The Retirement Life of a Necktie

They look so pretty on display. They sell for anywhere from $5 to $300, possibly more. They’re a popular gift for men. Styles come and go . . . which gives most of them a limited wardrobe lifespan. What happens to them after they’ve outlived their original purpose? 

Our story begins at Prairie Moon Quilts . . .

Situated in a studio out in the country at Prairie Moon Ranch, the owner, that’s me, doesn’t do a lot of socializing, which sometimes usually lets my mind work overtime. During one such solitary brainstorming session, which nearly gave me an aneurysm, I came up with the idea of launching a charity project to make quilts for organizations to use as fundraisers. I had an extensive collection of necktie fabrics just begging to be used, and somehow, the Old American Cowboy phrase “Necktie Social” popped into my head, and I was off and loping. That was in January of 2009. You can read all about it here: Necktie Social.

Since launching the Necktie Social Project, I’ve been asked many times about exactly how I prepare the neckties for use in a quilt. It’s been suggested by several that I just write a tutorial on it, and although it’s been a long time coming, I’ve finally gotten it together. So if you want to see what we’re doing with all the ties that come to live out their retirement at Prairie Moon Ranch, or if you desire to turn your collection of neckties into a quilt, just read on . . .

I must first offer up this disclaimer because my Grandma always said: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Please keep in mind that this is MY way of doing it, and I’m sure there are many other methods you could use, so I’ll give you the same advice my Aunt Ruby always offered me, and I live by it to this day: “Take all the advice you can get, then do as you please!”

But here’s why I do it the way I do . . .

I like for my quilts to be washable. To me, that means that the fabrics and materials I use in my quilts need to washable. Therefore, I pre-wash my fabrics to make sure that they’re not going to bleed or shrink in the finished quilt. Same with neckties. I figure if I treat them as badly up front as they’ll ever be treated once they’re in a quilt, they should hold up in the finished project just fine. If they don’t, I prefer to know that before I’ve done all the work on a quilt, only to have it fall apart or discolor the first time I need to wash it. This way, I can weed out the pieces that aren’t going to hold up, and use only the ones that pass my initial testing phase, scientific though it may be.

So let’s proceed . . . We’ll use the following bunch of neckties as our example batch. This box of 65 neckties was generously donated by GrantC, specifically for the Necktie Social Project.

The first thing I do is throw the ties in the washing machine — gasp! And I wash them in HOT water with regular laundry detergent on a regular cycle — gasp! Purex was what I happened to have on hand for this batch. I also add a Color Catcher to the load, which helps collect loose dyes that happen to float around during the wash. If it’s an especially large load, I sometimes add two Color Catchers. Other than that, they get no special treatment, because I want to know if they can take it, and right now is the best time to find out.

When the washer stops, it’s time to put the ties into the dryer. At this point, they are usually a tangled mess, so prepare to spend about 10 minutes in front of your washing machine untangling them as you put them into the dryer. Try to refrain from cussing during this important exercise in patience.

I dry them in the regular dryer on the regular cycle, not a delicate cycle. I throw in a fabric softener sheet to help eliminate static, since necktie fabric is prone to static. When they’re all dry, I take them out and put them into a big basket. Here’s GrantC’s bunch of ties, all washed and dried.

The next task is to disassemble all the neckties to get the usable fabric out of them. I usually take a basket of ties, my seam ripper and scissors, an empty basket, and a huge empty mixing bowl, and plant myself in my chair with “Lonesome Dove” in the DVD player, and just spend an evening now and then taking the ties apart. The above picture is my starting basket with the laundered ties ready to be disassembled. 

Ties are generally sewn in one long seam down the back, and sometimes if you get it going just right, you can pull a thread, and it will unravel all down the length of the tie and speed things up greatly. Others are more meticulously stitched, so sometimes you have to use a seam ripper and rip down the entire length yourself.

Then you can strip out the “filler” from the middle, and just throw it away.

I also cut off the inside lining on the ends, using my scissors. I throw that part away as well.

You’re now left with just the tie fabric, which you will note is cut on the bias.

