when the rapper A$AP Rocky arrived at the Met Gala last September, he has achieved what few have: facing Rihanna on the red carpet.
His style icon partner was, as always, among the best dressed of the night. But the rapper caught the eye with his own fashion statement: a voluminous, multicolored bedspread.
The piece was custom made by the designer. Eli Russell Linnetz and by the “quilter” (from the English “quilt”, for quilt) 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 of the quilt on Instagram.
The piece’s appearance at fashion’s biggest night was just the latest example of the modern craft renaissance, which is turning heirloom quilts into luxury goods. They have appeared on major runways and in nostalgia-laden winter collections as brands increasingly turn to repurposed fabrics as evidence of their environmental credentials.
For lifelong play enthusiasts like former Quiltfolk editor-in-chief Mary Fons, seeing them become popular is exciting. “The fact is, quilts are cool. They are timeless,” she said via email. “When you see them on red carpets, it’s reinforced, and as quilters, we’re here for that.”
While luxury brands like Norma Kamali | e Moschino have recently incorporated quilt details into their collections, independent brands such as Stan Los Angeles began to use the technique as the basis of their work.
Repurposed quilts feature prominently in the California label’s surfwear collections. A T-shirt, created from a quilt handmade in Pennsylvania in 1870, costs $2,250.
The brand’s founder, Tristan Detwiler, became interested in reusing quilts when he turned his old baby quilt into a jacket — the first piece he made “from scratch,” he said over video call.
He later met quilt seamstress Claire McKarns, now 80, who took him to her warehouse filled with “hundreds and hundreds of handmade quilts,” he added. She extended an invitation to join her craft group, and Detwiler connected with more veteran quilt makers.
The history of individual textiles is central to Detwiler’s creative approach, who also finds himself reusing a variety of other pieces passed down from generation to generation – including a hand-sewn sun-print coat by his great-great-grandmother in the 1800s.
The clothes he produces come with tags explaining their stories. “The energy of family, generations and history obviously activates emotion,” he said.
Two and a half years since launching his brand, the designer now focuses 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 country’s fashion history, the show features a jacket and pants set that Detwiler made from a 19th-century quilt. , sewn with old fabrics in the 1980s.
Mary Fons adds that the trend resurfaces “every 30 years or so”: “Adolfo did it in the late 1960s, Ralph Lauren did it in the 1980s, and then Calvin Klein and designers like Emily Bode started again around 2017. ”.
Sewing quilts for generations
Quilts have deep roots in America, with Fons describing the process of making them as a “democratic art”, practiced by people of all financial, racial and religious backgrounds throughout the country’s history.
Regional styles also evolved, from the English-inspired mosaic quilts made by predominantly white New England artisans, to the colorful geometric designs of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, whose enslaved community sewed for “survival,” said artist Michael C. Thorpe – who works in the middle – with women repurposing clothes and bags of food to keep their families warm.
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson even referred to the office in a famous speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention – a metaphor he revisited in his famous 1988 patchwork speech – describing the America as a quilt of “many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and joined by a common thread”.
The quote opens the Costume Institute exhibition, with assistant curator Amanda Garfinkel saying it is in line with the show’s “emphasis on inclusion and diversity”. People “emotionally respond” to displays of quilt designs, Garfinkel added, because of the “personal and historical narratives they carry.”
Mary says her continued love of quilting is “material evidence” of American values. “Of course, our country doesn’t always display these values, but quilts are still seen as icons.”
Instead of looking to historical styles, artists like Thorpe are incorporating other aspects of design into their work. Thorpe, who recently collaborated with Nike on quilts inspired by the NBA’s past and future, brings black history, his own biracial experiences and childhood dreams to life through textile portraits.
But despite its contemporary approach, people at the artist’s recent exhibition in Miami were still reminded of their own grandmothers when looking at the work, he said. “Bullets make people feel something,” he added. “It’s like a knee-jerk reaction from family (ties). I think that’s what people are looking for.”
connecting the pieces
Ironically, by re-fashioning old quilts, American designers may also be putting their craft at risk, says Mary. “We are at great risk of losing much of American history, particularly the history of women and marginalized communities, as 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 these days. Quilts are usually made by sewing pieces of fabric, either by hand or with a machine, before placing a layer of inlaid fabric between the decorative front and back pieces of fabric (giving them a distinct puff and insulation for heat).
But while electric sewing machines – which can sew on the x and y axes – have radically changed the craft in recent decades, some quilt artists and designers are now bringing back “handmade pieces and quilts” and are “connecting with […] the heirloom of the quilt again.”
The renaissance of quilt stitching may, Mary adds, reflect a desire for “authenticity” amid the rapid digitization and mass production of fast fashion. Meanwhile, Garfinkel points to “the sense of community and preservation associated with producing quilts by hand, especially in contrast to the fast-paced speed of contemporary life, the anonymity of industrial production and the ephemerality of digital culture.”
Thorpe further says that people are experiencing “extreme technology burnout”. “I think people are now more interested in things that take a little longer, like crafts. […] The idea of the very slow (artisanal) and something to do in community”.
a new generation
Mary, who still works as an editorial consultant for Quiltfolk, says the average age of the magazine’s audience is “about 50 years old,” but she’s seen a surge of interest among younger generations. Throughout the pandemic, she has spoken with first-time quilt makers and people who “started during lockdown.”
While there are some barriers to entry, including the cost of machines, fabric, and padding to quilt the quilts, DIY-minded TikTok users are using their new skills to save money on clothing.
@wandythemaker knocked out a custom quilt hoodie & tote bag order. #sewing #upcycling #fashion #diy ♬ rowdy rebel x 1sis – 1sis
Wandy the Maker, for example, shares quilt tutorials to encourage Gen Z to think more sustainably about their wardrobes. Others, like @samrhymeswithhamm, gained success on the platform through the hashtag #quilttok, with a video of her making a cactus-themed quilt racking up 2.4 million views.
Mary claims there is an “element of fetishism” in America’s love of quilts. “Deep down, the desire for handmade things, crafts and ‘slow’ processes makes sense. Modern life moves very fast and it can be kind of scary.”
“For many people, a quilt is an icon of ‘simpler times,’ even if it is a false equivalence.”
“It’s a great time to be a quilt seamstress,” he added.
This content was originally created in English.
Reference: CNN Brasil