Archives for posts with tag: recycled fabric quilts

When we left off, I was in creative retreat so I could work in an unhurried, peaceful environment.


Wawayanda Lake, NJ

I had no particular plans, just a lot of materials.


Back, or “patch” pockets

After making perhaps 10 denim quilts over two years, I’ve amassed collections of parts.  I’m inspired by that which seems unusable, like buttons and zippers.  Buttons are a lot like coins: they’re weighty, pleasingly embellished, and in accumulation create a treasure chest effect.  Eventually having them around resulted in this


I’ve also been accumulating inside front pockets


and discovered that these not-quite half moon, not quite quarter-circle sections of denim on plain cotton make a nice composition on their own …


as a four point star.


With this inspiration, I found myself joining together as many as I could.  It was not especially easy or fun.  I wanted the watch pockets and rivets in there for texture and variation, but this upped the difficulty ante, so that needle heartbreak waited over every pass.  Modest Machine gamely grinded over the varying levels of fabric density like a mower over a dry rocky lawn.  Eventually a payoff came in visual impact as they multiplied.


Since the jeans and pockets were different sizes, the resulting star squares went from small to large.  Dipping into my denim stash, I gave each a wide border, adding tonal variation with different fades.


Staggered, the borders gave a sense of movement to the stars, but I chose to collapse them into an overall square.


I wanted to use as much of the original source material as possible. Lots of lining remained because of the emphasis on denim thus far.  Usually the back of a quilt is a simple muslim or sheet … why not piece all the pocket scraps together?  It would be smooth sailing for my little machine; the fabric was all the same weight.


So began another painstaking demonstration of the scrappiness of quilting


Why discard a piece with printing or graphics for added interest …


Compositionally this part was more fun than the stars on the front


And when it reached the size of the front piece


I wasn’t sure which I liked better … each can stand (or lie) on its own



Completed July 27

If I had to classify it I’d call it a throw. When not thrown it folds up rather tidily. There is one more quilt I finished while on my peaceful retreat.  I’ll write about that next but will leave you with a summer sunset for now.


July 26





A highlight of my summer was about 17 days (but who’s counting) at my lakeside weekend home in New Jersey.


Evening, July 10

My husband joined me on the weekends, but the rest of the time was my own, and I used it as a creative retreat.  I had two cats with me, family nearby, some wonderful neighbors, and nothing but the cycling days and nights to fill as I wished.  It was bliss.

The weekend prior I brought up a bunch of materials


I have been cutting up jeans, khaki’s, cargo shorts and more for 10 years.  In this time, my house has been blighted with clothes moths.  Enter Container Store.

As fabric is my medium, this is my method


Modest Machine

Two items in my materials seemed to float to the top. My younger son (known as Chuck) recently castoff a pair of cargo shorts. My painterly friend Chuck gave me a canvas remnant scored with an island of red paint. These became my starting points.



Using a seam ripper, I completely took apart the shorts, section by section.


Belt loops

Preparing the fabric is observational and contemplative.  Handling it I note its surface feel, weight, mobility. With each change in geometry and line I imagine new arrangements, and fabrics to enhance the bright red island. It takes most of the first day to take the shorts apart.


Waistband, cargo pockets, zipper fly, hems, and belt loops all give way to my seam ripper, lint roll, and iron.


These were well worn shorts. I’m not sure why they stopped returning value to my Chuck, but for me this new form is tremendously pleasing. I love its furry softness and the rippling gradations in the fade.


The rabbit munching in the grass every day probably put me in mind of a red clover print in my stash, luckily in one of the containers I brought along. These were from a pair of jeans (pocket lining) I wore in the long long ago, before children. Turns out this is why I saved them.


At some point in my process there’s a shift from taking apart to putting together. In this case it was when I noticed the pocket flaps had clipped corners. Modest Machine roared to life to attach pocket lining to create 90 degree angles. I’m enjoying now how they look like old fashioned photo mounts.


I still felt one more element was needed for the composition.  Some painted denim from my inspiring friend Chuck seemed to fit, with its grey and blue hues


Then in a pretty continuous flow Modest Machine and I joined the elements together


Surrounding the center island atoll


Buddy checked frequently for surface feel.


Until it was done (about 22 hours, but who’s counting), and as close to square as I’ve ever come with a quilt.The border includes a jeans leg where Chuck painted a blue rectangle.


That’s Chuck Squared. Backing is an old sheet. The fill, as always, 100% cotton batting, as this is a small quilt/blanket/throw.   Coming very soon a post on the project that came on the heels of this one. Let me know what you think in the comments, and here’s your bonus shot for reading to the end!


The deck at night, July 11





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.

Well that took forever.  Or at least felt like it did.  My First Commission (MFC) is done.  Fin,  au revoir, ciao, adios.  Now it’s rolled up and bound, set in a corner just waiting to be delivered to the interested individual who commissioned it, despite the fact that little more than a week ago I was tearing my hair out trying to finish-the-damn-thing-already.  As fate would have it,  it won’t move to its new home until late July.