Here’s my mixing bowl, which I usually just hold in my lap, and it catches all the parts I’m throwing away:

I use the empty basket to hold the tie fabric once I’ve gotten the ties disassembled. Here’s the most recent batch I worked on:

When I feel like I’ve done enough for one session, I take the basket of disassembled ties to the ironing board, and set my iron on the silk setting with steam. At this point, I’d like to ask that you ignore that I am in desperate need of a new ironing board cover. I iron all the tie pieces, usually from the wrong side, since it’s easier to iron out the “curliness” . . .

. . . then I fold them and store them in a plastic bin until I’m ready to use them in a project. If there is a particularly stubborn piece, I have my bottle of Mary Ellen’s Best Press handy to use to spray it, if I need to.

Tie fabrics are usually silk or something that behaves like it, and it is thin and slithers around really easily. In order to easily work with it in a quilt, it needs to be stabilized. For this I use a lightweight fusible-on-one-side interfacing. I use the lightest weight I can find. This just happens to be Pellon I found on sale somewhere.

You first want to examine the tie you’ll be using to make sure that there are no tears, rips, stains, or threadbare places on it.If you find any, cut them out, or plan to work around them. Some ties have had a harder life than others over time! Trim a piece of fusible interfacing to fit the tie, and follow the instructions on your interfacing to fuse it to the necktie on the WRONG side. I usually just do one section at a time, and don’t even do the entire tie if I don’t intend to use it all just then. If you have one handy, a teflon pressing sheet really helps with this part. Really. Helps. You’ll be sold on teflon pressing sheets. I promise. Kelly over at I Have A Notion has a couple different choices for sale. I highly recommend one. Highly.

And that, my dedicated readers (thanks for making it this far with me) is all that needs to be done. You are now ready to cut the necktie into the patches you need for your quilt block.

Ties are generally dark colored, but now and then you come across some brighter ones. If you have lots of ties, you can sort of plan a color arrangement to keep your quilt from being too dark and dull.

Once I have a finished quilt made of neckties, if I ever need to wash it, the worst is over. I always launder a finished quilt in cold water on a gentle cycle with a very gentle detergent such as Woolite or Orvus Paste. If I dry it in the dryer, I never dry it completely dry. I take it out while still a bit damp and let if finish air drying flat. If it has embellishments, I won’t launder it in a regular washing machine. If it badly needed cleaning, I’d take it to a dry cleaners. 

For the Necktie Social Project, the first quilt we made is a BowTie design. I purchased a woven cotton to use as a background in each block, so they would all have the same background, then used the different ties to make up the blocks. Having the background fabric all the same and in a lighter color made the quilt not so dark and boring. In fact, it’s downright interesting because each tie is a different fabric, and they are very fun to look at. When the quilt is finished, you will be able to see pictures of it on the Necktie Social page on my website. I will also be publishing the pattern we used in the Free Patterns section once the recipient has the quilt in their possession, sometime this May, so keep checking back.

And then . . . we’ll be starting on the next one! 

So here’s a note to all you ready-to-retire neckties out there: Don’t ever lose hope. Just ask to be sent to Prairie Moon Ranch, or somehow get lucky enough to be made into a quilt. Retirement can be a wonderful thing!

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Published in: on April 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing such great information! As a quilter and repurposer of clothing and fabric, I have been considering necktie projects, but the preparation was a bit daunting. Not anymore! Heading out to my local thrift shop to relieve them of their rejected necktie collection 🙂

  2. What a great idea!!!! I belong to a Relay for Life team and this is a wonderful idea for us to make money for it. How do you choose who you give a quilt to? I’m not a sewer, but I know a lot of friends that are. I’m going to tell a lot of people about your great site and recycling idea. I love to recycle. I will definitely keep your site as one of my favorites and if no one wants to use the ties I have I will send them on to you. My husband died 20 yrs. ago and had a lot of nice ties that I still have and didn’t know what to do with. Keep up your great work.

  3. Thank you for your easy to follow instructions on how to make a quilt from ties. I have a large box of ties which were given to me on my 70th birthday, along with the challenge to have it finished by my 80th birthday . Well I have only 3 months to complete (and begin!)
    the challenge so I really need to get into action. Fingers crossed!

  4. Thank you for the info on preparing men’s neck ties to use in a quilt. I have put off using them because I didn’t know how to prepare them. They are now in the washer! 😳 😨 I am not looking forward to the step after the dryer.😄😁
    Again, thank you for your entertaining info.
    Beth


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