Why This Vermont Designer Makes Clothes From Vintage Quilts

A quilt made from old coats and dress pants is draped over the back of a velvet sofa in this Howard Street studio apartment in Burlington.

Looking more closely at the quilt’s geometric design, you notice that the shapes forming its pattern are due to multiple strips of fabric being joined together around a central square to create a block. Then these multiple blocks are sewn together to form the whole.

Kat McVeigh and Dale Donaldson, courtesy

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The quilt draped over the couch in Kitty Badhands downtown studio was made from old suits, probably from the late 1800s. This particular textile will live its life as a quilt, though many other vintage materials will find new life in the form of coats, dresses and other garments, designed by Kat McVeigh.

This particular model is known as a “log cabin”. In America, its use and popularity dates back to the Civil War. And this quilt on this studio sofa was probably sewn in the late 1800s.

This particular blanket is in the Burlington apparel and design studio of Kitty Badhands. He will live his story as it is: a duvet, a bedspread, a sofa set made almost 200 years ago.

Dozens of other quilts and colorful textiles are stacked on shelves in the studio space, awaiting their transformation into durable, wearable art.

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Kat McVeigh is co-owner of Kitty Badhands with her partner Dale Donaldson. And for McVeigh, quilting is a form of storytelling. She said she felt her mission was to write the next chapter of these vintage quilts.

“One of the things I love the most about our clothes is that they have an element of storytelling,” she said. “The best thing I can do is if there’s an unknown quilt up for auction that’s been sitting in someone’s basement for 80 years, I’m just gonna let the quilt tell the story. .”

Creating new clothes from these textiles “just gives a chance to tell the story in a different way,” McVeigh said. “And being heard by people who may not care about quilts, but love fashion.”

McVeigh started Kitty Badhands in 2016, purely as a quilting business. And then she started making clothes out of vintage textiles during the pandemic, turning fabric heirlooms into one-of-a-kind coats and clothes — unique, wearable art.

“I was making clothes as a hobby. And then in 2020 when the pandemic started, I had more time to work on my hobby and that became the main focus,” he said. she declared. “So Kitty Badhands changed probably in early 2020.”

Piles of quilts and fabrics were folded on several shelves in the corner of a studio.

Kat McVeigh of Kitty Badhands lovingly collects old quilts and textiles from online sources and in-person auctions. She then lives with the quilts in her studio for a while, getting to know their patterns and intricacies, even before she makes the first cut.

With a 50-50 partnership, McVeigh does “all the work. And Dale does everything behind the scenes. And I know how to do about half of it, and he knows about half of it. So it works really well .”

With their dual artistic background and Donaldson’s focus on graphic design and marketing, the duo embark on a dual mission: to keep these old textiles from ending up in landfills by creating unique new garments from them. this. And: encourage consumers to adopt sustainable clothing.

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Donaldson recently sourced new materials that will stand the test of time.

“Everything we buy – threads, zippers, snaps – we’ve gone through several different versions,” he said. “And you know, every time we take a step forward, we try to find the most sustainable version of that.”

Donaldson said Kitty Badhands’ current customer tends to be younger and is passionate about the company’s designs, which breathe new life into old textiles.

“And we just want to make sure that as we expand our offering, our customers will have confidence that we’re making good decisions,” he said.

McVeigh said that as they grow, she knows that the materials she uses to make her original design dusters, coats and chore dresses will come from sources other than vintage textiles.

“But the one thing I learned from starting with vintage materials is that durability is really important to me,” she said. “So whatever we make in the future, or if we send it off to be made by someone else, it has to be durable.”

McVeigh added: “It has to be good for the planet, good for the community. If someone else is going to make our clothes, I want them to be paid well and treated well. So I don’t think it’s a fashion aspect that I could have considered if I had not started in the field of vintage textiles.”

A person with a beard and cap stands to model a coat made from an orange, red and yellow vintage quilt.

Kat McVeigh and Dale Donaldson, courtesy

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Dale Donaldson changed careers to partner with Kat McVeigh when Kitty Badhands started creating wearable art from vintage textiles. Donaldson sources new materials that will fuel the duo’s mission to create sustainable clothing.

Starting her life as a seamstress early on and learning alongside her grandmother, McVeigh discovered the potential of using older, worn-out fabrics to create something new.

“My mama-mama always made quilts,” she said. “I don’t remember her teaching me how to sew. I just remember going there and helping her sew the triangles by hand. And I thought that was really interesting to hear like, ‘Oh, that was your mother’s communion dress.’ And ‘Oh, those are the curtains we hung on Halloween in the 70s.’ And every piece was kind of put into the quilt.”

A person stands to model a multicolored moto-style jacket made from a vintage quilt.

Kat McVeigh and Dale Donaldson, courtesy

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Kat McVeigh is constantly creating new designs to incorporate vintage quilts and textiles, like this prototype of a classic moto-style jacket, which she plans to create more to sell to customers in the fall.

The nickname “Kitty Badhands” started out as a nickname for the university McVeigh used as an online store to sell her early pieces. This name stuck. And for McVeigh, her spark for making the first layer of a vintage quilt started with a random idea.

“And I made one and everyone wanted it,” she said. “So I did another and then I did another and I did another.”

Some quilts that McVeigh and Donaldson lovingly collect date back centuries and bear the marks of their owners, as well as those of the maker. In fact, a good part of the time spent creating the new coins is studying the past.

McVeigh deciphers the quilt patterns used as well as the materials and sewing techniques to piece together the history of the quilt, if none are available from the seller.

“Sometimes they signed and dated it,” McVeigh said. “And the person who listed it says where it’s from. And so you know Elsa May in 1884 did this in this town in Kentucky. And sometimes you don’t know, especially if it’s a model that the quilter invented herself.”

And even the fabric acts like a time machine.

“Sometimes you can tell a bit about certain fabrics that were more popular at certain times in history,” McVeigh said. “So, for example, some duvets are made from feed bags, which were very popular in the 20s, 30s and 40s.”

A hand-stitched signature, reading, "Cross of Eve Osgood, 1834" on green quilted fabric.

Kat McVeigh and Dale Donaldson, courtesy

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If a quilt has been signed and dated, or if there is a particular or unique pattern or distinctive mark, Kat McVeigh works these details to stand out in her garments to honor the original designer. .

And of some hand-stitched seams, Donaldson said, “It’s almost like a signature. Everyone hand-sews differently. Sometimes it’s super neat, sometimes it’s like everywhere.”

For McVeigh and Donaldson, their work goes back in time, while looking to the future.

“My favorite part of the job is seeing the client in their coat, happy and often with a story about someone stopping them,” McVeigh said.

She added, “It really goes back to that element of storytelling. And also the ‘bringing the quilt back to life’ is that if someone gets stopped at the grocery store to talk about their quilt, the quilt maker is there again, you know?”

As McVeigh and Donaldson work to fulfill Kitty Badhands’ mission, they say they’re making sure those textiles and quilts aren’t “in the back of a closet somewhere. They’re not in a landfill.”

And they strive to create unique garments in hopes that they will be passed down, as the original quilt was. The process almost helps bring the original craftsman back to life.

“They get talked about by people who don’t know them, but they know their work,” McVeigh said. “And they appreciate it… And I think that’s really good, because that’s what we all want is to live through our work once we’re gone.”

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