Quilting Happiness: Turn Old Clothes Into Beautiful Quilts

We find a lot of happiness in gently reclaiming old garments to use in our quilts. They carry so much history and meaning.
quilting happiness old clothesHere’s a quilt author Christina Lane made for her friend, Emily, who recently lost her mother. It’s pieced from her mother’s favorite garments, so whenever she needs to, Emily can get a healing hug by wrapping up in it.

Turning old garments into usable fabrics is a simple, enjoyable process. Here are our favorite techniques.

Step 1: Clean Them Up

quilting happiness old clothesWe like Biz or OxiClean for older fabrics – both lift out stains and odors safely. Follow the package directions, and let your garments soak for 30 minutes before starting a gentle wash cycle. Dry them on a clothesline or a low-heat setting.

Step 2: Cut Them Apart

quilting happiness old clothesCut your clean, dry garments apart along the seams. Remove all collars, cuffs, plackets, hems, waistbands, and anything else made from multiple layers of fabric. When you have nice, flat panels of fabric, give them a good pressing.

Step 3: Inspect Them

quilting happiness old clothesOld clothes are likely to have some stains, rips, and worn spots. Before you set your heart on a quilt design, it’s a good idea to look over your reclaimed fabric carefully and get a realistic idea of how much is usable.

If you find rips, you can try mending them creatively with embroidery or patches, or you might want to simply cut them out. In the case of stains, well… many times the stains in old fabric are old stains, and impossible to remove. You can try a second soak in detergent, or you may just want to patch or cut them away.

With all that done, you’re ready to quilt! Here are a few more tips:

Working with Non-Woven Fabrics

If you want to use some kind of jersey in your quilt, you might find it easier to work with if you fuse some water-soluble stabilizer to the backs of the pieces before cutting and sewing. Stabilizer prevents knits from stretching, so you get more accurate piecing – that’s especially helpful if you’re mixing woven and non-woven fabrics in a quilt (as with Emily’s quilt above).

Since jersey is thicker than woven fabric, keep in mind that its seam allowances will be bulkier. You might want to choose a quilt design that doesn’t have too many points meeting to help keep seam allowance bulk down.

A mixed-fabric quilt really benefits from evenly-spaced, moderately-dense quilting to hold the layers in place. Different kinds of fabric have different amounts of stretch, so your quilt can quickly pull out of shape if the quilting isn’t keeping all those layers stable.

Combining Old Fabrics with New

We love the look of reclaimed fabrics mixed with new ones, but if you decide to go that route, be sure to prewash your new fabrics. Your reclaimed fabrics have already been washed many times and are completely colorfast, so prewashing will give your new fabrics the same colorfastness.

Try some reclaimed fabrics in your next patchwork project! Get inspired at QuiltingHappiness.com.

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