Vintage Fabric Jewelry

I have been very blessed in this lifetime to have grown up on a farm that has been in my family for five generations. My family grew tobacco, raised beef cattle, hogs, chickens, ran a dairy, and were HUGE gardeners. These people also saved, recycled, and reused everything. Thanks to this behavior, I have seen many things that belonged to my great great grandparents. I have also inherited many wonderful family pieces, these pieces being the greatest treasures I own.

My Families Farm

Thanks to my upbringing and my pack rat family, I have a great passion for Cultural Anthropology and Appalachian Heritage. This year I decided to incorporate more of that love into my jewelry. I began playing around with that idea before Christmas with resin set pendants, featuring newspaper clipping from the 1800’s. They were precious and sold almost instantly, so I knew I was on to something.

Looking through all the wonderful old collections that I have, I kept coming back to a box of sewing scraps that I inherited from my grandmother. My grandmother married my grandfather when she was 28 years old. For the 10 years between high school and marriage, she made quilts, lots and lots of quilts. I proudly house a few of those quilts; some have never been used, and they are almost 100 years old!

My Grandmother’s Fabric Scraps

Most of the material used in my grandmothers quilts and the scraps in the box I have are old feed sacks. In the late 1920’s the manufacturers of flour, sugar, and animal feed came up with a genius marketing plan. They began selling their product in a wide array of decorative fabrics. This became huge during the 1930’s and 1940’s (they were phased out in the early 50’s), and women began making many things from these feed sacks.

One feed sack was enough to make a pillow case, a shirt, or pieces for quilting. If you wanted to make a dress or something larger, you needed to buy multiple bags of the same fabric, the genius part of the marketing. Anyway, my grandmother made her quilts, her dresses, pillow cases, bonnets, and even bedsheets from these feed sacks.

Finding inspiration in these wonderfully colored fabric scraps, I began playing with some jewelry ideas. The first piece I put together with the fabric was a necklace. I began with satin cord that I had and wrapped the fabric around the cord using copper wire and beads to anchor it to the cord. The end result was very pleasing to me, and I was off to the next project.

Yellow Feed Sack Necklace and Earring Set

Earrings were next. I have lots of copper electrical wiring, and I had done bead wraps on hammered wire before. Going with that idea, I hammered copper wire flat and wrapped fabric with copper wire to create an earring that makes my heart sing! The fabric and the copper say so much to me; they feel like a favorite pair of jeans or a moment captured in time.

Feed Sack Material Earrings

The third project that I came up with was fabric wrapped bangles. These are my absolute favorite, and I am chomping at the bit to make more. I want an arm full! I left the fabrics rough on the edges and love that they look like something you have owned your whole life. The fabric pieces have such a story to tell; they speak to me, really really speak to me in a way I cannot express in words.

Vintage Feed Sack Bangle Set

Making these pieces has brought back so many memories of my family, my grandparents especially. I came across scraps from my grandmother’s favorite dress. The dress began life red with blue flowers; by the time my grandmother passed away, the dress was pink, and you had no idea those things on it were once flowers. As I wrapped bangles with material from one of her Sunday dresses, I could see her on her tip toes in the bathroom mirror, putting on lip stick for church.

Fabric From Grandma’s Favorite Dress

Fabric Scraps From One of Grandma’s Sunday Dresses

Grandma Ready for Church

It’s an absolute honor to share these fabric scraps with my customers. I am bringing two of my great loves together into a line of jewelry that is not just about metal and beads. The jewelry is about heritage, preservation, and where I come from. It is part of the root system that makes me who I am as an individual and an artist.

Vintage Fabric Necklace and Earring Set

This week I am busily getting pictures of these pieces ready for My Etsy Shop. I am making great effort through the photographs to express the preciousness of these pieces that I have created. I am making art out of what many would consider trash “now a days”, as my grandparents would say.

As I hold the finished product in my hand, I envision my grandfather sitting in his chair. He’s wearing his Pointer Bib Overalls; they are more patch than they are original material. I tell him about the fabric jewelry I am making, and he smiles and shakes his head. He can’t believe what people are willing to pay money for now a days.

My Well Worn Papa

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About Mountain Light Jewelry

My name is Carly Burke and I am a jewelry artist living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA. I turned my hobby into a business September 2009 and have enjoyed using mostly copper and argentium silver wire and semi precious stones to create unique wearable art. I have also appreciated the challenge of jewelry photography, marketing, selling and learning to be a salesman.
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15 Responses to Vintage Fabric Jewelry

  1. Pat Guilliams (Mom2) says:

    This is a very good post! Memories are the best aren’t they?

  2. Catherine says:

    Terrific post! Enjoyed reading! Please make me a necklace from some of the brighter fabrics. When your dad comes North, I will get him to bring me to your store. Thanks for “thinking outside of the box.” Catherine

    • Catherine, there are plenty of bright and funky fabrics in the box. I would be happy to let you pick out your own fabric. I’m sure going through the box of fabrics would bring back plenty of memories for you too.

  3. Memories for me, too! I want some jewelry, too! I love what you’re doing Carly. Remind Catherine that you’ve always been a thinker “outside the box!” Keep up the great work and I’ll see you soon. Betty

  4. Lucy Lamanna says:

    I finally had a chance to read the whole post through & LOVE it!!! This is such an inspiring read, especially since I know how personal these new works of art are to you. YAY CARLY!!!

  5. Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. William James

  6. I am new to blogging. How do I add a subscribe function to my site so new post will go to their email?.

  7. The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become. Jim Rohn

  8. Wonderful! This has calmed me down…I have been a bit stressed due to an upcoming and first craft fair….but this has reminded me of why I have begun to create fabric jewelry…it comes from the heart and I love doing it…it is a part of my mom I will always have in me..”A Work Of Heart!”

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