Antique Quilt Restoration

A few weeks ago, a friend contacted me and asked if I ever repaired damaged quilts. I never have, but I know quilts, am a confident sewer, and told her I would look and see what I thought. Me and my big mouth. A few days later, a package arrived on my doorstep with the damaged quilt. It was a beautiful white cotton quilt, with appliques of yellow and purple pansies arranged diagonally. Right smack in the middle was a huge hole. No back, no batting, no front. Just hole. How do you repair where there is no fabric? Where there is nothing to even stitch with or to?

Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something.

That is the hole. The green polka-dot fabric is not the backing- I stuck it behind just so you can see the hole. It’s about eight inches of gaping missing-ness of quilt. Add to that the fact that this a vintage quilt, and the threads and colors were faded and fragile. I had my work cut out for me. Har har har. See what I did there? *snort* Can you tell I haven’t slept much lately? What was I saying…?

So my first job was figuring out how to even give myself something to sew. I figured I should patch the back first, then I would have a way to insert new batt, and then worry about re-piecing the front. Okay. Plan en force. Every single white fabric I have was GLARINGLY white against the mellow patina of the old cotton. Crap. Then I got a brilliant idea- I have a thing for old pillowcases- can’t pass them up at yard sales or thrift stores. I covet and treasure them- and they are almost always white. And old. And have a patina of old cotton. Bingo! I riffled through my linens and found a perfect match.

I patched the back with a simple needle-turned square. There. At least I had something to work on now. Then I traced the Australia shaped hole and cut a piece of batting to perfectly fit and whipped the edges. I repeated the same needle-turn process for mending a new white piece to the front. Now I needed to figure out how to made a new pansy, but make it look old. My goal was to keep as much of the original intact as possible. Which also meant I had to try and match fabrics:

Here you can see the white patch. It’s organic shaped on the front to preserve as much of the original as possible. You can see the yellows are not a perfect match, and the green is a little bright- but this was the very best I could find.

This kind of work has to be entirely done by hand- If someone’s figured out how to restore textiles with a machine, I want to know about it. The original was all hand done, and the restoration had to be as well.

Here I’m adding the details to the pansy with a double-strand stem stitch. I love this stitch, but a thimble is a necessity. The original quilter also left her basting stitches intact for the applique, so I had to add those as well. The I had to hand quilt the white background patch so it would match and pick up the design on the original. One that was done, I handwashed it with cold water, and ran it through the dryer on low. The warmth of the dryer further puckered the new fabric, making it blend in better with the old. Hand quilting helps this process too.

And here it is all done, my repair right smack in the middle:

It’s not perfect- but it’s really good. And it can be used and loved now, and the original is still almost entirely preserved. This was a fun way to try something new and add some skills to my toolbox. And now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go finish a bunch more  projects that have been languishing on my backburners. I have a kajillion loose ends to wrap before school starts next month.

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24 thoughts on “Antique Quilt Restoration

  1. WOWWOWWOW! Tracy, this couldn’t be more lovely. Thank you. My mother is just going to burst when she sees it! Thank you. Can I say thank you one more time? Thank you!

  2. You are insanely amazing. That looks fantastic. I’ve never met anybody who would even attempt such a thing, I think most of the quilters I know would call it a loss and chop it up into lap throws, baby blankets, or wall hangings. You did an outstanding job repairing it, it looks gorgeous. Congratulations on yet another job fantastically done!

  3. WOW, you are good. Learning to quilt like that is on my bucket list. I was thinking of you today as I finished my last final of the semester. My first semester back in school is done. I’m so excited for you to start school, it is so much better the second time around as an “adult”.

  4. What an amazing repair you made. As I looked at the first picture I thought “geez! What a task!” When I saw the last picture, I was stunned. Beautiful job!

  5. wow, you are amazing! That looks really really good! The owner should be over the moon with that repair job ^_^

  6. Wow what a great job. Very impressive. Wish I could have fixed an Amish table runner I had that got a hole in it from a plant that was wet. (my fault dumb)It had printed fabric and while I found one fabric that was the same I couldn’t match the other large rose pattern fabric. Since I bought it in Ohio and I live in Washington I was pretty excited to find at least one matching fabric. But since I couldn’t find the other two I just decided it woulnd’t look too great if I tried to patch it. Note to self: don’t put a potted plant on a treasured piece of fabric!

  7. Wow. I am so impressed. I don’t think I could have even figured out how to start something like that.

  8. Not only is the repair amazing, the respect you showed that quilt is wonderful. Lucky quilt owner.

  9. It struck me that you are putting your life back together as beautifully and carefully as you have repaired this quilt…

  10. you did an job!! What a gal! I can’t believe you have lost 50 lbs!! Wonderful! I still haven’t… got any advice?! how’s your toothace? All fixed? Been out of town,… enjoy your blogs!

  11. My pragmatic nature thinks quilts should be used and loved. Except this one. It should be displayed on a wall for all to see. Absolutely lovely work, Tracy.

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