Monday, February 11, 2019

Detour: Exploratory Vintage Quilt Surgery, Or What Have I Gotten Myself Into This Time?

This quilt belongs to a friend of mine from church choir.  It was made by her grandmother, she has had it since before she was married, and it holds a lot of special memories.  She brought it to me for advice on how she could repair it herself, but I offered to do it for instead.  I knew this was going to be a can of worms and I didn't want to tell someone who is not a quilter how to take apart a treasured quilt that she might not be able to get back together again.

Vintage Quilt Top On My Design Wall
There are several places where entire patches of fabric have shredded and disintegrated, and obviously those pieces of fabric need to be replaced.  However, although I'm dating the quilt to the late 1960s to 1970s based on the fabric styles and what I know of its history, all of the fabrics have been seriously compromised by UV damage due to the quilt being used regularly as a picnic blanket over the past few decades.  

Detail of Damaged Section
The original orange backing fabric is badly shredded and torn, and my friend is ready to give up the orange anyway, so my first step was to carefully clip off all of the yarn that tied the quilt layers together at 4" intervals and then remove the binding so I could discard the old batting and backing and get a better look at the condition of the quilt top.  It was amazing to see how much brighter and darker these fabrics once were, in places where the fabric was protected by the binding or in a seam allowance.

See the Color Difference Beneath the Binding?
The whole thing is really fragile and  even the fabrics that don't have any holes or tears yet are just a tug away from a rip.  I already told my friend that I think it needs to get quilted instead of just tied this time.  First of all, I don't know how to tie a quilt and I'm not really interested in learning.  But more importantly, I want to drastically reduce the amount of stress on these fragile quilt top fabrics as much as possible.  With a tied quilt, it's too easy to grab it, shift position if you're sitting on it, or whatever and end up tugging just at the top fabric because the layers are able to shift independently of one another.  I need to strengthen this quilt from the inside out.

Quilt Was Originally Tied at Four Inch Intervals
Speaking of the inside, look at the back of the quilt top once I separated it from the batting and backing:

Back of Quilt Top, With Mysterious Seams
I don't quite know what to make of it.  I mean, I can see that it's a utility scrap quilt kind of thing and the fabrics may be garment scraps and/or bed sheets as likely as quilting cottons. And I'd classify it as a crazy quilt construction, but it's not a block construction and I can't figure out where that square seam allowance came from in the middle of the foundation fabric.  Anyway, I've been mulling this all day and I think I need to carefully snip away as much of that white foundation fabric away as possible.  For one thing, it's shredding apart.  The quilt top fabrics also shrank at different rates from the foundation fabric, so it's sagging and bagging away from the quilt top and preventing it from lying flat.  More importantly, though, I've decided that the only way to extend the life of this quilt significantly is to reinforce the weak vintage fabrics so they don't keep ripping, and I'm going to do that by fusing Jenny Haskin's Sheer Magic embroidery stabilizer to the back of the quilt top.  This product was designed for machine embroidery on delicate silk fabrics, and it's great because it's soft and filmy like a chiffon and doesn't change the hand of the fabric you're fusing it to.  I'm hoping the Sheer Magic will lend invisible strength to the quilt top fabrics even before I quilt them to new batting and backing.

Giant Hole to Repair Revealing Ripped Foundation Fabric Beneath
In the meantime, every time I handle or move this quilt top I hear another rip coming from somewhere.  Just its own weight is enough to rip it!  And if it's that fragile now, it' going to be even worse with the foundation fabric removed.  Maybe I ought to do that in sections, remove a big area of backing, fuse stabilizer to that section, and then remove more backing, rather than trying to remove ALL of the backing at once and having a giant, fragile spiderweb of a quilt top that I'm trying to fuse things to?  

My friend's husband told her she should just throw this quilt away, but as a person who makes quilts myself, I just know how much it would mean to the quiltmaker to know that her granddaughter still loves and uses this quilt so many years later.  So I'm going to do my best to make it functional again (although I'll warn them that this quilt is best enjoyed indoors and out of direct sunlight from now on).

For the patches that need to be replaced, I wanted to find fabrics that would blend into the quilt top without standing out as obviously newer or different in style.  I found some things in my stash that were possibilities, but the colors were way too bright and saturated so I bleached them.  Very happy with the results!  Do you think I can sneak a leftover scrap of Disco Kitty fabric into this quilt?  I just don't want the new patches to draw too much attention to themselves.  The goal is that, when I'm done with this and give it back to my friend, it still looks like her grandmother's quilt to her.  Not sure if the kitties draw too much attention, but those Kaffe Fassett jelly roll strips on the left look fantastic after bleaching -- they will definitely blend in with the original fabric prints.  Too bad I didn't have larger pieces of those!

Bleached Fabrics, Possible Replacement Patches
My husband is annoyed with me for taking this on right now.  He doesn't think I can get Lars's graduation quilt done on time.  But I've started it, sort of!  Last night I cut out oversize templates (1/2" seam allowances on all of the triangles) for the paper pieced flying geese arcs and put each one into a labeled quart sized plastic baggie and matched it up with the appropriate fabric.  I've got a Sit and Sew this Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM and my plan is to get as much of this quilt cut out as possible so I can start paper piecing those arcs by this weekend...  So the vintage quilt repair might have to hang out on the design wall for a bit until Lars's quilt is well underway.  It's just as well, because there's a lot about this that still needs to get worked out in my mind, like do I patch the giant holes in the quilt top before or after removing the base fabric and stabilizing the fabrics that I'll be stitching into with the new patch?

