Save this old quilt

hazelnutbunnyJanuary 5, 2010

This is an old quilt that my Great-Grandma made (I'm not sure when). I found this in her attic about 18 years ago, and it's been sitting in my closet ever since.

When I found it, it had holes in some of the squares & others are wearing can tell it has been used & washed often.

It's a small quilt-probably about twin size. It's hand pieced & stuffed with old nylons (the thigh high ones without elastics!).

My question is- I want to save this, but am not quite sure of the best way. I was thinking of taking it apart-gently!- and re-stitching the good squares into another quilt (like a 9 patch). Or is there a better way?

Any opinions? Suggestions? Ideas?

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Wow, what a treasure! I would be so hesitant to take this apart since it is so fragile. Is there any way that you could just reinforce any torn seams by sewing them by hand like you would the opening in a pillow, etc.? Then where there are holes in the fabric, maybe try to find fabric that is similar (you'll never find the original) and then either make a new patch the same size and applique it on or even just put some kind of smaller decorative appliques over the holes, something in a subdued fabric that wouldn't stand out? Just a thought. Are there any quilt conservatists out there that have a better idea??? I just think that it would be ruined to take it apart completely. Good luck!


    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 5:35PM
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I have to make some assumptions. You'll be wanting to preserve this quilt as a display piece. The fabrics could be resewn I suppose, but that destroys the quilt's identity and the fabrics will remain old and delicate despite new seams. The charm of an old quilt is pretty tightly 'tied' (ahem) to it's very age, and to it's history and use. The signs of age ARE the quilt. They are it's history and story distilled, intact and brought forward in one poignant glimpse of endurance.

You want to preserve that feeling it gives you, that connection to the daily lives of women back to the one who mothered your mother's mother.

Here's a link to a nice article on antique quilts. You can probably guess I lean to the conserve approach. ;)

I display my single inherited antique quilt on quilt rack over a cotton towel for a bit of padding. It's in excellent shape except for the single fabric that has disintegrated wherever it was used. All those 1 inch hexagons! And a half dozen of those flowers look like they were blasted out with a little tiny quilt shot gun. I look and them and get positively existential about things that are cherished and transient-- perfect spring roses, sweet smelling babies, soft summer rains, clean winter snows. It's a metaphor for time, for life, for living. It strikes my heart that my Aunt Joyce is gone from the world, blasted out of it by the ravages of disease. She had struggles and sorrows to make a stone weep, yet as full of life and love as any woman I've ever known or read about in history books. And she took very careful care of the quilts that her grandmother and great aunts made. I look exactly, exactly like her--my uncle used to startle when he saw me and then laugh "There's the woman I married!"

Can you tell I love quilts? I love quilts in my own way, and that's part of their beauty that you can love yours in your own way, too. Whatever gives you the most joy of it is what you should do--it's the love that counts!

Here is a link that might be useful: Quilt history

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:34PM
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Whatever you choose to do with it DO NOT repeat DO NOT put it into the washing machine.
I've seen more old quilts destroyed in the washer. Better to leave it a wee bit dirty then to destroy it.
If you have a local museum that displays quilts you may want to call them and ask their advice too.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:56PM
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No - do not take it apart. Do not wash it in a washing machine, and maybe don't ever wash it at all.

The only repairs I would suggest would be hand-sewing some organza or tulle over the pieces with holes, just to stabilize them.

This is not a quilt you will ever be able to use again. So decide if you want to preserve it in it's entirety, or if you wish to preserve pieces. Only you can decide this.

But I'll say this, with all due respect - I'll bet your Great Grandmother is up there shaking her head over your conundrum, LOL. I'll guarantee you she never expected this quilt to last this long.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Thanks for the article petalpatsy. I have an antique quilt that I got in 1972 - because I sewed. It was given to my parents to give to me from my Father's Father in Ohio. We (he) had a very small family that immigrated here from Ireland; I do not know its origins, other then it was very old and worn when I got it. He was born in 1900. The block is a BowTie Pattern. It is all hand sewn, and the batting looks more like shredded paper. I am afraid to wash it. I used to have it on a spare bed until kids & dogs. I understand your desire to make this quilt 'whole' again, but I think you should cherish the worn & ripped parts and try to preserve it - as it is.

