Controversy in the Quilt World
There’s a hubbub in our part of the universe, have you heard?
About a week ago, on Jan. 28, Mary Fons posted a YouTube video called “Stop Cutting Up Quilts to Make Clothes.” A graphic image (below) was used on Instagram to publicize the video.
And the graphic did its job. Not only did it entice me to watch the video, almost 15 thousand other people watched it too. Many of those watched after this became news in the quilt world, but still. For the sake of comparison, Mary has about 8000 subscribers and her videos mostly garner a few hundred views each on YouTube/Twitch.
So here’s a little background if you need it.
Mary Fons is the 40-something daughter of quilting superstar Marianne Fons. Marianne and her business partner Liz Porter created an empire of sorts selling magazines, books, videos and tools for quilters, among other things. They became widely known before selling the business.
Mary Fons has long been inside the quilt industry. She hosted Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting television program on PBS, she founded a magazine for beginning modern-leaning sewists called Quilty, she wrote a long-running column for Quilts Inc. (the organization that gives us International Quilt Festival), she more recently served as editor-in-chief of Quiltfolk magazine and she’s an active live-streamer on various quilt topics via YouTube and Twitch. (There’s much, much more to her quilting resume.)
The internet has not always been kind to Mary Fons.
And that’s an understatement. There were quilters at every turn who did not like her and they weren’t shy about saying so. They made awful comments and personal attacks. Mary called them out and forged ahead.
There was a time when I wondered if it wasn’t convenient to ride (into the industry) on her mother’s coattails, but then I heard Mary speak at QuiltCon and she was eloquent. She is smart, she generally does her homework and she isn’t afraid to take a stand.
Part of her background is in theatre and so she is…theatrical. She’s very expressive and it seems like many of her detractors have taken issue with that. But it’s how she communicates—her way of being in the world.
Now back to Mary’s recent video.
Mary spoke passionately about famous designers like Emily Bode and regular quilters like you and me cutting up quilts to make garments. She strongly opposes the practice and she tells us why.
But a lot of people have told Mary that she is…
…wrong, privileged, dramatic, clickbait, condescending, gatekeeping girl boss and more. So much more. The general idea among these folks is “how dare you tell me how I can make art.”
On the other hand, many people agree with Mary
and have applauded her bold stand.
There are plenty of knickers in knots over this controversy. Learn more and decide for yourself:
Mary’s YouTube video: What started this storm
Lots of opinions via Reddit: Mostly negative comments
Passion for patchwork: make-do-and-mend hits the Paris catwalk: More about Emily Bode and her fashion designs made from old quilts
Bode’s homepage for lots more quilted clothing: See the weird and wonderful here
I’d like to know what you think. Is it all right for someone to use an old quilt to make something else? Does it matter if they’re a famous designer or a regular quilter?
I can’t wait to hear what you think.
One more thing: International Quilt Museum has a Fons & Porter exhibit hanging through Feb. 26. Learn more.
Tags: antique quilts, controversy, fons and porter, mary fons, quilt clothes, vintage quilts
I’m not bothered by using old quilts to make new to us things..garments,bags,quilts,pin cushions,etc. It’s being resourceful, recycling. I’ve seen beautiful quilts being use in way different places…window covers, pet beds, furniture packing, etc. Life is so much better with quilting in it!
Quilters who have been at this for a few decades have been around this block before. When vintage quilts became a commodity, they came to be “juried”…so-to-speak…into three general categories:
Historically and/or Artistically Significant Quilts.
Collectible Quilts – read “Someone would pay good money for this one.”
Cutter Quilts – read “It’s seen its best days, but there are undamaged areas large enough that I can make something else with it.”
For myself, I don’t know that I could bear to cut up a quilt. But I have accepted that once I give a quilt away, whether to a loved one or a charity, I have no control over its fate. So count me among those with unknotted knickers.
LOL I love you so much! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I SO WISH we didn’t live three states apart!
I have not watched Mary Fons video yet but do have opinions.
1. I do not advocate or support taking a quilt in good condition and making a garment!!
2. I do support taking a personal or purchased quilt in poor condition and repurposing. I have had to address this issue personally. It’s very expensive to salvage a quilt if you can afford to pay a conservator. If you can’t afford a conservator, it takes a high skill level to conserve the quilt which lets be honest most of us are quilters not conservators.
3. I have repurposed deteriorating quilts……pillows, framed quilt squares etc all with attribution labels. I will continue to persevere as much as I can!
I learned the dilemma of conservatorship years ago when I collected nomadic middle eastern textiles. Some textiles were in perfect condition but some were damaged beyond repair. So I took the pieces in good condition and repurposed them with help. I still have the repurposed elements years later and my daughter has many which her sons love and use daily.
Thanks for bringing this issue up for debate. I think we can all learn from all opinions.
Personally, I think people can do what they want with their quilts. Making garments with quilts is another way of expressing themselves and showing off quilts (or parts of quilts) that may have never seen the light of day.
Better to make clothing out of a quilt than to have it throw away or never used.
If a quilt is tattered and otherwise unremarkable for workmanship or quilter, why not make something useful out of it?
I have stacks of old quilts, some from my family, some gifted to me by other families, that never get used or even see the light of day. I’m considering cutting some up to make pillows or Christmas stockings. I hate to destroy a work of art, but I think I’m ok with it if they are already damaged and I’m going to make something beautiful from them. I do think they deserve to be labeled, if possible, with the original quilter’s name.
Diane B Paul
If the choice is to toss the quilt, use it as a dog bed or to as a protective cover for moving things, I see nothing wrong with making clothing out of an old quilt. After all we make quilts out of old clothes.
