Friday, August 5, 2016

Born Again - The Journey of a Cherished Quilt

My wedding quilt
Made by Aunt Agnes
     Sometime last fall I tackled the storage room in our lower level. “Something has to be done about all this stuff,” I moaned in despair, not for the first time. But for some reason I was in the mood and who knew how long it would last.
In one very large moving box I found blankets and several quilts made by my Aunt Agnes. One had been mine when I was a young girl. I'll tell you about that one later. 
     The others were in her favorite design, the log cabin. She made them entirely with available scraps, in about the 1960’s. She had to make do with lights that were not all very light and darks that were not always so dark. The photo of my wedding quilt is a good example. (click here for the wedding quilt story)

The overall design, therefore, is more casual than those 'perfect' ones that had plenty of fabrics to give the best contrast. . . like this one:

My collection
c. 1890

 Or these two - enough fabric to create truly striking textiles.

Now this quilt maker had the idea but something happened. Either she had an artistic inspiration or she was ready to be done with cutting strips!

So. . .  back to my salvage project.
     All of this quilts in this box had seen heavy use and were badly worn but one in particular was worn within an inch of its life. To me, throwing away a quilt is akin to heresy; especially one made by my aunt, but the fact is, quilts have a life as do all textiles and storage  areas have finite space. Quilts that are made to be used, as the majority were, are going to wear out. Repeated washing, handling, bodily oils, spills, stains, accidents - there just comes a time, and that time comes even more quickly when some the fabrics in it have already served for some years - perhaps as a dress, blouse, apron or curtains.
    I studied this beat up quilt trying to find at least a few adjoining blocks that were not a complete loss. I wanted so badly to salvage at least part of it. That would make me feel better about what I had to do with the rest of it.
     I was able to isolate nine blocks, set three by three, that were less disintegrated than others.  “This could be a baby quilt or a lap quilt for someone, couldn’t it?” I asked myself

     I picked up  my dressmaking shears and -GULP - cut around those nine blocks through all layers leaving a generous edge.
    As I began the repairs, I found more that needed to be patched than I thought. I cut out the approximate shape to cover each worn log, folded back the edges and zig-zagged (that's right) a patch over the worn out piece through all layers. My mother had previously attempted to do this by hand in a few places. I remember her asking me for some fabrics strips.
Finally, I felt I had taken care of the worst of it. I basted it onto a new backing to hide the unsightly mending stitches and freshen it up. The original quilt was hand quilted in the ditch. Now it was four layers. 

     It sat in a pile for several months. I surely was not interested in hand quilting it or taking the time and thread to machine quilt it. My enthusiasm for the project waned. 
     Fast forward to last week when I got motivated to move some things OUT of my pile of UFO's.  My word for this year is EXPERIMENT and with half the year gone I had to admit that I had not been very experimental. 
      I remembered reading something that I wanted to try sometime; tying a quilt with your sewing machine – and yarn. This would be an experiment and a quick finish! I spent some time looking for the notebook in which I saved that article to no avail. Then remembered that I was living in the 21st century and Googled it. I quickly found several videos of machine ‘tying’. None used the yarn technique but I remembered the general idea.

Here is the cut down quilt at the machine, pin basted and ready to go

What to use for yarn?

Years ago I had taken apart an old hand knit sweater of thick blue wool yarn. I cut segments of about 1”, and used a wide zigzag to secure them to the quilt.

Here is the original yellow quilt back showing the hand quilting. You see the wrong side of the new blue and white backing. I've applied a few ties.  

I did not cut the thread - just moved on to the next yarn tie

     I love how wool yarn ties “ball up” when washed so after completing that process and applying, by machine, an acceptable binding, the reborn quilt was ready for the wash. I discovered by pre-soaking that it was quite dirty. Who knows when it had last been washed. Then I tossed it in the washing machine with soap and agitation followed by the dryer, on hot.

Success! The hoped for results. 
Before and after washing


36" square

     By now you may be thinking, is she NUTS?  I’ve asked myself that question more than once. But I have to tell you, I feel good about doing this. Remember, this is not "restoration". This is not a museum quality piece. This is repair. Good old mending. It's what woman over hundreds of years have done to extend the life of clothing, quilts and other textiles. That's all it is -  but this little quilt is going to Goodwill and who knows where from there? I believe someone will find a use for it. Maybe it will end up overseas helping someone in a disaster area. Maybe it will warm the knees and heart of a wheelchair patient at the care facility down the road. I don’t know. But I believe and  I take comfort in knowing that a part of Agnes’s quilt, and thus Agnes, lives on, ready to serve; ready for new adventures.


  1. What a wonderful story! This brightened my morning.

  2. Thanks, Jan! Good to hear from you.

  3. I think your Aunt Agnes would be thrilled with what you have done. To us quilters, quilts are almost living things. She would be glad her quilt has become this lovely new one.

    1. Thanks Pam. I agree. She would be very pleased.

  4. Good save! Way to go. I hate to see an old quilt lost too.

  5. Wonderful! In my minds eye, I can see you working away in your studio.


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