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Levi's backside = icon

I love denim.  I love it new and deeply saturated, I love it softly threadbare.  I love the gradations of blue.  Perhaps as a child of the 70s I just have jeans in my blood.

A recent Sunday found me and my quilts at Greenflea market on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, where an amiable man named Donald stopped to look at the quilts on the table and the fence.

The patchwork in the foreground is made from jeans, khaki's, canvas shorts, and upholstery samples

The patchwork on the table in the foreground is composed of jeans, khaki’s, canvas shorts, and upholstery samples

“If I gave you a bunch of jeans could you make me a quilt like that?” he asked.  This is music to Patwig’s ears.  I truly enjoy giving new form to clothes that would otherwise be discarded.  And I like the surprises and challenge in coaxing something from a given pile of cast-offs.  A few emails later I had these on my worktable.

7 pairs jeans and cut-offs and 14 legs

Seven pairs of jeans and cut-offs and 14 legs, most blue and black, with one pair of corduroys and one pair of white denim in the mix.  Donald wanted something that looked like the finished quilt he saw at Greenflea, but with a uniform border, for which he provided a yard-or-so of soft blue fabric.

One of the tricky bits about working with clothes, because of their shape and the need to cut unusable parts away, is that it’s not always clear how much is needed.

The legs were readily arranged

Donald wanted the finished quilt to be 75 x 80 inches

A quick arrangement of these cut legs helped me eyeball that there would be enough material to achieve the desired size.  So I paired up pockets from different pairs of jeans.

Probably because I started with a grid-ish structure, I alternated colors

Definitely needed to keep those iconic Levi’s tags

Some of the pocket areas were quite worn, so I repaired them with a bit of fabric underneath and a zig-zag stitch

This piece looks like it might have an ink stain in the rear right pocket.  Remember when we used to carry pens in our back pockets?

After much arranging and contemplating, I sewed until there were several rows, a beginning for the center of a queen bed.  I thought this a good time to check with Donald to see if I was barking up the right tree, so I emailed him a picture of what I had so far.


He said it looked OK, but a bit boring, given the orderly grid.  He also wanted more emphasis on the blues and less on the orange and white, which made up the majority of the piece so far.

Dear Reader, I wanted to do better than OK and a bit boring, so with his blessing I cut it up again.  Then the project really opened up – it would be orderly no more …

I had been emphasizing the pockets, now I added it more plain blue legs, which offered their own variety in the form of worn knee areas

I cut to maximize blues

With so many of my "rows" ending with the top of the jeans or other particularly thick spots, I ended up sewing the rows onto backing pieces

I resewed pieces back at angles, joining sections with smaller strips of non-blues

I cut the original section out at angles, varying the row widths

The angles varied the row widths

I increased the length of the rows by adding in a couple of stripped sections

I increased some rows by adding two strip sections, including a button fly strip.

With a lot more movement in the mix, my focus turned to getting the size right.  The goal was 75 x 80, and the fabric Donald provided would yield a 6 inch border.  So I had to close the gap between the center above and the planned outer border.  Scrap time!

Cuffs often get frayed, which gave me a start on opening up those bottom seams. The worn areas resemble a sort of tie-dye pattern

Frayed cuffs start openings in the bottom seams.  Fully opening the hem triples the width of workable material and reveals a sort of tie-dye pattern

Strip borders are quick to compose and sew and, most dear to me, reduce waste.  Less goes in the garbage can

At this point there was fabric laying around everywhere

I laid the cut bits out until I was sure there was enough to go around


A row at a time is sewn together, pinned to the center, then the whole piece is folded up, ready for Modest Machine

Joining pieces

Though I used needles sized for denim, Modest Machine still broke 3 teeth on this project

One row at a time sewn together, sewn to the center, and trimmed

After rows are sewn to the center and pressed, they are trimmed at the sides with the rotary cutter

Each time I lay the quilt down I risk losing it to this resident

Each time I put the quilt down on the floor I risked losing it to this household resident

The blue fabric Donald wanted for the border was the last part of the quiltop

Once all 4 strip rows were done it was time to add the blue border.  I think it frames the active center well

This part of quilt making is physical.  Down on the floor, crawling from side to side while straightening, smoothing, pinning, and folding, then up and down the hall to feed carefully through the machine, sticking myself with pins multiple times along the way, then back to the floor, unfolding and doing it all again.  Knees, back, ankles, wrists — all recruits to the effort.  No wonder whole groups of women made larger quilts before labor saving devices were available.

