July 30, 2018

Mending the Melrose Quilt

This quilt has been on a magical journey of rediscovery.

It was sent to me for repairs a few years ago.  When I told the owner that I'd poked around on ancestry.com and had found some of the names that were written on it, she most graciously gifted me the quilt so I could continue finding its history!  She is an author and historian and has been really happy that the quilt's story is resurfacing.  Turns out, she is Jane Anderson, the person who wrote the screenplay for the movie "How to Make an American Quilt." Honestly, this quilt repair biz has taken me down some pretty amazing paths!

I since have identified about 2/3 of the people named, and located the quilt in time and space: Melrose, MA - probably 1897-8.  You can read about the process and the results in earlier posts, a series of 6 installments.

The next step in the quilt's journey was a chance contact with Alanna Nelson, a textile lover and event planner who lives right there in Melrose, when she just happened to order my quilt repair book.  She has since been making plans for a "homecoming" celebration of the quilt in December 2018, with exhibits, programs, participation by local quilt guilds and local historians, etc., etc.  And, she put me in touch with the genealogist at the Melrose Library, who has shared records that the library holds that helped identify even more people.

The venue for the exhibits requires that the quilt be appraised for insurance during the event.  My appraiser friend, Sherry Branson, said I should do the repairs before bringing it to her.  So after being with me for three years, the quilt has finally been repaired!  Hee, hee!

Here are details of the repair process.  I found myself going through the same assessment process that I ask my customers to consider.  Not surprising, but I kept chuckling to myself, thinking - oh, so this is what it feels like.

The main question I needed to answer:  What is my goal for the repairs?  Do I want to patch or do I want to conserve as much of the original fabric as possible?

My answer:  My goals are to preserve the quilt in its original state as much as possible - because for me it's the history of the quilt that makes it so special - while also strengthening it for travel and its short stint on a wall.  (I am probably going to tie a temporary muslin back on the quilt to support it while it is hanging, only 2 days.  There is one edge that has no damage, so that will be at the top.)

I settled on a combination of patching, conservation stitching, and leaving things as is (which I feel should always be considered as an option):

1.  On the back, there were some long tears right at the inside edge of the binding.  Batting was escaping through these tears.  I decided to patch over those areas.  The patches will not be visible during display, plus will give better support than stitching.

2.  On the front, there is some weakness and fabric loss, also along the edges.  I decided to fill and support these areas by inserting new fabric and stitching over them.  The overall effect of the design will be maintained, without adding new fabric which will not totally match.  There are some reproduction fabrics that approximate a turkey red, but the color is just not quite the same without the actual dye process.  Also, turkey red's signature mode of fading is impossible to actually recreate.  The color wears off the surface of the weave, leaving white threads, so the fabric ends up looking somewhere between red and rose pink.  This quilt has a range of such faded colors.

3.  I'm leaving the binding as is, since the wear is not dreadful or distracting when the quilt is viewed. These two photos show the same area.


I'm also leaving the previous repair of two little rips.  I love seeing evidence of a quilt having been loved and cared for through the years.

The next step was searching for fabrics.

For the patches on the back:  I didn't have a red dot in my stash of repair fabrics.  I didn't see anything vintage available online, and a new fabric would probably have too white a background anyway.

So I settled on a solid white.  Old whites are never a pure white, so I have a range of off-whites in my stash.  I pinned on some swatches.  I picked the one on the furthest right, which is actually more of a beige or very, very pale tan.  Rule of thumb: when choosing between too dark and too light, I nearly always go with too dark.  It blends in better whereas too light shines out.   

For support fabric on the front:  I'd bought a length of a really close reproduction red a few years ago from my favorite source, Reproduction Fabrics.  For an earlier project, I'd hung a 1/2 yard of it in my window for a long time to fade it some.  It never really faded as much as I'd wanted at the time, and I'd ended up using an actual dusty rose on that quilt instead.

But this time, the faded red made a pretty good match for the less faded places on the quilt.  Even though not quite light enough, I figured it would work in this quilt since it would show in just the worn little bits, and hopefully create an illusion of the those areas being closer to the less faded colors in the center of the quilt.  (Spoiler - it worked!)

