The Ultimate Recycling Project

NYC designers transform textile samples into art—for fun and philanthropy.

Quilters are, by definition, recyclers. We hesitate to toss our leftover fabrics. They’re pretty; we decide to stash them away. After all, the day may come when we can fit them into an intricate pattern and give them new life.
It was an impulse like that one that led to the annual Sustainable Quilt Competition among NYC-area designers and manufacturers who are members of the International Interior Designers Association (IIDA). Specifically, it was Abigail French, Haworth’s Senior Architecture & Design Market Manager, who had the impulse. She is an avid quilter herself, and hated to see pounds and pounds of beautiful textile samples end up in the trash.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

“It’s a challenge,” Abigail says. Interior designers and furniture and home goods manufacturers receive a constant supply of samples of available fabrics. When new samples arrive, the old ones are no longer relevant or useful. But, she thought, what if we could do something useful with them—such as sew them into patchwork quilts. We could give the quilts to people who need them—or auction them off for charity.
Abigail (and Daniel Tillman from C3 Design) know their colleagues in the design business. They’re a convivial, creative
bunch. The idea fit well. “I saw it as a chance to celebrate our community, acknowledge sustainability, and help others,” she recalls. They would work together, be inspired by each other and the materials, and come up with something special.

Nothing Purchased

If it sounds like an old-fashioned quilting bee, that’s what it became. The IIDA quilt competition was on, and employees from different design firms made up the teams. One rule is firm: Only discarded fabric samples can be used; nothing can be purchased. No quilting or sewing experience is required; participants form teams and meet monthly to plan designs, discuss their projects and assemble quilts. Each meeting is a social occasion (think 80s music), as is the preview party and the auction itself.
“It’s a much-anticipated event,” Abigail says. Competition drives the prices up, and last year’s auction netted $15,000 for a local charity. So far, the money has helped mentor city kids and young professionals—and supported a local program that supplies furniture to people coming out of shelters. “We look for something connected to New York City; we want to re-invest in our community,” she says.

Images: (Left) From the 2010 projects: “Roots of the Empire State” by Fernata Designs; (Right) “August” by a Gensier
team; (Above right) Brian Bennett and Sheril Kern from the GKV team strategize their quilt layout.

Cynthia Van Hanzinga