Megan C. Hills, CNN
When A $ AP Rocky arrived at the Met Gala in September, they managed to do what few others could: tiptoe with Rihanna on the red carpet.
His style icon companion was, as usual, among the most dressed up of the evening. But the rapper took the limelight with his own fashion statement: a voluminous 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 the one her great-grandmother had hand-sewn, posting an image on Instagram.
Its appearance at the biggest fashion night was just the latest example of the modern revival of craftsmanship, which is transforming quilts from family heirlooms to luxury products. They have appeared on major runways and in nostalgia-laden winter collections, as labels increasingly turn to repurposed fabrics as proof of their environmental credentials.
For lifelong quilting enthusiasts like former editor-in-chief of Quiltfolk magazine Mary Fons, seeing them go mainstream is thrilling. “The thing is, the quilts are great. They are timeless, “he said via email.” When you see them on the red carpets it strengthens it and, like quilts, we’re here for it. “
Although mainstays of luxury like Norma Kamali and Moschino have recently incorporated quilted detailing into their collections, independent brands like Stan Los Angeles have come to use the technique as the foundation of their work.
Recycled quilts feature prominently in the California label’s surfwear collections. An overshirt, created from a quilt handmade in Pennsylvania in 1870, is priced at $ 2,250.
Brand founder Tristan Detwiler first took an interest in upcycling quilts when he turned his old baby quilt into a jacket – the first piece he has ever made “from scratch,” he said during a video call. . He later met quilting machine Claire McKarns, now 80, who brought him to her warehouse filled with “hundreds upon hundreds of hand-curated quilts,” he added. He later extended an invitation to his artisan group, where Detwiler hooked up with more veteran quiltmakers.
The story of the individual fabrics is central to Detwiler’s creative approach, which also sees him recycling a variety of other pieces passed down from generation to generation, including a sun-patterned coat hand-sewn by his great-great-grandmother in the 1800s. accompanied by labels that explain their stories. “The energy of family, generations and history in this obviously activates the emotion,” he said.
Two and a half years after the launch of his brand, the designer is now focusing on one-off creations, two of which are currently on display at the Met Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibition. Exploring the nation’s fashion history, the show features a suit jacket and pants that Detwiler made from a 19th-century quilt given to him by McKearns. One of the 12 quilted pieces in the show, stands next to a Ralph Lauren patchwork dress sewn from antique fabrics in the 1980s.
Fons said the quilting trend resurfaces “every 30 years or so,” adding, “Adolfo did it in the late 1960s, Ralph Lauren did it in the 1980s, and then Calvin Klein and designers like Emily Bode. they resumed it around 2017. “
Quilt 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 have also evolved, from English-inspired mosaic quilts made by predominantly white New England artisans to the brightly colored geometric designs of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, whose slave community quilted for “survival,” the artist Michael C. Thorpe, who works with the medium – said, with women reusing clothes and bags of food to keep their families warm.
Civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, even referred to the craft in a famous speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention – a metaphor he revisited in his famous 1988 “patchwork quilt” speech – describing America. like a quilt of “many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.” The quote opens the Costume Institute exhibition, with assistant curator Amanda Garfinkel claiming to be online with the show’s “emphasis on inclusiveness and diversity.” People “react emotionally” to tufted exhibits, Garfinkel added, because of the “personal and historical narratives they bring.”
Fons said the continued love of quilting is “material proof” of American values, adding, “Of course, our country doesn’t always show these values, but quilts are still seen as icons of what we perhaps hope to be.” .
Rather than looking at historical styles, artists like Thorpe are incorporating other aspects of design into their quilted works. Thorpe, who recently collaborated with Nike on down jackets inspired by the NBA’s past and future, brings the history of blacks, his biracial experiences and childhood dreams to life through textile portraits. But despite his contemporary approach, people at the artist’s recent show in Miami still raised their grandmothers by looking at his work, he said. “Quilting makes people feel,” she added. “It’s like this instinctive reaction of family members (ties). I think this is what people are looking for. “
Connecting the pieces
Ironically, by reshaping fashion with antique quilts, even American designers could endanger craftsmanship, Fons said. “We are in tremendous danger of missing out on great stretches of American history, particularly the history of women and marginalized communities, since 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 patching pieces of fabric together, by hand or with a machine, before inserting a layer of padding between the decorative fronts and the back of the fabric (giving them a characteristic swelling and insulation for warmth). But while electric long-arm sewing machines – which can sew on both the x and y axes – have fundamentally changed the craft over the past few decades, some quilt artists and designers are now bringing back “hand piecing and quilting” and are “connecting with … the quilt tradition again,” Fons said.
The Quilting revival could, he added, reflect a desire for “authenticity” amid the rapid digitization and mass production of fast fashion. Garfinkel meanwhile stressed “the sense of community and conservation associated with quilting, especially in contrast to the accelerated speed of contemporary life, the anonymity of industrial production and the ephemeral of digital culture”.
Thorpe added that people are experiencing “extreme exhaustion due to technology”, saying, “I think people are now more interested in things that take a little longer and like going back to crafts … idea of a very slow work (craftsmanship) and something to do with a community “.
A new generation
Fons, who still works as an editorial consultant for Quiltfolk, says the magazine’s audience averages “around 50,” but has seen a surge in interest among younger generations. Over the course of the pandemic, he said he spoke to both the quilt makers for the first time and the people who “got him back during the lockdown.”
While there are some barriers to entry, including the cost of machines, fabric, and batting to stuff quilts, DIY-oriented TikTok users are using their new skills to save on clothing. Wandy the Maker, for example, shares quilting tutorials to encourage Gen Z to think more sustainably about their wardrobe. Others, like @samrhymeswithhamm, have been successful on the platform through the hashtag #quilttok, with a video of her making a cactus-themed quilt that garnered 2.4 million views.
Fons said there was an “element of fetishism” in the American 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 a little scary.
“For many people, a quilt is an icon of ‘simpler times’, even if it’s kind of a false equivalence.”
“It’s a great time to be a quiltmaker,” he added.
The CNN thread
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.