March 21, 2012

Amazing Stars, part 1

This quilt just begged to be recorded for posterity.  It's not an uncommon pattern, a basic 6-pointed star.  It's a very nice rendition, stars surrounded by lighter colored baby blocks shapes.  But as you will see, its real claim to fame is its fine condition and its fine collection of 19th century fabrics.

The quilt dates to c. 1870.  "Circa" is usually interpreted at occurring somewhere in the 10 years before or the 10 years after the date.  I think many of these fabrics are 1860s and 70s, maybe a few into the very, very early 1880s.

I patched 6 diamonds.  A few of the browns have weakened and split:

Here are a few brown fabrics being auditioned:

Sometimes, part of the audition process is to look around at other fabrics in the quilt, even though they are still intact.  It's well nigh impossible to exactly match such an old fabric, but not impossible to find something that has the same look and feel and general coloration.

Here's the fabric I ended up choosing for this place:

First step is to trace the diamond to be patched:

 Next step is to pin the pattern to the fabric and cut, including a turn under allowance:

Here's the patching fabric pinned on, first edge turned under and ready to sew:

I slip the knot inside the turn under, so it is in the new fabric, not the antique fabric:

I use a ladder stitch.  It's kind of like sewing a seam with a running stitch, but from the top instead of from the reverse.  One stitch goes through the quilt (the purple in this photo), the next goes through the fold of the patch (the brown), the next goes back through the purple, and so on.  The stitches are not very tiny, so there isn't a lot of pull on just a few of the old fibers.

Once the patch is all appliquéd, then I quilt.  I don't quilt all the way through to the back, if the original stitches are still there.  The re-quilting can just go into the batting.  

I try to match the sizing and spacing of the original quilting. Honestly, my hand quilting on my own projects has improved by leaps and bounds over the years because of learning how to make anything from 10 stitches per inch to 4 stitches per inch, and anything from precision stitching to the long-short-long-long-short sort of stitching.

This quilt had one row of quilting right inside the seam lines, and also a smaller diamond inside each piece.  I did another tracing paper diamond for marking the little quilted ones.

A really helpful little marking tool is a hera.  This is a Japanese tool for fabric marking.  The narrow-edged, rounded end makes a fine, indented line in the fabric.  This keeps the quilt free from the dangers of using any marking material near the old fabrics.  You need to be sitting with a good light to use it, but it's not as tricky as you'd think.

Here's the completed patch:

Here's another broken fabric.  Finding a good patch for this fabric was a bit problematical:

Once again, it was the brown dye that was causing the problem.  But I noticed that it was being used here as a light, in one of the lighter baby block shapes between the darker stars.

Since I didn't find a suitable brown and white stripe to patch it, I looked at my small brown or black on white prints.

Here's the one I chose, because it so closely resembled another diamond's fabric, and because the background was the best match for the old whites overall:

In a second post about this quilt, I'll showcase this gorgeous collection of fabrics!


  1. Thanks, Ann for your information on conserving (and restoring) quilts. I want your book and planning to get it off of Amazon. I have a question for you:

    I just had a 1870ish touching star quilt appraised, and several of the fugitive purples (now tan) and rotted. She recommended that I just use the fine tulle to cover the diamonds, no turning under, etc. But here, you have a 19th century that you actually patched.

    Some of the diamonds are completely gone, and the tulle would just keep the batting in. There are other diamonds that the original owner had later patched with other purples, probably after the turn of the century (and did a fine job of it, also, thankfully).

    I'm itching to patch, but in your opinion, should I just stick to using tulle?

    Thanks, Kim

    1. Hi, Kim. It's hard to give a total answer without seeing some photos (which you can email to me if you'd like)(I always like to see a cool quilt in any case)(and I always think a quilt with repairs from another era is really fun). In general, your question is whether to conserve (tulle) or restore (patch). The answer is different for every quilt and every quilt owner. It depends on your goal for the work.

      Conservation keeps all the antique fabrics visible. Restoration brings the appearance back. The success of restoration depends on how closely you can duplicate the color and styles of the original fabrics. You can kind of combine the two ideas sometimes by slipping a piece of coordinating fabric under the tatters and then applying the tulle. And in places where the fabric is totally missing, put on a patch.

      Check out, a wonderful place for finding period appropriate fabrics. (Not my shop, I just love it.)

      The use of tulle is questioned by some conservators these days because it is kind of rough. You can explore using crepeline silk, though that is much harder to work with.

      And I could go on....... Smiles. Let me know what you end up doing.