Only once the outer border is done is it time to turn the quiltop design into what we know as a quilt.  That starts with batting

Quiltop done, it's time to actually turn it into what we know as a quilt

Batting is a layer of pure cotton fill which gives a quilt its warmth

The batting is placed on the floor and smoothed out

On a flat surface, batting is placed down.  I have trimmed it to just over the size of this piece

The quiltop is placed on the batting, right side up, smoothed out, then a single layer of backing is added.  Sheets work well for this job.

The backing -- Wendy's sheet -- is the third layer

Who knows what calculus goes into such decisions, but luckily for me, this baby blue in very good condition was retired from its household bedmaking rotation, donated to me, and perfect for this quilt

As well as being physical, the end stage of the process features craft and precision.  It’s not especially fun.  I’m always concerned that I’ll seriously mess something up and all will be lost.

once pinned together, again I fold it up and bring it to Modest Machine.  For this I sewed around the perimeter twice.  Because of the smooth surfaces -- compared to the bumpy layers of denim -- it goes smoothly, with no broken needles

Now for the final two rounds around the perimeter joining all three layers

Once turned inside out, pressing the edge seams is necessary to establish the edge

Once turned inside out, pressing outer borders is necessary to establish the edges.  I do the first part on my ironing board then, you guessed it, back to the floor

Because of its size, ties will help keep the layers from shifting around.  I've got this old spool of needlepoint thread -- I think it was my mother's or grandmother's -- and it matches the corduroy perfectly

Simple ties will restrict shifting from the weight of the denim. This old spool of needlepoint thread — I think it was my mother’s or grandmother’s — matches the corduroy perfectly

As I go through my photos while writing this post, I realize I don’t have one overall picture of the finished quilt.  What I do have are these detail shots,  which is what I liked most working on this, the juxtapositions of various bits of old jeans.







You made it to the end!  Hope you enjoyed this scroll through my quilt making process.  Please feel free to share/link/forward Patwig’s Blog with anyone you think may enjoy it.

I’m not sure when or where it was, but at some point I was lucky enough to see Ellsworth Kelly’s Colors For a Large Wall on a wall, in all it’s pristine, elemental squareness, with colors stacked boldly in perfect certainty.  And I, in my complimentary simplicity, thought, that’s a great quilt.

So I gathered from my stash matching solid colors (except a purple, which I didn’t have a close-enough, so I threw in a lilac batik) for a homage to Kelly’s work.  I thought it came out a little flat.

Lacking some luster

Later I added yarn ties; I think it looks better here, without

Apparently the lesson of Kelly’s architecture needed time to percolate.

Since I make quilts from old clothes, I need to cut them up before I use them.  I don’t necessarily use all these cuts for whatever project is at hand.  I always seem to be cutting a lot of shirts, and began to save the shirt pockets. They accumulated.

Because you never know

I think there were 65 or so

Recently I got them out, and began to play

There's something pleasing about these orderly rows

Started on the worktable but there wasn’t enough room

I like this rug for this purpose because the inner bordered area is about 4 x 6 -- giving me a guideline of how big I'm getting

I knew I wanted a nicely stacked square, like CFALW

I knew I wanted the orange in ...

Colors interact, as do pattern and texture

Working on the floor does have its hazards ...

Working on the floor does have its hazards


I was looking for balance

Certain colors drive other color choices. The brilliant pumpkin orange (two buttoned shirt pockets see above — thanks Nancy!) led to the inclusion of this playful green patterned print which I had forever but hadn’t found a use for

Color text on the shirt:  Full of mischief! and Good Times!

Bright text reads “full of mischief”

Some pockets I included because I liked their elegant insignias, and some for their weighty, tweedy feel

Modest Machine

Modest Machine still by my side

Eventually I settled on an order for the rows

Seven rows of seven pocket squares

Seven by seven pocket squares

And since I’m never too fussy about lining up my points

I am careful with my pinning

I am careful with my pinning

The top came together quickly

All sewed up

All sewed and pressed

Because the shirts emphasize fall colors, it seemed fitting to wrap a warm brown flannel around the block design


I finished this quilt in mid-September and brought it along to Greenflea Market where I put up my quilts on good-weather Sundays.  The first week it was out on a table and passersby stopped to put their hands in the pockets.  The second time I put it up on the fence.


