The shirt off his back

I have yet to follow one down the street with covetous intent, but you never know….

Have you ever seen a person wearing a garment whose fabric you would happily have in your stash? I must admit until recently I hadn’t, but since I have been gathering checked shirt fabrics for a future project I have found myself studying passing gentlemen, many of the most unprepossessing type, and wishing I could have the shirts off their backs, only for my stash you understand. It has become a running joke with my Dearest, as I find my eye captured and held by men of all ages, sizes and types each wearing loud checks of all colours and design. I have yet to follow one down the street with covetous intent, but you never know….

almost a fat quarter
almost a fat quarter

My passion for fabric outstrips my available fabric buying resources exponentially, so I am always on the lookout for ways of acquiring fabric for quilting with the least outlay of funds. Inspired by my love for recycling and by the plaid scrap quilts I have seen on Pinterest I began collecting checked shirts bought in charity shops. My local charity shop has been an almost weekly supplier of treasure, and each so far costing between £1 and £2.50.

shirt fronts another almost fat quarter
shirt fronts another almost fat quarter

I find that a man’s “small” shirt will render the largest piece from the back measuring 21” by 25” measuring under the armholes and from yoke to tail, which is equal to a fat quarter, the front a similar amount of fabric in two halves, and then the sleeves although an odd shape will render at least as much as a fat quarter between them or less if short sleeves, but if I calculate each shirt to represent half a yard of fabric I don’t think I will be disappointed.

short sleeves, still would render two 5" squares each
short sleeves, still would render two 5″ squares each



The smallest shirt I have bought for £1 (pictured) was age 11-12 and gave me a back measuring 18.5” by 22”, the biggest a 17.5” collar shirt from Boden which rendered a back measuring 31” by 30” but bizarrely was cut on the bias and looks like a table cloth, the sleeves were cut on the straight grain, so although large the shirt will similarly render only a half yard.
The inside of the Yoke is often cut on the bias which limits its use but two small squares could be cut from it for another scrap project, and the yoke will render squares or strings.

Yoke pieces one straight, one bias cut
Yoke pieces one straight, one bias cut

My rule in choosing which shirts to buy is that they must be 100% cotton, not seersucker, must be bright not muddy colours, and must be checked not striped. Mostly the shirts I buy are unworn or barely worn and that can be discerned by looking at the labels for wash fatigue and collar for signs of wear. So far I have made only two mistakes, poplin is too crackly, and does not iron well. To achieve a good mix of colour and pattern I will need perhaps 30 to 40 shirts, but that will give me 15-20 yards of fabric which should be enough for more than one quilt, one large and maybe a couple of lap quilts.

Some of my shirt collection
Some of my shirt collection

My observations on charity shop shirt buying so far are:-the louder the shirt the more likely that it will be unworn, perhaps it’s a case of loud shirts having a limited use, or that they generally fall into the unwanted gift, or “seemed like a good idea at the time” category, which languished at the back of the wardrobe for a couple of years and then got edited out to the charity shop. And…. children’s clothes, particularly summer wear in Britain, unless passed down from oldest to youngest, probably only has an 8 to 10 week window of wear, before its back to school uniform in September, so many summer shirts have hardly seen a washing machine more than half a dozen times before they are put away to have been outgrown by the following summer, so a future life in a quilt is a greener alternative to another 8 to 10 weeks life in a different boy’s wardrobe.

Christmas cards

Sometimes I receive a Christmas card which I like too much to throw away on 12th night. this is one way to preserve them.

Sometimes I receive a Christmas card which I like too much to throw away on 12th night.
I tend to keep some maybe just in case no-one sends me a card next year! Perhaps when I’m old and friendless I’ll be able to put up cards that I have kept and still feel surrounded by the love of old friends, who are no longer around to send cards.
framed Christmas card

This card I loved so much I wanted to make something with it, so I decided to frame it, it will still get packed away with the Christmas decorations and come out every year but it will not get tatty or bent out of shape.

charity shop frames

I took charity shop frames,

sand your frame

sanded and spray painted them,

spray painted frame

used red wrapping paper to mount the card on.

framed card and decoration

Wanting to have something to hang alongside it and not being able to find another card of a similar type I bought a little felt tree decoration, from a budget store, it doesn’t entirely work , I’ll keep looking out for another paper cut card.

There’s nothing new about Recycling

The wonderful thing for me, more than 40 years after I first wore my lovely dress it is still part of the fabric of my life.

There’s nothing new about recycling, patchwork was invented for it. I love recycling fabrics and preserving them for posterity,and holding memories in a tangible form.
Being a child of the 60’s I have never known real hardship, though I have been so short of money I’ve had holes in my shoes, and wet feet. Nevertheless being the child of parents raised in the last war, who in turn had parents who were born in the first decade of the last century, experiencing both Wars and Depression, I have learnt economy, ingenuity and the principles of recycling from generations of Master cheese parers.
I find it hard to throw anything away if it might still serve some useful purpose. Evidence of this can be seen in the photos attached, a photograph of me, aged about 8, pudding bowl haircut and a typical 1960’s dress.

Me Circa 1968
Never mind the unflattering haircut, look at the dress fabric

When it no longer fit me, the dress and it’s twin,( my sister had one too) went back in Mum’s fabric stash. I always loved the fabric but couldn’t find a project for it. Years later I began collecting fabrics for a scrap quilt, and there in the centre is my dress fabric, and again in several places in the quilt.

there's plenty more

The fabric also appears in other scrap quilts of mine, in fact every last tiny piece of that fabric was recycled, and the wonderful thing for me, more than 40 years after I first wore my lovely dress it is still part of the fabric of my life.