An article in Wednesday’s New York Times sparked an online “conversation” about many things: copying in the fashion industry, the value of a man’s work over that of a woman’s, the erasure of the makers of craft as opposed to the sellers of it, is copying really copying if there is a long-standing tradition of the practice, and who actually “owns” a news story.
I’ll say straight out that I don’t pretend to own anything I find online and share here. The news is out there for all of us to find, whether it be the day of the event or, in this case, three days later.
The article in question is titled, “Menswear is on a Quilt Trip” and it is about the clothes by Tristan Detwiler who is making garments using used quilts and other textiles. There’s really nothing earth-shattering about his concept. Anyone who has spent any time at all hunting for old clothes has seen dozens of examples of this practice. I even have an example in my collection, as you see above. The top of these 1930s pajamas was pieced specifically for this garment, but the legs were reused from an old crazy quilt.
But his line has come under criticism not for copying the work of home sewers of years gone by, but because his clothing is strikingly similar to that of a woman designer, Emily Bode. You can compare the garments on Bode’s site to the ones by Detwiler in the Times article. I didn’t link to his site because it’s mainly just photos of him posing shirtless. You can see more of his items on the Instagram account of Diet Prada.
And that’s is where all the discussion about Detwiler’s clothing is happening. You can read the comments for yourself, if you dare. It’s all a big blame-game with so many different grievances that it’s hard to keep track. In fact, I gave up trying.
But one issue that was all but ignored was the use of old textiles. I’ve been to enough flea markets and thrift stores to know that old quilts are not a rare commodity. Almost every trip to the Goodwill bins turns up at least one depression era quilt. Fantastic old wool blankets are common as well. I accumulated so many that I no longer buy them.
Most of these textiles show their age. Wool blankets usually have holes. Quilts are often threadbare. Old table linens are stained and holey. So when I see old textiles in another shopper’s cart, I’m happy to see them being rescued, even though I know chances are they will be cut up to make clothing or home decor items. By the time an item reaches the Goodwill bins, very few options are left for the object. Better that that an old quilt be used to make a fashion statement than for it to go to a ragger.
Still, I’m very uncomfortable with the thought that some historically important textiles could be cut up to make clothing that is sure to be a short-lived phase of the textile’s life. In other words, is anyone going to be wearing these recycled quilt garments five years from now? My guess is no. In the case of a battered old 1930s quilt, it’s nice that it will get a few years more use. But many quilts are valuable and important artifacts. Do the people making the decisions of whether or not to cut know the difference between the mundane and the sublime?
Bode has been in business since 2016, and her aesthetic seems to have been quite influential. There are lots of people who make jackets out of old quilts and recently they have been popping up in my Instagram feed on a regular basis. But it would be giving Emily Bode too much credit to say she was the originator of this practice. I wrote a blog post on Joanne Kliejunas ten years ago. Take a look at her fantastic quilt and linen creations. And what about the unknown maker of my patchwork pajamas?
There really is nothing new under the sun. Well, almost nothing.
I hope you regular readers are not too shocked that I’ve posted two days in a row. I’m hoping to post more often, especially when it concerns current happenings.