by Suzanne Labry
April 22, 2016 marked the 46th anniversary of Earth Day. The purpose of this annual event, which is celebrated all over the world, is to show awareness of and appreciation for the Earth’s environment and to engage in “green” activities—those that preserve environmental quality.
This year’s Earth Day was particularly momentous because it marked the signing by over 120 countries of the Paris Agreement, the climate protection treaty adopted at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
One of the core principles associated with Earth Day is recycling—the practice of reusing items that would otherwise be discarded as waste. Variations of recycling include upcycling, which involves adding value to an item for reuse, and downcycling, which involves breaking down an item or substance into its component elements in order to reuse anything that can be salvaged.
Pretty much by definition, then, it is clear that quilters have always been the consummate recyclers, regardless of whether they are upcycling or downcycling!
Surely quilting has to rank among the “greenest” of activities. Feed sack quilts, scrap quilts, suggans, waggas, “britches” quilts, crazy quilts, kanthas, rallis, tobacco sack quilts, yo-yo quilts—really just about any type of quilt—could be considered an exercise in recycling of one type or another.
Hollyhocks II by JoAnn Hofffman and and Shirley Hobbs, Hill CIty, South Dakota. Original design containing Dream Green batting. This quilt won the Merit Award for Machine Quilting at the 2015 International Quilt Festival in Houston. Frogs, geckos and hummingbirds are hidden in the quilting.
We’ve probably all seen old quilts that contained another worn-out quilt as a batting, and perhaps we even know of quilts where the remains of an entire garment were stitched into a quilt top in a hurried, frugal effort to make warm cover. And can there be a better example of recycling than a string quilt? Most of these types of quilts could be considered examples of upcycling and they’ve been around for a very long time.
A relatively new addition to the quilt realm, however, definitely falls into the downcycling camp: batting made from plastic bottles. Kathy Thompson, President of the Virginia-based Quilter’s Dream Batting, says that she had the ecological sensitivity of quilters in mind when her company created its Dream Green™ batt.
“Quilters are recyclers, and I wanted to offer them a beautiful, practical fiber made out of something that otherwise would have been discarded as waste,” she says. “To make Dream Green batting, recycled plastic bottles are cut into chips, washed, melted and extruded into fine polyester fibers. Each pound of Dream Green keeps 10 plastic bottles out of our landfills. To avoid additional processing, we’ve kept the green bottle color. Even though not all the bottles that are recycled are green, those that are give the green cast to the batt. It is colorfast though, and doesn’t show through any but the lightest colors.”
JoAnn Hoffman, an award-winning quilt artist, pattern designer and longarm quilter who lives in South Dakota, appreciates that the batting is made from recycled plastic. “Plus, the batting is wonderful for art quilts,” she offers. “Quilts hang so perfectly with this batting. Sometimes I will even use two layers depending on the project. If you place it behind white fabric it gives off a green glow. I wanted the green glow on my quilt.”
Kermit the Frog famously says that it’s not easy being green. But when it comes to quilts, old methods and new materials are combining to make “green” quilting easier than ever—and that’s something quilters all over the world can do to support Mother Earth.