The Great Shirt Project strikes again…

For several years now, I’ve been working on a one-woman challenge: to find as many uses for old shirts as I can! Every quilter knows there’s a whole lot of good, still-useful fabric in a decent gent’s shirt, often in lovely colours and nicely understated patterns, and so many of them just get chucked away when something frays, or a button falls off, or the owner gets larger or just goes off that colour. I’ve been paying 50p for superb quality cotton or linen shirts down at the recycler’s warehouse-shop, chopping them up and using the fabric in little quilts, and weaving the side-seams into bags and rugs, and making hanging “pockets”, needle books, mending kits and laptop covers, to name just a few of the ideas that have occurred to me. A few of the resulting items have even been sold.

Yesterday I experimented with some cuffs; I’ve been steadily selling lavender hearts made from the embroidered bits of old stained table linen, but they are delightfully feminine when all’s said & done. I wanted to make something that a guy would be happy to hang in his wardrobe to make his clothes smell fresh & deter moths, too. So now I’ve invented the Lavender Cuff! Time will tell whether anyone will ever actually buy one, but it’s got to be worth a try…

Lavender-stuffed cuffs!

But the thing that I really, really wanted to make was a hat. It struck me some time ago that the stiffened bits of a formal shirt, i.e. the collars and cuffs, would be ideal for making a hat, if I could just get them joined together somehow. But before I had my big Pfaff machine serviced, all my attempts came to nothing; I broke a number of needles and wrecked several collars trying. It could always have been done by hand, but that might have taken rather a long time, so it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I tried again yesterday, and to my delight & surprise, I succeeded. The machine ran perfectly, I squared the collars & cuffs off to make even joins, and found an elegantly simple pattern to try (pattern & instructions here) and – it worked! I am now the proud possessor of a shirt-collar-and-cuff hat… This one’s a bit big; I made the bigger size because lots of hats feel too tight for me, so there’s another, slightly smaller, version in the making, but I’m actually really rather proud of it and will certainly wear it!

Collar-and-cuff hat!




A few years back, there was a little shop in our town, in the same row that I tried running a shop in more recently. It was an absolute treasure trove of gorgeous vintage & antique household textiles & haberdashery, and the elderly lady who ran it was friendly, helpful, kindhearted (she often let me have part-skeins of embroidery thread from workboxes for, say, 10 or 20p) and inspirational. It featured in several national magazines as one of those quirky & glorious one-off emporiums that we British can excel at, given half a chance & reasonable business rents & rates. But sadly the rent & rates edged upwards as the proprietor’s health edged downwards, and eventually she had to give up. I always wondered what had happened to her stock… Quoting from elsewhere online:

“I’ve had an unexpected & astonishing weekend. It was our annual Folk Festival, when the population of our little town goes from 5,000 to about 20,000 for two days of colourful, musical mayhem. But I hardly got to see any of the processions, workshops, dances etc. because early on, I stumbled across an absolute treasure trove. There was a small market down one of the back streets, and someone  was selling off some old textiles etc. at very sensible prices. I’m “doing” a major festival as a trader later this summer & have been terrified I don’t have nearly enough good stock; things I’m proud to be rehoming at a profit, if you know what I mean. But I was able to pick up some very nice things at a very decent price, even if we’ll be eating beans for the rest of the month!

I got chatting to the guy selling them & eventually, after a bit of digging, it emerged that it was leftover stock from one of the little shops in town, one of my favourite-shops-of-all-time in fact, that stopped trading a few years ago when the proprietor became too elderly & ill to carry on. The end result is that I shall be talking to him later in the week about the rest of her leftover stock, which sadly has not been well-stored in the interim, but still has value of a kind, even if a fair bit of it isn’t saleable any longer. I actually think I’m very privileged to be handling some of these items; think lace baby bonnets going back to the early 1800s, hand-embroidered Victorian bloomers, 30s crepe-de-chine hankies edged with handmade lace – that sort of thing.”

Some of it is literally shredding in our hands; for example the silk/glazed cotton/lace cushion cover above, which is most likely French (there’s another one, in even worse condition, with Souvenir de France embroidered on it. A good clue as to its origins, I feel!) where the cotton backing & lace are intact but the weft threads of the cover have just gone to dust; the warp threads are all that’s holding that embroidery together. The baby bonnet, which is the piece I recognised from the old shop, is also shredding to dust as it’s handled; several years crumpled into sealed black plastic binliners in a hot loft have not done much for the development of age-stains & mould spots, either. It’s a shame to touch it & hasten its decline and I feel quite inadequate to the task of trying to preserve what’s left in decent condition. But I suspect it would just end up at the Tip otherwise, if unsold. And I know that the old lady, and the untold hundreds of stitchers behind her, stretching back at least as far as 1800, would be far happier to see what remains of their exquisite work being used & admired, even if that means cutting it up to remake into something new, than made into J-cloths & used for wiping sinks.

So now I have a huge task before me; I need to learn as much as possible, in as short a time as possible, about lace, so that I don’t accidentally destroy or flog off for pennies, something wonderful that should remain intact & be properly preserved for posterity… It’s a great opportunity, but also a huge responsibility.