Ties Through the Ages – Recycled Wearable Art

Front of vest made out of men's tiesNancy Smeltzer, MFA

I didn’t realize that 450 men’s ties would be the gift that they turned out to be when my brother gave me 4 trash bags full of them. As an artist, I love having lots of the same materials to use in a piece that I’m working on. It’s even more fun when I’m creating wearable art by recycling something. My brother helped to clean out my great-uncle’s basement after he died, and that’s how I got my bags of treasures. They were already tied and hanging on coat hangers, so that all you had to do was to slip them over your neck and tighten them to fit around the wearer’s neck.

My uncle’s parents, my great-grandparents on my mother’s side had owned a second hand clothing store, so I imagine that’s where all of the ties came from. I can remember going into it when I was very little and wandering up and down the aisles. Things were piled floor to ceiling, and it was easy for me to hide among the clothes, as my mother visited with her grandparents. The wooden floors and big bins were very different from the department stores where I was used to going into with my mother, but I always got some candy from my great grandparents.

The ties that I received chronicled the history of men’s neckwear from the 30s up until the 80s, when my uncle died. Some were as wide as bibs and would have covered most of a man’s chest. Other’s were very narrow and barely more then 2.5″ (6.5cm) at their widest part. Some of them had food stains on them, so I threw them all into the washing machine to clean them. A few were ruined in the process, but after the remaining were dry, I color sorted them into bins and waited for inspiration.

Back of Vest Made of Men's TiesFor this vest, I chose a very simple pattern that was flat with no darts for shaping at the bust line. I cut out a lining of a navy, cotton blend fabric with a sun, moon, and stars pattern. There were three pieces, two for the left and right fronts and one piece for the back. Keeping the point of the ties intact, I then cut various lengths of ties from the navy print colors and pinned them in place onto the lining. I hate to rip out stitches, so I left most of the linings in the ties themselves. After arranging the various tie lengths onto the lining pieces and pinning them into place, I stitched them onto the lining. I then went around the neck and armholes with a bias binding that I made from one of the ties to cover up the raw edges. I left the bottom of the vest to be made out of the points of the ties, some from the widest part of the tie and others from the narrowest.

My Great Grandmother in her second hand clothing storeMy Great Grandfather in the second hand clothing storeThis photo has my great-grandmother standing on the left of the second hand clothing store. I’m guessing from other pictures that I’ve seen of her, that this photo was from the 40s. Notice that she has on a “pearl” necklace and earrings to go to work. That habit she passed on to her daughter, my grandmother, who would get dressed in the morning to mop the kitchen floor. My great-grandfather is in the second picture in the same store, I imagine on the same day that the first picture was taken, as these are the only two surviving pictures of them in the store. I only have one memory of him sitting in the corner of their house, as he died when I was about two and a half years old, so other than an obituary notice, this is all that I have of him.

It’s fun to look at these old pictures and see where my ties came from. I now have them neatly sorted by colors and stashed in big boxes around my studio, waiting for the next project to haul them out. Ties are made out of rather nice fabric and depending on the style in vogue at the time, can take up to 3 yards of fabric to make, as ties are cut on the bias or 45 degrees so that they’ll stretch around a neck and lie flat. I like the idea of using something, such as ties, for another purpose, such as this vest. Do you have any other ideas for me to try with my stash?

How have you re-purposed a material that was intended for one use but used for another? Do you have any well-lit photos of your creations? If so, then send me some to me at info@fiberfantasies.com as I’m always looking for ideas for posts for this blog. 

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You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

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