April 2, 2014

Dresden Plate

This is a lovely quilt from the 1930s or 40s.  The pattern is a variant of the Dresden Plate known as Friendship Circle, the differences being that the spokes at the four quadrants have pointed tops, and that the center circle has four graceful ovals.  These special pieces are usually made in an accent fabric, in this case, a pumpkin orange solid.

One issue to be solved for this quilt was patching some worn pieces.  I did a bit of color manipulation on these, because the whites in this quilt have become quite yellowed and the other colors have faded.  The easiest fix was with this black fabric.  Using the reverse gave it just the dullness needed to not stand out from the original fabrics.  (The little swatch shows the right side.)

I also used the reverse of the green fabric.  The right side of the pink was alright.  But for both, the whites in the prints were too bright.  I dipped both fabrics quickly in simmering tea to dull them.  I usually try to avoid tea-dyeing, first because tea is an acidic stain and not necessarily healthy for the long-term life of the fabric, and second because it still will never give a completely exact match to the patina of old fabrics.  But sometimes, I do feel it helps the overall outcome.  After the tea dye, I wash the fabrics well, to remove all unabsorbed tea, and then press with a hot iron until dry to set the stain.  (The little swatches show the original colors.)

I always keep my eye out for fabrics that already have a beige or cream or creamy beige rather than clear whites.  

The pumpkin orange is one of the signature colors of the 30s and 40s.  I found this one at Reproduction Fabrics.  It is a really good rendition of what this color probably looked like when new, but was too intense for the current state of this quilt.  So, this got a dip in the tea as well.  It is still somewhat strong, but not as bright. (You can see a bit of the more original color around the tears on the far left.)

One of the edges had an area of major damage, with some fabric and batting totally missing, and lots of rips in the remaining fabrics, both front and back.  

First, I patched the back.  This gives the area a solid base from which to start rebuilding.

Then, I started re-filling the missing areas.  I use 100% cotton batting.  In this case, I pulled the batting apart horizontally, to better match the current thickness of the quilt.  I also pulled off little bits of batting all around the edges to make a softer, feathered edge.  Then I lifted the tatters of fabric, and smoothed the new batting into each piece.

Here is the area with the patches of new fabric ready to be appliquéd.  You can see the big patch of white on the back extending out beyond the scallops. 

Here is the area with the appliqué and re-quilting completed, and the white back patch cut to the finished shape.

Here's how the white patch looks from the back of the quilt.

The final step is binding the area.  It is a bias binding because of the scalloped edge.  Here is the back, binding attached with a running stitch.

And here is the front, the re-build totally completed. 

The final issue for the quilt was that there were some pretty intense stains.  The owner asked me to evaluate washing the quilt.  First of all, I really try to discourage washing these old quilts unless the condition is so bad that there is no other option.  In this case, it didn't seem like the stains were damaging the fabric.  It then becomes a question of which will be most stressful over the future life of the quilt - the stains themselves or the potential of introducing more damage because of water quality, soaps, etc.  Conservation labs have much more specialized equipment, water quality control, and highly trained conservators.

Then I noticed that it seemed like the orange dye was bleeding through to the back, along the quilting lines.  This was happening in many places across the quilt, not underneath the stains.  I decided that I didn't have enough skill or set-up to risk wetting the quilt.  I feel that it's always better to err on the side of doing too little, especially with washing quilts.  Once a quilt is wet and the dye starts to run, there is no turning back the clock.

So, I tried patching over the stains.  I found a cream fabric fairly close in color, but it was still a bit bright.  So I went back to the kitchen, and dipped a few swatches in tea.  The swatch on the left is the original color, the one on the right is too dark (i.e. too long in the tea), the one in the middle is "just right."

Well, not really "just right."  Matching old whites is one of the trickiest things to do.  Another example of this process is a blazing star quilt I worked on a while back.

I put on a sample patch.  Here is a photo for comparison.  There is a patch in the upper right, a fairly distinct stain in the lower center, and another, less distinct stain in the upper left.

I ended up finding the stains actually less obvious.  The patch fabric still doesn't match the quilt exactly, and the patch has very clear edges, which the stains do not.  The patch sits just a bit above the surface of the quilt, and the edges create little shadows.  Also, under artificial light at nighttime (this photo was taken with daylight), the stains show less, because the yellower light blends them into the overall yellowing of the quilt.  Then, the lightness of the patch is even more apparent.  I recommended to the owner that the patching didn't seem successful enough to warrant the expense.  Which effect do you prefer?

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