October 31, 2016

Sleuthing Around a Quilt - Part 1 The Date and Story

I always love to see a quilt with vintage repairs.  Well, I've maybe coined a new term!  What I mean is that the quilt has been patched in the past by other folks who cared for it.  Vintage repairs speak volumes about how much history and love and meaning quilts can carry.

So here's an example of a cheerful quilt with vintage repairs that just visited my studio.

Most of the missing and disintegrating bits on this quilt seem to be rayon or silk.  The prints on those remaining bits and the remaining intact fabrics are mostly geometric, Art Deco style. There are also quite a few cotton 1940s style prints. 

But there are also prints that are clearly from several other, more recent decades.  At first, I was thinking the quilt had been made with a "deep scrapbag", that lovely term for a pile of fabric gleaned over several decades of home sewing.  But as I kept sleuthing, I kept finding anomalies and oddities.

My first clue to the vintage repairs, and a rather loud one indeed, was this square:

The black/grey stripe is one of the disintegrating rayons.  The red pin dot is probably 1970s or even 80s - those pin dots were popular in every color under the sun during those decades.  I'm not sure exactly when they first hit the market.  Also, the pin dot is clearly an addition on top of the existing patchwork.

So then, I went back and really investigated some of the other pieces from the decades since the 40s.  Bingo!  Some are pretty clearly patches, both because of the fabric styles and colors and because of the way the fabric lies on the quilt.  Some are perhaps entirely new little blocks.  The sleuthing is pretty difficult because the repairs were done so well!

Another bit of the history of this quilt is that the batting is polyester and the backing is a cotton-poly sheet - both of which point to a story about an older top that was finally quilted a few decades after the top had been started.  There's every chance that the repairs were made at this time, and maybe some entire blocks added - and with more than one decade represented in all those steps.


Barbara Brackman's pattern reference book gives quite a few names for this simple block:
Triangle Design
Broken Sash
Dutch Tile
Friendship Album Quilt
Diamond in the Square

My next post has more detail photos of the fun fabric history displayed in this quilt.   I welcome any comments or ideas you may have on fabric dates and the construction and repair history of this quilt.  Please write in! 

The moral of this story:

When you've repaired a quilt, write up a description of what you've done, date the page, add a photo of the quilt and as many detail shots as you'd like, and include swatches of the fabrics you used to patch.  Sleuthing can be fun, but having great documentation will be a real treat for any future historians who meet your quilt!


  1. Thanks for sharing this quilt and your discoveries, Ann. When you view the entire quilt from a distance those replacement fabrics seem to stand out more than the others. I love to restore, repair and resurrect old beauties like this and seeing the patches make them very interesting to study.

    1. Yes, those subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in dyes and prints can really add up. Especially that brilliant yellow! Hooray for your restoration work! The quilts deserve it, right?

    2. Yes they do Ann and I find I learn so much by working so closely with them.