I could call it Fall Colors for a Large Fence

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Kelly.

When I was working on my last commission, two friends gave me fabric donations:  five pair of frayed, paint-splattered blue jeans and a seasoned sewer’s remnants, including several jaw-dropping 1960’s and 70’s Marimekko prints.  I marveled at my good fortune and vowed to coax something wonderful out of these cast-offs that might have otherwise joined a landfill.

This simple strip block throw that I made in 2006 was my inspiration

My inspiration quilt for this project

There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the quilt above.   I like the way the light-and-dark strips define the center area.  And the red shamrock fabric (pocket material from an old pair of jeans) highlights the corners, though not enough.  I notice now that the dark strips at the upper right remind me of the  new red equality symbol.

I began sewing strips from other old pants together with the jeans …

Thanks Russ and Laura Irwin for the Levi's!

Thanks Russ and Laura for the Levi’s!

and kept going until it was something approximating what I liked in the inspiration quilt

Because I had started into some old khakis and white canvas carpenter pants (which I think I bought for my husband eons ago and he rarely wore them)

Joining Russ’ jeans are old khakis, white canvas carpenter pants, black jeans, corduroys and old cargos (thanks Greg, Dan, and Peter!)

More denim for definition

A good solid denim border for good measure

Maybe being a child of the 70s makes me a sucker for faded denim

And now for a bold border, care of those original Marimekko pattern designers

I actually used two different prints in the border, one a remnant and one a single print.  Thanks Ellen!

There are three different prints in the border, two remnants and one single print. Thanks Ellen!

Since I could go no farther with this quiltop at queen-size, I launched into another.  From trimming the denim-and-khaki strip blocks in the prior project, I was inspired to ladle a heavier dose of denim in this one

I sandwiched Marimekko strips from the first quilt between denim strips

Marimekko strips sandwiched between denim give contrast

It’s basically a Chinese Coin, a type I like to do.  It’s a straightforward assembly process, and is visually striking

Bordered in denim

Bordered in denim

Pressing the seams on all those narrow strips takes the most time

I made these quilts between April 4 and May 6, according to the camera dates

I made these quilts between April 4 and May 6

At this point the denim mass is crying out for a foil.  This print seems robust enough

But maybe a little transition is needed

But maybe a little transition is needed

This white is from a super lush, thick sheet set (thanks Wendy!), and works perfectly to set off the red blaze

This white is from a super lush sheet set (thanks Wendy!)

I dislike playing favorites, but I really do like this quiltop.  It is also queen sized.  It’s heavy, due to the denim, and would be marvelously warm in winter.



There was time for one more small quilt before the floor I was using would morph into my college son’s summer bedroom.

I cut out some big patterns in the Marimekko prints (quilting term of the day: fussy cutting)

“Cut-outs” is right … the saturated colors against white ground remind me of Matisse’s cut-outs, which story of him making even when bedridden at the end of his life so fascinated me in high school art classes (thanks Mrs. Hornstra!)

The tic-tac-toe structure seems suitable to house these color blocks

More white sheet sashing to pop the color

White sheet sashing pops the color

and a denim border frame

Bright primary colors -- child's quilt or play mat?

Primary colors — child’s quilt or play mat?

At this point all that was left from the five pair of Levi’s was small strips, and of course, lots of scraps from the other fabrics.  Using jewel-size bits for the center and working out, I launched right into making blocks to use up the scraps

Alas, this one is still a work in progress

Alas, this one is still a work in progress

The three completed quilts featuring vintage Marimekko are available for sale or show.  Please email me or comment below.  And thanks for reading my adventures in quilting with old clothes (and other fabrics).

Linda is a nurse who happens to be caring for her elderly mother at home.  Years ago after her father died, she started to weave a blanket from his old ties for a way to remember him.

She wove together her Dad's ties

She didn’t finish it, so she set it aside.

She’s also a neighbor, and one day she saw some quilts I made from old clothes, and asked if I could make a quilt using the blanket she’d started and her mother’s old scarves.  She planned to keep it at a vacation home her family has had for generations in Maine.  I was delighted to have a new commission!