Because of the way that Turkey red fades, I chose a rose thread rather than red.  It looks too pink on the spool, but a single strand blends in well.  I use a size 60 cotton thread.

Here are before and after photos of the repairs.


Before.  Rip with batting escaping.



I inserted pieces of the new red solid under the worn areas.  This both fills the gaps and gives a sturdy base fabric for the stitching that comes next.

I recently bought a set of tiny tweezers, and this was their debut performance.  Wow - they worked like a dream!  I especially like the ones called "reverse action".  That means they are closed when at rest.  So I could attach them to the fabric and then maneuver the fabric without having to also keep pressure on the tweezers.  Wow!  Thanks to Martha Spark, who was so surprised that I didn't use tweezers.  Well, now I do!

And then I stitched over the raw edges of the original red with herringbone stitches.  I find herringbone to be quite good at containing the tatters.  Also, the stitches go parallel to the edges of the fabric (unlike the stitches in the old repairs in the photo way up above), which reduces the chance of the new thread pulling through the weave in the weakened areas. 


During.  With new support fabric inserted between the top and the batting.

After.  Close up.

After from a bit further away.


During.  With new support fabric inserted between the top and the batting.

After.  Close up.

After from a bit further away.

Next stop - professional photos.  And then, Melrose, MA, here we come!

July 17, 2018

Saving a Damaged Heirloom Quilt

It's always both sad and wonderful when someone brings me a beloved family quilt that has, well, seen better days, but is still quite full of meaning and sentiment.  What to do?  Often there is lots of fabric damage, and sometimes tears and holes through all three layers of the quilt.  A full-out restoration would cost a whole bunch, maybe more than the owner can afford - but I think there's a bigger issue when it's the sentiment that counts.  Having a quilt end up with as much or maybe even more of my stitches than ancestral stitches just doesn't make sense. 

Here is a solution I have devised for giving a such a quilt enough support and stabilization to let the family handle and enjoy it more safely. 

This is a 1930s Dresden plate.  As you can see, the fabric is quite worn.  It's like this over the whole surface of the quilt. 

Along the edges, there are rips and areas where all three layers are missing.

My plan in such cases is usually to back the whole quilt.  Then I can stitch torn fabrics to the new back.  In this quilt, there wasn't any batting escaping, but when that is the case, I can patch those places or maybe stitch the tears closed.  Where there are three-layer holes, I can add fabric and sometimes batting to give them enough color and thickness to mask the problem areas a bit.  I don't try to turn under old edges, just neaten them up as I go.  It's always a mend by mend decision on exactly what will work best.

Here's the quilt in my basting frame on its new back fabric.  (The frame is supported by four chairs, and made from four pieces of 1x4" lumber sealed with a wood sealer, heavy-weight muslin attached to the wood, and 4 c-clamps.  The back fabric is pinned to the muslin.)

Where fabric was missing, I added a pale yellow cotton, slipping it between the quilt and the backing.  This not only improves the appearance, it also gives more thickness and strength to those areas.  Then I basted the edges all around the quilt, and basted the edges of the torn places.

Then, I use a relatively large herringbone stitch around the holes and tears.  The stitches go through to the new back. 

I tie the quilt to its new back, usually with perle cotton.  I stitch the ties so that the tie ends are on the back of the quilt so that they don't change the appearance of the quilt. 

I get quite a bit of bending and stretching and crawling exercise during this part of the process!  Here's the quilt from below.  (I draped sheets over the edges just for the photos, so the ties hanging down from the quilt are visible.)

After taking the quilt out of the frame, I tie off the ties.  Then I finish the edges.  Where there had been fabric loss on the edges, I turned the backing and the yellow hole-filler fabric towards one another, and stitched a knife-edge finish, using a ladder stitch. 

On the rest of the edges, I turned the backing edge under and appliquéd it to the back of the quilt itself, also with a ladder stitch.

Here is the finished look at the places where all three layers had been missing.  You can see how the large herringbone stitch holds the torn edges in place.

The quilt belongs to the mother of the man who brought it to me.  She is about to turn 95 years old.  She acquired the quilt on a visit to family in the Asheville, NC, area in the 1940s.  Her relatives there, the Rockett family, gave her this quilt so she could take it back home to Michigan.  They figured she'd make good use of it up north where the winters are colder.  That she has, and the quilt is now an important family heirloom.

