Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Waste not, want not: Quilts from reclaimed clothing

Throughout history, quilters have incorporated recycled clothing into their quilts. The photo below is of an African American crazy quilt from the early twentieth century. In the south, such quilts were often made as memorial quilts, incorporating bits of clothing worn by a loved one who had passed away. Of course, the re-use of old clothing in quilting was not reserved for such occasions - it was often done out of economic necessity. Many examples can be seen in the scrap quilts of the 1930's. These days, the 'green' movement has inspired the use of discarded materials to make new products that are useful and beautiful. And, our economy is inspiring a new wave of thrifty quilting. A recent article in the Times Online (UK) had this headline: Waste not, want not: here comes the new austerity chic. In keeping with the Times...(pun intended)... we’ve searched the globe for contemporary quilters who have taken upcycling to a whole new level. What amazes us is the sheer beauty of the quilts that these artists have created... from used clothing?!

African American patchwork quilt, ca. 1900-1920, 78 x 81, at Silkwater Antiques

In this beautiful quilt, the plaid, striped and print fabrics create a vibrant design. The quilt reminds us of a work of abstract art when viewed from a distance. Although this quilt is 100 years old, it is in excellent condition. Visit Silkwater Antiques for more quilts and antiques.

Eva in the Garden, 50 x 42, by Lori Mason, Lori Mason Design

Lori Mason is a textile designer and creator of fabulous contemporary quilts… but that’s not the whole story. Her memorial quilts are made of reclaimed clothing that was once worn by the person whose life is celebrated. Lori works individually with family members to fashion these one-of-a-kind pieces. Eva’s Garden, above, was made in memory of Lori’s own grandmother: it incorporates Eva’s jeans, Oxford shirts, and her favorite pair of gardening shorts. We love the bold graphic design of this quilt and the lively contrasts between the light and dark plaids, stripes and solids... and we love the whole idea of a contemporary memorial quilt, providing solace and beauty for many years to come. Also don't miss the splendid quilt called Eva in New York, which was made from Eva's colorful couture clothing. For more inspiration,  visit the galleries at Lori Mason Design.

Missing the Point, by Richard Killeaney, at Ocheltree Design

When we came across Ocheltree Design we were immediately struck by the sophisticated contemporary quilts, with their clean lines. Witness the elegant “Missing the Point” quilt, above. Believe it or not, the quilt is made entirely of recycled dress shirts! The backing is a sumptuous organic cotton sateen. Although Richard Killeaney has an MFA in textiles, we learned that his quilts are designed to be used - not just to be displayed on the wall as works of art. Oh yes: we can easily imagine ‘missing the point’ in a seaside cottage, with whitewashed walls and a view of the ocean (sigh). “Missing the Point” also comes in an ultra-stylish red colorway. Also don’t miss Richard’s exquisite Full Grid and Golden State quilts.  For more quilts, and gorgeous pillows made from recycled shirts, sweaters, and tweeds, visit the Ocheltree Design website.

The Shirt Off My Back , 71 x 81, quilted by Betty Leppin, at Silks and Quilts

Beautiful blue plaids, stripes and dotted fabrics were artfully arranged to create this fabulous three-dimensional tumbling blocks quilt. It's one of our favorite optical illusion quilts. We were surprised and delighted to learn that this quilt was constructed with men's 100% shirting fabrics. The name of the quilt, "The Shirt Off My Back", should have been a clue! The quilt top was discovered by artist Betty Leppin at an estate sale; she finished and quilted it. Betty creates magnificent hand painted silks, and original art quilts, in her studio near the Chesapeake Bay. Betty's love of color, composition, and technical details are apparent in her fabric creations, which can all be seen at Silks and Quilts.

