July 17, 2018

Saving a Damaged Heirloom Quilt

It's always both sad and wonderful when someone brings me a beloved family quilt that has, well, seen better days, but is still quite full of meaning and sentiment.  What to do?  Often there is lots of fabric damage, and sometimes tears and holes through all three layers of the quilt.  A full-out restoration would cost a whole bunch, maybe more than the owner can afford - but I think there's a bigger issue when it's the sentiment that counts.  Having a quilt end up with as much or maybe even more of my stitches than ancestral stitches just doesn't make sense. 

Here is a solution I have devised for giving a such a quilt enough support and stabilization to let the family handle and enjoy it more safely. 

This is a 1930s Dresden plate.  As you can see, the fabric is quite worn.  It's like this over the whole surface of the quilt. 

Along the edges, there are rips and areas where all three layers are missing.

My plan in such cases is usually to back the whole quilt.  Then I can stitch torn fabrics to the new back.  In this quilt, there wasn't any batting escaping, but when that is the case, I can patch those places or maybe stitch the tears closed.  Where there are three-layer holes, I can add fabric and sometimes batting to give them enough color and thickness to mask the problem areas a bit.  I don't try to turn under old edges, just neaten them up as I go.  It's always a mend by mend decision on exactly what will work best.

Here's the quilt in my basting frame on its new back fabric.  (The frame is supported by four chairs, and made from four pieces of 1x4" lumber sealed with a wood sealer, heavy-weight muslin attached to the wood, and 4 c-clamps.  The back fabric is pinned to the muslin.)

Where fabric was missing, I added a pale yellow cotton, slipping it between the quilt and the backing.  This not only improves the appearance, it also gives more thickness and strength to those areas.  Then I basted the edges all around the quilt, and basted the edges of the torn places.

Then, I use a relatively large herringbone stitch around the holes and tears.  The stitches go through to the new back. 

I tie the quilt to its new back, usually with perle cotton.  I stitch the ties so that the tie ends are on the back of the quilt so that they don't change the appearance of the quilt. 

I get quite a bit of bending and stretching and crawling exercise during this part of the process!  Here's the quilt from below.  (I draped sheets over the edges just for the photos, so the ties hanging down from the quilt are visible.)

After taking the quilt out of the frame, I tie off the ties.  Then I finish the edges.  Where there had been fabric loss on the edges, I turned the backing and the yellow hole-filler fabric towards one another, and stitched a knife-edge finish, using a ladder stitch. 

On the rest of the edges, I turned the backing edge under and appliquéd it to the back of the quilt itself, also with a ladder stitch.

Here is the finished look at the places where all three layers had been missing.  You can see how the large herringbone stitch holds the torn edges in place.

The quilt belongs to the mother of the man who brought it to me.  She is about to turn 95 years old.  She acquired the quilt on a visit to family in the Asheville, NC, area in the 1940s.  Her relatives there, the Rockett family, gave her this quilt so she could take it back home to Michigan.  They figured she'd make good use of it up north where the winters are colder.  That she has, and the quilt is now an important family heirloom.

No comments:

Post a Comment