Restoring an Antique Quilt

Fabric worn completely away in many places on the block...

Over a year ago, I received this antique quilt from someone who asked if it was worth saving. Of course it was! The background fabric is in great condition and is so soft from years of use.

I love the unique mix of blunt and pointed blades

I brought it along last summer on our tour of the Rockies, and enjoyed the lovely weather and great scenery while lounging in my lawn chair at campsites on lazy evenings. I don't know how much time I spent unpicking all those blades, but it was very time-consuming.

The original cotton thread had been worn completely away in some seams, and the quilting rarely had a run of 5 inches without thread disintegration. It was sad to be pulling out someone's hard work - there was ditch quilting on every blade, each block had crosshatch quilting in the background, and the sashing had a diamond chain motif - all hand sewn.

the newly finished quilt

But with every stitch I pulled out, I could see this quilt reinvented for a second life. I posted about the colour choices for the quilt here.

Originally, I wanted to preserve the same block style and use the pointed blades, but some were in bad shape at the point, and there was no extra fabric to pull from.

detail of the new block

I used my Easy Dresden ruler and pieces cut at 5 inch long to make the blades. This made the Dresden a bit bigger than the original, but it was not too big for the background block.

lovely view of several blocks

I used prints from several different sources, probably half are from Connecting Threads lines between 2011-15. There's also some RJR, Cranston Printworks, and some unlabeled scraps that worked together well.

the new top edge of the quilt

I also had to modify the edging. The original quilt had the prairie points around the entire perimeter. Over time, several of these points had fallen off, and many more were in tattered shape due to a very small seam allowance that had torn the triangles loose.

I unpicked the edge and removed the points from the worst side (the one with the most missing pieces) and tried to reassemble the remaining sides evenly. This was very difficult because in many places there was barely an 1/8 inch seam for the prairie point to attach. I decided to take a more generous seam allowance on the whole perimeter, which would secure the points better. As a result when sewing down the second side of the edge, there was an issue with seam allowances again. Don't look too closely because nothing is even and there are tucks! If this were a project with no time or financial constraints, I would have hand bound the edges to make the stitches invisible and I could have fudged any seams and tucks that needed addressing.

simple quilting in the background of the block

To save time, I didn't remove all the old quilting, just the quilting over top of the original blades. Unfortunately because the thread was worn out in so many places, I had to try to coverup those bits and secure the quilt.

I decided an all-over loopy meander at a 3/4 to 1 inch spacing would add enough texture to mask any of the original quilting and also reinforce the seams on the blocks. In every spot that I found a gap in the seams between block and sashing, I spent extra time carefully stitching figure 8s and twists across the holes. It isn't the most perfect fix, but it will give this quilt another 20 years of use.

original quilt, as received
restored quilt

I am happy with the look of this restored quilt. I can only estimate the deconstruction phase at 50 hours - it took a long time to pull out all those stitches and fabric! The fabric prep, cutting of blades and sewing of the new blades and quilting took 21 hours. I skipped the basting step because there was enough original quilting to hold the layers roughly together, but there is one area that has noticable tucks on the back.

I think she's a lovely reincarnation of her former self. And this quilt is definitely a girl with her fine hand stitching and wonderfully soft worn background fabrics :)

I really enjoyed this experience of restoring an antique quilt. I hope she finds a great home!


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