Material Man: Richard Killeany Makes Quilts From Men's Clothing

Designer Richard Killeaney recycles garments into on-of-a-kind quilts.

| January/February 2007

  • Quilt-maker Richard Killeaney at his 1918 historic Bridgeport, Connecticut, co-op, which was built to house WWI steelworkers.
  • This collection of recycled-fabric pillows is made from men’s dress shirts, necktie interfacings, unbleached muslin and felted-wool sweater material ($75 to $125 each).
    Photos by Stephen Ang
  • A Depression-era Hoosier cabinet becomes a handy workspace. Killeaney sews with both an antique Singer Featherweight and a new machine.
  • Tiny Bubbles, an unquilted coverlet, represents bubbles rising through water. The “bubbles” are cut from vintage shirts and appliquéd on solid blue (Queen: $1,500).
  • The “Missing the Point” quilt, created entirely from recycled men’s dress shirts, is simple and modern (Queen: $1,500).
  • Old wool sweaters become cozy pillows—they’re overdyed with onion-skin and walnut-husk dyes (18-inch-square pillows: $100 each). The Golden State quilt is inspired by vintage paper and stationery (Queen: $1,800). The bed frame is an old, industrial elevator gate.

 Not your granny's quilt: With his minimalist aesthetic and quirky choice of fabrics, Killeaney's needlework has a fresh, modern twist. A thrift-shop devotee, he made his first signature quilts from his collection of secondhand men's dress shirts. In his "Missing the Point" quilt-named for California's Point Loma-swatches of pinstripes, azure blues and the occasional brown are stitched together in an irregular pattern resembling wooden floorboards. His company, Ocheltree Design, bears his great-great- grandmother's surname.

Earning his stripes: Killeaney learned to embroider in the third grade, started knitting at 14 and sewed his first original quilt at 18. He rounded out his design background with a master of fine arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a stint working for quilter Denyse Schmidt.

Bedspread or art? Killeaney's quilts are worthy of wall display, but he prefers customers use them on their beds. "I'm baffled when people spend hundreds of dollars on imported sheets or organic mattresses but ignore the bed top. A quilt is an investment akin to a beautiful rug," he says. Killeaney's quilts are machine washable and become softer and more supple with use.

Best thrift-store finds: Herringbone suiting, camelhair coats and Hawaiian shirts are among Killeaney's ever-expanding stash of recycled quilting materials.

On being a guy who quilts: In Killeaney's family, it was the men who sewed the pants. "Both my grandfathers were excellent with a needle and thread," he explains. He has fond memories of being the only boy in a room full of middle-aged women at "stitch'n bitch" sessions at the quilting store.

His inspiration: Killeaney's designs are often deeply personal and rooted in a sense of place. The theme of light reflecting on water appears again and again. A native of San Diego, he's captivated by the ocean and coastlines. "I'm fascinated by the way water affects landscapes," he says.



September 12-13, 2019
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