Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Can this quilt be saved?

When we were up in New York for the holidays, we had a lovely brunch at the home of one of my wife's best friends, Kim ... who also happens to be one of my good friends, since she and Mrs. Quilt Dad were college roommates when I first met them both. In fact, it was Kim who played a key role in convincing my wife to go out with me in the first place, so I guess you can say I am somewhat indebted to her!

That's why I was happy to help Kim out when she asked me for some advice ...

Can this quilt be saved?

As we were getting ready to leave her house after brunch, she asked us to hold one for a minute while she ran upstairs to grab something. She brought down a small, folded up bundle of fabric which, when opened, revealed the well worn (and torn) baby quilt you see above.

She explained that this quilt was her husband's baby quilt, a sentimental family heirloom from his childhood that was very important to him. But, as you can see, the quilt was ... ahem, well loved. It was stained, had holes in the top, inconsistent stitching throughout, and the borders and backing were completely shredded, exposing old and worn out batting. It was wrinkled & puckered, and the colors were severely faded in the creases.

Can this quilt be saved?

She asked if I had any thoughts or ideas of how to preserve the quilt, and although I've never tried my hand at deconstructing and reviving old quilts, I agreed to take it home with me and take a look ...

Can this quilt be saved?

This post was originally intended to ask you all for advice, but I was so eager to dive in that I am already several steps in to the process! Here's what I've done so far:
  • Completely deconstructed the quilt by picking out ALL of the quilting stitches.
  • Cut off the borders and backing, and threw it all away (along with the batting).
  • Hand washed and gently pressed the main panel, taking care to flatten out all of the wrinkles and puckers.
  • Adhered a layer of thin fusible interfacing to the back of the main panel. I felt that it really needed to be stabilized because the fabric was paper thin in parts, and I was afraid it would basically disintegrate with any further handling.
  • Selected a bunch of gorgeous oliver + s prints (from the City Weekend and Modern Workshop lines) to complement the panel. In my head, I was always planning on buying some 30's reproduction fabrics for this project, but the colors in these prints were a near-perfect match for the panel, and I fell in love with the idea of giving it an updated contemporary-yet-vintage vibe.
oliver + s prints for a special baby quilt project

I've added several borders to the panels using these prints, and I am thrilled with how it looks. As soon as I can pick up some fresh batting, I'll quilt and bind it and send it back up to New Jersey so that Kim can surprise her husband with it. I hope they're happy with my approach to bringing their family heirloom back to life!

29 comments:

  1. It's beautiful. You have done what I would have done to 'save' it. What a beautiful keepsake they will have.

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  2. I love that main panel. I probably wouldn't have added any modern fabrics, just saved what was there and then probably attached some plain borders.

    The question is really this: are we saving the quilt for memories or for future use? If it's memories, my approach would be much different than if it were for actual usage.

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    1. I agree...the memory they want mat be to have it look the same...a restoration instead of a remake. They might e upset to see a "new" quilt.

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  3. I really want to see what you do with this. I have my husbands tattered baby quilt very similar to that one stashed in the trunk of sentimental stuff. I'd love to make it into something that will last another generation!

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  4. She will be thrilled I'm sure too!

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  5. What a wonderful post, Quilt-Dad! Looking for a new post with photos about the project going-on! (Hoping my baby-quilt-gift will be loved sooooo well! :)

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  6. I can't wait to see what you do with this too! I have a hand quilted blanket that was made by my grandmother. It's got to be at least 50 years old! The batting is clumped and powdery/disintegrated inside. While nothing is torn, the fabric is very thin, but I would love to revitalize it! My grandmother was born in 1912, so she would have been 100 years old this year! Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Nice one! I've rescued things before that I thought were beyond repair.. just takes a little imagination eh?

    Actually I'll be picking one of these up soon.

    Can't wait for the reveal!

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  8. unpicking stitches...wow! I am completely impressed and inspired to remake a memory quilt I made my husband for our first Christmas while we were dating, 40+ years ago. It is not in disrepair, just not made well and quilted properly. Your friend is lucky to have your talents to help her out.

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  9. I have a quilt my mom made when I was 8 its 34 years old and the binding is all fallen off. I have also thought about fixing it. My son loves it and has used it on his bed the last 10 years he and I both claim it as mine. I started quilting a month ago and the first thing I did is made him his own quilt so I could get mine back. I was thinking to just cut off the borders that is falling apart leaving the batting and back and adding a new back and just machine quilt it back together (it was originally tied and the pom poms my mom is most proud of still are in good order and plan to leave them) Glad you brought this up going to have to think about that.

    http//richardquilts.blogspot.com
    Make sure you stop by and put your guess in my quilt givaway by guessing my babys B-day or Birth Weight.

