I made a different type of quilt recently when I made a sustainable quilt with all thrifted and upcycled materials! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while and with Earth Day around the corner I had the motivation to get this done!
Why use upcycled materials?
I wanted to challenge myself to create a quilt out of all upcycled materials for a couple of reasons. The first reason, simply, I like a challenge! I have been championing my use of scraps for years now, and I try to be mindful to be a good steward of my resources. This was that next step – using pre-loved materials to create something new. It would be great to use my own pre-loved clothing for this quilt, but without having enough myself, I chose the next best route – the thrift store.
A big reason to use all thrifted materials is the amount of materials available at your local thrift store! We like to think that when we donate to a thrift store, that clothing ends up happy in someone else’s home. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. People donate to thrift stores more than they purchase from them, so thrift stores end up triaging donations and managing their lifecycle. For example, if an item doesn’t sell in a Goodwill store after 4 weeks, it moves on to the Goodwill Outlet where it is sold by the pound, and after a rotation there, will end up most likely getting sold overseas. So, there’s a lot of materials in thrift stores to sort through and use with really fast turnaround. There’s also good quality materials. With costs rising in what feels like all aspects of our lives recently, I challenge you to try making a quilt from upcycled materials and see what you think!
My Sustainable Quilt
For my project, I decided to use my Etoile Quilt pattern. The clothing I had sourced had some bigger pieces, so to maximize what I had I chose a quilt pattern with bigger fabric cuts. I was able to make the entire throw-sized Etoile quilt, PLUS a scrappy improv backing with just the fabric I bought! I still have a few scraps leftover and I’m brainstorming how to use them up.
To keep this quilt authentic, I chose to go to a single thrift shop and challenge myself to find everything I needed in that one trip. I wanted to see if it would be possible to find enough fabrics that coordinated to create a quilt from one trip and one thrift store. If you were going to make a quilt from upcycled fabrics, you could certainly amass them over time and multiple thrifting trips. Good fabrics to look for are chambray and lighter denim shirts and dresses. You can find a variety of hues. A Misty Mountains quilt made from all chambray and denim would be amazing! I wanted to stray away from making a quilt using dress shirts and try to create something different to what I had seen.
I came home from my trip with:
- A chambray shirt (cotton)
- Two hand embroidered table runners (cotton)
- Two scraps of red polka dot fabric (cotton)
- A woven checkered shirt (cotton)
- A light denim dress (cotton)
- A pair of white pants (linen)
- A pair of navy pants (55% linen, 45% cotton)
- An olive green blazer (55% linen, 45% cotton)
Total fabric cost: $24
I did end up having to piece together some of the pieces for the Etoile quilt, since some of the fabrics weren’t big enough as-is. But I think it adds to the charm of the quilt. Plus, because the front was all solid fabrics, you can’t tell too much that there are pieces sewn together unless you’re really close to the quilt itself.
For the backing, I went completely scrappy and improv. I used bigger pieces as-is and pieced together odd-angled scraps from underarm and collar seams. The fabrics that didn’t make it on the front of the quilt (the checkered shirt, denim dress, and embroidered linens) took prominence on the back. I chose to only use one embroidered linen motif, so the others will have to wait for a future project!
I used frankenbatting for the batting of this quilt, using up scraps instead of new batting! I quilted this quilt with my walking foot and white 50 weight Aurifil thread. I plan to add in some hand quilting for additional interest before this quilt gets bound, washed, and snuggled.
Want to make your own? Read on for some tips and tricks on making a sustainable quilt.
What should I consider before attempting a sustainable quilt like this?
First, determine the fabrics you’re willing to use in your quilt and stick to your guns! It can be tempting while in a thrift store to pick up the floral shirt with the super cute print, but if it is made entirely of nylon it won’t be fun to quilt. I stick to cotton and linen (and a blend of both!) for my upcycling projects. These are natural materials that wash well and quilt well with staying power so the item I make will last for a long time to come.
Keep an eye all over the store for materials to use! You can find quality materials in:
- Arts & Crafts Section (fabric, trim, etc.)
- Kitchen Goods (table runners, table cloths, napkins)
- Home Goods (curtains, pillowcases, bedsheets)
- Clothing (dresses, shirts, pants, blazers, outerwear in men’s, women’s, and kid’s sections)
Once home, items go immediately from the bag they were purchased in to the washing machine, cutting off price tags as I go. I wash everything on warm with a mild detergent and tumble dry. That way, everything is clean and ready to use once I’m ready to make my quilt.
Once you have your clothing washed and dried, it is time to think about what kind of quilt to make with it. This will depend on the amount of materials that you have and the size of each piece. If your clothing is on the larger side, you’ll need less fabrics and be able to make a quilt with a larger scale pattern.
Large scale patterns for a sustainable quilt:
If you find yourself with a lot of smaller cuts, you’ll be in a better position to make a quilt that requires smaller pieces! Cotton sheets in a lower thread count work well as backgrounds. Learn more about using sheets in quilting. Inkling or Modern Crossing would be really fun quilts to use upcycled fabrics in. For example, each cross in Modern Crossing could be made with upcycled materials! There’s also no rule that says a quilt must be made from only upcycled materials. You could choose to mix upcycled materials and new fabrics. Just be sure to pre-wash your new fabrics if you’re using any.
Small scale patterns for a sustainable quilt:
To prep your fabrics, you’ll need to first cut out all the seams so you have flat pieces to work with. Remove all buttons and zippers and save for a future use. Press and starch your fabrics. Starching is especially helpful for linen fabrics! This part is a bit tedious but once all your fabrics are cut and flat, you’ll be able to get started with the quilt pattern of your choice.