May 27, 2014

Crazy Quilt Saga - Repairs

This crazy quilt provides a good example of the different techniques that I use to help maintain aging silks.  It also had a special problem - a silk ruffle on the edge, some of which was in really bad shape.

I used three different techniques, depending on the type of damage in each patch:

1. I used the couching stitch to secure tears and disintegrating fabrics in the shattered silks.  A previous post has photos of the couching stitching in progress.

Two other posts shows the couching stitch:  on World War II Japanese silk banners, and on on a mid-19th century appliqué "mistresspiece"quilt.

2. Where there were painted fabrics or irreplaceable, unique fabrics, I covered those areas with sheer silk crepeline.  I've written up some how-to tips for applying this silk.


3. Where matching the broken fabrics was fairly straightforward, I patched with new silks.  A previous post has photos of applying a patch.

There are two patches in these photos, the plum on the left, and the red on the right. The red had an embroidered flower, which I reproduced.

The black and white patch on the left gave me the opportunity to use one of my favorite fabrics.  It's a gingham check taffeta.  I've used it once before - to make a bowtie for Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest.

A bit about finding fabrics:  
I had two choices for this red patch.  The one along the bottom of the photo was a closer match although a bit too bright with a pink sheen.  The one I chose was a bit too dark.  If I have that kind of choice to make, both with fabrics and with threads, I pretty much always go with the darker option.  Darker blends in better, while lighter runs the risk of "shining out".  Also in this case, the darker one was softer, and more likely to lie better on the quilt.

The quilt has been restored on the past, having several places with patches already applied.  The pink in these photos is one of those older patches, next to a new navy patch added by me.  It's nice to have a family piece that shows such a history of care.

In this spot, a cream brocade patch had been applied to a damaged red patch.  Not only did it not match the original color, but it also didn't cover the entire original shape.

So I removed the brocade patch.  I discovered that there also was an old red patch beneath the brocade patch.  

I left both reds there, and added one of my own, that filled in the entire shape.

Here's the entire area, before and after the patching.  There is the new red patch, a navy patch to its left, a black patch above, and a yellow triangle with couching stitching above that.

The ruffle adventure:

One of the three fabrics used in the ruffle was totally shot.  It might have been possible to encase the old ruffle between two layers of the silk crepeline, but the owner decided there was not enough fabric left to have a good visual effect.

The fabric was a dark forest green.  I always look to patch and repair with fabrics very similar to the original, but in this case, I couldn't find anything of a close enough green and similar enough weight.  All the green fabrics I found were lighter and/or bluer greens, and looked intensely modern next to the rest of the colors in the quilt.  When that kind of thing happens, I look for something that blends in or is similar to other fabrics elsewhere in the quilt.  I went with a light tan dupioni, the dupioni having a bit more body than some of the other lighter weight silks.

Removing the old ruffle took quite a bit of time.  The quilt had been finished with a knife edge, i.e. the top and back turned in towards each other, with the ruffled fabric inserted in between them.  Then the edges had been decorated with feather stitching, going all the way through everything.


I spent quite a bit of time teasing the old fabric out from between the embroidery stitches.  Luckily, it was super fragile (not usually considered a lucky thing of course), and gave way bit by bit around each embroidery stitch.

I had measured the old ruffle before removing it, which was good, because the removal process didn't leave much to measure.  I hemmed both long edges of the new ruffle, and gathered one edge.  I seamed the new fabric to the remaining old ruffle sections, and stitched the gathered edge to the back of the quilt.

The backing is a lovely checked silk, and is in great shape. 

Here's a how-to tip as you maneuver your way around a crazy quilt.  I drew a map with each patch marked as to which kind of repair I had planned.  That way, I could know what fabrics I needed to search for, and could keep track of what was done and what was still to do.  (Or maybe it's a map to hidden pirate treasure........)

And here's the finished quilt:

The story of of the quilt and its maker is in a previous post.

May 25, 2014

Prize-winning Quilts of 1947

While poking around on the "interwebs", I found a fun vintage photo.  It made me smile, and I hope you'll enjoy it, too.

It is captioned:
"Two women examine the award winning quilts on display at the 1947 Illinois State Fair."

