Why Vintage? Reason #2

re-use-6A few days ago I began what will be a short series by asking, “Why vintage?” What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people?

The first reason I discussed was the fashion appeal of vintage design. Today I’ll talk about impulse to buy and use vintage because of a sense of ethics.

2) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of ethics

What’s so ethical about vintage? Well, when you start to think about it, quite a lot.

In a world with a lot of huge landfills, full of throwaways and discards, the idea of using what we already have appeals to a lot of people.

One of my favorite blogs is Garbage Finds. The author is spending several months picking through garbage, full-time, in Montreal. He is going through garbage bags, looking for the usable and sellable, and chronicling his use and his sales. It’s fascinating! The author explains the ethical stance on the re-use of used and vintage items much better than I can:

I want to change the way people look at the ‘things’ in their life and get them thinking about how to reduce waste. I hope to raise awareness about the value that even broken possessions may still have and show that there are people out there who can make good use of ‘garbage.’ This increased awareness serves to reduce the amount of waste our society creates, which has many different benefits. Reducing waste is great for the environment. It means we have to mine less, manufacture less, grow less, and put less in landfills.

The blog chronicles his finds, and their value, both in monetary term and in terms of the ways he and others make use of what someone else considered trash. Go look—you’ll be amazed at what he’s found! And it’ll make you wonder about what you’ve thrown away!

Lots of people are recycling, repurposing, upcycling, just not to this extreme. And at least some of that behavior has encouraged a new look at vintage items that are perfectly good (and, in some cases, much better than we can buy now . . .but we’ll get to that later).

You don’t have to open trash bags by the side of the road! I challenge you to go out to a few garage sales. Many of the garage sales you’ll go to will have full sets of dishes–some gorgeous china, some for everyday, all inexpensive. Every sale will have glassware. Pyrex dishes. Silverware. Salad spinners. And that’s just the kitchen stuff.

When you think about it, doing a little home furnishing using vintage finds is the same impulse as adopting a pet from the SPCA, instead of going to a puppy mill. Many people say why not save a life?

I’m one of these people. I’ve said that I don’t choose vintage because it’s fashionable but I do like the idea of using vintage as a way to reduce waste when old stuff will serve me well.

But, don’t get me wrong—I like nice things! I get an enormous kick out of walking around my house and identifying the really nice furniture, and quality house wares, and gorgeous linens that came from garage sales and flea markets. Why would I use paper napkins (and throw them away), when I have dozens of elegant cloth napkins that can be re-used? And look good at the same time!

And, like many others who are into vintage re-use, I “upcycle.” That’s an awkward new verb that means to take something old and turn it into something new, and maybe better. I think it’s a fun challenge to see what I can do with damaged vintage items, rather than throw them away.

The curtains used to be a tablecloth with a BIG hole.

The curtains used to be a tablecloth with a BIG hole.

A cedar sachet, made with scraps of old dish towels.

A cedar sachet, made with scraps of old dish towels.

Not to waste a bit of a great towel, I covered buttons with more scraps!

Not to waste a bit of a great towel, I covered buttons with more scraps!

Now, of course, right at this moment in time, it’s fashionable to recycle and upcycle and go green, so the lines get blurred between my reasons 1 and 2. In our next installment, we’ll talk about how people also save money AND get great quality by buying vintage.

In the meantime, ask yourself—are there ways you can (or already do) achieve the look you want while maintaining a commitment to wasting less and recycling more?

Loving Hands: Connecting Two Generations

Banker quilt pendant-4When it comes to a trove of items made by “loving hands at home,” I am one of the lucky ones. I have many, many treasures made by members of my family.

I am very sentimental about these things and I like to have them out where I can see them. I have a wooden knife box, made by grandmother’s grandmother’s father, in the kitchen holding my dishcloths. We use my husband’s grandmother’s hand embroidered pillowcases on the bed. And I used the scrap of an old, old quilt, with my great-grandmother’s signature, to make a silver pendant.

The quilt: An old patchwork quilt, done as a friendship quilt; each person would stitch a block with their signature in the center, then the pieces would be put together by the group. Sometimes these quilts were made as a gift to a person marrying or leaving to move West. Sometimes they were made by members of a church, with each signer paying for their block, as a way to raise money for the church. This quilt was made in a variety of fabrics, set into off-white cotton and with a center square for the signature.

Banker quilt pendant-2My quilt had been used hard and then stored badly for too many years. By the time it came to me, it had huge holes through the fabric and batting and was filthy. Though some people will say I was wrong to do so, I cut it up and salvaged what I could, with an eye toward doing something to preserve the remnants at a future date. I saved all the signature blocks, including a number with names I recognized, made by women and men. One block said “Grandma Banker.”

Banker quilt pendant-3Based on the other signatures and family memories, I identified the “grandma” as Ella Banker, mother of my paternal grandmother and born in 1867.

The pendant: I studied jewelry making as an art student in college and then did nothing with it for years. I became a college professor in an entirely different field but the college at which I worked offered jewelry making and silversmithing so, after about 25 years, I was back in the studio.

We received the assignment to make a piece of jewelry that represented our notion of “precious.” I knew I wanted to focus on family and connections so I chose to incorporate the “Grandma Banker” quilt scrap into the jewelry.

I made the pendant of sterling silver and created a tiny oval box into which the fabric would nestle. I cut the front and back, using a jeweler’s saw, and scalloped the edges to suggest lace. I used tube rivets to hold the pieces of the box together; these hold tightly just by fitting them properly and I thought the hollow middle of the tubes added to the look of stylized lace.

Banker quilt pendant-5Banker quilt pendant-6I used plexiglass on the front, to protect the old fabric. I wanted to be sure that the piece wasn’t airtight, so the fabric could breathe and not get mildewed, so I used my saw to spell out my great grandmother’s name and birth year on the back of the pendant.

Banker quilt pendant-7It was hugely satisfying to find a way to incorporate an old one-of-a-kind family treasure into a new one-of-a-kind piece. I still haven’t done anything with the rest of the quilt pieces but I have ideas!

I’m always drawn to the re-purposing of old treasures. I’d love to hear about ways you continue to weave the pieces of your family’s past into your present life!

Banker quilt pendant-8