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100% "upcycled materials" quilts

100% upcycled/recycled quilts. The story.

2013 - Idea

It all started back in the fall of 2013 when I was talking with a Polish friend of mine. She told me, "Becky, you can make beautiful quilts because you have all that beautiful fabric from the USA."

I started to object, thinking that it wasn't necessarily true.

Then, I thought, "Becky, you are blessed - it is true- it IS easier to make a beautiful quilt from beautiful fabrics...what could I do if I didn't have or couldn't afford beautiful fabrics - could I STILL make beautiful quilts?"

In fact, I started considering the challenge - to make attractive, interesting, even beautiful quilts from ordinary, run-of-the-mill fabrics I could find around here or anywhere, actually, but they had to be second-hand.

At that point, I challenged myself to begin making a minimum of 5 quilts a year from completely recycled/upcycled fabrics - fabric that started out as clothing or curtains or bedding or fabric that I found at thrift stores or second-hand shops.

And thus, this project began.

Oh, I know, I know, there are lots of "shirts" quilts out there. There are whole books that show you how to make quilts from men's shirts, especially. (Note: not counting t-shirt quilts - they are not what I was talking about.) But I wanted something DIFFERENT! I didn't want someone to be able to look at it and automatically say, "You made it from men's shirts."

I started out simple.

I didn't actually finish any in 2013 but started on these which I did finish in early 2014.

2014 - Implementation

I went to the old standby - and one of my favorite blocks, the simple 9 patch - but I framed them. This is obviously made from a lot of shirts. I used the labels on some of the longer strips. I had seen someone on the quilting board do this and I liked it.

The second one was a simple rail fence. I liked the navy background which was a sheet from Ikea that I was able to find at a second-hand shop.

I liked it with navy, so I decided to try it on the other end of the spectrum, colorwise.

Really simple. Just a square with a sashing.

Boring, actually.

While I wasn't "unhappy" with the quilts to date, neither was I where I wanted to be with them.

Here I got a little more creative by adding black rows with a white in between.

This used up a lot of those shirtings!

I then decided I really wanted to try a bargello. So, I bought a book and decided to go for it after studying it. This is made up of various items of clothing- men's and women's. I was able to find things here in Poland for about 33 cents - $1 each. Preparing the strips actually took almost as much time as making the actual top. I used up 24 items of clothing or bedding for this one. I was looking for all cotton. However, I might have a piece with some cotton/linen in it. I tried to steer clear of poly/cotton in these quilts.

Since I had reached my minimum goal of 5, I focused on other things. (We had 2 weddings in 2014, for example) I was pleased as I believed the bargello had accomplished my goal of not looking like it was from upcycled fabrics.

2015 - Challenges

I was having a hard time coming up with ideas as to what to make from my "upcycled materials", though. So, I decided in 2015, to begin to use challenges or quilt alongs as a starting point for making quilts from entirely upcycleds/recycleds.

In 2015, I started with a challenge quilt in Pat Sloan's Facebook group. She challenged us to make a quilt with a block of checkerboard - she called Hip to be Square. This is what I came up with. At this point, I was starting to really use my Electric Quilt program. Unfortunately, I was really "winging it" on the border - it is kind of a miracle that it turned out - so I've never written this one up. Maybe when I know more.

I then went back to my original style - I think I already had this one cut out from my 2014 efforts. Another framed 9 patch.

Black and white are classic colors, so when I saw this black and white Ikea duvet cover at the second-hand shop I snatched it up.

I put it on point and added some borders to it to make it big enough.

Then, Pat Sloan gave us another challenge - that was to use this star block in a quilt. This was my interpretation--I put it on point and reversed the colors of the star points - making the star points light and the background dark. This one had a little bit of everything - curtains, duvet covers, ladies' shirts/blouses, dresses, men's shirts, pajamas, and even a piece of yardage I found second-hand.

I felt like by this time, I had succeeded in leaving "the look" behind - that of a simply making a quilt out of men's shirts and having it "look like it."

So far, so good!

I liked how the first bargello turned out, so I made a second one from upcycled materials.

