Dumpster Couture: Recycling at Its Most Satisfying

I wrote about my Tommy Hilfiger Dumpster Quilt Jumpron on my blog a couple weeks ago when I finished it, but I think it’s important enough to write about here, too. Oh, not the Jumpron. I don’t think it’s important: it’s just a piece of clothing. But the process and the source and the purpose of it—that’s what’s important.


To summarize what I wrote (there are more photos in that blog post, too, if you’re interested): my husband found an old quilt in our dumpster, took it to the laundromat, brought it home and folded it up in the storage building for later use as cat bedding. We have rather a large stash of clean old bedding for the outside cats. I was out in the storage building one day looking for a particular bin of fabric (they are legion, and sometimes they get shifted around. By gremlins, I think), and I pulled this quilt out and actually looked at it and realized trying to salvage it would be a great challenge. It was completely worn through in the middle, and the backing was threadbare in many places.

Freeman-Zachery Jumpron quilt

I used a pattern I’d made and tried to maximize the supposedly-ruined part. That was the challenge.

Many hours of stitching later, here’s the Jumpron (a cross between an apron and a jumper, a functional garment, with nice big pockets, that I can wear over a t-shirt and jeans or dresses or skirts).

Freeman-Zachery Dumpster Jumpron

The quilting had all been done by hand, and after picking it all out, cutting out the Jumpron and sewing it together, I requited all the old quilting lines:

Freeman-Zachery Dumpster Jumpron 4 Freeman-Zachery Dumpster Jumpron 3Then I began mending the worn places:

Freeman-Zachery Dumpster Jumpron 2 Freeman-Zachery Dumpster Jumpron 1I think I bought more skeins of the blue embroidery floss, but that was all. Everything else, including the bleached-muslin lining, was stuff I had on hand. I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying this project was; I love that I took something that had been thrown away and made it into something I can wear and—I admit it—use as a conversation-starter about reusing, recycling, making things last and serve more than one purpose.

I’m not a fanatic. We *do* buy toilet paper. I use tissues, not handkerchiefs, for my nose. I do not make my own cat food out of our table scraps (we’re vegetarian, so that would cause a Feline Revolt). But I get a huge thrill from taking cast-offs and old clothes or fabric and making it into something fabulous. People throw away the most amazing stuff. Right now there’s a slab of granite out in our alley, and if I had a clue what I might use it for, I’d go haul it in. I love taking thrifted garments and making them into things that people ooh and aah over, and then I can tell them it was made from t-shirts from Goodwill or a discarded jacket or—best yet—a quilt found in the dumpster.

I grew up on the Little House on the Prairie books, and I was entranced by the idea of making clothes from feed sacks and flour sacks, never mind I’d never seen one of those. I love outsider art, things that are made from the detritus of modern life and things that have been salvaged in abandoned buildings. But so often you hear people lament—often on Facebook—that they want to paint but can’t afford really good paint, so why bother? Or they want to start an art journal but can’t afford one filled with good watercolor paper. Or they want to sculpt but don’t have a kiln, or want to make art dolls but are waiting until they have all the supplies. Sure, great paints are wonderful. Nice canvases are fabulous. I love having a good selection of beads, nicely organized by color. But there’s nothing as satisfying to your creative soul as discovering what you can do *without* any of that, what you can make with just the stuff that’s lying around. Wooden parts, rusty bits, scraps of paper and tumbles of glass. That, plus the ideas in your creative brain, are all you really need.


Go make something.

Z2888 CraftCycle CM1.indd For more projects using recycled or upcycled material, try the Craftcycle eBook!)







Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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