Archives for posts with tag: making quilts from old clothes

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

Detail

Detail

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).

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.

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