March 16, 2020

When an Old Quilt Needs a New Home

The quilts in my collection are not pristine museum quality quilts by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes I've bought quilts that are not, well, very sturdy anymore.  (For example, the stars quilt that I have been gradually replicating.)  And sometimes lovely people give me very, uh, well-loved quilts.

Here's my most recent such acquisition, given to me at a recent quilt study group meeting.  It had been found at a sale at closing time, in the discard pile because no one had wanted it.  One of the quilt study members had rescued it, and when she spread it out to show everyone, my first thought was that I really, really wanted it but didn't want to jump up and down and blurt out "I want that quilt!  Can I have it pleeeease?!  Me, me, me!!!!"  And then, much to my surprise, I was hearing her say that she really couldn't take anything new into her house and did anyone want it!  Well, yes!

So here's my new love.  It's truly worn and faded and awkwardly mended....  But oh what a beauty it had been in its heyday!  The superb needlework is still quite evident in its miniature stuffed appliqués and lovely feather wreath quilting.  And it is signed and dated in the quilting!  What's not to love?

I have a question for you!  I always appreciate that someone cared enough about a quilt to try to rescue it, so I generally keep old repairs intact and actually enjoy them.  But that printed gingham mending fabric has nothing going for it except that it is brown, though it's quite the wrong brown at that.  What would you do?  Would you leave it on the quilt as part of its history, or would you take it off and try to stabilize those areas with something less visually intrusive? 

The borders are a pieced zig-zag made of a faded purple print, a hallmark of purple dyes in the 19th century, and a rose stripe. 

Deciphering the signature and date is a bit tricky.  From the front, it's really not visible at all.  It's quilted in, partly under the gingham patch and partly in the purple triangle.  Here it is from the front - totally invisible!

On the back, it's visible, but backwards.

I used different lighting in this photo, and then played with contrast and such on the computer.

Then I flipped the photo, and here it is!  I think the first letter is a capital H, then an M, and then perhaps Gay or Jay.  The date is fairly certain - 1867.  Many of the fabrics in the baskets look a decade or two older than that though. 

I love the wonderful stuffed appliqués and the lovely old fabrics.  There even is a tiny American flag print.  Click to enlarge photos - you'll be glad you did.








I try to imagine how stunning this would've been with a really purple and rose border, an unfaded tan/brown print in the alternate blocks, all fabrics at full color (not just the indigo)....  Such a beauty!


  1. I think it depends on whether you want to restore to near-original condition or whether you want to restore the quilt keeping intact previous restorations. Personally, I love those darker brown squares. To me they seem like part of the history of the quilt.
    It is a beautiful quilt and it was fun to look at all the photos of it. Thanks for sharing them.

    1. I wouldn't be attempting a complete restoration. There is too much damage for that. (Although I think it's a great candidate for making a reproduction!) And yes, I too appreciate the sentiment behind the brown plaid patches, and generally leave old repairs in place. But I find this one visually jarring. Thank for sharing your thoughts. Maybe it's not as distracting as I think it is!

  2. I LOVE everything about this quilt, and the quitmaker's original designs! I also applaud the person who put the brown gingham on it, albeit not entirely sympathetic to the overall tone of the quilt. But perhaps they were showing a certain amount of respect in trying to do something to help preserve this beauty. So glad you get to steward this piece of textile history now!! :-)

    1. Yes, I agree that the brown repair is a sign of great emotional attachment to the quilt and/or quiltmaker. See my other comments above. Between the two of you, I am becoming convinced to keep the mends even though I really don't like the fabric choice.

  3. I do not like the brown gingham mends. They detract from the creators' original plan which is so lovely. The stuffed appliqued flowers are sweet, and the quilting and patchwork are amazing. It's your quilt now, Ann, and you don't owe the menders any obligation to keep their patches. They did the best they could, or knew how to do, with what they had on hand, maybe. You could do better! But, it's totally up to you. Thanks for sharing this beautiful quilt with us. And good luck with your restoration workshop!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! It's true that the gingham detracts from the overall look...but I do like the story that it tells...that's why I'm so conflicted as to what to do. I'm tempted to unstitch a bit of the gingham and see how it looks underneath. Ah, could be a Part 2 to this post,right?