Why Your Grandma’s Quilt Is a Must-Have in Today’s Luxury Fashion

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

When A$AP Rocky arrived at the Met Gala in September, he did what few others could do: confront Rihanna on the red carpet.

Her style icon partner was, as usual, among the best dressed of the evening. But the rapper caught the eye with his own fashion statement – ​​a chunky, multicolored quilt.

The piece was custom made by designer Eli Russell Linnetz and quilter Zak Foster, and was based on a blanket found at a California thrift store. A woman later identified the original quilt as one her great-grandmother had sewn by hand, posting an image on Instagram.

A$AP Rocky and Rihanna attend the 2021 Met Gala on September 13, 2021 in New York City. Credit: John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

Its appearance on fashion’s biggest night was just the latest example of the modern revival of craftsmanship, which is turning family heirloom quilts into luxury goods. They’ve appeared on major catwalks and in nostalgia-laden winter collections, as brands increasingly turn to repurposed fabrics as proof of their environmental credentials.

For lifelong quilting enthusiasts like former Quiltfolk magazine editor Mary Fons, seeing them go mainstream is exciting. “The thing is, quilts are cool. They’re timeless,” she said over email. “When you see them on red carpets it reinforces that, and as quilters we’re here for that.”

New America

Although luxury stalwarts like Norma Kamali and Moschino have recently incorporated quilted details into their collections, independent brands like Stan Los Angeles have come to use this technique as the basis of their work.

Recycled quilts feature prominently in the Californian brand’s surfwear collections. An overshirt, created from a quilt handmade in Pennsylvania in 1870, costs $2,250.
A quilted set by the Californian brand Stan Los Angeles.

A quilted set by the Californian brand Stan Los Angeles. Credit: Stan Los Angeles

The brand’s founder, Tristan Detwiler, first became interested in quilt recycling when he turned his old baby quilt into a jacket – the first piece he ever made “from scratch”, he said via video call. He then met quilter Claire McKarns, now 80, who took him to her warehouse filled with “hundreds and hundreds of her handmade quilts”, he added. Later, she invited her group of artisans, where Detwiler connected with more experienced quiltmakers.

The history of individual textiles is central to Detwiler’s creative approach, which also sees him upcycling a variety of other pieces passed down from generation to generation, including a hand-stitched sunburst coat by his own great-grandfather. great-great-grandmother in the 1800s. Her clothes are accompanied by labels explaining their history. “The energy of family, generations and history that obviously activates emotion,” he said.

Two and a half years after the launch of his brand, the designer is now focusing on unique creations, two of which are currently on display at the Met Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibition. Exploring the country’s fashion history, the show features a jacket and trouser set Detwiler made from a 19th-century quilt McKearns gifted to her. One of 12 quilted pieces in the exhibition, it sits alongside a Ralph Lauren patchwork outfit sewn from vintage textiles in the 1980s.

Fons said the quilting trend reappears “every 30 years or so”, adding: “Adolfo did it in the late 60s, Ralph Lauren did it in the 80s, then Calvin Klein and designers like Emily Bode did it again around 2017.”

“In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured some examples of quilted textiles. Credit: Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images

Quilting for generations

Quilting has deep roots in America, with Fons describing it as a “democratic art” practiced by people of all financial, racial and religious backgrounds throughout the country’s history. Regional styles also evolved, from English-inspired mosaic quilts made by predominantly white artisans in New England to brightly colored geometric patterns from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, whose enslaved community quilted for “survival “, artist Michael C. Thorpe – who works with the medium – says, with women reusing clothes and food bags to keep their families warm.
A visitor looks at the

A visitor views “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” exhibit at a 2004 exhibit in Washington, D.C. Credit: Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson even referred to the contraption in a famous speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention – a metaphor he revisited in his famous 1988 “patchwork patchwork” speech – describing America as a quilt of “many patches, many patches, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.” The quote opens the Costume Institute exhibit, with assistant curator Amanda Garfinkel saying it fits the show’s “emphasis on inclusivity and diversity”. People “react emotionally” to padded exhibits, Garfinkel added, because of the “personal and historical narratives they convey.”

