Neckties. They're not only handy as last-minute Father's Day gifts. They also provide a multitude of materials and designs for sewing projects.
"Anything you can sew, you can make with neckties," says Nancy Gamon, of Cincinnati. "You just have this (necktie) line that becomes part of the design element."
Peruse the Internet for ideas, and be astounded. Crafters like Gamon are turning vintage and everyday neckties into astounding things — from home decorations, such as pillows, chairs and lampshades, to apparel. The latter gets pretty high-style in the hands of those who sew neckties into skirts, tops and evening wear.
Necktie crafters include author Shirley Botsford, of Beacon, N.Y., who began crafting with ties in the early 1990s and now teaches others; Barbara Lawrence, of San Diego, who quilts with ties and blogs about her obsession; Ronnie Ryno, of Spokane, Wash., who took up sewing three years ago and now crafts elaborate ball gowns; Stacey Sharman, of Berkeley, Calif., who creates complicated quilts; Laura Kluvo, of Scottsdale, Ariz., who makes skirts and purses, and blogs about it at Rick Rack Ruby; and Peter R. Russo, of San Francisco, who dreamed up a chair using neckties for the seat.
Works by these artists and a lot more can be seen at Lawrence's blog, Artful Ties.
While Russo's chair was a one-time challenge, most in this group are committed to "upcycling," or upgrading, neckties into women's fashion and home decor. Besides the recycling angle, it doesn't hurt that ties are ubiquitous.
"All you have to do is put the word out," says Kluvo, "and you will get way too many neckties."
Neckties often are made from high-quality fabric, and feature quirky designs and color combinations.
"I personally like the fact that the fabrics are really whimsical," says Lawrence. "Those are the ties I gravitate to, the cartoon ties, and ties with animals."
For the time-crunched crafter, ties are a godsend because they're already hemmed. Kluvo asserts that ties, which are cut on the bias, or diagonally, also are "very forgiving."
"They sculpt around your curves without too much interference," she says.
Botsford's fascination began after her father died and she inherited his ties. She stuck them in a brown bag in her attic, then dug them out years later to create a long, tailored dress. Skirts, pillows and quilts followed. Today, Botsford, who wrote "Daddy's Ties" (Krause Publications, 1994), now teaches others how to sew with neckties.
Her students often sew memorial quilts, commemorating a loved one who died or honoring a man in his retirement. Neckties hold meaning, and memories.
"The women tell stories about when he wore this tie, and which ones they hate," says Botsford. "All those little memories are fun."
She suggests that crafters new to working with neckties start with a simple pillow project. Kids can make their dads a bookmark for Father's Day.
Kluvo also teaches others how to sew with ties. She recommends beginning with a skirt.
"It's just so easy to sew (the neckties) side by side, put a zipper in and a waist band, and voila," she says.
Ryno estimates she has 5,000 to 6,000 neckties in her sewing-room stash. She creates color-charged cocktail dresses and evening gowns on commission, and sells her fashion at her Etsy online shop.
"My favorite part of the whole process: Somebody will give me a jumping off point — 'I want peacock colors' — and I will go through my collection of thousands of ties and go through my interpretation of what peacock colors are," she says. "The textures — not all are silk. For example, there's also corduroy and lace overlays. The patterns, that's exciting."
Here are instructions for Botsford's necktie bookmark, which kids can make for Father's Day without any sewing know-how, though with a little help from a parent.
Necktie Bookmark, by Shirley Botsford
Fabric scrap (felt, leather or faux suede work best)
Glue Ribbon or tassel on a string
Hole punch or scissors
1. Cut off the end of the tie 4 to 10 inches from the narrow end (depending on whether you want to make a short or long bookmark).
2. Measure the length across the cut end. Cut a square of fabric the same length as this cut end, plus ¼ inch.
3. Fold the square in half so it forms a triangle. Punch a hole through both sides, centered and about ¼ inch from the fold. (Parental assistance advised here.)
4. Insert the cut end of the tie into the triangle of fabric, being careful not to block the hole. Glue or stitch it into place.
5. Insert a ribbon or tassel through the hole and knot it securely.