She brought a large bag with the tie blanket, and this assortment of scarves and a few other pieces of clothing from other family members.

After showing her a Chinese Coin pattern quilt I made for my mother,  she chose that style as the primary design.  With a plan in place, Patwig got busy:  all materials washed, ties cut up, and fusible interfacing pressed to all ties and scarves.

Once the ties were all cut open and the scarves pressed, the interface is pressed onto the backs.  LOVED this red and black scarf so much I couldn't bear to cut it

Linda said her Mom’s black and red scarf was from the 60’s; it killed me to cut this up

Dad’s ties were myriad browns, featuring the small, repeating patterns typical of ties, in a handful of muted color variations.  In contrast, Mom’s scarves packed saturated jewel tones in a variety of splashy prints.  I was having trouble at first seeing how to work the two styles in together, until  I pinned the jazziest scarves to the wall and mated the ties by color to each

I pinned a bunch of the scarves to the wall and "matched" ties to them ... this helped me see a way to mix them together in the coin stacks

Then I cut and laid out just enough to show Linda how a Chinese Coin stack from her fabrics might look

She was happy with it, so I could proceed

She wanted a finished square of 84 by 84 inches for a full size bed.  I made enough rows to fill the bed top, which ended up a 54 x 62 inch rectangle.

This came together quickly

Lots of border was needed all the way around to bring this out to 84 x 84.  Ideally I might have bordered this in all black or navy to corral the rowdy colors.  But I had to work with the fabric I had.  After consulting one of the quilting reference books I’ve  picked up over the years, I thought I’d give the “basic braid” border a try.  Luckily Linda liked that idea

Light colors inside the border

I ended up grouping the lights on the inside and darks at the outside to highlight the center.

The corner, or capstone

For a braided border you can start with a triangle.  Strips are lined up at a right angle one at a time at each side.

Once I had a critical mass, I sent a picture to Linda just to be sure I was still barking up the right tree.  Fortunately her answer was “it’s awesome,” so I continued full steam ahead.

Luckily the measurement was in the desired 84" ballpark

It helps to be happy with how a project is turning out, but this work moved at a slow pace, one step at a time.  That’s the nature of craft, I suppose.  It always takes longer than I think it will.

Braided borders can also be made just all mixed up, but I think the inner light works best on this quilt given the center coin section

With repetition, it gets into a rhythm and begins to move faster

I'm thinking there may be another braided mash up in my near quilting future

The mostly white appearance at the back of the braids is due to the fusible interfacing. The couple that look grey/blue were nice thick denim, which didn’t require supplemental backing

Linda dropped the fabrics to me on New Year’s Eve.  At this stage it’s mid-February.  If I had worked all day every day I would have finished well before the end of January.

After the third side was done it was kind of depressing to see how many more strips I would need

I had light and dark strips ready from the earlier prep, from which I could pick and choose as I went along

As a project gets bigger, the pace slows because it’s harder physically to move the whole thing around.  I have a son in college so I use his room and floor down the hall from my workroom to lay it out … thanks Pete!

Ironing out the last side strip before attaching to the body of the quilt.  Makes a nice contrast to the floor covering in my office.  Color anyone?

Once all borders are sewn around the center, it is a finished quiltop.

I'm trying a new type of batting for this project -- for this one I used NAME HERE and it has a nice, fluffy loft.

Do any Patwig readers remember what you do with a finished quilt top? Yep, place it, top up, on a piece of cotton fill or batting …

… and then it needs a back.  I combined the handful of cotton clothing items Linda provided with old sheet sections from my stash to piece a back together.

For the backing I pieced together old sheets from my stash with cottons from clothes from Linda

Pressing, sewing and seaming the back took an afternoon

I stopped counting when my estimated hours on this project neared 90.  This is an info nugget for those who always ask me how long it takes to make a quilt.  Answer: it depends, but usually a long time!

The layers are sewn together, turned inside out, then press it out with an iron a final time

At the end of the day, the piece itself is the reward, because I really liked how it turned out

I used 16 yarn ties to secure the layers together (thanks Ellen Banner for your yarn donation!)

I can't get a full picture of it but this is one side ...

I'm happy with the liveliness of this piece

I hope you enjoyed reading about how this came together. Thanks for making it to the end!

I think it’s on its way to Maine.  Next project will be an experiment using recent fabric donations.

