OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – There is controversy in the quilting world.
Using old quilts to make clothes is back in fashion, and quilters are divided on whether it’s sacrilege or just another way to be creative. Lots of toggling between the two.
“There’s been a lot of push around using vintage quilts to make clothing,” said Susie Bonder of the Omaha Modern Quilt Guild. “It’s almost as polarizing as politics these days.”
Major fashion designers are fueling the trend, with some selling these garments for thousands.
This has created vociferous protests from the likes of quilter and writer Mary Fons, who supports the role of quilts in fashion, but draws the line from ancient quilts.
“Her premise is based on the fact that for many years quilting was a way for women to have a voice,” Bonder told the Omaha World-Herald. “It created something that no one else could control. It was their idea and their work. Cutting them is a disrespect to the creator.
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The combination of quilt and clothing is actually nothing new, says Leslie Levy, executive director of the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln. The practice dates back centuries and across the world. Quilting was used in clothing to add strength and warmth. Quilts were often reused due to the scarcity and value of the textiles.
The museum has several copies in its collection. But that doesn’t mean he supports the trend.
“In the museum world, we don’t promote modifications of an original piece,” Levy said. “In the general world of quilting, we see two sides. Some people think it’s wrong to cut a traditional quilt. Others love the fashion statement.
Inspired by posts she saw on social media, Omahan Jillian Baird bought three quilts that she thought would make lovely coats. She found a couple while she was saving up for less than $10.
“I love it because it’s like wearing art that you can show off rather than sitting in a closet and nobody seeing it,” she said.
But she said she also appreciates all the work that goes into making a quilt. She called the first one she did for a cousin a labor of love.
Her grandmother quilted and the family still has a sunbonnet blanket she made.
“I know it’s the one my mom would kill me if I touched it,” she said.
Her friend, Nicole Engels, loves the cozy feel of a quilted jacket and, like Baird, loves all the colorful patterns. She made a quilted jacket for her nephew and is preparing one for herself.
She also inherited some duvets from her grandmother. While it’s a way to maintain the life of the quilt, she says, she can’t bear to use them for clothing.
“I can’t force myself to do it,” she said. “I’m not saying the others are wrong. I can’t force myself to do it.
One of the most photographed ensembles at the Met Gala last fall was rapper ASAP Rocky’s handmade vintage quilt, which he wore as a cape. The trend is also found locally.
Lincoln fashion designer Rachel Andrew has made quilted garments both times she has attended Omaha Fashion Week. This allows her to transform even the simplest garment into something unique.
But she avoided controversy by making the quilts she uses for her clothes from the get-go, something she never thought she’d enjoy.
“Personally, I like having the control to create my own creations,” she said. “My great-grandmother was a quilter. Just because of sentimental value, I wouldn’t cut them.
“That’s one of the reasons I love making my own. I’m not cutting off someone else’s invaluable work.
Levy said there’s also a practical reason to avoid using vintage quilts in clothing: they’re often already in a fragile state and the fabric will degrade even further if the item needs to be washed.
Bonder said it was interesting to see all the reactions to the use of quilts for clothing. She recently held a seminar where most bought a quilt from the store to make a jacket, but a few used quilts they had at home.
Like many, Bonder doesn’t understand the idea of cutting out a quilt with a story or beautiful craftsmanship. But she also knows that many don’t feel the same way.
“If they’re not used and they’re not appreciated,” she said, “why not take them out and use them?”
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