Why your grandma’s quilt is today’s luxury fashion staple
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When A $ AP Rocky arrived at the Met Gala in September, he did what few others could: take on Rihanna on the red carpet.
Her style icon partner was, as usual, among the best dressed of the evening. But the rapper grabbed attention with his own fashion statement – a voluminous, multi-colored quilt.
A $ AP Rocky and Rihanna attend the 2021 Met Gala on September 13, 2021 in New York City. Credit: John Shearer / WireImage / Getty Images
Its appearance at fashion’s biggest night was just the latest example of the modern revival of craftsmanship, turning family heirloom quilts into luxury goods. They’ve appeared on major catwalks and in nostalgic winter collections, as labels increasingly turn to recycled fabrics as proof of their environmental credentials.
For longtime quilting enthusiasts like the former editor of Quiltfolk magazine, Mary Fons, watching them go mainstream is thrilling. “The point is, quilts are cool. They are timeless,” she said via email. “When you see them on the red carpets, it reinforces that, and as quilters, that’s what we’re here for.”
Although luxury stalwarts like Norma Kamali and Moschino have recently incorporated quilted details into their collections, independent brands like Stan Los Angeles have come to use this technique as the basis of their work.
A quilted set by Californian label Stan Los Angeles. Credit: Stan los angeles
Brand founder Tristan Detwiler first became interested in upcycling quilts when he turned his old baby quilt into a jacket – the first piece he ever made “from scratch. “he said on a video call. He then met quilter Claire McKarns, now 80, who took him to her warehouse filled with “hundreds and hundreds of his handmade quilts,” he added. She then extended an invitation to her craft group, where Detwiler connected with other seasoned quilt makers.
The story of the individual textiles is central to Detwiler’s creative approach, which also sees him recycling a variety of other pieces handed down from generation to generation, including a hand-sewn solar-patterned coat through its own back- great-great-grandmother in the 1800s. His clothes come with labels explaining their history. “The energy of family, generations and history obviously activates the emotion,” he said.
Two and a half years after launching his brand, the designer is now focusing on unique designs, 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 donated by McKearns. One of the 12 quilted pieces in the exhibition, it sits alongside a Ralph Lauren patchwork outfit sewn from old textiles from the 1980s.
Fons said the quilting trend reappears “every 30 years or so,” adding: “Adolfo did it in the late 60s, Ralph Lauren did it in the 80s, then Calvin Klein and designers like Emily Bode relaunched it around 2017. “
“In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured some examples of quilted textiles. Credit: Taylor Hill / WireImage / Getty Images
Quilting for generations
A visitor views the exhibit “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” at an exhibit in 2004 in Washington, DC Credit: Stephen Jaffe / AFP / Getty Images
Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson even referred to craftsmanship in a famous speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention – a metaphor he revisited in his famous “patchwork quilt” speech. from 1988 – describing America as 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’s exhibit, Assistant Curator Amanda Garfinkel stating that she was aligning herself with the show’s “emphasis on inclusiveness and diversity.” People “respond with emotion” to quilted exhibits, Garfinkel added, due to “personal and historical accounts. that they convey “.
Fons said the continued love of the quilt is a “material proof” of American values, adding, “Of course our country doesn’t always showcase those values, but quilts are still seen as icons of what we hope. to be.”
Artist Michael C. Thorpe poses in front of two quilted basketball-themed works. Credit: Alec kugler
Rather than turning to historical styles, artists like Thorpe incorporate other aspects of design into their quilted works. Thorpe, who recently collaborated with Nike on quilts inspired by the past and future of the NBA, brings black history, his own biracial experiences and childhood dreams to life through textile portraits. But despite his contemporary approach, those at the artist’s recent Miami exhibition still referred to their own grandmothers when they viewed his work, he said. “The quilt makes people feel,” he added. “It’s like that knee-jerk reaction of family ties. I think that’s what people are looking for.”
Connect the pieces
Ironically, by reshaping fashion with antique quilts, American designers can also endanger craftsmanship, Fons said. “We are at great risk of losing large parts of American history, especially the history of women and marginalized communities, because these are the people who have made the most quilts in our country’s history,” she explained.
Traditional hand-sewing techniques are also much less common today. Quilts are typically made by stitching together pieces of fabric, either by hand or by machine, before sandwiching a layer of fleece between the front and back decorative fabric pieces (giving them distinctive puffiness and insulation for the heat). But while long-arm electric sewing machines – which can sew on both an x and y axis – have drastically changed the craft in recent decades, some artists and quilt designers are now bringing back “assembly and the hand quilting “and are” reconnecting with … the legacy of the quilting, “Fons said.
The revival of Quilting may, she added, reflect a desire for “authenticity” amid the rapid digitization and mass production of rapid fashion. Garfinkel, for his part, underlined “the sense of community and preservation associated with quilting, in particular in contrast to the accelerated speed of contemporary life, the anonymity of industrial production and the ephemeral of digital culture”.
Norma Kamali is attending an event in New York on October 13, 2021. Her recent collection featured a digitized quilting. Credit: Michael Ostuni / Patrick McMullan / Getty Images
Thorpe added that people are suffering from “extreme technology burnout,” saying, “I think people are now more interested in things that take a little longer and like to go back to crafts … The idea of very slow (craft) and something to do with a community.
A new generation
Fons, who still works as an editorial consultant for Quiltfolk, says the magazine’s average audience is “around 50,” but she has seen an increase in interest among the younger generations. During the pandemic, she said she spoke to both first-time quilters and people who “picked her up during the lockdown.”
Model Gigi Hadid walks the Moschino Spring / Summer 2022 fashion show in Bryant Park on September 9, 2021 in New York City. The brand has included looks with quilted details in its new collection. Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo / GC Images / Getty Images
Fons said there was an “element of fetishism” in America’s love for the quilt. “Deep down, the aspiration for handmade objects, craftsmanship and ‘slow’ processes makes sense. Modern life moves very fast and can be quite scary.
“For a lot of people, a quilt is an icon of the ‘simpler times’, even if it’s sort of a false equivalence.”
“Now is a great time to be a quilter,” she added.
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