I write from the Darklands of Lower Manhattan, where Patwig is camping at home, Modest Machine sits idle , and I have plenty of time to conjure my 19th century ancestors who made queen size and larger quilts without electricity in a house just like mine.

And I’m thinking of Tom and Todd, many blocks north in the Land of Light and Heat, for whom I made a queen size quilt before Hurricane Sandy came to town.  Luckily my husband’s office has working backup power, so I can blog about making it now.

Our block the morning after the power went out.  We were fortunate to lose only trees on the block and in our backyard.  For many families and neighborhoods it was much, much worse.

Earlier this fall I showed and sold my quilts at a Sunday fleamarket  in Manhattan, where Tom and Todd happened by my table.  They admired a twin sized quilt I made in September

This is a block style of my creation, an improvisational log cabin using scraps of varying sizes. Tom and Todd liked the  modern and masculine aesthetic

Even better than admiring the quilt and musing how they would customize it (queen size, brown instead of black border, mostly browns and light blues, not too old-timey) they followed up the next day with an email to get said customization started.  Project!

I began with the blocks, which they gave me carte blanche to create.  I had a pretty good sense of what they liked, still wanted to run colors and patterns by them

They nixed the feathers and snowflakes because their quilt is intended for summer use

Then I began putting blocks together, one scrap at a time

There’s no plan in this, just joining colors and shapes that seem pleasing together

And so it goes up to about  13″ by 15” before trimming, enough for 12 to fill the top of a queen mattress top.  This was a lot of fun, because composing these blocks is something I really enjoy.

Thanks for the opportunity, Tom and Todd!

One block at a time until

12 are done.  There will be white sashing from an old featherbed.

The blocks always look a little different  surrounded with another color.

Now the brown border.  I went through my brown stash and ran some fabrics by Tom and Todd, but  they just weren’t their style, which by their description was “somewhere between Jetsons and colonial.”  What I pieced together didn’t find that middleground, so we were at a pause until Tom and Todd saved the day by going out to buy fabrics they liked.

Inspired by this new infusion I cranked out the border

The border is 8 inches deep at the head and foot and 10 inches deep on the sides, so there was a lot of cutting and measuring, but otherwise this stage went quickly

I liked the fabrics Tom and Todd chose much more than mine

The quilt center is ready

It measures 52” by 70.”   Borders are sewn to all sides, then pressed

And topstitched for durability and decoration

That’s the quiltop.  Then there’s the back.  I didn’t have a piece of fabric big enough, so I started with two pieces from a couple of old sheets

then sewed together strips (trimmings from a sheet used to back a smaller quilt)

So the back also sports a neat, finished feel

Now it’s time to sew the three quilt layers together.  It’s so big and unwieldy at 87 by 96 inches that I really have to work without pause.  I’ve been through this in earlier posts — batting (the inner cotton fill), quiltop, and backing are piled, smoothed, and pinned together all the way around the 362 inch perimeter (leaving a small opening to turn the whole thing inside out).  Then I   carefully fold it up to take to Modest Machine

This is like wrestling with an alligator: it’s far longer than me, heavy, and has a lot of sharp bits sticking out

After sewing around the borders, the pins come out

perimeter is trimmed with the rotary cutter

and it’s ready to turn it inside out (so the quiltop, now under the batting, can be seen).

After a final iron press, once over with the lint remover,  a seam stitch around the perimeter and delivery to its new home at Tom and Todd’s, it looks like this

The piece measures 86” by 95.” Happily, Tom and Todd love how it came out. I do, too.
And I’d be happy to take another commission as soon as the power comes back on here in lower Manhattan.

I love the process of constructing a quilt.  It starts simply enough.  Sometimes two colors lodge in my mind and I want to explore the various ways they interact with each other.  Other times texture leads the way — a rough, loosely woven linen is warmed with worn faded denim.  And the path fabrics followed to my work table is always present in my mind:  scads of worn linen from a couch slipcover enthusiastically shredded by the family cats; a caution-cone-bright orange backing a graphic superhero print on boys’ boxers;  a lightweight denim workshirt that put me in mind of a shirt found in Florence years ago, long since disappeared.  Pulling all these pieces together is a reflection on the various parts of my life.

One of the warm oranges here is from curtains my mother made for her kitchen.  There’s also a pillow case given me by a friend’s mother when she and her husband moved out of their longtime family home.

