Amanda Ward is a full-time mother, crafter, and quilt blogger living in Vancouver with her husband and two children. In this interview, she shares her philosophy on upcycling textiles into original works of quilt. Although not always easy, Amanda finds the choices she makes to reduce her ecological footprint fully rewarding.
Amanda and I have never actually met in person – to be honest, we’ve only recently e-met! We belong to a group of new quilt bloggers called The Sewcial Network. It was there that she and I learned that we have a common interest: reducing the ecological footprint of our craft.
Hi Amanda! Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me. Let’s start with the basics. How long have you been quilting and how did you start?
Well, I taught myself how to use a sewing machine twelve years ago, but I’ve been quilting for a little over two years now.
I’ve always been fascinated by the quilt-making process. It took me a little self-convincing to get over my initial fear of learning. Once I finally gave in, I discovered my passion for quilting and realized I was in for the long haul!
The first quilt I made was a gift for my daughter, and that quickly spiraled into quilts for my son, friends, mother and mother-in-law… plus a few others I’m a little less willing to part with. It’s safe to say, I’m totally hooked.
Is quilting the only craft or art form you enjoy?
I’ve always considered myself a crafter first and have had so many creative outlets over the years – paper crafts, scrapbooking, jewelry making, painting, drawing, sculpting… you name it, I’ve tried it.
I would turn found objects into art, I used to decoupage old bottles and plates as gifts, I spent a year turning cut-down tree trunks and random discarded pieces of wood into tables: although my art forms are forever evolving, the one thing that has always stayed consistent is my use of reclaimed or upcycled materials. That’s been present ever since I was a young girl, refashioning my frilly, lace-topped socks into dresses for my Barbie dolls.
That’s an adorable image! And an impressive range of crafts. When did quilting enter the picture?
Several years ago, while living in San Francisco, I actually had a very short-lived side business making cloth dolls – add that to the list! I was purchasing quite a bit of new fabric, mostly from nearby wholesale fabric shops. I racked up a pretty sizable fabric stash and when I stopped making dolls, the fabric was used to make my first three quilt tops, mostly in an effort to de-stash while also cutting down on the cost of materials. Little did I know that I was also on the verge of defining who I was as a quilter.
You mentioned to me that you try to reduce the impact of your quilting. How did that begin?
A few years ago I started collecting vintage linens with the hopes of making something fabulous… I just never knew exactly what.
Then in May last year, when I started getting more serious about quilting, I also started thinking more about the environmental impact of fabric manufacturing and the textile waste involved. I knew there had to be a “greener” method of quilting that could make the process more sustainable, without sacrificing aesthetic and quality. That’s when I began to realize the awesome potential of my prized vintage linen collection.
So your first impact-reducing steps were using that linen?
Using what I already had on hand was definitely the first step – even before the linen, I was using the fabric I’d bought for the dolls. I like to follow the three rules of recycling (reduce, reuse, recycle). First, I reduce the amount of materials that I’m purchasing. Second, I reuse leftover remnants and fabric scraps as much as possible. Third, I recycle by using repurposed materials – clothing and textiles I already own or have sourced from thrift stores, garage sales, friends, etc.
Is it hard to get materials to recycle and upcycle?
There are so many sources, to be honest. I’m a member of a local quilt guild here in Vancouver. There are times when other quilters offer their scraps to the members. There are also a ton of online shops that sell their de-stash fabric scraps and remnants. Etsy is a great place to find these offers, although I’ve also recently seen de-stash sales popping up on Instagram. Search for the hashtag #thegreatfabricdestash to see thousands of posts.
I typically use a lot of thrift-sourced linens in my quilts. Not only can you get a whole lot of yardage from a king or queen-sized sheet, they’re also usually made from strong and long-lasting materials that are meant to hold up over time. When I do use clothing, I like it to have more heavyweight properties: fabrics such as chambray, linen and flannel.
Men’s dress shirts are one of my favorite finds. They’re most commonly pure cotton or cotton–poly blends, which are easy to work with. They’re usually less worn-looking than other items of clothing. While I have been known to steal a few of my husband’s dress shirts, I usually thrift-source clothing.