I then made this quilt using one of Pat's blocks from her yearly mystery - only I made a whole quilt from it. It was a classic mosaic block found in the Electric Quilt program - so I was able to draw it up and work out this design. I used lots of the extra HST in the border. (I usually make my HST (if they are this size by using paper piecing) - a whole sheet of paper and sewing on lines - see the pattern "Autumn Splendor" for more details if you are curious.) I used the same basic set of fabrics as the previous autumn colored quilt.

I had collected so many of these autumn fabrics, that I went ahead and made a third one from these fabrics. Yeah...more framed 9 patches. Time to get a little more ambitious!

For my next one, I was tickled to find several coordinating garments within a couple of weeks of each other. I found the brown with the pink and blue and then found items that coordinated with that--all were on sale for 1 zl each (about 33 cents at the time.) I felt like it was a gift from the Lord. The white was a sheet or duvet cover--can't remember which and it probably cost about $3.

I decided I wanted to finish up this top I had made previously. I can often find solids much more easily than I can find interesting prints (second hand here in Poland.)

I decided to make one more bargello from 100% upcycleds. The result was wonderful! I'm such a sucker for this particular pattern.

2016 - Expansion

I began 2016 with the desire to once again use quilt alongs or challenge quilts as a springboard for upcycled quilts. It actually gives me somewhere to go with otherwise, it is hard to make the decision about what pattern to use. This was a quilt along in a small Facebook group I had joined. I did write it up for you, though, as once again, I put my own twist on any original block we were given to much so that you wouldn't recognize it as the same block. It's here.

I had found this Sarah Kay fabric as curtains at the local bazaar --really I purchased it from what seemed to be out of the trunk of someone's car. At the time I didn't know it was Sarah Kay - just that it looked a lot like Holly Hobbie from my childhood and I liked it. Of course the print was very large, so I needed to keep it big or risk cutting off heads. I actually made 4 out of the set of curtains, but I made sure these two tops were made with only upcycled (cotton) fabrics.

Then Pat Sloan gave us another challenge on her Facebook group, and that was to make something with this block. This is what I did. I named it Gumdrop Geometry.

But since I had to collect so many items of clothing in these bright, cheery colors, I had lots of leftovers, so I went ahead and made another quilt - my design. We named this one "Pixie Stix 'n skittles".

Pat hadn't had as many challenges this year in her Facebook group, so I went and ahead and made this "quilt along" quilt from upcycleds. It is harder to make something with so few fabrics because the challenge is to get enough of one fabric as I didn't have an unending supply as if I had bought the fabric at the store. The initial pattern is called Bravo Indigo. At the time, it was a free download.

This was once again a challenge block from Pat Sloan's Facebook groupl I wasn't all that thrilled with the block itself (no offense intended, if Pat ever happened to see this post - just wasn't my "cup of tea" so to speak) so I tried to make it fun and interesting to me.

I found myself with a lot of shirtings - so I relented and made as beautiful of a shirtings quilt as I knew how. I call it "Show Off".

Then, someone had suggested a name for a previous quilt I had made to be called "Checkered Past". While I didn't choose that name for that quilt, I kept the name in mind and made a quilt specifically with that name in mind. I also pulled out those leftover autumn fabrics that I used the previous year. I was trying to use up a lot of the larger pieces! (I did.) This particular pattern also uses the pockets.

My very small Facebook group had yet another quilt along - this one was the old standby "Burgoyne Surrounded". I had already made this design twice, so I wanted to make it quite different this time. So this is what I did. I called it "Scrappy Happy Burgoyne Surrounded".

Cabin Fever Blues is a log cabin quilt I made from upcycleds. I had just too many blues and wanted to whittle them down.

I still had a lot of those brights leftover from earlier in the year, so I decided to make yet another bright one from second-hand fabrics. I call it Claire's Lanterns. It came on the heels of "Sea Lanterns" (in my 2" strips quilts). Claire in my daughter in law - my second son's wife - and grew up in Hong Kong. I thought these looked a lot like Chinese lanterns - thus the name.

2017 - Retraction

I began 2017 by finishing up this top made in my small Facebook group - the theme was "9 patch". I chose to make a double 9 patch. I used quite a few men's shirts and bedding in this one.

