I need advice on restoring an old quilt!

11 February 2013

About 6 months ago, my Dad brought me an old quilt that was made by my great-grandmother sometime between the years of 1927-1935.  It's the only quilty thing that I have from any previous generations of my family.  None of the ladies in my family were big into anything regarding fabric while I was growing up.  Therefore, this quilt means so much to me, because it is one of very few pieces that I have that links us together in a creative way.  But this quilt is in desperate need of some serious help!

Some pieces are torn, and there are a few stains here and there.

 And as you can see, it wasn't quilted but it was tied.  

I am prepared to spend a lot of time on this restoration if I have to.  I want to try and keep the integrity of this piece in tact!  So here are my concerns.  

1. It looks like the quilt was made from old men's dress shirts, finding fabric to match might be really difficult.  Where can I find the right fabric?  Thrift stores, maybe?
2.  I would like to cut all of the ties so that I would be able to quilt this, but I am afraid that there would be permanent holes in the fabrics where the ties currently are located.
3.  Would machine quilting hurt the quilt at all?  Will the quilt top hold up under the stress of machine quilting?  Or should I try old fashioned hand quilting?
3.  The quilt does not have batting and the binding is folded over from the backing.  Is quilt shop quality cotton fabric going to be bad to use for the backing?  Will the quilting be difficult with the use of different materials?

The fabrics are extremely thin, so I don't plan on using this on a daily basis.  Once it's repaired, I will probably hang it on a quilt rack in my bedroom. 

So do you have any advice?  Have you ever restored or repaired a quilt on your own?  Are there are dangers that are lurking nearby that I haven't thought of?  I want to do this right!  Feel free to point me in the right direction, because this is uncharted territory.


  1. I have no advice other than to research well before acting. You may want to take it to a quilt appraiser?

    I have quite a few antique and family heirlooms that need some restorative love. But I like them torn :) and hole ridden.

  2. If it is fragile I would not try it on a machine. Hand work would definitely be the route I'd go.

  3. I have a quilt that my husband's great grandmother made, its hand quilted. I have thought about trying to fix it, it has some worn fabrics and small tears. But I have decided to leave it as is. For me, its not to be used, just cherished for now. For what it was and what it is. So sorry, no advice, but I wish you luck!

  4. What a wonderful gift! You're very lucky to have such a neat tie to the past. Like others, my only real advice is to proceed slowly. It's not going to fall apart overnight, so you've got time to think about how to approach it.

    You might consider checking into any museums near you (I don't know where you're located). If they're a friendly place, they may have some knowledge of caring for antique textiles that they are willing to share. I also checked on the website for the International Quilt Study Center (I only know of its existence because I went to school at the university where it is housed!) and they had a few links about caring for antique textiles. I didn't read them, so I don't know if they apply exactly to your questions, but they might be worth checking out. You can see them here: http://www.quiltstudy.org/about_us/questions_answers/care.html

    Good luck!

  5. I was going to recommend the International Quilt Study Center also, but Catherine beat me to it.

  6. Lori, I would suggest that you mend this quilt as it is and make a replica with all the changes you are planning. If you take out the ties, and replace fabrics and add binding and change the back it will no longer be the ancestral quilt and I am guessing that when you are my age you will truly regret it. Make a lovely copy, get out your needle and hand mend those bits and add in a few fabrics if there are true holes, wash it carefully (bath tub or delicate cycle) and if need be add some new ties. Treasure it as a blast from the past.

  7. Lori, leave that quilt ALONE! Hang it on your quilt rack and look at it lovingly every time you pass it.....I love Leanne's idea of recreating it with current fabrics.....

  8. i have a similar item, i cut it apart and made pillow tops for each of my sisters so we all have piece of my aunt's quilt. i used the parts in the best condition.

  9. Lori,
    All of the advice you received is very interesting. I like the idea of keeping it as is, hanging it on your quilt rack and making a replica. Of course, it is yours to do with as you wish, but it makes sense to treasure the original as a special piece from the past. Whatever you decide, your Dad and I are very proud of all of your creations.


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