Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shirts become quilts

I have always considered recycling a noble idea and in quilt making it adds a layer of emotional connection to the projects if you have fabrics from special people in your life. It isn't always so easy to get it but the opportunity crystallized when I heard my pals Tom and Peter had a bag full old shirts waiting to be donated to Good Will. I offered to take them to donate, in exchange for a chance to select out what I wanted for quilting. They accepted the deal and I picked up the bags. I had them a good while before I was ready to use them.
shirts cut and hung for the first time on felt design wall

Then began my struggles of finding the way to use these many varied sports shirts. They are almost all made from heavier fabrics than is not normally used for quilt piecing. The colors are varied and each one has a nice hand. I began by cutting off the cuffs, collars and heavy seams leaving all the shirt shaped parts and pieces. Then I started hanging various pieces of them on the felt design wall. That was a surprise, none of these fabrics would cling to the felt, I had to pin every corner to make them stay up.
Still it was interesting to see the shapes that were part of the old shirt construction. I looked and studied and fiddled with them, moving them a little less than usual due to the hanging problems. Then an idea came to me: perhaps it was time to try a curved seam using the curve of the sleeves where they meet the shoulder. It wasn't difficult to sew a long gentle curve. The curves became a new design element, a new way of seeing the surface gently softened but it added a challenge beyond the curved seams. Later piecing in the angled intersections of the stacked triangle shapes. It was sort of like a very wide Y seam but with four pieces at four angles. 
With some help from my resident advisor, we decided to remove the plaids and work with the solid colored shirts and one striped fabric from one of my father's flannel shirts that was a color theme match. Burgundy, creamy white and the stripes needed a little more fabric to finish.  I went hunting at Salvation Army Store where I found a huge steel blue-gray linen shirt. It worked into the design as a break between the matched sets of burgundy and white sleeves.
experimenting with the new curves on the design wall. This shows where four angled seams came together to fill in the missing triangles in the center. 
Once the blue-gray shirt and stripes were inserted between the white and burgundy the insert looked too wide. Eventually I was inspired to add an S curve and flip the center section to break up the wide area of blue and stripes. Using a home made paper pattern for my big S curve so both sides of the S were the same curve shape when they were flipped helped keep the curves equal.
paper pattern used to match cutting the long S curves
The curve was a nice addition to the open space that was a little boring before I flipped that section and it added more curves to expand the original design idea. Some of the remaining shirt fabric made a long string of traditional "sawtooth" using blue and burgundy and white edged with cheddar cloth from a vintage line of quilters fabric that happens to match a tiny line of gold running through the striped shirt fabric. Making sawtooth strips for the first time was a delight. Even using linen and moleskin fabric to make them, if a little more difficult, wasn't a barrier to my joy as it came together.
before adding the S curve in the center section and with the sawtooth strips. 
Initially the plan was to use these sawtooth strips as part of the curved top design. Then again with some help from my resident advisor I realized that the sawtooth strips powerful graphic design overwhelmed the soft curves. He casually suggested to take those out and use them for another quilt. After a night's sleep on the idea, I loved it. Realizing I can make a second quilt that is totally different using some of the same fabrics felt like an exciting complement to this quilt. I continued the curvy top by adding stripes of all the colors in the 4 shirts around the edges of the central sleeve area to finish  this quilt I now call the Wave Shirt Quilt.   
quilting with ecru white perle cotton #8 which I then repeated with navy blue in between the white lines. 
The same big S paper pattern worked nicely to mark the curved quilting lines across the entire quilt with my favorite Hera tool.  It's filled with a nice warm wool batting and the back is a soft burgundy cotton sheeting. The label on the back is hand embroidery with white perle cotton on the blue-gray linen patch. It is bound with solid navy blue cotton.

I hand quilted alternating lines of ecru white and navy blue perle cotton #8
Label embroidery patch
completed Wave Shirt Quilt 
detail of blue and white quilting 

finished Wave Shirt Quilt 46" x 60"
Stay tuned for the Sawtooth Shirt Quilt reveal coming soon. 


Linda F. said...

You did such a great job of documenting your process of making this quilt. Your hand quilting is amazing - so even despite thicker materials. I guess practice does make perfect because you have been doing a lot of this lately!

✾Jamie Lee Cooley✾ said...

I love how you put so much thought and revision into this quilt. It reminds me of mountains once the sawtooth border was removed. Your label and hand quilting are exquisite. This recycling and the entire way you pieced the scraps together is like the Gee's Bend quilt genre.