August 31, 2011

Repair of a Grand­mother's Flower Garden Quilt

This is a 1930s Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt.  This pattern was very popular in this era, and often made like this one, with a variety of pastel scrap fabrics on white.

What makes this one special is that it is owned by the woman who used it on her bed as a young girl.  At that time, her mother altered the shape of the quilt to fit on her bed.  Originally, it had two scalloped edges and two straight edges, bound in green.  The alteration took the scallops that used to be along the edge at the top of the photo, and attached it to the green-bound edge on the right.  The new top edge was turned and hemmed.

There was much wear on the quilt, and much patching needed.  The owner had started the work years ago, and sent the fabrics she had found, several of them vintage.  I added fabrics from my collection, both vintage and reproduction.

Here's one flower, showing 3 stages in the patching process.

Sometimes, the batting was missing, so I basted small bits of batting into the open spaces before patching.

Choosing a good fabric is always an audition process.  Sometimes what works best is using the reverse of a fabric to get the faded look.  I auditioned both sides of this red reproduction print, and decided pretty quickly that the right side was way too intense.

The reverse was almost too dark, but relative to the original red fabric on the far right of the photo, not too far off.  

Most of the wear was towards the center of the quilt.  I always imagine that's because the edges that hung down over the bed didn't suffer from being sat on.  In choosing fabrics, I used some that were more strongly colored than what was left of the original fabrics, after checking to see that they were not brighter than fabrics in better condition on the edges of the quilt.

Here are in-progress and after photos of the portion of the quilt that had the most wear.

Once these decisions are made, it's just a process of sewing one hexagon after another.  In the end, I patched 271 little hexagons.

Books on tape help a lot!  So does downloading interesting radio shows.  So do long phone conversations with friends.

Here's the completed quilt:

Then I added velcro to the long straight edge.  It is now going to hang in a hallway, both because of the long, thin shape, and because it will be more protected from light damage there.


  1. Grandmother's flower garden was my first quilt and it has damage similar to yours. I have to replace 3 complete blocks and really don't know how to start. The rest of the quilt looks ok. I have made new blocks, but they are too bright for the aged quilt. It is a challenge for me and I am not sure I am up to it, but I am going to try. Your tutorial helps and thank you.

    1. I'm glad to be of help. Shopping for fabrics with gentler colors and cream backgrounds instead of white can help. If you want to try using the reverse, like I did on this one some of the time, you have to shop with that in mind - sometimes the reverse is almost white - depends on the printing process, I guess. You can also try hanging pieces of fabric in a really sunny window for a few weeks - some fabrics respond to that and some don't.

  2. A small bit of personal history; I was an antique dealer for 20 years, (so I know something about the care of old things) retired from that and am now a new quilter. Yesterday I found two 1930's quilts at a local estate sale. Both had been used as cat lairs, and I am highly allergic to cats - didn't *know* that about them until I couldn't breathe! A panicked run to my car for my inhaler! I knew I should not wash them; I knew I was giving any current damage the opportunity to get really bad - but I had no choice. I couldn't go out in my laundry room! So after they were both washed, washed again and dried on the sanitized setting on my dryer I wasn't sure how much of them would remain. But - they are quilts that were made by sturdy, practical women - women like my grandmother - quilts to cover their children and husbands; to keep them warm and safe - so I knew they had some backbone built into them by their creators. One is a large, colorful scrap quilt with a jazzy orange border and many places to mend, the other is a particular pattern, but I don't know what it is. I'll take it to class Tuesday and have my instructor identify it for me - and help me plan out how to give it a new border - I think the cats destroyed the original one. But I have done hand embroidery since I was seven, so I know my way around a needle, thread and a piece of fabric, and by reading this tutorial, I think I can repair both of them. Oh - I forgot to mention - I also got a large hatbox stuffed with old scrap lucky can one quilter get?! Thanks for listening....I'll let you know how they turn out! Terry Stafford, Vista, CA.

    1. Congrats on your great estate sale find, and I'm glad my blog is helping you out. Please do write again as you progress with the repairs. I'm all for rescuing orphan quilts and helping keep their history alive.

  3. I'm happy to have found your tutorial, as I've got a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt top that my great grandma and grandma hand pieced years ago. My problem is similar to the quilt you repaired (beautifully, may I add?!!), except mine is just the quilt top.
    I've had the quilt put away for several years. Waiting for the day I'd undertake the repair...And finally last week I started gathering everything to begin the process... Lol.
    Since I'm not repairing a completed quilt with batting and backing, I actually carefully took out 4 hexagons on the flower along an outside edge. I have a reproduction fabric that looks very similar to the original, so I cut out 4 replacements and I am planning to hand sew them in. I'm not sure if this is the best/right/correct way to do it, so I did the ole Google search, and here I am on your blog. At times like this, I love Google search!
    Any input/suggestions are much appreciated.

    1. Hi, Kan -
      Congrats on getting started! It sounds like you're doing fine. Just be sure that all the neighboring seams are secure, i.e. that taking the worn pieces out didn't leave them without knots. Use 100% cotton thread to stitch. Document the quilt - your ancestors' names, where they lived, what you know about their lives, how the quilt came to you, and the work you're doing on it. That makes it much more fun as an heirloom, and keeps the family stories alive. And…..let me know how it goes. :-)

    2. Hi Ann,
      Kan here :-)
      Thank you for your reply and suggestions. I'm still plugging away on the quilt. I started the repairs, and as I went I found more and more areas that were fraying...and I knew in the long run it wouldn't hold up. So it's actually turning into a half vintage/half contemporary GFG quilt. Or shall I say GFGS?..Plural for my Grandma, Great Grandma, and now myself (I'm Grammy to my 2 lil grandbabies) who will have labored on this quilt.
      It's something I work on periodically, I seem to always have a work in progress going on...and I find so many new projects that are hard to resist.
      I never make New Years resolutions, but this year I've decided will be the "finish the wips before starting anything new" year. So far I've actually completed several items, and I'm hoping to have the GFG finished this year as well. I work on it in the evenings when I'm watching tv with my hubby, or if we're traveling any length of time, I sew whilst hubby drives.

      I just wanted to pop in and say thanks again for this awesome tutorial. And for your helpful reply.

    3. Hi, Kan - What a delightful message to start my day!

      Sounds like you're doing a spectacular job, and definitely need to document all the Grandma hands that have worked on the quilt. Such a great family treasure! (And finding more and more pieces to fix once the repair gets going is more often the case than not.)

      Good luck to you and all your wips. I've been doing some of the same, and it sure does feel good. Thanks for making me so happy today!

      (If you want to email some photos sometime, I'd love to see it.)