Do Quilt Clothes REALLY Have to Die?

By Crispina ffrench

Demin Recycling, Textile Alchemy

Last week, over on Instagram, a controversy erupted around quilt clothes.  A woman I follow @YoMaryFons posted a youtube video entitled Quilt Clothes Must Die.  (It is posted above.)

In her 23 minute diatribe on ‘trending’ quilt clothing was sharp, bitter, and impassioned.  It is clear that Mary Fon cares deeply for quilts, the stories they tell and the heritage stitched in.  She and I share this respect and  honor of our grandmothers’ handwork in the form of quilts.  

This is the thing.

Saying the Quilt Clothing Must Die, turns Quilt Clothing into a trend and shames those who make, sell and purchase clothing cut from quilts.  Trends get cancelled, which means that all things associated with said trend wind up in the dumpster. Not only is clothing cut from quilts historical, it is handmade and one of a kind. Call it a trend diminishes the work of the maker and encourages the wearer to discard and move on to the next cool trend

I choose to honor the morphed quilt and see the value our textile-centric peers have added to the mix in the form of new function, allowing these, often tucked away, treasures to delight in fresh form.  I choose to encourage customers of quilt clothing to wear it and use it for years to come, honoring all involved in the making process – historical and contemporary sewists getting their creative on.

Let’s acknowledge that there are lots of quilts in the thrift stream that are not historical stories stitched by our ancestors but rather made in china renditions of our American tradition or other insignificant remakes itching for new life.

There are loads of quilts ranging from those gorgeous hand stitched relics to the 1990s to recently made, imported ‘knock-offs’ that are tucked away, under appreciated and unused.  There is not a new fabric process that holds a candle to reusing the materials we have at our disposal. Yes! Use what is alread here – and honor the gloriousness in the mix that continues to serve in its original form.

If you have a gorgeous quilt that is not being used, I see no harm in pulling it out of the hope chest and adding your creative twist to remaking that ‘raw material’ into something that will serve you better and allow the handwork of our ancestors to be appreciated.

With that said, let me clarify:

It is important for us, as textile upcyclers, to assess our materials carefully and focus on reusing textiles that are destined for the landfill, finding ways to use synthetic fast fashion pieces to create something of value that will keep these off-gassing, micro-plastic emitting garments from our watershed and soils.

It is important to preserve history in the form of intact useful quilts when we can

It is important  – not to judge and spread condescension, thank god there are no quilt police.

Shaming is never productive.  Education addresses the subject with patience, engagement and value.  The 25+ years I spent gently explaining why it is important to reuse our textile waste was a test of patience and an uncertain investment of my time and energy.

Detailing why, how, and exactly what my upcycling process and product was all about has been a joyful an integral part of my business model.  The 30+ years of conversation and polite response to sometimes less than thoughtful questions has paid off.  There is a bubbling excitement and fresh generation of creators, customers, and cultural acceptance of reuse in fashion and home decor.  Let’s welcome the attention to careful textile consumption with education, kindness and understanding that there are countless ways to assess any situation.  Best to take time to learn to see things from where others stand allowing them to be and do what they see is best for the planet and their livelihood.

While Mary Fon’s viewpoint is clear by watching her video, and I agree with her on many levels, her angry tone and condescending presentation didn’t leave a lot of room for discussion, or comfort for disagreement but rather set divisive discourse in motion – which, is actually the last thing we need here on planet earth.

As an empathetic, compassionate, and respectful textile upcycler, my ‘Big Why’ is to help others build and grow their textile upcycling business.  With a goal to change the way the world consumes textiles, I am excited to see a widespread conversation open and welcome all who have formed ideas, and opinions on the subject.  One of those conversations can begin to blossom in our message feed below this post.  Share your thoughts on the Quilt Clothes Must Die Video and let’s stay civil and kind…

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  • I do understand and agree with many of Mary Fon’s viewpoints, and do respect her for standing up. However, I feel that she has radicalized the subject. But then again, I have not done the research that she has, so I am claiming ignorance on the subject. There is a difference between “in-tact” heritage quilts and its destruction and the “seen better days, beyond repair” quilt. And by those, I mean for instance, the quilt that was brought to me the other day from which I had difficulty finding enough in-tact fabric to piece together one 16 inch teddy bear. The scraps that were not large enough to use to create the bear, then became its stuffing. There really was no other place that this quilt was going to except the land fill. The teddy bear is now in the loving arms of the quilt maker’s grand daughter who was born long after the maker’s death. As with all things in live, moderation, respect and consideration should all be taken into account when deciding whether or not to destroy a part of a women’s history.

    • Thanks for your comment Penny. Thank goodness there are no recycling police. While Mary Fons is a wealth of knowledge her tone and desire to control the use of unused textiles turned me off. Don’t get me wrong, I too see value in beautifully handmade quilts or anything else but have never thought it my place to tell others what is right or allowable.

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