I had decided I really like the look of "Scrappy Happy Burgoyne Surrounded", so I made a much quicker and easier quilt with that idea. It is based on an old block called "Goose in the Barn Door". I called it Monkey Wrench Fun.

In April I went ahead and finished a simple Irish Chain that I had started earlier in my quilting life. I used a couple different whites in it, but I think it turned out simply sweet.

I finished A Nod to Mod in late spring. While the background fabric seems like I used two fabrics, that's not the case. The variations in color are simply the duvet cover I was using - parts of it were lighter than other parts. The solids were all various shirts, blouses, duvet covers, sheets, etc. I'm not, by nature, a "modern" quilter - being drawn naturally to traditional patterns. However, this was at least an attempt to merge modern and traditional.

2017 came and went. and I only finished these 4 - I failed to reach my goal of 5 quilts from all upcycled materials in 2017. reflection...

I also think I've already proven to myself that I can make a beautiful quilt from second-hand fabrics. Maybe they aren't "drop dead" gorgeous - but nice enough so that you might not automatically assume they are not 'new' fabrics.

Most of all, I hope I can inspire you to use what you have - and hold your head up while using those second-hand fabric

But I digress....

I did make quite a few upcycled tops late in 2017 but didn't manage to finish any of them in 2017.

2018 - Renewal

I worked on a series of 19 tops in the fall and winter of 2017 using boxes of upcycled blue fabrics I had. I had entirely too many of them - as for a while these clothing items were only about 25-33 cents each here in Poland. I had overbought. I quit buying them, however, a while before, or I'd have no place to work at all! I decided I needed to get these down to only 2 boxes from having 6 boxes of misc. pieces of shirtings.

But here are the upcycled blues - I've been trying to finish them before I go back to finishing up some of my other colored tops. First I finished Positively Scrappy. The name comes from the pluses formed by the sashing/cornerstone effect.

Then I finished up Starry Night - a relatively simple quilt using larger squares than I'd been using.

With my penchant for chain quilts, of course, I couldn't resist making one...or two...or...

I called this one Simple Chains

This one was actually number 12 in my series. It is made of small scraps and pieces of the previously finished blues quilts. The tops haven't all been shown yet here. I named it All Crumbled Up.

Double Star Beauty was a combination quilt made up of chains and a star within a star - thus the name of Double Star - I added Beauty because I liked it so much!

And so 2018 marches on. I finished another one that I named Granny's Checkerboard - because it uses granny squares and alternating checkerboard layout. I learned to crochet granny squares when I was about 12 - and enjoyed making quite a few of them. This makes me feel a little nostalgic because of that.

At this point, you should follow this link and go see my whole upcycled blues series. You can see them all together.

2019 - more and more!

After I completely finished up my “upcycled blues” series - linked just above, I went back to finishing up other things I had started. The upcycled blues series had kind of taken over 2018 and a good bit of 2019, so I was glad to finally finish! I finished the last of the upcycled blues by the end of September! I was so happy! There are 50 quilts and I decided “enough’s enough” and I stopped.

The first “100% upcycled” I finished after finishing up the “upcycled blues series”, was from autumn colored fabrics was Radio Waves. I had made the top a couple of years before.

The design was sort of a rebellion of sorts against cutting all the beautiful fabrics into tiny pieces - as sometimes the fabrics are very pretty all by themselves and deserve to be left in large enough pieces to be appreciated for what they are!

The next one I finished was this cross one. I was playing around with the idea of using checkerboards with various sizes - and values. It turned out very nice.

The next one I was able to finish was one I called “Diffusion”. I suppose you can figure out why I named it that. Probably if I were buying fabric, I could have done a better job. However, I was using “what I had”. This is the result. I love the idea - I am not 100% thrilled with my execution.

And that’s where we are now!


Hope you enjoyed this trip through my quilts made from “upcycleds”. If you want to read more about any one of these quilts in process, you can do a search on the website for the name I gave it and the accompanying blog posts will show up. At that point you can read more should you care to.

“That’s all folks!” (for now!)

- Becky Tillman Petersen