Inspiration also comes from my environment … I’m always looking when wandering.  Lucky enough to go to Israel this summer, I admired this doorway in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood

Orange and blue have always created sparks for me, though they’re too bright and lively for me to feel comfortable wearing.  They work to good effect in this Nine Patch Patwig from a few posts back

And so I embark on a quilt in these colors, with my creative process guided by a wish to use materials on hand, to not waste.  On this occasion I turn to my stash of completed blocks, made from scraps after earlier projects

There are lots of blocks in my stash, but I choose these mostly for color, and partly for shape

The blocks need to be unified, so I surround them, frame-like, with a soft blue.  My blue stash offers a combination of scraps, from lightweight faded denim to old blue Oxford shirts

Narrow borders recall the small squares of the nine patch

Making these borders goes relatively quickly, if workmanlike.  When a border strip is big enough I sew it around the sides of the block, iron-pressing down the seams along the way

The underbelly of a quilt block

It’s hard to explain what I like about doing this, but I get utterly lost in it, much in the same way as I do gardening.  Times like these the work is its own reward, and I forget for a moment that there is as of yet no particular destination for the end result

Modest Machine never questions why I ask it to do so much, it just trundles along, well earning its next oiling

As the blocks are surrounded in blue a feeling takes shape which reminds me of those black and white “scan boxes” that seem to be everywhere these days — which googling just told me is  QR code

With the center composition done it’s time to think about how to border it.  There are many different ways to do borders on quilts but I often end up making simple strip borders.  It helps to lay out a bunch of fabrics to see what happens

A little orange really does go a long way

This is more rote work, though I have fun rifling through my orange fabric box for strips.  The border length is roughly determined by the size of scraps I’m finding — I prioritize using up what’s already cut and not hacking into another large piece of fabric.

And since there’s no end to light blue men’s dress shirts the heady orange is readily diluted

I often hand tie my quilts with yarn (again, as in the Nine Patch above), but this quilt turns out small enough at 55 x 59 that I just seal it with a machine stitched border around the outside.

And it’s done.

Pillows, of course!  Some loyal Patwig followers may remember the Hermes tie pillows.  At the time I thought those were nice and that I might make more someday — even for myself.

And so it happened that a need arose in Patwig’s household.  A munificent gesture from our landlord revitalized our living space and brought about the arrival of unadorned couches — which just cried out for pillows (their slender arms, though elegant, offer no cushion).  Project!

We were also harboring an old feather bed that had been soiled years ago by an unfortunate kitty

We had Kelly just a few short months — having adopted her from a local vet (not our own) who was somewhat misleading about her health.  It turned out she had an advanced cancer and we essentially served as a kitty hospice for her.

and I had an abundant collection of men’s ties, largely donated after the Hermes projects (thank you Nancy Matsumoto, Nicole Miller, and Matthew Van Houten!).

I sorted them by color, with the carpet as a guide. It was hard to go wrong given the splendor of the fabric and patterns

The challenge was to get the feathers out of their old soiled casing

Googling  gave me courage because yes, others have cut open feather beds before me.

and into a new casing made from old curtains

I slit it open and let the contents tumble, ever so loftily, into the casing

This stuff just has no respect for gravity.  It drifts and pivots away just as you think you might grasp a wisp.  Should you ever decide to try this, don’t do it outside, though you might be tempted.  The slightest air movement might as well be a raging hurricane.

Though it seemed a shame to cut them they were given for this purpose.  It’s amazing how much product is manufactured that isn’t put to its intended use.

Taking apart ties is a delicate business.  They are quilt-like, with an inner batting enfolded by a large piece of silk, each end hemmed down with a smaller piece of silk and loosely handstitched up the center, sides joined by the manufacturer’s label.  Each scissor nip must be precise.