Fons said the continued love of the quilt is “material proof” of American values, adding, “Of course, our country doesn’t always exhibit those values, but quilts are still seen as icons of what we hope for. to be.”

Artist Michael C. Thorpe poses in front of two basketball-themed quilted works.

Artist Michael C. Thorpe poses in front of two basketball-themed quilted works. Credit: Alec Kugler

Rather than look to historical styles, artists like Thorpe incorporate other aspects of design into their quilted works. Thorpe, who recently collaborated with Nike on quilts inspired by the past and future of the NBA, brings Black history, his own biracial experiences and childhood dreams to life through textile portraits. But despite his contemporary approach, those at the artist’s recent exhibition in Miami still conjured up their own grandmothers when looking at his work, he said. “Quilt makes people feel,” he added. “It’s like this knee-jerk reaction of family (ties). I think that’s what people are looking for.”

Connect the pieces

Ironically, by reshaping fashion with antique quilts, American designers could also be putting the craft at risk, Fons said. “We are at great risk of losing great swaths of American history, especially the history of women and marginalized communities, because these are the people who have made the most quilts in our nation’s history,” she explained.

Traditional hand sewing skills are also much less common today. Quilts are usually made by patchwork of the pieces of fabric, either by hand or with a machine, before sandwiching a layer of batting between the decorative front pieces and the fabric back (giving them a distinctive bulk and insulation for comfort). heat). But while long-arm electric sewing machines – which can sew in both an x- and y-axis – have radically changed the craft over the past few decades, some quilting artists and designers are now bringing “the piecing and stitching back”. hand quilting” and are “reconnecting with…the quilting heritage,” Fons said.

The quilt revival may, she added, reflect a desire for “authenticity” amid the rapid digitization and mass production of fast fashion. Garfinkel meanwhile emphasized “the sense of community and preservation associated with quilting, especially in contrast to the accelerating speed of contemporary life, the anonymity of industrial production, and the transience of digital culture” .

Norma Kamali attends an event in New York on October 13, 2021. Her recent collection featured a digitized quilt.

Norma Kamali attends an event in New York on October 13, 2021. Her recent collection featured a digitized quilt. Credit: Michael Ostuni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Thorpe added that people are experiencing “extreme tech burnout”, saying, “I think people are now more interested in things that take a little longer, and like to go back to crafting… The idea of ​​very slow (craft) and something to do with a community.”

A new generation

Fons, who still works as an editorial consultant for Quiltfolk, says the magazine’s average audience is “around 50”, but she has seen a surge of interest among younger generations. During the pandemic, she said she’s spoken to both first-time quilt makers and people who “picked her up during lockdown.”

Although there are some barriers to entry, including the cost of machines, fabric and batting to stuff quilts, DIY TikTok users are using their new skills to save money on clothes. Wandy the Maker, for example, shares quilting tutorials to encourage Gen Zers to think more sustainably about their wardrobes. Others, like @samrhymeswithhamm found success on the platform thanks to the hashtag #quilttok, with a video of her making a cactus-themed quilt racking up 2.4 million views.
Model Gigi Hadid attends the Moschino Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show at Bryant Park on September 09, 2021 in New York City.  The brand has included looks with quilted details in its new collection.

Model Gigi Hadid attends the Moschino Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show at Bryant Park on September 09, 2021 in New York City. The brand has included looks with quilted details in its new collection. Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images/Getty Images

Fons said there was an “element of fetishism” to America’s love of quilting. “At its heart, the desire for handmade things, craftsmanship and ‘slow’ processes makes sense. Modern life moves very fast and can be quite scary.

“For many people, a quilt is an icon of ‘simpler times,’ even if it’s a kind of false equivalence.”

“It’s the perfect time to be a quiltmaker,” she added.

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