July 10, 2018

The Rescue of an Heirloom Child's Quilt

This was one of those times when repairing a quilt was all about saving family history and sweet memories.

Here's the email message that introduced me to the quilt:
"I discovered my husband's baby blanket. It's survived 4 children. We are retired military and we have little that has not been lost or ruined from our many moves over 21yrs. Besides the blanket I have only 3 pics of my husband's from his childhood. It would mean a lot to him and me if someone of your skill level could help restore this precious gift."

The owners of this quilt sent me some photos before sending the quilt, so I could get a general idea of what would be needed and give them a general idea of the cost.  It was pretty wrinkled up, but I wasn't concerned, since people often don't spend lots of time taking perfect photos.  Mostly I was looking at the torn squares and open seams.

Once the quilt arrived at my house, though....  I discovered that "wrinkled up" was all the poor quilt could do.  The quilt had been filled with a wool blanket rather than batting, and at some point when the quilt had been washed, the blanket had felted up and had shrunk significantly!

You can see the khaki-colored blanket peeking through the really torn squares.  Once I touched my finger to it, I knew exactly what had happened!

So my repair story took a sharp turn down a longer road!  I was going to have to take the quilt apart, mend the squares, and then re-build the quilt with a new batt and probably a new back as well.  Thankfully, the quilt had been tied, so it would be a much easier process than if it had been quilted.  The owners approved this new plan. 

And that's what I did.

First I took out the machine stitching around the edges and clipped open the remaining yarn ties so I could separate the layers.  When the quilt was back to being just a top, I patched lots of little squares and closed seams.  Here is the quilt top during that process, with some of the patches already stitched and some more patches to be appliquéd pinned in place.

To re-fill the quilt, I used a cotton batting that doesn't require super close quilting.  The grandmother had used a white sheet for the back and binding, so I too used an old sheet that I'd purchased at an estate sale.  I tied it with a cream colored yarn, also replicating what she had done.

Here is the finished quilt.

And here is the felted wool blanket piece lying on top of the finished quilt.  You can easily see why the poor little quilt had been so bunched up!   The quilt top measured 40" x  68", and the blanket piece had ended up measuring 29" x  53".

Here is the repair report that includes swatches of the fabrics I used for patching, followed by more of the quilt's story.

"My grandmother made the quilt for my first birthday. I was born in 1967. There is a date on the quilt that reads 1968. My mom told me that her mother used an old wool blanket for the filler since we lived in Michigan. My mom gave me the quilt in 1987 when my son was born. We used the quilt with my son and daughter who was born in 1989. I joined the US Air Force in 1988 and the blanket traveled with us to every base that me and my family moved to. My wife was going through some boxes that we had stored and when she came across the quilt she saw the damaged state it was in and that was when we contacted you to have the repairs made. I am glad that she found your site and made contact with you, the quilt looks great and we are both very happy that you took the time to look the quilt over and make the repairs." 

Of course, being a dated quilt, I feel I need to show the original fabrics with a couple of shots of areas without patches.

It was a real treat to work with both husband and wife on this rescue!

July 8, 2018

Summer Trees, Summer Skies, and a Visual Puzzle

I take photos nearly daily as a kind of mindfulness, meditative practice.  "Stay here, stay present."  I've collected some tree photos I really like and share them here.  The final one is a puzzle!

I especially love this color combination - steely blue-grey storm clouds moving on to the east, with afternoon sun reappearing in the west, shining on bright green leaves.  This is the view from my front door.  I take this shot often in changing light and sky.  Living across the street from a park is the best.

Clear, clear summer brightness. The same view, taken moments ago. 

This was taken a week or two ago as we picnicked at Ravinia Park prior to the show we'd come to see.  Pure color, no filters.  The temperature was perfect, too.  And the show was great - The Flying Karamazov Brothers!

And finally, the puzzle tree.  Taken in the park at Foster St. beach on Memorial Day weekend.  So.  What do you think?  How does this cute little fluff of a tree make a rectangular shadow??!!  I totally certify that this has not been photoshopped!