3 Tips for Sustainable Quilting with Scraps, Recycled Fabric, and Repurposed Clothing

Every spring after doing a thorough sweep of my studio, organizing my fabric stash, and culling my collection of books and notes, I feel refreshed. My space is cleared of clutter, my tools and materials are organized for easy access, and my extra books and fabrics have found a new home. My studio feels noticeably lighter and fresh. Nothing is weighing me down.

Once again, my soul is ready to create.

This is a block from the Picnic Party Quilt I’m working on as a gift for a friend’s wedding. It uses 2 1/2″ strips of fabric – perfect for precuts or scraps from your stash.

There’s a current quilting and crafting trend – I’m sure you’ve noticed it, too – to be more aware of your impact on the environment by reducing consumption. Using clothing scraps in quilts is nothing new – it is a mainstay of traditional practice. But what are some other ways we can make an impact and practice sustainable quilting? Buying less is obvious. Stash diving is a great idea – and it is also a thrifty option. Managing consumption is all about the 3 Rs: reduce what we purchase (making intentional decisions about what we buy), reusing materials we already have, and recycling what we can’t use – or the better option, sharing it with fellow artists.

Three Artists Who Live and Breathe the ‘3 Rs’

Zak Foster and one of his bold compositions featuring repurposed fabric.

Zak Foster uses found fabrics/repurposed textiles in his work to create amazing and unique quilts for himself and for others. He makes memory quilts from clothing, art quilts for shows, and was highly praised for his Met Gala quilt for A$AP Rocky. Check out this interview with Zak by McCall’s editor Gigi Levson to learn about his sustainable practice.

“Scavenger Hunt: I Listened” by Heidi Parkes

Modern quilter Heidi Parkes carefully stitches and artfully mends the fabrics she incorporates in her quilts. Heidi’s work has won awards, inspired other fiber artists, and was featured in a 2020 article for QuiltCon Magazine where she shared her Scavenger Hunt Quilt recipe, a pattern in the ‘Instructional Art’ format used by artists such as Sol LeWitt and Yoko Ono.

Victoria Gertenbach’s work incorporates vintage fabric, photos, and lots of stitching. This work in progress shows the placement of the fabric prior to completion. Learn more about her work in the Fall 2021 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

Art quilter Victoria Gertenbach honors the past in fabric collage that also incorporates lots of vintage textiles. Her work is incredibly thoughtful, highly textured, and made even more beautiful because of the meaningful use of well-worn cloth.

Of course, there are so many more contemporary examples. Consider the work of Faith Ringgold (whose quilts are currently on display at the New Museum in New York) or the amazing work of the Gees Bend Quilterswho sewed, mended, and reused fabric from daily life in their astounding quilts. Or Luke Haynes’ Log Cabin quilts made entirely from repurposed cloth. These are all incredible examples of sustainable – and artful – quilts.

Three Tips to Start Your Own Sustainable Quilting Practice

Sometimes, too many choices lead to less productivity. I’m committing to reduce my ‘fabric footprint’ and use what I have in my stash before buying more. Here’s how I’m approaching the sustainability challenge

1. Waiting a day before making a purchase

In a world where we’re spoiled for choice and tempted each time we turn on social media, it does take some intention to keep true to that intention. Waiting makes me ask the questions: Do I really need this, or do I want it? Is it an impulse buy or a necessity?

2. Sharing my stash

My stash is my artist’s palette, yet sometimes I need a different piece of fabric to make my quilt ‘sing’. My local guild started a tradition of hosting a fabric tag sale at our spring meetings and it was the perfect way to reduce our personal stashes as well as to share the wealth. All leftover cloth was donated to a worthy cause.

This little quilt was made with thrifted wool fabric.

3. Thrifting

When I needed 100% wool to felt for this little art quilt, I went to my local Goodwill and bought a tattered houndstooth skirt. I’m still using the leftover bits for wool appliqué. Thrift stores also carry curtains and sheets (great for mending projects) and a wide variety of oxford shirts if you are looking for neutrals and plaids in hard-to-find patterns.

Are you ready to join me? If so, pick up your rotary cutter, your re-imagined stash, and let’s get quilting!

Best,

Vivika's signature

Vivika Hansen DeNegre

Editor

Looking for a great stash busting quilt pattern to enhance your practice of sustainable quilting? Here are a few of my favorites:

The Scrap Lattice Quilt Pattern showcases small bits of your favorite fabrics in a modern quilt design that will put your fabric stash to good use.

The Picnic Party Quilt Pattern is the perfect scrap quilt to use up fat quarters that coordinate well together.

Or if a course is more your style, check out Bonnie Hunter’s Wanderlust Quilt Course and learn all the tricks!

We also have our stupendous Let’s Get Scrappy! 50% Off Scrap Quilt Patterns Sale from 4/1- 4/10

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