I gathered golds for the first, largely left in tie shape

This one ended up just right for an arm bolster

For the second pillow I also stayed close to the tie shape

The Bally tie pictured above is background between the darker ties in the center of this pillow, although the receding effect disappears at the bottom without enough contrast

Next I  went for variation of pin-tucking to add texture to the surface

I love this whimsical skiing gnome pattern from a Nicole Miller tie

The only problem with pin-tucking is that it gobbles up limited  fabric real estate.  I needed to prep several more ties at this stage

Along with cutting them up, prep includes ironing fusible interfacing to the ties, a supplement that strengthens delicate fabrics. Without it a silk pillow might easily tear

It finished up a puffy 22-or-so inches square

Somehow the balance or harmony of the colors isn’t ideal, but I like the pleats and shape

By now scraps were piling up from the cutting I’d done on the first few pillows

Of course it’s unthinkable to let these go to waste

So I thought I’d make the last couple with more traditional quilt blocks.  Though quite deflated by now, the feather bed looked like it might fill two more 20-ish-inch casings

I would love to have yards of this gorgeous, painterly blue

The last is the puffiest, thanks to the fact that the feathers had run out and it’s mostly filled with goose down.  This block is “Pineapple,” a Log Cabin variation.

Pineapple is a bit laborious and leaves yet more scraps, but is rather jewel-like

I like what’s happening on the backside, too.

Having run out of curtains, this casing was made from donated upholstery samples (thanks Lana Lenar!)

With tassles (now there’s a material/item I don’t have in my stash) this could stand on its own

It gets stuffed into the cover  —

The backing for all five is a linen/”hopsack” from an old Pottery Barn slipcover

— then it’s ready for the final seam

It was hard to get the pins in this one

And voila, five pillows for our new couches

Keeping the cats from scratching should be interesting

That’s why I recommend Softpaws

Pillow commissions are available.  Just send me an email or comment below. Seymour is ready as well.

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.

The last time you heard from me I had just completed memorial quilts so two little boys could have a physical connection with their grandfather.  Their grandmother Sue, who commissioned the project, provided about 40 of her late husband’s button-downs shirts for this labor of love. Masses of scraps remained in its wake

In the beginning there were scraps

What to do?  I could throw them out (unthinkable), file them in my fabric stash (tedious), or … of course, make a quilt!

Behold, a colorful block rises from scrap ashes

This enterprise commenced mid-August, still summer, when the days are long and light and sewing hundreds of fabric bits together seems just as good as anything else to do.  It began with block constructions, like this

Color leads the way

Block by block, matching pieces by length, coupling by complimentary colors or color groups, I sewed bits together

No pattern here, just freestyling

One by one, the glittering jewels that center each block beckon for a supporting structure

Small scraps join to form columns

and it’s done when

.... the matching scraps have run out

And so it continued, in a groove that I enjoyed immensely, until about 25 squares and rectangles were stacked on my table.  Time to lay them out to see what they did together.  I decided to use just squares

Keep reading to see what I did with the squares, and tell me what you think: would the mix above have worked just as well on its own?

Since there were still lots of whites, it seemed a no brainer to use them for sashing around the blocks.

The steps involved: group by length, sew pairs, sew resulting couplets, and so on until the lengths surround each block

I thought a layer between the white sashing would pop the color even more, so in went a light mint green, which addition opened up six holes for more color to fill

Can you see the resemblance to the quilts from last post?

With the center of the quilt essentially done, it’s time to conjure a border.  The scrap pile still waited with plenty on offer

Modest Machine gamely gobbled along as I fed it countless pieces of fabric, joining until they reached eight inch lengths, which would then be sewn together for a basic strip border

This took some time, but the robust border that resulted seams worth the effort

I finally did run out of color scraps for the strips so I used remaining whites to fill out the border at the corners

When a quiltop is finished, it’s time for “backing.” As there were many whole shirts and sections that had yet to meet my rotary cutter, I rather extravagantly cut out 15″ square blocks.

I told you I could put these shirts to good use, Sue!

I hadn’t used any new materials up to this point, and was determined to recycle for the batting (fill) as well.  It should come as no surprise that I keep batting remnants, and after stitching four pieces of batting and pinning all three layers (top, batting and backing), I carefully folded it up for Modest Machine to sew

Is keeping pedal to the floor three times around a rather unweildy 66" x 82" pile of fabric rather like circling the yard perimeter with a ride-on mower?

Then I can stand up and stretch my legs while ironing the whole thing out

Now that it has volume it looks and feels like a quilt

Not quite to the finish line, I pick out yarn for the ties

Red and blue too good to be true

And it’s done.   Twin sized, nearly all recycled materials (can you guess the one element that is not recycled?) and for sale (email me with your best offer!).  Thank you for reading Patwig’s Blog.

