Saturday, April 05, 2008

QuiltStorm2008: The Beginning

I've alluded several times now to a project I'm calling, tongue firmly in cheeck, QuiltStorm2008. Always before, I referred to it as a project I would be taking on sometime in the vague future.

Well, the future is now.

Last weekend, Mrs.5000 and I made our way down to "The Bins," which is formally called something much more diplomatic, "The Portland Goodwill Outlet" or like that. It is where merchandise that can't be sold at a regular Goodwill goes to die. It's great. There's a big, unadorned industrial space with concrete floors and no decoration whatsoever. The stuff on offer is literally heaped in long rows of rolling bins, with next to no organizing principle whatsoever. After a given bin has been literally rummaged through for a few hours, it is rolled back offstage, and a new bin is rolled up to take its place.

No matter what you buy, it's 69 cents a pound, so long as you buy at least fifty pounds of it. Last weekend, I bought fabric.

Six washing machine loads later, I was ready to commence the pressing and folding of, at a rough guess, around 150 yards of salvage fabric. But first, of course, there was some minor disassembly to be done; although I found several yards of whole cloth, most of this haul was in the form of sheets, curtains, futon covers, and clothing. My rule was to avoid anything that would likely attract a buyer -- no matched sets of sheets or wearable clothing allowed. Basically, I was reclaiming waste textiles, in bulk.

This motherlode of cotton and cotton/poly salvage will now join pieces from my existing collection of sub-standard fabric to make up the raw materials for QuiltStorm. The idea is to create a series -- an "edition," as they say in Mrs.5000's bookarts circles -- of very simple, very easy to make, 100% recycled lap blankets. I've prepared about 20 different designs, but they really all just boil down to sewing a lot of strips together. Here, as mocked up on the fabulous MicroSoft quilt design utility "Excel," is a typical example.:

Or maybe this:

Now, you may be wondering "Why? What is the point of all this?" And that's a reasonable question. But I've got answers!
  • I've been spending a lot of quilting time lately challenging my precision and my ability to do fairly detailed work on a bunch of labor-intensive projects. It seems like it might be liberating to work very quickly and loosely on projects that have more room for error.
  • Having a lot of scrappy quilt tops around means I'll be able to experiment with machine quilting technique without it being a stressful, high-stakes business.

  • If it turns out that the finished quilts are really cool, I'll have a lot of really cool little quilts on hand.

  • And, the recycling aspect of the project really appeals to me. It's theoretically possible that the raw materials I'm using would have found another buyer if they hadn't found me, but I'm fairly certain that 90% of it would have continued to circle the drain for a short while, or maybe a long while, and then wound up in the landfill. The idea of using them for something useful and interesting, instead, makes me feel connected to the practical roots of the Craft.
I've started by cutting out backs for an ambitious number of, um, "StormQuilts." Eighteen, if I count them correctly (20 would be a nicer, rounder number, but I'm sure that salvage fabric will continue to trickle in). Now, I'll just start cutting lots and lots of strips, and sew them back together to make the faces.

One concern I have -- well, "concern" might be overstating the case, but anyway -- is that if these guys are going to be 100% recycled, I'll need to use scrap or salvage batting. I have enough scrap batting and batting-like stuff for about five quilts, but after that I might have to actually go out and buy batting for these things. Does anyone have ideas for alternative salvage batting?


jovaliquilts said...

Sounds like a great plan and I'm eager to see the results! I work with donated fabric (not nearly so tricky as the salvage you picked up) for Linus quilts, and I do lots of strip piecing. I can't bear to throw any fabric out, so I try to find a use for all of it. I've learned a lot about color and design this way. Will you have an organizing principle for each top, or just randomly stitch pieces together?

As for recycled batting, my best suggestion is to ask fellow quilters to give you their odd strips and pieces. You can join them (it's work). The biggest thing to worry about there, though, is being sure the batting is compatible in terms of loft and washability. Good luck!

Vicki W said...

How big are your quilts going to be and are you willing to piece batting? How soon do you need it? I often have long strips of batting between 6 and 25" wide from my longarm quilting. I've used some recently but should have a reasonable stash of new strips in 2 - 3 months. If you want it, let me know - I'll even pay the postage. I love recycling!

Mary said...

Since you want to use only fabric that is on its way down the drain--what about finding lightweight blankets at Goodwill (or elsewhere) and using that for the batting. If you only used ugly ones, no one else would want in their homes.

Carin said...

They used to use old blankets or flannel as batting for quilts so if you could find some old wool blakets or flannel sheets or something of the like you could use that for your recycled batting. Just a thought :O)

Rebel said...

Dude! You are hardcore!

As for quilt batting - you can use old towels, or... you know... a couple layers of the recycled fabric.

Perhaps another trip to the goodwill for old bath towels is in order?

And I must reiterate... 50 lbs of fabric - HARDCORE!

Libby said...

OH MY GOSH!! This sounds so unbelievably fun to me! Please post early and often about your progress.

I have the same ideas as everyone else about batting. I have some thin wool army blankets tucked away to try to use as recycled batting someday - I have no idea how it will actually work, but it's a thought. I have used flannel. If you could find fleece to recycle you could always piece a fleece backing and skip the batting.

Exuberant Color said...

I had the same idea as VickiW. All longarm quilts have long strips of batting left over that lots of customers don't want back (if they provided the batting). I used to get it from a friend longarmer to use in my machine quilting class kits.

Have fun with your playtime. I think you will enjoy it.

The Calico Cat said...

Tee Hee, I have planned projects in excel... (Now to start sewing on them.)

Michael5000 said...

Thanks everybody for your enthusiasm for this project! Especially Libby and Rebel, who used ALL CAPS, so I can tell they were impressed!! : )

Good scrappy ideas for salvage batting. I'm very used to the idea of piecing batting scraps together; I do that so regularly, though, that I don't have many scraps of any size on hand. I think I'll go with the idea of looking for thin blakets or fleece scraps; as you might have guessed, I'm not at all averse to the idea of making a return trip down to The Bins in a few weeks....

@jovali: In theory, I won't have an organizing principle for these quilts. In practice, I'm sure that little mini-principles will start to evolve. It's in my nature.

@Vicki: They will be largeish lap quilts... I don't have the measurements with me at the moment...

@Libby: Early! and Often!

@Calico: You can also use Excel for data storage, manipulation, and analysis. But really, its a quilt design utility. : )

fingerstothebone said...

How about polyfil (or whatever they are) from old pillows? I have a couple of old pillows that were rejected by the Goodwill. So I figured I'd use them for some project or other, which of course will just about never happen. So if you want them, they're yours.

CROQ Zine said...

I love the bins! I have had to stop myself from going there because I already have too many projects to complete...

-Heather from CROQ zine

iHanna said...

"The bins" sounds like a really cool place! Found you via Diane and just had to read about this cool project! I love recycled fabric and use it all the time! Will look forward to see your progress. I think this sounds like something you ought to make a book about! :-)

Good luck!

Debra said...

If you are familiar with making string quilts, then you don't have to have any batting because the middle foundation layer serves as the batting. The same applies to crazy quilting. I often find the yuckiest and not very good quality fabrics and use them for the foundation piecing since they don't show and are stitched through alot so have some reinforcement.

I have used flannel and wool yardage for batting with success.

Good Luck! Recycling Rocks!