Sunday, October 23, 2016

Necktie Archeology Quilt

Imagine that a quirky yet wealthy man who wears unusual neckties lives next to a steep mountain.

One day there's a heavy rainstorm, and our collector flees his house in the nick of time. A massive mudslide buries the house. Since he's very rich, he never bothers to dig it out, and lives happily ever after in another house.

A hundred years later, his wealthy heirs, arguing about inheritances, decide they want to salvage his buried home. A crew of workers dig down into the ruins, and finally break into his closet.

Here's a cross-section of what might they might dig up. There are 68 neckties on this quilt, newest on top, aging as you move down, with a 1950s-era quilt on bottom. (Also, 100+ vintage buttons).
In truth, these neckties didn't come from one person. I've been collecting them from thrift shops and flea markets for years. About a year ago, I began the job of stitching them to a background.

In the interests of historical documentation, I tried to keep these ties as intact as possible. The only change I made to most was to surgically cut the tags off the back and move them to the front, so future fashion scholars can study them.
I stitched the neckties to the backing by hand, with relatively large stitches. The future owner of this quilt could theoretically remove and wear most of these ties.

 Here's the bottom-most tie:
It's a slim '50s or early 60s tie, with a bikini-clad pinup girl hidden in the lining. (She unfortunately has punctures on her neck, due to a thrift shop sales tag and/or confused vampire attack.)

Moving up into the later 60s, the ties widen. 
A closer look:
Perhaps 1960s tie designers experimented with LSD? There's an Escheresque orange-and-black design at the bottom, followed by pink diamonds; a striped tie celebrating San Francisco trolleys; and a whole lot of crazy paisley. 

Continuing upwards, into the 1970s. Three of the four ties below were my Dad's. He had conservative tastes.

Along the bottom of the photo above, there's a festive tie that features international drinking toasts: "Prosit!" "Campi!" "Skol!"  "Salute!"and of course, "L'Chaim!" (Plus one in Chinese characters - thanks to reader Margaret who let me know it reads "Ganpai!", literally, "empty your glass!") Above that is a demure orange paisley that belonged to my Dad. Above that is a lobster-themed tie. The topmost navy tie in the photo above was also my Dad's; it has state seals from Massachusetts, the state he loved and lived in.

I wove an ultra-wide British beefeater-themed tie through that grouping.
Moving up into the yuppie 80s, we find a power tie with words like "will," "determination," and "adversity." Perfect for people who work on Wall Street, and/or admire Ayn Rand.
Next, my greatest thrift shop find: the vertical burgundy-and-yellow meta-tie - a tie that illustrates how to tie a necktie!
Continuing to climb, we have birds, yellow submarines, eagles and wolves. The animal neckties and many others have labels that indicate they raise money for charity. 
Still higher, in the photo below, there's a space shuttle; a supersized fish (you need some chutzpah to wear that to work!); Forbes magazines punctuated by money; a Monopoly board, and neon Volkswagon bugs. 
The other end of that grouping also shows a moon landing tie, the narrow end of the space shuttle tie, and young Elvis clutching a hound dog. 
Past Monopoly, there's a lime-green golf course; a photography tie with antiquated film rolls; and the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz. 
The topmost grouping features Nicole Miller ties. Nicole's exquisite silk fabrics bring new meaning to the word "clutter." Many appear to be advertisements as well as fashion.
The bottom tie in the photo above has what appears to be cups filled with green sno-cones - the cups read "Tabasco" Green Tabasco sauce frozen treats? Is that a thing? Directly above that: New Orleans  (crayfish, saxophones, beads, masks); breakfast foods, like croissants and cafe au lait with red bottles of Tabasco sauce; assorted corkscrews; Dole Fruit products; Nestles fun-size chocolate bars; Miller Beer at a beach; and sports equipment on  top.

