March 9, 2012

Crazy Repairs

Repairing crazy quilts.  Well.  These are pretty difficult to work with, in my estimation.  Hence the title of this post!

Most often, the problem is what are called "shattered" silks.  This is disintegration caused by the dyes and processing that were used on the silks in the late 1800s and into the beginning of the 1900s, basically in the Victorian era.  Metal salts were added, both as mordants on the darker dyes, and to add that famous silk rustle, and to make the silks heavier since they often were priced by the pound.  (So you see, there have been unscrupulous businessmen around for a long, long time.)

The problem is that there is no way to reverse or stall this damage.  Keeping the quilt out of the light and in even temperature and humidity can slow it down, but that is the best deal you're going to get.

Another problem is the lovely embroidery.  The fabric under the embroidery can't be replaced unless the fancy stitches are removed and then re-embroidered after the patching.

The more I work on these beautiful, jewel-like quilts, the less and less I choose to do.  

Here's one technique that I use.  Often the damage takes out either the warp or the weft threads, leaving long, loose, parallel threads.  I will couch across those to keep them from dangling off the surface of the quilt.  This also protects them a bit from catching on a ring or something when the quilt is being handled.  (It's always a good idea to take off your jewelry and roll up button cuffs when handling damaged old quilts.)

Here's a piece of cream fabric ready to be couched down.  Choose the least obvious thread color.  

Couching begins by laying a long thread perpendicular to the loose weave.  In essence, take a super large stitch the width of the area.  Bring the needle up alongside the stitch.

Take tiny stitches across the laid thread, working your way back up to the beginning.

Here's the finished effect.

When it comes to actual patching, here's my technique-of-choice.  I never remove any embroidery.  I patch only up to the edge of the stitching.  From a distance, this is still usually a visual improvement, even though some tattered fabric under the embroidery is still visible upon close inspection. 

The original look.

I trace the shape onto tracing paper and use that as a pattern to cut the patch fabric.  I trace the actual edge of the fabric shape, not considering the embroidery at all.

Here's the patch pinned on.

I carefully, very very carefully, trim the patch to fit within the embroidery, with a narrow turn-under allowance.  Lift the edge of the patch and keep a finger on the tip of the scissors underneath the patch at all times, to keep it from catching onto an embroidery thread.  And here's the completed patch.  

Here's another example.

And now it's time to enjoy the wonderful collection of fabrics in this quilt.

Here's my absolute favorite brocade:

 And one of the sweet little embroideries:

The backing fabric on this quilt is particularly lovely, I think.

There's a tiny little crinkle texture in the lighter colored stripes.  The stripes are about 1/4" wide.

Crazy, yes, but still beautiful.

Here's a photo of the quilt after repairs.

And for more on repairing crazy quilts, see this post which details several techniques for repairing different types of damage.


  1. Hello Ann:
    I have a silk crazy quilt with some shattered silk on a few of the patches. Are you possibly available for restoration? If not, can you recommend someone?
    Margaret Scantlebury

    1. Hi, Margaret -
      Yes, I do restorations.

      If you'd like, you can start by sending me a couple of photos, preferably one of the entire quilt and a few details. Also, please tell me the approximate size of the quilt.

      Please email your photos. It's much easier for me to see them that way. My email is: annquilts at comcast dot net.

      I have a waiting list at this point.  I wouldn't be able to take your quilt in until August at the earliest.  But we can certainly discuss it now, and I will put you on my list if you decide to proceed.

      Thanks for writing!

  2. Thanks for your photo lessons! I was handed a 1884 Crazy Quilt yesterday and asked to save it. Those are the two suggestions (couching and inside patches) that will help me!
    p.s. I was glad the quilt didn't have any spiders - I've only found a bumblebee!

  3. P.s. again... I just purchased your book too!

    1. Hi, Pamela -
      Sorry for the delay, but I just discovered your lovely comment. Apparently, I'm no longer getting the email notices of comments coming in...

      I hope the repairs are working for you, and thanks for buying the book. :-) I'd love to see photos of your repairs, if you feel like sharing. Email would be the best way to send them.

      Yes, it's always fun to spend a lot of time with a crazy and explore all the embroideries. I'm sure these were very fun to make - not very many rules!

  4. Thanks for this post. I am attempting to restore a lovely crazy quilt from around 1870. Much involved embroidery surrounds each patch. Quite a few patches are missing entirely in each block (anywhere from 1 to 6) so that I can only guess as to the original piece of fabric. I have a collection of silks and velvets and try and match up the color the best I can. I am using either the couching method if there is enough fabric to stabilize, or the patch method to cover as much of the inside as I can. There is no way I could duplicate the embroidery on the edges. There is so much of it, and the creator was very imaginative. I am also going to put a muslin backing on it as there is nothing right now and bind the edges by hand.

    1. I'm glad you're finding my blog helpful. It sounds like you have a really lovely quilt, and that you're doing all the right things. Yay! I love to see some photos if you'd like to email a few.