The Living Vest

The Living Vest

In a storage drawer in my house there is a quilt my great grandmother made. I actually have a couple, but this one is my favourite. It isn't in the greatest shape, but I refuse to part with it. During Covid I noticed a lot of crafters, sewists and small businesses on Instagram making garments out of antique and vintage quilts. It got me to thinking maybe I could create something wearable out of Grammy Kate's quilt. I initially thought I would like a jacket, but I looked at so many patterns and didn't find any that I felt worked well for the basket pattern of the quilt. I needed to change my expectations. I then looked at a lot of patterns for hats and tote bags and ended up settling on a simple vest pattern with pockets- It has to have pockets! 

Still, I have been reluctant to cut this heirloom. I treasure textiles made by the women in my family, and there is a deep history around quilts in general.The skills needed to create something virtually out of nothing -scraps and old clothes- have more or less died out. Very few individuals complete quilts by hand these days. However, I know this particular quilt has sections that would take heaps of time to restore. Somewhere along the line I decided it is better to cut and upcycle the quilt into a garment than having it be tucked away in a drawer it's beauty forgotten.

I mentioned the quilt is not in the best shape. There are pieces of original cotton that have ripped, or rotted away. To pay homage to the process of piecing and quilting by hand, I will be mending these spots with bits of fabric of my own woven or dyed cloth. I will do all the repairs by hand as the original quilt was made. 

In this way the vest is alive. It was once a quilt used to keep someone warm, it will be given new life as a vest to be worn for years to come. It will go on living as long as it can be patched and repaired, each time celebrating a new cycle of life- showing that textiles do not always have to be destined for the landfill and that we can find creative ways to keep using them; morphing and molding them into something new along the way. 

I want to honour the time that was put into making this quilt by using it. I want to re-create something functional out of now idle cloth. I want the memory of my great grandmother to live on through her choices of pattern, fabrics and colour for all to see. I want to acknowledge the continuous cycle textiles have. I want to celebrate the handmade.

Comment below about a vintage textile upcycle you have done, purchased, of fell in love with.

If you wish to see the process and results of the living vest follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

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