Shirt Quilts, by Judy Peterson, aka 'WhiteStone'

While perusing the World Wide Quilting Pages (WWQP) we 'discovered' Judy Peterson, aka "JudyPete", aka "WhiteStone". Judy creates magnificent quilts from gently-used shirts and blouses, which she has collected from yard sales, thrift stores and family members. We're showing two beauties: "Manly Quilt" and "Fred's Double Four Patch". The Manly Quilt was made from four neutral-color men's dress shirts as the solids, plus numerous fat quarters from the quilt shop (click on the image to see the details). You can read about it on the WWQP (scroll down the page to see that post, and you will also find links to her other Shirt Quilt posts).  But wait, there's more: you can learn about Judy's shirt selection methods, and ogle her elegant Lady of the Lake and four patch variation quilts,  here.  Her own blog is called Wanna Walk Along?

Shirt Stripe Boxes, by Kaffe Fassett

The classy Shirt Stripe Boxes quilt was featured in Kaffe Fassett's Passionate Patchwork: Over 20 Original Quilt Designs, with Liza Prior Lucy, which is just one of Kaffe's bestselling books.   The book also has a pattern for "Baby's Corrugated", below.

"Shirt Stripe Boxes", with its mitered corners and myriad scrap options, instantly captured the attention of modern quilters and helped to inspire a Reclaimed Clothing Quilt-Along, which now has 67 members! For more information and a link to the quilt-along, visit the Bloomin' Workshop. One of the prettiest quilts so far  is Brandon's Quilt by jewelry designer Stella Maris, aka polyesterstella. (See her photostream on Flickr, and her website at Etsy). For all of Kaffe Fassett's books and designs, visit the Kaffe Fassett Studio.

Bargello in Plaid, and Shirt Tails, by Bonnie K. Hunter, at Quiltville

When it comes to quilts made from shirts and scraps, Bonnie Hunter wrote the book (literally). Her "Shirt Tails" and "Bargello in Plaid" quilts, above, are just two of the wonderful quilts in her Scraps and Shirttails book (to date, every reviewer on Amazon has given the book five stars... that says it all!) If you visit Quiltville you can see a preview of all the quilts in the book (thanks, Bonnie!) Many more quilts can be found on the extensive Quiltville website. Bonnie's love of quilting and "making do" with scraps really comes through in her entertaining tutorials. Also check out her clever Adventures with Leaders and Enders. We like ordering books directly from the artist, whenever possible; Bonnie's books are available at Quiltville.

Do you think I'll have crazy dreams... by Stefanie Japel

Stefanie Japel heads up her eponymous design studio, a knitter's paradise that offers original patterns, books, and workshops. Her Glampyre Knits blog is loaded with knitting tips... with an occasional foray into quilting. After hand-dyeing some yarn one day, Stefanie tossed some fabric scraps into her dye pans, and used the over-dyed fabrics to construct this fantastic log cabin quilt! We love the turquoise-and-persimmon color scheme with its sepia tones. We know about hand-dyeing fabrics for quilting, of course, but usually it is done by starting with new white fabric as a base. Stefanie's ingenious approach/solution has us envisioning a whole new trend.

Housetop, 55 1/2 x 55 1/2, by Deb Rowden

Deb Rowden's dazzling Housetop quilt, above, was made with recycled shirts and purchased plaids and stripes.  Her site, Deb Rowden's Thrift Shop Quilts, proclaims:  "It's not trash, it's found".  Just yesterday she showed a lovely Springtime quilt made from scraps of pretty florals. We also covet her blue plaid quilt (and so many others on her site).   Deb is not only a quilt artist and thrift-shop-quilt guru, but also a publisher and an author. Her newest book is called  Making Memories:  Simple Quilts from Cherished Clothing.  The book shows examples of antique and contemporary memory quilts, and explains how to create one-of-a-kind quilts from clothing (bring your memories out of storage, and back to life!)  For more inspiration, read one of Deb's real-life stories about memory quilts

Attic windows in plaid, by Jean Dyer Goulden

This is one of our all-time favorite attic windows quilts. Just imagine the possibilities for the re-use of cottons and flannels, and madras plaids (remember madras shorts? If you're lucky, you'll find some at the thrift store). The warm and cool color contrasts of the mitered window 'frames', which are done in prints, create a fantastic pattern. Note the arrangement of contrasting values; the lightest fabrics are used on the tops of the attic windows, so that the light source appears to be coming from  the bottom of the quilt. To see this quilt and many others, visit Jean Dyer Goulden's photo gallery. For tips on attic windows quilts, see the tutorials by Susan Druding on

