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Making Quilts from Used but Precious Clothing posted: 7/1/2004
by Hallye Bone Printable Page
Category: Piecing Method: All
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There are many benefits and also some drawbacks or considerations when we make quilts from used clothing.

Make sure that all of the clothing is laundered. (I make T-shirt quilts and have run into T-shirts that I thought were clean—they even looked new—but they needed laundering) Laundering does several things:

  • It shrinks the fabric so that all of the fabrics you will be mixing will be compatible. (You don’t want a cotton fabric next to polyester—the poly won’t shrink as much as the cotton)
  • Any bleeding or fading will occur during the laundering process. Note: If you have any solid red clothing, be sure to check it for color-fastness, either by soaking it and watching the water or by rubbing it with a wet white washcloth.
  • You don’t want any food or other stains in the clothing. Use a pre-soak of “Biz” or use Borax in your wash to make sure the food stains are washed out.

Choose a fairly simple pattern, because you will want to highlight the prints/stripes/plaids or whatever the clothing was made from. I would suggest: “Cake Basket,” “Shoo-Fly,” “Ohio Star,” or something similar. Note: It’s fun to make “crazy” quilts from old ties or menswear. I just completed a wall quilt and pillow from a man’s ties and clothing.

Choose fabrics for sashing, posts or cornerstones (if desired—they aren’t necessary), borders, and binding. You will need about 4 yards total for this purpose—more for a large quilt. Consider the main fabric as the “frame” for your blocks, which will probably be very diverse in color. I like to use plaids (homespuns are good), a multi-colored print, or a mottled color you like or would use in your décor.

Don’t try to match all of your fabrics to the clothing: there will probably be too many colors to try to match anything. The main fabric will unite your entire piece and the many fabrics. Even if you have a black striped shirt, for example, and your sashing is blue, it will “work.”

I just finished an appliqué quilt for a client: it was of forty angels flying sideways. The wings were one fabric, the angels’ dresses were a second fabric and the sleeves were another. I had forty different fabrics from the clothing to use and they were very diverse! To bring the quilt together, I pieced stars in the sashing of gold and yellow print. The sashing was navy and the backing for each block was a “cloud” fabric of blue and white. My point here is that, although the dresses, wings, and sleeves were very different (pin-point oxford, polka dot, and wild Hawaiian fabric), the entire quilt looks good because the majority of the chosen fabric is of the same three prints.

Before you begin, make sure that the fabrics in the clothing can be used in a quilt: no stretchy or loosely woven fabrics. These just complicate things and are too difficult to stitch together. Look out for wool, velvets, satins. They won’t wash and won’t work in the quilt’s future. If you have to use a tee-shirt, fuse it with a non-woven like Pellon (I like the light or mid-weight Pellon).

Another hint: Although a garment may look huge, when you get around to cutting the seams away, it will “shrink” as you find out how much you can actually use! So, you’ll need more clothing than you may think. I usually do my “first cutting” with scissors and then do a second cutting with my rotary cutter. If you really need every bit of the fabric, you can always remove pockets: I’ve had to do that. Ties are especially deceptive. They go from about 1 ½” to 3 or 4”. Remember that they aren’t as wide as they may appear! You can’t get much out of them.

Check for wear on a garment. Hold it up to the light and see whether it is sturdy enough to stitch through. If it frays when you tug at it, choose another garment. Some clothes were “favorites” and were washed so often that they just won’t serve you well when you make your quilt.

In spite of all the warnings, it is very rewarding, emotionally, to use the family’s clothing. One of my friends saved her daughter’s “First Day of School” dresses and then made a “Sunbonnet Sue” quilt for the girl’s wedding gift! What a unique quilt! Good luck!

©2004 Hallye Bone

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