I personally would not take a vintage quilt in perfect or gently used condition and cut it up to make a garment. Instead I would make a quilt myself specifically for that purpose. I appreciate Mary’s point of view while wishing that she had taken a kinder, gentler approach because I think there are valid points on either side. Should a quilt with a known, proven historical provenance be cut up for fashion? Definitely not, it should be preserved as best it can be. Should an anonymous quilt that’s found in an estate sale or thrift shop be fashioned into a garment if that’s what the buyer wants to do, regardless of its condition? I can only answer for myself. If in the future someone saves my quilts from either the landfill or from thrift store oblivion, then they have my blessing to make whatever they want to with it.
I agree wholeheartedly, unless a quilt is totally beyond repair, only a few blocks are salvageable from the quilt. I have an antique quilt my mother gave one sibling, who then passed it along to another (both don’t sew nor understood the value of antique quilts), it needs repairing which I’ll eventually do. My mother is 92 and has dementia and I’m sure she’ll not remember who in the family made it. I’ve never found anyone on either side of the family that quilted, but me.
I’ve made bears from old , worn quilts and don’t have a problem with it. Personally I’d not like wearing a quilt. But to say it’s not okay or right to do so I think it’s going too far.
I hate to see old quilts that are ratty or torn. Old quilts should be loved and used. That being said, if an old quilt hasn’t been taken care of or is unloved as a quilt, I think it might “live again” as a new coat. I personally could not cut one up. It would break my heard to do so, but it would be a wonderful way to repurpose an old quilt.
TAMMY JO ALLISON
I can see both sides. But once the fad is over, the quilt cannot be put back together.
Many people ask why they should be saddled with a quilt you don’t like. Don’t be. There’s plenty of organizations that would take the quilt and give it to someone who can use it. And many people would live to have been blessed by a quilter, in their family or not.
My mother was a home economics teacher and taught me that a garment should enhance your look. Most quilt clothes I have seen make you look quite plump unless you are a tall runway model. Food for thought.
It is a shame to cut up a nice quilt, especially an antique one. But, if it makes someone happy to have a jacket, etc. made out of an old quilt, then absolutely do it. We all need to stop being each others’ quilt police as to what is good / bad.
I have to say I have not watched the video, yet but plan to. I did read her Instagram post and I also understand how algorithms work on social. I am completely divided within myself on this topic. I remember back in the day when quilts in secondhand shops were cut up for teddy bears and other purposes and the quilt world was not happy campers.
I also see that most non quilting people would not be able to tell the difference between a historically significant quilt and quilt that may not fit that category. As a quilter who has made many quilts that weren’t great, or were learning processes, I would cut that up and make a jacket! I probably wouldn’t cut up someone else’s quilt but never say never! There are a ton of quilts that would be lovely as repurposed items that may not be in good condition to use as a quilt.
I think something that makes this easier for me in this day and age is that we photograph everything so a pictorial record is made of many quilts. I over photograph my quilts because I like to share on social media. Fabric isn’t forever and I think that is something I consider now that I have been a quilter for several decades.
That said, I have a wool sweater that would make perfect Berney mittens. I wore it for decades and probably won’t ever wear it again . It is in perfect shape. It is perfect to cut up and make those mittens that are so popular. But so far, I can’t do it.
I am so split on this because fashion usually is something that I don’t pay attention to and what’s popluar lasts a few seasons. Bottom line, I don’t have an issue with it but I can see a quilt that may be “art” or “historically significant” will be gone. But then, all things do have an end so why would quilts be any different.
I think it’s everyone’s personal choice. I agree that after I have given it away, it’s no longer mine but who I’ve given it to. So far, personally, I don’t think I could cut one up, they feel like my babies. But, other people have different artistic views and that is what makes it interesting! I started learning how to quilt and sew because I lost a quilt my grandma made for me. It was heartbreaking but it got me to learn and love this beautiful art. So everyone comes from different walks of life and I would be too tired to walk more than my own!
i watched the video. My reaction is mixed. I understand the outrage at cutting up perfectly good quilts to make trendy clothing. I think it’s a far better idea to buy secondhand clothing (“deadstock”) and repurpose that as patchwork. I’ve made quite a number of patchwork garments for myself out of new quilt fabric (and in case the urge strikes again I’ve still got all the Judy Murrah Jacket Jazz books and others). Looking at the chic, trendy garments in Mary’s examples the phrase “more money than taste” comes to mind. I’m sure that the people who plunk down $1200 for a jacket or $50 for a lace-trimmed tie-on collar don’t wear said garments often.
Then there’s the question of the parts of the antique quilts that are left over after the designer creates the jacket or the duster or whatever. Adding to the landfill, are we?
My questions: what about not-so-old, not-so-beautiful quilts — let’s say, a quilt that I made 20 years ago to try out a block or a quilting stitch, and let’s further say that it ddn’t turn out so well? Is that unloved WOMBAT (waste of money, batting, and time) destined to remain on a shelf forever?
Furthermore, what about antique quilts (let’s say 1930 and earlier) that do have irrepairable damage [like a 12-inch off-center hole with charred edges] — why can’t the useable parts be salvaged for, hmmm, a tote bag? Do such projects need a label that says, “This item was made from an unsalvageable quilt”?
I’d like to know a little more about “The internet has not always been kind to Mary Fons.”
I enjoyed the article about Mary Fons. She has always come across to me a quirky, innovated, and able to say what she thought. Whether it was a comment on something she knew or didn’t. I was so surprised and glad to see her as editor of Quilt. She has done a good job. I think it is great for her to explore new boundaries in quilt related and then go and break those boundaries. Thanks
Mary Grace Ronan
Thank you for mary fons video…it was awesome & made me more aware if this issue…thank you both & God Bless you quilters!