How to: Give an Old Quilt New Life – with a lesson in Hand Quilting
Have you ever come across old quilt tops on e-bay, or maybe a quilt that just wasn’t finished properly at the thrift store? Did you buy it or were you intimidated by the work involved in getting it ‘right’?
This is the story of a quilt that needed a little love and attention to be the best it could be.
Found at a flea market languishing amongst a heap of fabrics, the colours just caught my eye. It was barely a quilt at all, but a pieced top backed with a tablecloth. No quilting, no batting.
But the top was beautiful, with tiny hand stitched (1-1.5″) triangles. All of the fabrics are pre 60’s, every piece a little gem. I was in love.
Unfortunately it had been backed and bound much later and very unsympathetically. The choice of backing fabric distracted from the design, and because it wasn’t prewashed it had shrunk making the top bulge.
So here is how I fixed it, with a little lesson in hand quilting thrown in:
– Firstly I unpicked and removed the backing, then pressed the top.
– I chose a vintage flannel to back it and a poly batting as the fill. I considered a cotton batting but really wanted more loft than a cotton batting could give. (Plus I had the poly batting on hand)
– Sandwiched the batting with the top and backing and made sure it was all smooth and flat with no creases. The backing and batting were a little larger than the top (trimmed later).
– Decided that hand quilting would be most sympathetic to the top design, mainly because it was mostly hand pieced and also because the design was a bit free form. I had some vintage thread (blue) laying about which did the job nicely. A little thicker than sewing thread, but thinner than embroidery thread. I suspect it was a top stitching thread? Hand quilting thread is also available in stores.
– To hold all the layers during the quilting process, I hand basted (long running stitches) with normal sewing thread (yellow). Worked from the centre out, the basting stitches stop the layers from shifting whilst working the quilting stitches. Some people like to use safety pins at regular intervals for this stage.
– Due to the angular design of the patchwork, I felt a chevron pattern for the quilting would be flattering. All the quilting was worked in short running stitches, loosely guided by the design on the top.
Because this was my first experience with hand quilting, it was far from perfect, but overall very effective.
Below I’ll show you how to hide your beginning knot in the quilt.
1. Tie a small knot in the thread and put your needle through just the top fabric coming out where you want the stitch to start.
2. Here you can see the stitch.
3. Now gently tug the knot through so it now sits on the back of the fabric.
– Once the quilting was finished I trimmed the excess batting and backing using the top as a guide.
– The top was not at all square but I chose to keep the edges wonky because it was part of the character of the quilt. I didn’t want to cut away any of the beautiful fabric because I felt like it wasn’t my place to do so.
– Admittedly I probably should have hand bound the edges but I really don’t have anything against machine binding (which can be easily un-picked later if required).
And here it is in all it’s glory.
It’s an odd little size, a lap or cot quilt perhaps. I’m going to hang on the wall. A little piece of textile art to brighten up a bare space.
I love looking at it and discover new fabric pieces all the time. Little surprises that reveal themselves if you just give them a chance. It’s imperfection is part of its charm.
I sometimes think about it’s history and wonder who made it. I’m sure it was someone that made their own clothes and these were all the little scraps accumulated over the years. Worked distinctly at two different times, even maybe by two different patchworkers. The oldest section with the smallest triangles was all hand pieced and the fabric is clearly from the 30’s and 40’s. Later the triangles got bigger and were machine pieced, with the fabric design leaning towards 40’s-50’s. I think the back was a different person altogether. And now my contribution…
Do you have a story about a quilt with a story? Why not share it with us, I’d love to hear it.