Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quilting for a cause

Several hundred miles away from me, a nice woman sat down at her computer last week and cast her bread upon the waters -- did any of her friends know somebody whose brain she could pick about quilting?  And through the magic of the internet, within a couple of hours her message had been forwarded by a friend to another friend and then to me.

The woman has worked as a volunteer on an annual event for an upscale sport -- not polo, but almost that ritzy -- and over the years they've accumulated 2,000 unsold commemorative T shirts.  So they had a brilliant idea: make them into T shirt quilts and sell them at this year's event.  She wanted to do this as "a very, very low budget thing" and being a good-hearted person, thought to "use a non-profit group that employs the handicapped, the underserved, or some such group to make the quilts for a small cost."  She needed a clue as to finding such an organization.

I was procrastinating that morning, and rather than work on whatever was on my to-do list, chose to spend some time responding to the email.  I observed that making a T shirt quilt is not a simple or inexpensive task.  Because of the nature of T shirt knits, you have to stabilize them before you can piece them.  You have to buy batting and backing.  You need a longarm machine to quilt them.  Handicapped workshops are probably not going to be up to this task, and when the quilts are sewed they're not going to have the small cost the organizer was anticipating.

I also observed that cheap imports from China have convinced many potential buyers that you get big quilts for $100 or less.  And that nobody past college age puts T shirt quilts on their bed.

So my bottom line was that she might want to think about this project a bit and clarify her objectives; that it wasn't going to be a simple, low budget thing, and might not even be particularly appealing to her potential buyers, the upscale folks who attend this event.

She responded with profuse thanks for my email, but said cheerfully that she was going to go ahead and see what happens. 

That night while I wasn't sleeping, I thought a lot about her plan.  The more I thought about it, the more unhappy I got.  The next morning I wrote her back and said: "If you have 2,000 new T shirts that you aren't doing anything with, it seems almost obscene to cut them up, throw 3/4 of the fabric away, buy a lot of new fabric, put hours of work into them and make them into something that people may or may not want.  Why not give them away to people who need shirts? You could even turn this into an event, getting good publicity for your group and your sport, and also doing a lot of good without any added effort or investment on your part.  For instance, a project where poor kids could come to the event, see something new and exciting, and have a shirt to wear home.  Or simplest of all, give them to a homeless shelter."

I got no response to this email. 


  1. You received no response? I read your post with interest. I wouldn't attempt to do anything with Tshirts. So much work. But your is a very good suggestion.
    A few years ago I was involved in making Tshirts for a local rowing event. The first year I broke even. The second year I made a $3000 profit(donated to our school's rowing club). Why? I charged more. Some people were more attracted to the more expensive item even though the two years was much the same product.
    I'm raving. Some people waited for me to mark down the tops before they would buy them. or wait until their child won to buy them. it was all very revealing.
    Anyway rather than satisfy those wantng to pay less than cost I sent all the remaining tshirts to East Timor with one of the local nuns who worked there after the civil war. I liked the idea that the locals were emblasoned with the names of a couple of 100 local athletes!
    Anyway thanks for yuour post>

  2. I was thinking the same thing. I am glad you suggested it to her!

  3. Once a year my sewing pals and I stock and run the craft stall at the local hospital fete.
    We use a lot of recycled and new materials.
    We spend every Friday for a couple of months making items. People want to buy the items for peanuts, or hang around for a discount at the end of the day. We have stopped marking things down. It would be easier and cheaper to make a donation.
    Your t-shirt story is another example of the devaluing of hand work, and exploitation of the disadvantaged by a group of people who have too much and should know better.
    Some people just don't live in the real world.

  4. I do hope the t-shirt woman will heed your good advice and donate the shirts. There are many places that these could make someone happy. This is all part of our trying to get the message out that quilting is not a cheap and easy thing to do!

  5. I think that Jan has hit it right on the head: some people just don't live in the real world.