How do the materials go from thrift store to workable fabric?
I try to use as much of the material as possible, avoiding any soiled areas or parts that are difficult to work with like armholes and collars. Darts of any kind can be difficult as well, but pleats (like in the back of a men’s shirt) can easily be undone. Before cutting into any materials, I always take them outside first to check for flaws. Natural light helps highlight problems like small rips, bleach stains or discolorations that may have gone unnoticed in dim, indoor lighting. I mark any imperfections with a dark Sharpie marker, so they don’t accidentally end up in my quilt. Then I press, cut and sew!
The natural light tip is a great one! Are there any kinds of materials you do not use in your quilting?
I don’t normally like to quilt with lightweight fabrics or knits due to their undesirable drape or stretch. If I do end up using them for whatever reason, I make sure to add interfacing which stabilizes them for both cutting and sewing. Generally, I prefer to stay away from woven, delicate or sheer materials.
What are some other things you do to reduce the impact of your quilting?
There are several ways I try to reduce my environmental impact. Every quilt is ethically sourced, consciously designed and handmade by me, in a studio where I maintain zero waste and recycling policies. I reuse every scrap, down to my thread cuttings, which I secretly stuff into pillows and pincushions or hide between quilt layers.
I also only use organic cotton batting that hasn’t been bleached or washed with harmful chemicals. It has a low impact on the environment and is also safe to use in baby quilts and in quilts for people with chemical sensitivities.
Are there things you would like to do to further reduce your impact?
I try to do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint, but there are still things I can’t seem to work around, like the energy used in laundering thrift-sourced fabrics and materials, which is a must. I use natural laundry detergents and energy-saving wool dryer balls that reduce drying time. I’m also looking into making my own natural laundry detergents.
I’d have to say my biggest hurdle is seeing all those stunning designer fabrics floating around on social media sites of other quilters I follow,
but knowing I could never bring myself to use them in my quilts. Also all the amazing fabric giveaways and fabric-specific sew-alongs I choose not to enter for the same reason. But with all that comes the realization that what I make is different and unique. I will never see another quilt exactly like mine and others will never see that overused designer mustache- or pineapple-print fabric in one of my quilts.
I think part of what draws people to a particular work of art is its original design, character and voice… so I don’t let those pretty fabrics get me down too much. Also, I do realize there are many gorgeous sustainable fabric options out there too – I just choose instead to use repurposed materials, saving them from a life of waste.
Just out of interest, have you ever bought organic fabric for your quilts?
I have not, but one future endeavor I have as a quilter is to eventually grow my own dye garden and hand dye organic fabric. In the event of that dream coming true, I would be looking into purchasing sustainable, organic fabrics.
Of course, every concerned quilter, crafter and artist must make sacrifices. Perhaps the fabric that would make the perfect backing for the quilt we just spent two months on was grown and dyed in conventional ways. Or maybe the choice to use worn clothes forces us to make color choices that we would rather have more control over. What has been the hardest sacrifice you have made in order to reduce the impact of your craft?
I’d probably say the ease of fabric shopping has been my biggest sacrifice. Because I choose to ethically thrift-source my materials, my style of quilting is solely dependent on what other people decide to discard and when they decide to discard it.
As I mentioned earlier, you are also a blogger. Tell us about your blog. What’s it called?
I recently started a blog called Gypsy Moon Quilt Co., where I mostly write about my sustainably-created modern quilts and the process involved.
How long has it been alive? Are blogs alive? I often find they can start to feel like a child…
I’m very happy to say my blog baby is alive and well! I’ve been a proud blog mom for about three months now. Since joining The Sewcial Network, I’ve gained an invaluable amount of knowledge about what it takes to run and maintain a blog. I have given myself to the HTML gods and there’s no turning back now!
Thank you so much for allowing me to speak out about something that I so passionately support. I’m happy to share my views with like-minded people who share an awareness for reducing environmental impact. I’m constantly learning new methods of mindfulness and new ways to be more sustainable in my craft and everyday life. I hope anyone reading this can feel like they’ve gained something new as well.