The four prizewinning quilts are:
Double Wedding Ring, Cathedral Windows, Grandmother's Flower Garden, Irish Chain

These are not at all unexpected as favorite 1947 quilts.  Wouldn't it be fun to be able to see them in  color?!  The photo also provides a fun little glimpse of ladies' dresses, hats, and bags of the time.

The photo is in the extensive collection of the Illinois Digital Archives.

May 22, 2014

Crazy Quilt Saga - History

This quilt is a family heirloom, made by the great-grandmother of the current owner.  My thanks to the family for sharing their ancestor's story, and thereby the story of this quilt.

The quilt was made by Angela MacGregor Coutts Lewis.  Angela lived from November 20, 1871, to April 29, 1947.

Angela Coutts was originally from Tilbury, Ontario.  She came from a wealthy upper middle class family.  Her father may have been a member of the Canadian Parliament.  All of the girls were educated and attended a finishing school run by the Ursuline sisters.  Fancy needlework was a subject taught at ladies' finishing schools, and family history relates that the quilt was made there at the school.  Needlework of all sorts was a skill that young women were expected to master before marriage, not only for creating decorative pieces like this, but also for making and maintaining all of their family's clothing and household linens.

She was married to James Edward Lewis (born May 4, 1869 - died May 19, 1961) on February 3, 1904 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Raleigh, Ontario.

After the marriage, they moved westward to Kitscoty, Alberta.  The family history is that they traveled by covered wagon, and shot and ate a lot of ducks along the way.  I looked up Kitscoty, and found that the settlement of the area began in 1905, which means that Angela and James were among the first Canadian families to set up households there.  The village was incorporated in 1911.

Presumably, then, this quilt made the journey with them.  Women who moved so far from home have written in their diaries that quilts like this were such special mementos that they were afforded a bit of the precious space in the cramped quarters of their covered wagons.

Another little sidelight I read is that the town is named after an ancient burial chamber, a cromlech marked by four large stones, called Kit's Coty House in Kent, England.  (One large stone is balanced on three standing stones, alá a mini-Stonehenge.) This is an indication of the heritage of those early families.

Angela and James had three children, Margaret, Gordon, and Angela, the owner's grandmother, born in 1907.

The Victorian style of home decor included lots of doo-dads and decoration.  The love for crazy quilts like this was part of that style.  This one has many of the hallmarks of the era and style:  fancy fabrics, embroidery, the ruffled edge, and hand-painted designs.  This quilt is notable for more painted fabrics than I usually see.

Here's some of the embroidery, the one on the lower right being made with a white, woven ribbon or tape.

The damage to the silk fabrics is what is called "shattered silk."  The technology of silk production at that time included both the addition of metallic salts to the fabric to give it weight and rustle, and also the use of some metal salts in the dyeing process, especially with browns and blacks.  Over time, these metals have damaged the fibers.  Sadly, there's not a lot to do to stop the process, except keep the quilt out of strong light, in as constant humidity and temperature as possible, and handle seldom and very carefully.

Thanks to the family for sharing their quilt and its story with me, and now with you.

Details of how the repair work was done are in another post.

May 16, 2014

Crazy Quilt Embroidery and Family History

Here are some lovely embroidery details from a crazy quilt c. 1890-1900.  Family history has it that this quilt was made by a group of "church ladies", possibly a church sewing circle.  There are certainly some areas of stitching that are done with much more finesse than others, which supports the oral history.  The quilt belonged to the current owner's ancestor, Mabel Connelly, who was a farm wife in central Indiana.  The quilt has had a hard life, very mistreated for many decades.  So there is little left of many of the fabrics. The embroidery still has lots of life left in it though, and the artistry of the makers still shines out.

Lovely embellished initials, probably representing Mabel's husband.

Another set of initials, the person not known to the quilt's current owner.

Pansies are scattered around the quilt.

The velvet stripe on the left is a marvelous fabric.

And there are other flowers as well.

There are animals, too.

And there are references to life in farm country - a sheaf of wheat, and a cow.

Here's a pretty little vase.

And here's a ....... slipper.  I have never seen a slipper on a crazy quilt before!

In some places where the silk is totally missing, the foundation fabrics show, and help date the quilt.

The back fabric is wonderful.  I think it is more recent than the top, still old, but not quite as old.

The quilt owner decided to keep it as is rather than having me repair it.  We had a fine time exploring all the personal touches on this quilt.  Even with so many missing and badly worn fabrics, it still tells a wonderful story of time and place.