And so, I'm linking up with To Do on Tuesday at Stitch All the Things, and I'm setting a GOAL for this week: My goal is to get all of the triangles cut out for Lars's graduation quilt!  All of the pieces for all 48 blocks, all cut out and in the proper baggies so that I can work on paper piecing at Saturday's Sit and Sew!


SJSM said...

That is quite a challenge you took on. I’ve had to repair a quilt I made in in 1977-78. It was made if fabrics from the day and a lot was polyester or blends. Not at all what is considered appropriate materials today. Fortunately I did have a few orphan blocks I had not used int the quilt and used those. Not being used outside this was okay. They were a bit brighter but not too bad. The layout is now different as the blocks replaced had to be from what I had and not originally intended. I’ve been thinking that the future repairs should be crazy quilted to show intentional repair and not try to match the original fabrics as they are all gone. It still isn’t done as I’m not convinced. My mom hand quilted the quilt so I really don’t want to take it completely apart. There is polyester batting. Again, I’m not sure if I should just patch over that area or pad with a light weight batting that is fussy cut to fill in or use a muslin type of approach. It is not the top of my priority list so sits in a cedar chest waiting it’s turn for inspiration.

What you have taken on is much more detailed and fragile. Bleaching the fabric is quite an inspiration. It will take some real thought and time which it sounds like the owner is more than willing to wait. It’s amazing what we decide to do at times. You will find a way to make it happen and the owner will never know all the challenges. If I was the owner I would treasure the pictures you are taking as much as the finished project. Knowing how grandma put it together by peeking inside would be a nice addition to the memories.

Good luck and enjoy your sit and sew.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I have repaired two old quilts now and you have taken on a job for sure. The first quilt I did didn't need a lot of repair it was not used outside and mainly had been folded and put over a chair - the binding needed to be redone and a couple patches to the end. I tea dyed fabric to get it antique enough. One the second quilt I had to do some patchwork and again I tea dyed and clipped out pieces and sewed them back in place and hand quilted matching the stitch work. I wouldn't want to tie a quilt - I think I know how to do it but don't care for it.
Just work on your son's quilt first and fit this in between we all know we need those breaks now and then from the main quilt we are working on

Jenny K Lyon said...

That is a LOT of work! You are so kind.

Shelina (formerly known as Shasta) said...

Wow I wouldn't know how to repair a quilt like that, having done nothing like that. Is it possible to keep the foundation and fuse a stabilizer on the foundation to protect both layers?

chrisknits said...

Whoa, what a challenge is before you. Good luck with it and Lars quilt!

JustGail said...

Wow, what a project! This must be a very good friend. At my current abilities and no experience, I'd probably suggested to her to baste it to a backing fabric, like a sheet. This would support the whole quilt. And then fold it carefully for display only.

Does it really need to be returned to a full quilt? What about making it into a "summer quilt". Add a sturdy well washed and preshrunk fabric (maybe a bed sheet?) backing to the whole thing. Then quilt it fairly closely. My thinking is keeping it as light as possible would help reduce stress on the old fabrics. And for the bits that are totally shredded and need replacing, don't forget to look at the back side of the fabrics you're considering. That may blend in to the faded ones.

Ann said...

I remember reading once that fabric, once bleached, continues to deteriorate unless the the bleach is neutralized. I think WikiHow has a page describing solutions to soak fabrics for about 10 minutes and wash and rinse well. Good luck on the project. It is more that I would take on. Any chance you could look for an assortment of fabrics with the same floral/vintage feel and make a nice, new quilt?

Vivian said...

You were wonderful to offer your services and it does sound like a challenging project. I agree that if the owner isn't in a hurry, focus on the graduation quilt and just steal moments here and there on this one until it can move up into the priorty project position. I also agree with JustGail: what does the owner plan to do with it now: use it or just cherish it (in which case maybe they can assist you with some of the work on this which will make it even more meaningful for them)? I think what you've already found is enough to advise against using it. That leaves it open to maybe be just have a portion of it framed (with a picture of the maker?) or made into a wallhanging as a momento, saving a lot of repair work. Or make it into a smaller useful item like a pillow or journal or keepsake box cover using one of the stronger areas or the owners favorite fabrics for that. If it must be a full quilt, I had the same question as Shasta Matova: can that stabilizer be attached to the foundation? Quilting it will keep the top fabrics from shifting and forming more stress tears so attaching it to the fabrics themselves may not be needed. I had not heard of that stabilzer, have to check that out and love your bleaching fabrics idea -- also try using the backs of fabrics for a similar effect. Good luck, I think you are going to really enjoy this journey!

Christine Slaughter said...

What a wonderful gift to repair such a treasured quilt. I'm fascinated by the process and will be interested in seeing how the repair goes. I wouldn't have a clue where to start, so I'm looking forward to learning!