new that celebrates color and form.

69 inches sqaure and ready for hanging

This piece is available.  Email me at or comment if you’re interested.  Meanwhile I’ll be pondering what to do with the collars.