We use to use nylon stockings (before pantyhose) for stuffing things we made in home ec - like those sock monkeys :)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 8:35PM
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I had a friend who took a quilt made years ago by her grandmother and she just left it as it was - got a good size thick round curtain and hung it on the wall over a bed in the guest room.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 8:37PM
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I saw an article once about how to wash delicate old quilts. You lay a bed sheet in the bottom of the bathtub and lay your quilt on top of that. Let it soak (swishing slightly) in warm water with some mild detergent or that special soap for washing quilts. Drain the water, fill up with clear water to rinse (you may have to do this several times). When it's time to take the quilt out of the tub, lift it by the sheet on the bottom - DO NOT lift the quilt by itself. The weight of the quilt and water may tear the delicate fabric and/or stitching. Roll the quilt to get most of the water out. Lay it on the lawn on a warm day to dry.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 8:13AM
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Thank you all for the advice.
The quilt was washed with an old washboard, so several of the squares are worn completely through- the only thing holding them to the quilt are the stitches on the sides.
The squares were all made & stuffed separately, and then sewn together...and there are actually some squares that have a date of 1849 on them. I know that most of the fabric is NOT that old, some (if not most) squares have been replaced because of being washed & torn.

I think grandma had an affection for this quilt- and so I'll do what ya'll suggest and keep it like it is.
There is a local museum that deals with ONLY our county's history...and they have a space dedicated to my family, so maybe they'll be interested in this quilt, and be able to preserve it in a way that I can't.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 11:10AM
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Dated square of 1849!!! Wow!!! And a local Museum with family dedicated space - how incredibly special - absolutely seek advice from them - but do your homework and make sure they "know" what is the right thing to do to preserve it. Let us know what happens once you consult with them. Wow - you are so lucky !

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 11:27AM
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Are you sure that the stuffing is Nylon stockings??Nylon stockings weren't made much before 1940, until then they were silk. It is very interesting to have old treasures and I agree it is best to try and keep them as they are with care to prevent further damage. Some good advice here and I am sure your decision will suit your needs.
I hope my GG's will treasure the things I have made with the same degree of love.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 7:08PM
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Well, they are stockings- as some of them are showing through. I could be wrong about the nylon part, though! I haven't investigated that far. They are rolled up, and resemble yo-yo's, so it's hard to tell. And I quite honestly couldn't tell nylon from silk....! :O)

I know that G-grandma kept several things of her mom's, and they worked on several other projects together. It's possible that some of the fabric was from her mother's dresses (or aprons). I just don't know. My grandma has many things her mom (my great grandma) made from her mother's it's possible that this was scrap fabric from some of that.

Thanks again for all the advice!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 7:55PM
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I watched Eleanor Burns this morning and she happened to have an antique log cabin quilt that she was restoring. She basicly was doing what I suggested on replacing worn patches with one similar and appliqueing them on top with what she called a whipstitch. It sounds like you might be leaving the quilt in the "as is" condition, but if you decide to repair it, if you can find this episode it can explain it well. I understand the idea of keeping the quilt in the worn condition as is, however, I wonder if your great grandma were still living, perhaps she would do what most thrifty women would have done back then and repair it with care.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2010 at 9:11AM
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I would give my eye teeth to have an antique quilt...the only quilt every given to me was when my father decided to take up quilting when he retired..I laugh now at his idea to start quilting from watching a quilt program during his days of nothing to do but watch just squares pieced together but its a treasure to me...Someday it will be an antique..lolol...Judy

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 2:30PM
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I have an antique one my grandmother made that is in like condition to yours. I'm afraid to do anything with it so it's just in the closet. I'm afraid if I try to hang it, it is so heavy the stitches will pull out and the threads will break. I also have one my DH's mom made that is about the same. Then there is one she made that she appliqued and didn't turn under the edges. She zigzagged the edges and they raveled over time. I think I'll probably repair this one since it's only about 30 or 40 years old.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 7:53PM
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When I got that baby quilt finished, and was clearly underway to be a 'real' quilter, my neighbor pulled out a double signed quilt that dates back to 1850-75, New England, kept in her family. It isn't dated, but she knows her family tree. I don't recall the pattern, but it was fairly large pieces of a one kind of pink floral chintz-type print, a tan that I'm sure used to be fugitive green, and muslin. It was a HUGE king size quilt, with the bottom corners out to accomodate a four poster.

I always read about the plain quilting done in that time frame--single or double lines, but this quilt was a quilted as a sampler of quilting patterns in blocks of about 1 x 2 feet. I remember one 'block' of of 1 inch clamshell quilting. It also had some trapunto work. It was also very worn. I thought at the time that a quilt historian/museum would love to see it.

Someday, I'll ask her to let me take some pictures now that I have a digital camera.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 8:38PM
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