Made by hand (and Modest Machine) in New York City, USA

This story starts with two little boys living in the Midwest.  In addition to being pretty lucky in the parent department (example of a house rule:  being read to is a right, not a privilege), they have an exceptionally dedicated grandmother, Sue.  Sue is very involved with her grandsons, but is understandably rueful her husband died before he could know them.  She wanted them to have something that would evoke him.  This is where Patwig comes in.

Sue contributed more than 35 shirts for this project. After I cut up the first bunch (the stack in front) she sent more.

She wanted a twin sized quilt for each boy made from her husband’s old button-downs.  Some were standard white formal fare, many sported various hues of blue, with and without stripes, and a few were appealing paisleys and plaids.  After seeing sample Patwig Quilts, she chose the Nine-Patch block pattern and the Log Cabin pattern, which I hadn’t made before.  That settled, she essentially gave me carte blanche to create, and I continued to be amazed at the trust people place in strangers.

Where to begin wasn’t hard to decide.

Log Cabin is a classic quilt block. A square sits at the center, (typically red), and rows of blocks are placed around it, one side light, one side dark.

I started with easy colors, as in the solid pairings above, and proceeded to more complex couplings, like the patterned lights and darks below

The red/pink and paisley here were among Sue's favorites

As blocks were completed I put them down on the floor to see light and dark create patterns.

The dark side is the strongest visual element here

I’d been working one block at a time until this point, and feeling assured that I was on the right track, shifted to mass production.  This meant cutting 17 squares, 119 light blocks, 102 dark blocks and backing all with fusible interfacing.

A rotary cutter and grid mat make this more efficient, but it still takes time. Music helps.

Once all components were prepped, I sewed them together and put them down on the floor

until I arrived at this…

"Diamond in the Square" is another classic quilt pattern

With the Log Cabin blocks done, I was ready to turn to the second quiltop.  Fortuitously, many cutting remnants offered a head start


The Nine-Patch ultimately required 567 two inch squares

Making the Nine-Patch was very enjoyable; each is an individual composition.  This is the part I truly enjoy.

Once they began to multiply, I line them up en masse to see what they would do

More hodgepodge than medley

Moving to the floor, I added space between them

Much more distinct this way

Then each Nine-Patch got a border, all from button-down shirts

Steady production continued — sewing, pressing, sewing some more, until 63 Nine-Patch blocks each had a pressed border.

"Cute as a button" is a little precious, but I think it fits here

I was enjoying this small form stuff so much I’d forgotten the bigger picture — how they will form a quiltop:

Back on the floor

Going for 9 rows of 7

Next time I'll wear knee pads

All down, random placement.

How about alternating light and dark rows?

We have a winner

This is the midpoint.  The primary design –the quiltop– is done.   The rest is, shall we say, finish work (albeit with a decorative border).  This is mostly assembly, but what it lacks in creativity it pays back in satisfaction as the finished piece slowly comes together.

Two stacks of quilt blocks

Individual blocks make a row, rows make a quiltop

I'm making more of an effort to get my corners "on point"

You can see the fusible interfacing on the backs here

A border brings each quilt up to twin size.  I made a strip border drawing mostly from the white and striped button-downs.

My son suggested adding more dark colors

After almost 300 two-by-seven inch strips were pressed, fused, sewn together and ironed, the quiltops are “framed”

A border on the Log Cabin really pops the diamonds out

This is my sixth Nine Patch quilt

Next up: batting (or fill) and backing.  Sue has provided two full-sized sheets for the backing.  Who can guess why this one has patchwork in the corners?

These sheets were repurposed twice: Sue had given them to a friend to use as drop cloths for painting before they got to me

Once the layers are sewn together and pressed (That sounds so breezy, doesn’t it?  At about 65 by 82 inches, it took about an hour to seam each twice), I hand tie them together with yarn (another afternoon) with a nice light blue yarn I picked up for a song in Chinatown

A tapestry needle works best to pull the yarn through the layers, finished with a double knot.

This work takes place on the floor, where helpers stroll

Ursula is the only one of our cats that goes after yarn

Finished, side by side

Congratulations to you for making it all the way through this!  I believe you are among a small, but attentive group of people.  If there’s anyone you know whom you think might make it all the way as well, please send a link to this page to them, or post on your preferred social media.

Next post will be a Patwig Scrap Project.

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