What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.


Filed under I Didn't Buy...

25 responses to “What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

  1. Actually, a lot of work went into that skirt for such a poor result. I worry all the time about the mountain of fiber waste we are creating. When I sew, I save the scraps in a bag for Goodwill marked “fiber scraps,” in the hope that they will get sent to be made into rags. I hope that’s the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like both these comments.
    A question: In your scraps & fiber bags, do you include fabrics with man-made fibers? Many thanks to you both!
    About that skirt & those ties… agree with your observations, Lizzie. There’s potential in the concept, it’s just this particular example I don’t care for. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lizzie….this tie write-up was not only cute, but very entertaining. I smiled through the whole read. I even looked up the person who recognized you…Jessamy and SHE was very interesting also. Actually so interesting that I bookmarked it to read more thoroughly later.

    I looked up the 1940 tie quilt with the “chicken scratching”….loved it too.

    Personally, I LOVED the denium + Tie = skirt thing….oh to be 70 years younger and able to wear it. Thanks, Liz for sharing your escapades.


  4. I couldn’t get past the unfinished and unraveling edge on the denim — if this was a project, I’d deduct points for not solving the “marriage of two different fabrics” problem with a more deliberate ragged/raw edge or by using the ties on top, to create a decorative sawtooth or other pattern. I was really surprised that the ties had been stitched together instead of being allowed to move freely. About rags — fine art papers are still made from pure cotton cloth rags — but finding pure cotton must be much harder nowadays. I can’t imagine trying to separate 30% polyester from pure cotton scraps, but I’m sure there’s a mechanized way….


  5. Christina

    Regardless of its design merits the skirt certainly triggers some thoughts about recycling. I read this interesting Guardian article recently. There is a downside to shipping used, unwanted clothing to countries which is to do with preventing traditional and new textile industries from being part of a growing economy.


    I seem to remember an awful lot of ties I came across seemed to have the remains of the owner’s dinner on them.


  6. Jessamyn

    It was wonderful to meet you! I really enjoyed our chat.

    And hey, I did my part by saving two things… One was a really surprisingly stylish and well-made circa-1960 raspberry boucle car coat made in Hong Kong, and the other was two lengths of lightweight white cotton pique printed with tiny pink roses. I think were curtain panels, but they washed up beautifully and are going to be a dress made from a 1940 pattern. I spent $4 on everything. Our society is nuts.


  7. As mentioned – the ties do make great quilts…I saw a “Crazy Quilt” quilt used as a fabric to upholster the seat on a twig bench…in a stall with everything done in quilt – a lot of the material used were old ties….


    • I love crazy quilts, and I’m almost persuaded to try my hand at one. A seat cover would be a lot more obtainable than a full quilt, so thanks for the idea.


    • I’m slowly working on a hexie quilt using nothing but tie silk. Hexies are a hand-sewn technique, thus totally portable, like knitting. I will admit I bought 60 pounds of these tie silk sample swatches one crazy day at a fabric outlet. The samples are about 10″ x 24″. I believe there were 10-12/pound. I have also been slowly selling off the pieces so I have perhaps 300 left.
      I also heard that about the African textile industry. I asked my husband (professor of International economics) and he said it sounded plausible but you really can’t believe what you read in popular media, as journalists tend to generalize from a few examples.
      I like the skirt. I picture a teenager who didn’t know much about sewing but had plenty of imagination.


  8. PS Dear Lizzie the skirt ….?!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marie

    Hey Lizzie!
    It seems like no one has actually ever perfected the act of recycling old neckties but not for lack of trying. Googling it unveils a pethora of hideous images but this blog entry I found particularly entertaining. Mostly because of the title. http://how-to-recycle.blogspot.com/2015/03/attractive-neckties-fashion-trend.html
    The back view of the mini jumpsuit has to be the best/worst

    Miss you

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was told by the manager of a famous, long-time vintage shop in Manhattan that most of their merchandise comes from rag houses. Since most shoppers want a 70s band t-shirt, tuxedoes, suit vests, a denim jacket, battered jeans, retro boots, or Boy Scout shirts (not the dresses/coats/hats we all adore here), it makes sense for them to use vintage bales from rag houses. She also told me they don’t stock vintage women’s shoes and rarely buy women’s hats because nobody buys them. I would say that is also true at my friend’s vintage shop hours from any big city. WIth the shoes and hats it’s not never but they certainly don’t sell like old pretty party dresses and 70s funkiness.


  11. The skirt made me smile. I’m actually saving all my ripped up jeans to remake into a steampunk ensemble. I’ve been saving the jeans for about three or four years now and have enough to make them into something. I know a few people who have taken old t-shirts and made them into quilts – that’s something on my someday list as well. As for old ties – rugs. Those braided rugs would actually look nice out of old silk ties.


  12. Ruth

    Lizzie, the skirt was kind of a sad effort. I’ve always wondered about using ties like the Seminole women do small pieces of fabric for their piecework. Done properly you could truly make a lovely piece, I think. If I ever get through some of my projects I’ll have to think about it. I’ve gotten some of my best pieces of fabric at thrift stores, I do love them so! I also donate pieces that are big enough to work with. I’m watching for old leather pieces of clothing now for some other projects. Certainly not vintage or nice items that are wearable, but maybe some of the uglier leather skirts from the 80’s. I’ve also picked up a couple of leather purse/bags at thrift stores that turned out to be my favorites. They always have some life left in them and I’m hard on my purses. (Sorry for the late comment, I’m still behind and catching up. Had to switch to a newish, to me, computer and it takes a while to set up.)


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