I have been a quilter for more than 30 years and have also collected antique and vintage era quilts and quilt tops for about 20 years. Some of the quilts in my collection date back to the early 1800s. Other quilts in my collection are from the 1940s-1950s. I have collected quilts that show wear and have learned to repair them. I have also collected quilt blocks and completed quilt tops, some of which have been quilted by me.
In my past, I took a number of classes on textile history and quilt restoration and learned some of the techniques to repair and restore old quilts. I have even made repairs and restorations to quilts for others and have worked with historic quilt collections. I love antique quilts and antique cotton fabrics and enjoy having the ability to work with these old beauties from another place and time. Quilt repair and restoration isn’t about recycling — it’s more like rebirth or rejuvenation. Giving old quilts new life is a passion that connects me to the yesteryear.
Before an old quilt is repaired and restored, I like to determine the date that the quilt was made. I study the quilt extensively, checking the sections of the quilt that need repair. Before an antique quilt is repaired and restored, it is important to know which quilts should be repaired or restored and which quilts should be preserved as-is. This quilt, a Strippy Stars quilt from Virginia, circa 1860, is of more historical value conserved (preserved as-is) than repaired.
When examining an antique quilt in need of repair, I closely inspect borders, binding, and patchwork looking for tears and worn sections. Examining the quilt in its entirety helps to understand the amount of work involved. Often, there are areas of the quilt that are more worn than others. There may also be one particular fabric that has not performed well throughout the quilt.
Before I begin the task of giving an old quilt new life, the approximate date of the quilt needs to be determined. Quilts can generally be dated by the fabrics, the fabric colors, the quilt design, and even the size of a quilt. These factors all contribute in dating a quilt and once that approximate date is determined, I can start to select replacement period fabrics from my workbasket of antique cottons.
One quilt that I purchased for my quilt collection was a Jacob’s Ladder quilt. The quilt needed to be repaired, though. I loved the color play of the patchwork in this scrappy quilt and the quilt was cheerful to me. This Jacobs Ladder is dated circa 1945 and repairs to this quilt included a new binding and 12 new patches appliqued over the old, worn triangles. This twin size quilt was a pleasure to repair, and after giving this old quilt new life, I have added the quilt to my personal quilt collection.
A very special quilt that I restored came from my husband’s grandmother. She made three matching scrap Pinwheel quilts for her grandchildren during the 1950s, and one needed to be repaired.
The task was a large one because the quilt needed to be disassembled to be repaired. The cotton batting used in the quilt had clumped from frequent washing and it needed to be completely removed. Since the quilt was hand-tied the job was not too difficult — but it was very messy!
Since the entire quilt had to be disassembled to its separate layers to remove the wadded-up cotton, new cotton batting was necessary. And a new quilt backing replaced the tattered, old blue cotton fabric, too. Care was taken to locate the same solid cornflower blue fabric and the old blue backing fabric became a keepsake. The old Pinwheel quilt received a new life with the repairs made and I was very happy to have “shared stitches” with their grandmother I didn’t know.
This Monkey Wrench quilt was purchased about 20 years ago and it should be repaired because it is damaged.
The Monkey Wrench quilt has several blocks with badly worn cotton fabric. To make the repair to this block, new triangles would need to be appliqued over the old worn triangle patches. This will not only keep the quilt intact for durability, but will not disturb the original quilt’s fabric. Repairing patchwork with appliqued patchwork on top ensures integrity for the quilt being repaired.
I bought this Monkey Wrench quilt because the patchwork and design layout were simple and the overall colors are so autumnal. I especially loved how the quilter wasn’t afraid to use the double-pink (‘hot pink’) calicoes with the orange calico in this quilt.
When I began looking at the Monkey Wrench quilt to see how much repair work was involved, I discovered that there is another quilt inside this quilt. I am unsure what patchwork pattern was used in the interior quilt, but when looking into several of the block sections where fabric has worn out, it is very apparent that a double-pink geometric print has been used throughout the interior quilt. Before this quilt is repaired, a great deal of time will be spent trying to see what lies inside this quilt. Who would think that quilt repair could be filled with puzzles and mystery?
Working with antique quilts and the cottons of yesteryear are a real passion of mine. And the untold mysteries certainly add a bit of intrique. With the Monkey Wrench quilt, another quilter like me gave an old quilt new life. And how ironic it is that the Monkey Wrench quilt has earned itself a third life. Someday I will give that old quilt new life yet again.