Antique Rug, 52 x 65, by Pamela Goecke Dinndorf, at Aardvark Quilts

Aardvark Quilts has a fantastic selection of patterns that are perfect for stripes and plaids, including "Antique Rug", above. We love the quilt as shown, with its masculine red, brown and black colorway... wouldn't it also be pretty in red, white and blue shirting fabrics? For another great pattern, consider the delightful Squares Squared, which is shown below. Aardvark Quilt patterns are carried in many shops; for one online source, see Gruber's Quilt Shop.

Shabby chic quilts

Rag quilts are one of the fastest ways of making quilts from used clothing, and keeping said clothing out of landfills. The quilt above was featured in How to Use Used Clothes in a Variety of Ways. For a  basic tutorial on rag quilting, click here.  A "ragged squares" quilt tutorial (like the quilt shown above) can be found at Crazy Mom Quilts.  But can rag quilts be über stylish? You decide... see the shabby chic quilt patterns at A Vision To Remember and the adorable rag quilt patterns for kids at Sweet and Shabby Designs.   Quilt Country has many great rag quilt patterns by Sandy Brawner. Another rag-and-scrap quilting diva is Evelyn Sloppy, the author of  Frayed Edge Fun (her website is Little Miss Sloppy).   In addition, here's an article with some advice about rag quilts (to save your hands, use spring-loaded scissors!)

More reclaimed clothing quilts:  Barbara Brackman, of Material Culture fame, has some outstanding articles and examples of reclaimed clothing quilts... they'll knock your socks off!  See this post and  this one.  Sonja Shogren has a quilt called String Beans that is perfect for recycled men's shirts. Ionne McCauley's classic Blue Plaid Shirt quilt, "In Memory of Raymond",  is in her book, Color For The Terrified Quilter.   Lisa Boyer, who writes a blog called That Dorky Homemade Look, used thrift shop clothing to make a totally non-dorky quilt called "Half Price Day at the Salvation Army"; you can see it here.  You might be interested in the Thrifty Quilter, which has a complete tutorial on making a quilt with seven shirts (Seven Shirts + Seven Steps = One Thrifty Quilt). And finally, a request: if any of you know of a reclaimed clothing quilt or blog, would you kindly share the link in the Comments below? We'd love to see them and/or post them (and thanks in advance!)

Note added on June 10, 2010:  Please don't miss the wonderful Fisher Foresi Quilt by Erin Wilson.  It was made with 42 pairs of boxers, several pants and button down shirts, and was made in memory of the young man who wore the clothes. 

Image credits:  Images are displayed with the generous permission of the artists.


  1. Your site is an awesome quilt blog! I'm much impressed with the time you must spent in creating each post and how well you present those quilts and quilters which you feature each time. Good job! (And thanks for including my quilts in this post! I'm thrilled that you did so.)

  2. Judy, thank you for letting us show your quilts and for your encouraging remarks about our blog. We are really enjoying researching and writing it. Your comment made our day... much appreciated!

  3. What a wonderful post!! I love all the quilt photos and your write-ups. Thanks so much.

  4. That first quilt is just gorgeous - it looks very jazzy to me, and very contemporary, despite the age, Rallt stunning! Thank You for sharing!

    When my father died, insted of throwing out his old shirts, I cut them and made a large memorial quilt. I use it all the time, and it has an added value for me and my family. I think, recycling is the best part of quilting! Only my last two are made from new fabrics.

    1. do you use lightweight shirts as well or stick to shirts that have a heavier weight? wondered if lightweight will hold up through the wash cycles

  5. started to make a bedspread using strips of men's shirts but stopped cos I wondered if the material was strong enough. Do you use light weight shirts as well? any problems?


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