The left side of the quilt has two different vertical groupings.  On the upper left are my Liberty of London ties, donated to me by my friend Roslyn, a professional-level thrift shopper;
Closer:  (The plaid tie on the left and the horizontal ties are not Liberty). 
And finally, in the lower left corner, I put a section acknowledging the tie's resonance as a symbol of  upright masculinity.  I call it the Love, Sex and Babies Department.
It includes an authentic Viagra necktie smack in the middle (given to me by a doctor, who got it free from the drug company). Moving right from the center, there's a Pfizer (makers of Viagra) pill-themed necktie; a Nicole Miller pediatrician tie; a custom baby photograph tie. To the immediate left of the Viagra tie, there's another Nicole Miller doctor-themed tie; a physician's emblem tie; and a tie that features Valentine candies.
To my extreme excitement this quilt was accepted into the Mancuso Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara, CA (#PIQF), held this past October 13-16. I wasn't able to get to the show, but my dear friend, show vendor, and queen of appliqué Kay Mackenzie took some pictures for me. Their hanging system wasn't as high as my quilt (about 100" long), so they ran it onto the floor.
I got some nice judge's comments, plus Kay commissioned her husband, who I know as a brilliant science writer, but also turns out to have unsuspected depths as a world-class doodler, to create this important faux-award for me:
I couldn't be prouder!

I love working with neckties, and these kinds of quilts make wonderful retirement as well as memorial projects. There are several books out on the subject; my favorite is an oldie but goodie, Shirley Botsford's "Daddy's Ties," which is inexpensive on Amazon, here. (No financial affiliation!)

For instant gratification and more of my favorite necktie projects from across the web, check out my Pinterest board on upcycled fabrics, at


  1. I love, love , love your tie quilt. You have an amazing array of interesting ties. I have used ties in quilts but much more sedate than yours. One was in a book by Janet Elwin, called ties, Ties, Ties and another in Quilter's Newsletter magazine. I have also made crazy quilt style vests and a pieced scarf backed with fleece, pretty on the front and cozy on the back. All of my projects were made using the tie fabric, not the whole tie. I should post some on my blog, since I'm not doing much new lately.

    1. Please be sure to direct me to your blog when you have it up, Norma. Thanks for stopping by! I have done projects that required cutting ties up - but there were so many ties in my collection that I just couldn't bear to do that to! This quilt was the result!

  2. This is so much fun ! Thank you Cathy for actualizing your great sense of humour.

  3. This is so clever, and the backstory is hilarious.
    You must have so much fun browsing in op shops (thrift shops). I have a tie collection for that imagined someday project, but mine are far, far more sedate.

    1. Watch out, collecting novelty ties can be addictive! I did have a gas collecting them all. Thanks for the comment, GMG!

  4. The meta-tie is wonderful ... as, indeed, are so many of the others.
    The Chinese toast is "ganbei" - literally, "empty your glass". No messin'!

    1. Thanks, Margaret, for stopping by and filling me in. I added your info to the article! I should have remembered that - I visited China many years ago!

  5. Cathy, didn't you hear? You "tie"d for Best in Show!

  6. Cathy, loved your tie collection displayed in such a clever way. I've made quite a few tie pieces and of course have lots more available fabrics!

    1. Tie fabrics are wonderful. I have a lot left over, including a huge bag of tie silks with very handsome patterns, though not novelty prints. Next I have to figure out what to do with them! Thanks for the comment, Martha!

  7. Cathy, as usual your sense of humor is absolutely wonderful and contagious. I love your tie quilt. I recently made a tie skirt and a tie vest. I have to tell you that I also collect ties and found a fish tie like yours. Believe it or not. LOL My nephew loves fishing and I sent it to him by way of my sister the first weekend of October and she told me he was super excited to wear it to his work. So really there is something for everyone out there.

    1. That's hilarious, Maggie, that your nephew would wear his fish tie to work...unless he works in a fishing shop? Or maybe a pet store...Yes, the range of interests covered by neckties never fails to amaze me. My DH and his friends love Jerry Garcia ties...

  8. The best post I read today - so good, so humorous - so lovely. I am a new follower.

  9. I have several hundreds of ties, all whimsical to some degree. My favorite ones I'm currently searching for are the Tabasco line of neckties. I don't know if I could do the type of art you do with them. I have draped many over those cheap white curtain rods, and made "blinds" out of them, although it makes for a dark room, but looks "man-cave-ish" if that's such a thing. I have several pictures of some of what I have, but I don't know how to forward those along with this post.

    1. Jack, please email me at I may have a Tabasco item for you!


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