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Neckties repurposed

When is a necktie not a necktie? When the neckties are sewn together and become a work of art. To learn all about necktie art, just ‘go ask Alice’ Pundsack, an energetic octogenarian who creates masterpieces from old, used neckties. So far, she has constructed 11 skirts and three quilts and is working on her fourth quilt.

While most quilters use leftover scraps of old fabric or purchase new fabric in patterns color-coordinated to decorate a bedroom, Alice creatively uses worn, but not-worn-out neckties to construct quilts.

The necktie art started about six years ago, when she was visiting a friend, Larry Trojanowski, whom she knew through ballroom and old-time dancing. “Would you like to have these ties?” he asked her.

Alice Pundsack used neckties to hand-fashion a quilt featuring a design of four sunbursts. Photo by Vonny Rohloff.

Alice Pundsack used neckties to hand-fashion a quilt featuring a design of four sunbursts. Photo by Vonny Rohloff.

“Yes,” she said. “Larry wore neckties all of the time,” Pundsack added. “He gave me a whole shopping bag full of ties, about 100 of them.” Pundsack had seen some necktie projects in magazines which gave her ideas, so soon she began creating her own designs.

A longtime St. Paul area resident and the oldest of 11 children, Pundsack said she learned to sew from her mother. She remembered her mother draping a big hand-me-down coat on her, pinning it to fit her young frame and then cutting it down and sewing it to fit her. Young Alice also observed her mother sewing quilts.

At first, Pundsack used the men’s neckties to sew skirts. The process begins when she opens the seam in the back of the tie and takes out the interfacing. Occasionally she washes a tie or de-spots it if necessary, then presses the ties flat and coordinates which ties will look nice next to each other. Since silk, wool and polyester are the most common fabrics used for ties, she tends to put like fabrics next to each other. “I use what I have,” she said. For the skirts, she sews the neckties together in a gored skirt pattern and then finishes each with an elastic waistband. Most of the finished skirts were given to friends.

In 2012 Pundsack constructed a masterpiece, the big sunburst-design quilt on her bed. The neckties form a big circle in the center of the quilt and are laid out on aqua king-size sheets, with a lightweight filling between the sheets, and then, all three layers are handstitched together. The colorful quilt now serves perfectly as a coverlet bedspread on her queen-size bed. Pundsack figures she used at least 40 ties to make the quilt. The boarder is also formed with pointed parts of the neckties.

“Nap helped me design it,” she said. He is her friend and dance partner. They arranged and rearranged the neckties to best coordinate the colors and designs.

Sometimes quilts are tied, anchoring the top, filling and back together. But Pundsack prefers hand stitching the three layers together. To do this, she gets out the quilting frame inherited from her mother, pushes some of the furniture in her living room out of the way and sets it up. Then she hand stitches the decorative top, an inner filling and the backing together.

Hand made by Alice Pundsack, a king-size quilt with a sunburst design serves as a coverlet on her bed. Photo by Vonny Rohloff.

Hand made by Alice Pundsack, a king-size quilt with a sunburst design serves as a coverlet on her bed. Photo by Vonny Rohloff.

Last winter she made another quilt, one she had not planned. The project came about shortly after her friend Larry celebrated his 100th birthday. Sadly, only a week after he turned 100 years old, he died. Soon his daughter, Mary Schlattman, approached Pundsack and said, “Would you make me a quilt from dad’s neckties? Hardly waiting for an answer, Schlattman added, “I have dad’s ties in the car,” and hurried out to get the ties from the trunk before Pundsack could say no. So once again, she used a batch of neckties worn by her friend Larry and turned them into a creative, useful project.

For the top and back on the Trojanowski quilt, Pundsack used pink sheets which she won playing bingo. She figures she used about 36 neckties for the quilt, which took about 86 hours to construct. When the daughter saw it, she cried with joy, “These were all of my daddy’s ties.”

I worked hard day after day,” Pundsack said. Now when sewing other quilts she works at a more leisurely pace.

Pundsack entered a necktie quilt at the Minnesota State Fair in 2014, but since there was not a specific category for quilts made with neckties, she did not receive a ribbon, not even a citation.

However, she continues to sew quilts and just finished a design which features neckties arranged in four sunbursts. She is currently working on another quilt design.

Pundsack will probably continue creating necktie art as long as she has neckties. The value of the quilts and necktie skirts is priceless–they are a keepsake piece of art.

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