Tag Archives: Patchwork

How Not to Waste a Scrap

I recently found a set of twelve unfinished patchwork pieces in the Dresden Plate pattern. I scooped these up from the bottom of a bin at the Goodwill Dig, knowing I had absolutely no use for them. But the thought of these Depression Era fabrics ending up in a ragger’s bundle made me so sad I had to rescue them.

All the fabrics are 1930s dress fabrics or feedsack fabrics. Some of the fabrics are the same but in different colors, like the blue and green examples above. Maybe a mother made matching dresses for her little girls – blue for one girl and green for the other. And since that same design is also present in red and in purple, maybe there were four daughters.

What really impressed me the most is that some of the pieces are actually pieced from even smaller scraps. The center piece above is made from five tiny scraps, some of them much smaller than an inch in width and length. The maker really knew how to use up every tiny bit of the precious material.

Amazingly, these designs were all pieced by hand. Do you see why I just had to rescue these?

In my own sewing, one of the things I hate facing is the large amount of unusable scrap fabric left over from the cutting. I’m not a quilter, and for the most part, don’t indulge in fiddly crafts that use tiny scraps of fabric. I do make lots of pillows, and all my scraps are cut even smaller to make filling. After reading about how much textile waste ends up in the trash dumps of the world, I can’t bear to add to the problem.

I know that in some areas there is textile recycling. And if worst comes to worst, scraps can be donated to Goodwill where they end up in the ragger’s bundles.  Are there any other ideas?

So now I have twelve pieces of Dresden plate, which I don’t need. I’d love to pass them on to someone who will actually use them, and that person has been located. Thanks, Joni, for taking these off my hands!

A few of the pieces have stains. This is the worst one I have noted.





Filed under Shopping, Textiles, Uncategorized

Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.


Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading

Patchwork Beach Pyjama

I found this pyjama at my local Goodwill Center.  When I spotted it in the bin I thought it was a 1920s/30s quilt, and then I noticed the legs.  So thought number 2 was that some crafty young thing in the 1970s took an old quilt and made a jumpsuit from it.  But then the bodice appeared from the jumble of clothes, and I saw that the maker had engineered the bodice pieces into a chevron design, and then realized this was an intentional design.

A close look at the construction revealed that this piece is from the late 1920s or the 1930s.  All the patchwork pieces are silk, and they are hand-sewn together, and also anchored to a muslin underlining.  The pyjama closes in the front, with snaps up the center front.

The condition is amazing.  I thought at first that it had never been worn, but there are light stains on the muslin under the arms, so some brave girl did wear it, at least once.  How this survived the frenzy of the Goodwill bins is a miracle, as some of the silk is beginning to deteriorate.  Unfortunately, this was stored folded, and where the creases were, the silk fibers have begun to crack.  But the good news is that this is so thick that only the places on the inner most part of the folds were damaged.  The rest of it curved around itself and that prevented most of the fibers from creasing.  In a single ply silk garment, like a chemise, you often find that it literally falls apart at the folds when moved after years in storage.

So how does a collector prevent this type of damage?  In a perfect situation, the garment would be stored flat, with acid-free tissue cushioning the interior of it.  But that is usually not possible.   Since there is a strong understructure, this pyjama could be stored hanging on a padded hanger.  If it had to be stored folded, the best thing to do is to pad all the fold with acid-free paper, knowing that in a few months the paper will need to be changed and the folds rearranged.

To learn more about the trials of textile storage, get a copy of Preserving Textiles by Harold F. Mailand and Dorothy Stiles Alig.


Posted by Stacey:

What a great find! It’s so neat that you found a piece dating from the 20s. You certainly have a knack for finding treasures at your local thrift store!

Monday, August 16th 2010 @ 6:32 PM

Posted by Anonymous:

That’s amazing. Doesn’t it make you wonder what else was stored with that piece? And where the rest of it went? 😕

Tuesday, August 17th 2010 @ 4:04 AM

Posted by Sarsaparilla:

Oh my! What an incredible find! I can’t stop looking at it. Perfect for displaying in a vintage bedroom or sunny porch. Lucky you! Like Stacey said – you’ve certainly got a knack for finding treasures.

Tuesday, August 17th 2010 @ 5:54 AM

Posted by Gina Americana:

Lucky you!

Tuesday, August 17th 2010 @ 12:33 PM

Posted by Joules:

Incredible that it wasn’t pulled apart in the jumble of the bins! I love the wild color mix, and wonderful workmanship. Great post, LIzzie!

Tuesday, August 17th 2010 @ 7:00 PM

Posted by Sarah:

Extraordinary find! I love how you describe your thought processes as you gradually pull it out of the bin and it reveals itself. How exciting!

Tuesday, August 17th 2010 @ 10:55 PM

Posted by samsara:

Wow! I love this, that chevron design is lovely indeed. I also really enjoyed your story of finding it, Ms. Lizzie!

Thursday, August 19th 2010 @ 8:08 AM

Posted by Couture Allure:

Your thrift bins reveal the most amazing finds! This is incredible. Must show it to Pam.

Friday, August 20th 2010 @ 3:59 AM

Posted by Glamoursrf:

Lizzie, this is gorgeous. I love the patchwork effect along with the chevron striping. Congrats on finding such a treasure.

Friday, August 20th 2010 @ 7:17 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad you all loved this unusual piece! Yes, Jody, it is the place of a treasure hunter’s dreams!

Friday, August 20th 2010 @ 9:09 AM

1 Comment

Filed under Shopping, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing