Using upcycled fabrics from clothes, bed and table linen is a great way to be sustainable in your patchwork and quilting and can be budget friendly too.
I had upcycled old bed sheets for quilt backing before so when Love Quilting & Patchwork magazine asked me to design a pattern for them using upcycled fabrics I knew I could do it. BUT it turns out there are some considerations to take account of first. Let me tell you all about how I went about designing a quilt pattern specifically to use upcycled fabrics and then I'll give you my tops tips on how to get the best from them in your quilting.
Like all my quilt patterns, I started out with some doodles but it quickly dawned on me this process would be different. Usually when I design a quilt pattern I have completely free range with my fabric choices ad I can either design what I want, or if I'm designing something to use with what I already have then I know the measurements and quantities. But this time I had no idea what fabric I would have to use as it hadn't yet arrived from LPQ magazine who were going to source some from local charity shops.
Not only did I not know what colour fabrics I would be using I also didn't know what quantity of what colours I'd have to play with. So where to start? Not only did I need to design something to work with the unknown fabrics I'd be getting I wanted to make sure that any one using the pattern would be able to use it with upcycled fabrics or pull from their stash.
The patterns I often design are very bold and minimal but I wanted something that would also work well with a scrappy look. Something versatile was needed and the most versatile block I know is the half square triangle. So I designed a larger block that could easily be made with fabric from an average size shirt since I figured that was going to be easy to find in charity shops.
I suggested a blue theme as blue shirts are ubiquitous and this is exactly what I received in my fabric parcel. Some blue cotton shirts and pyjamas and some white flat sheets and pillow cases. I added some colour from my AGF Pure Solids scrap box to match my backing fabric and topped up the backing fabric with an old pillow case from the back of the airing cupboard. For the backing fabric I used an old single duvet cover that had been earmarked to be used as a dust sheet at some point.The best thing about this was that I didn't need to sew two large pieces of fabric together as it was already done! I used my favourite multi-purpose neutral thread from Aurifil, 50wt in 2309 Silver White for piecing and quilted the top with 2720 Light Blue Delft to pick up the blue fabrics.
Top tips for choosing upcycled fabrics for patchwork and quilting
Unless you are a whizz at T-shirt quilts then I recommend choosing only woven fabrics, and not knits like jersey, in 100% natural fibres so make sure you check the labels. Choosing a fabric as similar in weight and weave to a quilters cotton will be your best bet but if you are a confident sewist then by all means pick something with a looser weave if you like the fabric.
You can upcycle fabric from things you have at home or find in charity shops or thrift stores. Don't worry if your fabrics have stains or holes as you can work around these.
Clothes can be a fun source of prints or plains, men's shirts can provide a fair amount of fabric. As well as the back, you can also use the front panels as well as the sleeves. Old bedding and tablecloths can be great for background fabrics or even quilt backing, or even light weight curtains. And some charity shops often have fabric remnants for sale too so that's definitely worth checking out.
How to prepare fabric for upcycling
Wash wash wash! Wash all your upcycled fabrics to remove any dirt (they should hopefully already be clean!) but also to remove and fabric conditioner, starch or other treatments they may have been given. As they will most likely have already been washed in their life shrinkage shouldn't be a problem but if you will be mixing them with new quilting fabric from your stash then I recommend washing the new fabric to eliminate any shrinkage issues with those. When washing your fabrics I recommend washing them at 60 degrees and do it before you cut them up!
Next turn your clothes/bed linen etc into usable pieces of fabric by removing any hems, buttons, pockets etc. Now you can iron them as you would normally do before.
Before you begin cutting into them make sure to pay attention to the grain of your fabric. Most, but not all, clothes are made using the straight grain of the fabric. You can use the stretch test - fabrics pulled on the grain will have a little stretch but significantly more when pulled on the bias. Or you can use the rip test - woven fabrics will rip along the grain line. Make a little snip at the edge of your fabric and rip it! I use this method to remove the side seams on garments and bedlinen as it's very quick. Now you have discovered your grain line you can start cutting according to your pattern or design.
And now you are ready to start sewing your quilt top together. There's no need to do anything differently but I would recommend paying a little more attention to your fabric tension as you go since
For a fully sustainable quilt you can upcycle batting scraps by sewing them into a larger piece with a zigzag stitch. And don't forget to add a scrappy binding to us up every last morsel of fabric!
Get issue 123 of Love Quilting & patchwork HERE