To recap, this is a blog about making quilts from old clothes (and other found materials) and the last time I had anything to show for MFC was this pile of triangles

The starting point for this quilt was that it match the curtains in its intended bedroom.  That color sits on top of the pile below

The Forest Swatch led the way for color selection.

Then my mother-in-law, commissioner behind My First Commission, gave me a page from the LL Bean catalog

My eye was drawn to the quilt with the triangular pattern.

Inspired by the abundant white background, I messed around with the triangles until I arrived at a simple flying geese pattern

Traditional quilts are built from blocks. The basic block here is five-by-five triangles. This configuration and its variants is commonly called "flying geese."

The 5 x 5 blocks above contain 50 triangles and are approximately 18 inches square.  I needed 20 blocks (or 1000 triangles) for a queen-sized quilt.  Much cutting ensued.  This endeavor brought to mind a friend whose last name is Cutting.  I wondered about the origin of his name.  Did it come from a task turned into an occupation, like Miller or Smith?  Is it ironic that he also works with fabric and textiles?  This is where the mind wanders when the body is rooted to a rote assignment.

Cutting fabric into pieces in order to sew them back together is the paradox of quilting.

What happened next might be dubbed individual mass production:

One after the other, triangles sewn together make individual squares.

The seams are iron-pressed to flatten the squares

I LOVE this pink, another Salvation Army special. If I could name the color I'd call it Raspberry Geranium.

The squares are sewn together to make rows

Modest Machine capably handles this job.

And rows are sewn together to make the 5 x 5 square

What you see here is seven piles of five rows, all to be sewn together.

The basic block, this one in a mad yellow:

Edges are trimmed with a rotary cutter to square it off, resulting in a 17 inch square.

Time out here to tell you about one of the recurring fabrics in this quilt. It is a floral on a beige background, and it counterbalances the color-rich Forest Swatch and  Raspberry Geranium.  But that’s not why I’m telling you about it.  This fabric is remnants from dining room curtains my mother-in-law made 43 years ago.  I’m so delighted to have found a use for something that’s been sitting in a drawer for a lifetime.  This is the essence of a Patwig quilt.

I've even got a little bit left, which I think will pair nicely with denim for a heavyweight composition. Car quilt or picnic blanket anyone?

At this stage the project’s size requires me to move out of my workroom.  As I finish blocks I lay them down on the floor, and begin to think about how to border it.

Luckily my cats are otherwise occupied.

Then the blocks are sewn into rows, and the rows sewn together until it is one large rectangle.  This is where it gets a bit unwieldy.

After each row is sewn seams are pressed to one side. This is necessary to flatten the top. It also means a lot of moving the quilt from machine to floor to ironing board while trying not to trip over the fabric.

For a border I hope to use some of the green triangles that now seem to be everywhere, but I feel it needs a gradual transition — it’s too abrupt to place the darkest color alongside the lighter blocks. And the overall block pattern is too large to finish with a mere four-inch border.  Cue the curtain floral:

Fortunately I didn't cut all of it into triangles, so I simply sew long pieces to all four sides -- blissfully expeditious.

Unfortunately, for the green border I have nothing but triangles, so production slows while those are sewn into squares, then rows …

What moves me through this tedium is knowing the resulting border will be enhanced by the triangles, like a wood frame surrounding a linen matte.

This is the biggest quilt I’ve ever made.  Me and Modest Machine are officially riding in uncharted territory as I prepare to sew seams along the carefully pinned and folded beast

Looks a bit like a table runner.

Imagining women creating quilts of similar size with only needle and thread and no electricity  puts me in awe.  Here’s a book I enjoyed that describes women doing just that during Westward Expansion in the U.S.  After pressing the seams, the quilt top is done.  But there will be no rest for the weary.  Backing and fill remain!

Engulfing my ironing board in this way, My First Commission almost looks elegant.

I made a backing from the remainder of the bedskirt and “Sear’s Best” white twin sheets that my mother-in-law purchased for her oldest son when he was at college.  He never used them, and she still had the unopened package.   The fill is all-cotton batting purchased new from the City Quilter.

The final step is to attach the layers, which I do by hand-tying with yarn.    The floor is the only surface large enough for it to lay flat, a requirement while the layers are not secured together, and I scoot around, sometimes blanching in discomfort, while pulling yarn with a needle through three thick layers of fabric many times over.

I am pleased this yarn picks up the Raspberry Geranium so nicely.

Once enough ties were in to give the quilt stability, I hung it over the banister and finished off the remaining ties while more comfortably seated on a chair.  As the pins and needles drained out of my legs I began to like MFC again.

If you have a hankering to gather together some of your old clothing or other fabrics and fashion them into something useful (and perhaps meaningful, depending on the clothing), I will be interested in taking quilt commissions beginning in early August.  Thanks for making it to the end.

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