Sewing and Quilting the Old Way with Rags

| 7/10/2020 10:30:00 AM


My mother never visited a fabric store until she was in her sixties, yet she sewed clothes for my sister and me, made beautiful quilts and decorated our humble home with delightful handmade curtains, tablecloths and couch covers for years. One of my favorite dresses as a youngster was an outrageously bright jumper she made from an old housecoat.

My mother carefully saved each button, zipper and scrap of eyelet trim for other projects. I’d watch as she ripped apart old clothes to remake into something for us, and I’d think how when I grew up, I’d buy brand new fabric from a real store for sewing.

With five sisters who still like to exchange outgrown clothing with each other, my mother filled the hall closet with hand-me-down “glad rags” from my aunts and cousins. Even in the 1960s, this was an outdated practice. Today, it is almost unheard of while stores overflow with cheap clothing and textiles. Thrift stores receive so much donated clothing that they often give it away, as do churches and schools.

In the 1700s and earlier, clothing was among the most costly items for an American household. After a garment was completely used up, thrifty housewives would save even the tiniest bits of fabric for quilts, meticulously cutting out any stains and mending tears. In the 1800s and early 1900s, peddlers (often called “the rag man”) would trade wares for discarded clothing, pieces of rugs and other fabric scraps. According to the American Agriculturalist of 1880, a worn out pair of pantaloons could fetch 20 cents, not a bad sum more than a century ago.

7/16/2020 7:17:04 AM

I immediately thought of 'Esther' when reading this story. While ALL of my grandparents saved everything string, rubber band, etc. related (and I still do so today! (though not to hoarder status I promise)), it was Esther, the amazing lady in the apartment two doors down, who really showed me how to craft from old bits. Her stock in trade were rugs - the ones made from bits of cloth, rolled into an oval, stiched together. And yes, now, Ikea/Walmart sell them for pittance. Not the same though as finding remnants of an old shirt under your feet.

8/22/2015 9:12:42 AM

I feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon this most useful article. Wow, I wish I could have attended the event mentioned, met the author, and learned from her sage wisdom. I have a treadle and a 1925 hand crank sewing machine that I use regularly. Well, the treadle intimidates me to the point of wanting to sell it. It has a shuttle bobbin and I want one with a circular bobbin. Meeting and watching her would have been a treat. Thank you for writing and sharing this article. I wish I could reblog it for future reference for others as well as myself. Cheers, Lyric

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