by Lauren Kingsland
What a thrill it is to register for a workshop with an admired quilting teacher. Then, the supply list comes and the hunt begins for the perfect materials from the list for the class project. The quest may involve a trip to the local quilt shop or scouring Etsy or the Internet for the exactly right fabric, thread or tool. Sound familiar? As a teacher I have often hear at the first class – “I have lots of fabric at home, but I went and bought new for this project anyway.”
In early 2020 I was teaching quiltmaking at the local community college and for the Smithsonian Studio Arts Program in downtown D.C. Then in the space of one weekend in March, all teaching shifted from in-person in a classroom, with access to materials for purchase, to Zoom for students alone and stuck in their homes due to the pandemic lockdowns. Shopping was now difficult in person, ordering online could be iffy, and delivery times varied. For the sake of my students, I needed to re-think the supply list so we could continue to learn together. What an opportunity!
Let’s take a moment to zoom out here to look at quiltmaking classes as part of a bigger picture. Textiles are everywhere, not just in our stash. Fast Fashion has become a buzz word for the reality of the human impact on our environment through overconsumption of clothing. From the sweatshops of China, to closets around the world, to fires in the waste dumps of Africa where used clothing has gone to die, textiles are part of the global impact of thoughtless consumerism.
Closer to home, we are part of the problem when we buy and buy more fabric than we can ever use in our lifetimes. (I am guilty, too. My generous donations of yards of fabric to mask making projects and to the women of the Pine Ridge Reservation did not make a visible dent in my stash.) Our children will not thank us for a legacy of 500 yards of unused quilting fabric.
What can I personally do to influence textile sustainability? As a teacher I can subtly encourage more thoughtful consumption through
the student SUPPLY LIST. Here are eight tips for how to do this.
- Plan the class project to allow the use of a variety of materials on hand as well as newly purchased. For example, offer the option of, say, “vintage table linens”.
- Offer guidance about compatible weights of materials – i.e., silk blouses and denim jeans may not play well together. Similar weights of cloth will provide a consistent weight finished product. Set the student up to succeed.
- Encourage the inclusion of appropriate weight fabric with a sentimental connection for the student. No matter the project design, it will become a much more meaningful creation to them.
- Consider your own experience with various types of fabrics. For example, if you have not used knits, ask “No knits, please.”
- Offer alternatives for tools that will work, even if they are not the latest thing. If your goal is to teach how to use a particular new tool, then allow flexibility in the other things on the list.
- For an in-person class, encourage a sharing table where students can swap colors.
- If possible, have tools to share, like a common rotary cutting station.
- As you write the supply list, ask yourself, “Is this the only thing that will work in this situation?” And offer alternatives, even if they are not your own first choice. In short – give the students options. Be clear about what is mandatory to purchase and what could be a place for using something already on hand.
For me as a teacher, the unexpected result of a supply list that gives students freedom to use what is at hand has been their amazing, creative adaptations of my lessons. Rather than copy my work, they are making their own work inspired by our conversations. The “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” principle is at work. In terms of wider sustainability, adaptive reuse in this case, the quilt lesson, will lead to other types of repurposing also.
By all means, treat yourselves to some new fabric once in a while and support our beloved quilt shops. And, before you shop, take inventory at home first. Scrap quilts from reclaimed clothing are a part of our quiltmaking tradition, after all. Awareness of using what we already have is a way we can take one step back from the precipice of consumerism. The journey of a thousand miles happens one step at a time. This is a step we can easily take.
Reuse, repurpose, reclaim, and encourage your students to do so too.