Tis’ the season for family and gratitude, at Tribute, nothing says family more than a classic quilt. A quilt wears many hats, for some it represents family legacy, community and art, for others it's an item that keeps you warm. A quilt is a multi-layered textile, traditionally composed of two or more layers of fabric or fibers. One the most common quilting styles is patchwork, which is when the top layer of a quilt is made with an assortment of textiles sewn together to form a design.
The quilting practice can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, around 3000 B.C, as seen on a small carved figure of a Pharaoh wearing a quilted mantle, currently in the British museum.
Quilting has been adopted by cultures for different purposes. During the American Victorian era, some quilts were made to repurpose fabric scraps during the rise of mass production of inexpensive fabrics. In central Asia quilting was used for religious items like amulets and talismans. In the northern part of China, there is a tradition to make a quilt when a child is born from 100 scraps of fabric donated to the mother, it is believed the child will receive luck and energy from the scrap donors.
During different wars quilting has been a solution for rationed fabrics and scraps with quilters taking scraps and creating garments. One of the most powerful roles quilts have played is a tool for agency. In American society, quilts have been an outlet for marginalized populations to express themselves, women used puzzle-like stitches to express their intelligence, African American women used quilts to communicate the escape routes for the underground railroad. By the 1920s quilting became a collectible item due to the interests in Colonial and frontier crafts. Looking back, quilting has helped shape a lot of our ideas and knowledge of various cultures as we know them in the modern era.
Fast forward to today, and you will see that quilt and patchwork clothes have made a comeback. While quilting and patchwork have similarities, there are subtle techniques which separate them. Quilting is sewing together at least three pieces of fabric in a way that creates three dimensional textures and designs, usually with a padded surface. Patchwork is taking scraps of various fabrics and sewing them together to create a larger design. Household names like Dolce & Gabbana and Dior have exhibited their quilt and patchwork pieces on the runway, turning what formerly might have been considered “ugly chic”, by Western style standards, into just plain “chic”.
The resurgence of patchwork and quilt pieces has been largely associated with Bode, a NYC-based menswear brand, on the rise. Bode debuted in 2016 with clothes that use patchwork techniques and quilt scraps. Their intriguing pieces expose the intersection of craft and couture. Two years after the brand's launch, Bode took to the runway and became the first female-owned brand to walk in Men’s New York Fashion Week. Then in 2019, Bode was featured in the Paris Fashion Week, Men’s. On their website, Bode introduces themselves as “...a sentimentality for the past through the study of personal narratives and historical techniques.” The site includes that their brand combines workwear silhouettes with female-centric traditions like quilting, mending, and applique.
Emily Bode founded the brand on pillars of slow fashion, and using vintage and thrifted finds. Turning quilts from the 1920’s into modern couture shows Bode’s knack for creating timeless pieces. In an interview with CFDA, Bode explains that her long-time love for vintage inspired the concept of her brand, “I’ve been antiquing since I was a little girl…”, she goes on to say that she still enjoys sourcing Bode’s pieces herself. She has created an intimacy within her brand, making even the most minor details a testament to her roots. The Spring/Summer 2020 line took inspiration from her family’s past in the circus. It goes to show how effective second hand textiles, and slow fashion is in creating a story.
Off the runway, Gen Z has been taking quilt and patchwork designs into their own hands. During the height of the pandemic, when leaving the house was limited, people got crafty. Tik Tokers brought upcycling into the mainstream, inspiring young people to grab pieces from their local thrift store and take to their sewing machines. Quilted and patchwork clothes also offer a more androgynous style, which has certainly trended in recent years as well.
From mixing and matching, creating unique styles, and cutting out various shapes to stitch together, quilting and patchwork upholds it’s integrity for community, history, and a plethora of creativity.
Words by Allyna Wilson & Gabrielle Clary