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!

October 21, 2016

Women's Rights Quilt

I was just browsing through the Met Museum quilt collection and happened upon this quilt.  Boy, did I get excited!
Photo: Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, 1987.

Just to toot my own horn a tiny bit:  When I first started teaching quilting in the early 1980s with little 6-week beginner classes, one of my students brought in an old quilt that was in her family.  I didn't know then nearly what I know now about quilt history, but I knew enough to be utterly amazed and urged the owner to treat it like the incredible piece that it is.  It did get exhibited and then published a couple of times (including in one of my all-time favorite books, Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society by Elaine Hedges, Pat Ferrero and Julie Silber, Quilter's Digest Press, 1987).  And now, oh boy oh boy, I see it's become part of the collection at the Met!!!  I feel like the beaming godmother!

The quilt was made in Illinois c. 1875.  It has both botanic appliqué designs and unique and detailed pictorial blocks showing the social history of the time.  There are some pictures that refer to the Civil War and some to the question of women's rights that sprouted during the war years.  Along with the quilt, the family had a piece of paper with captions and sometimes comical commentary for the pictorial blocks.  Such an incredible treasure!

You can read more and take a closer look at the Met collection entry.  The quilt is also described on the Quaker Quilts page in an article titled "Quaker Causes and the Women's Rights Quilt."


October 10, 2016

Mending, Mending, Mending

Well, if you have visited my blog before, you know that what I do is a whole lot of mending.  For those of you are who new here, my profession is repairing antique/vintage quilts and clothing. For example:

I mended this unfortunate tear in a mid-19th century tulip appliqué quilt.

I replaced missing beading on a gorgeous wedding dress

I'm fascinated by finding old pieces that have been previously repaired over the decades of their lives.  And I am simultaneously saddened by what seems to be a growing proportion of folks who have no sewing knowledge whatsoever.  A real change over time, I think!

The other day, while enjoying my morning tea, I came across an inspiring article via a long bit of following links from one page to another.  Sometimes these sessions are not totally a "waste!"  Right?

The article is called "The rise of mending: how Britain learned to repair clothes again".  It appeared in The Guardian in 2014.

The article describes an English shop called Make Do & Mend that opened in 2002.  And then as the owner, Pippa Bray, relates, “When the recession hit, people became more conscious of cost and started valuing their clothes more. We do a lot of replacing zips, taking up hems, altering old clothes to fit.”  The shop's popularity skyrocketed.  At the time the article was written, the shop had expanded enough to employ 12 people!

The article also mentions an idea called Home Repair Café.  These are kind of little pop-up workshops where people can bring all sorts of broken things and find people to repair or teach them to repair.  It's done as a community building activity and sounds really neat.  The website serves as a networking hub for cities - all over the world - that are creating their own repair sites.  Sounds like bunches of fun!

Why do I like repairing things so much?  I've thought about this a lot, and have concluded:

#1 - I like making things neat.  Repair cleans up all the rips and dangling threads.  (By the way, this does not mean my house is neat as a pin.  But I do put my clutter in fairly neat piles!  And I am also aware that I enjoy weeding because it neatens up the yard.)

#2 - Repairing and reusing is frugal - both for my money and for the world's resources.

#3 - I enjoy handling old things, and getting to explore the fabrics and construction techniques up close.

#4 - Repair is a way to learn about and preserve the history embodied in each item.

#5 - Repairing honors the creativity, skill, and work of whoever made the item. 

Mending can actually be very creative - lots of problem solving.  I show some fun mends on a previous post.  It's not necessarily the drudgery that most folks expect!