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  10. wow, what and amazing (and scary!) job to do. I'm sure you'll do an amazing job and I can't wait to see the finished quilt brought back to life. I'm sure your friends will be thrilled with it too.

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  11. John, I think you're on the right track. I would only add that maybe wash several times the fabrics that you're adding just to give them a more worn look to match the front a little better.

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  12. whoa. i think i have that fabric in my stash!!!
    probably from a garage sale!!
    sounds like you did a great job saving that quilt!

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  13. Fusible interfacing what a great solution for thin fabric! Hope you put pics up of the finished quilt:)

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  14. You are THE MAN! I have a baby quilt from my son that I repaired twice and it was still so loved that it is in pieces again. (New tears and wearing each time). I really want to see this when you are done!

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  15. I'm looking forward to seeing a photo of how this turns out. Sounds like quite a bit of work!

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  16. That is so awesome. Please please please post a final photo!

    When my niece was nine, I re-purposed her baby blanket into the batting of a new quilt. The top had disintegrated to the point of no return, and she was upset about losing her blankie.

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  17. I love "saving" quilt stories, and it's even better that it's for a close friend. I love your ideas and the steps you've taken. Can't wait to see it in all its refurbished contemporary/vintage glory.

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  18. For future reference you could have tried soaking the top in "Restoration" it gets out many stains and brightens up the fabric. I'm sure your friend and her husband will love anything you have done to save the quilt.

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  19. John, perhaps you should put a picture of the original on the back of the revived quilt and it will preserve the memory for the family. Of course, you may already have thought of this.

    The colors are so vivid in the panel! Oh you, guys must all be youngsters! :)

    I do love your choice of fabrics and I hope you show us all a picture of the revived quilt when you finish. I think it will be spectacular.

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  20. That is a beautiful fabric panel. I would have done exactly as you have. Can't wait to see it finished. I have re-lined my son's baby quilt (a gift) three times and finally re-bound it. He is now seventeen.

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  21. Well go on, show us a few blooming photos of them.

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  22. I was told once that when restoring an old quilt you never remove you only add? Now I have never done this so I don't know what is 'right' and 'wrong' but I can't wait to see what you do with this!

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  23. I think your restoration plan is solid, especially if your goal is to get something usable at the end. A couple years ago, I did a similar thing to a couple of quilts my husband's mother made. She had used old sheets for the backing (no batting) and hadn't quilted the final product, so by the time they came to me, the backs were shredded. For one of them, (here), I didn't remove the backing, just added batting and new backing then tied it and bound it. The second one (here and here) had a torn center panel on the front as well a tattered back. I pieced a new center panel, added batting and backing, tied and bound. Both quilts are now in regular use in our living room and are loved anew for snuggling under while watching movies.

    I have two others which I need to write up and post. One is a crazy quilt (top only, lots of hand stiching) that I have inexpertly guessed dates from the 1940s. A family member picked it up at a garage sale, but it's so clearly got mementos of it's original family in it that I'm hoping I can find it's true home. The other has paperwork with it and is an unfinished signature block quilt from the 1890s. It's in good shape but it's age makes me want to find it a historical society home instead of putting it into regular use. Perhaps I could drop you a line when I get these photographed and posted and you could ask your network for advice/recommendations?

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  24. oh I really want to see it finished!! Cool!

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  25. I agree with Jennifer and Beth...I don't know specifically what they requested but, as much as I think quilts should be used, I would have 'eternalized' it in a shadow box. Still curious to see what you did though!

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  26. you have definitely put a ton of work and love into the project. you're great friend. and this will be some surprise for sure! a good surprise? or a not-so-good surprise? it won't have that smushie feeling it used to have and it won't look like the original anymore. i hope kim knows what she was doing when she planned the surprise. to be honest, i don't think i would like that surprise sprung on me, no matter how great it turned out. not trying to rain on your parade, just another opinion here.

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  27. Just a caution...you might want to talk to a professional quilt appraiser beforehand as some quilts(like the signature one in an earlier comment that came with papers)should not be altered as it can decrease the value.
    Some quilts may have been chewed on by critters as the borders seem to be on the pictured quilt and may need to be professionally cleaned. (moths and some other bugs like to feed on natural and or treated fabrics depending on the flavor).
    Other quilts or fabric heirlooms are best preserved as is in shadow box type frame by a professional framer.
    Rather than surprise someone you might want to ask their preference before irreversable damage.
    These are just a few things to consider beforehand but I also do appreciate the work and attention to detail spent on a loving restoration. These are some but not all the things you might consider if you are asked to help save a special lovey for your loved one.
    One last option a modern duplicate is also a good idea as we all need an excuse to buy more fabric and create more quilts.

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