Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of collecting or repairing vintage and antique quilts. Most of the time, these ventures filled me with joy. Occasionally, there were disappointments. But always, I learned something.
Several years ago I was commissioned to complete a quilt that had been started 60 years earlier. There were 45 redwork blocks beautifully embroidered, and enough vintage muslin to make a bed-sized quilt.
|Here’s another example of a vintage quilt where the back interested me more
than the front. I will treasure this piece: the comics are actually dated 1976.
Before my client left, she pulled five log cabin squares from her purse that she found in the trunk with her grandmother’s unfinished quilt. My heart stopped. The fabrics were clearly very old–some were made before the turn of (the last) century and had still retained their color and vibrancy.
When I turned them over, I had another moment of discovery: the blocks had been foundation-pieced on salt bags, all from New England and New York. The fronts of the blocks were beautiful, but it was the back of the work that made them worthwhile and told their history.
Another time, I snagged a pretty little antique quilt my friend was about to give away. It was composed of 24 hand-stitched 4″ wool log cabin blocks, with strips about 1/2″ wide. I could see indigo foundation fabric through the moth holes; there was a sweet sateen ruffle around the edge that has faded from cherry red to light pink. It must have been a doll quilt for some very lucky child.
I had lots of ideas for what to do with this darling textile, but first, it needed washing. It was quite dirty, so I let it soak in a pot of gentle detergent at room temperature.
|The pretty antique quilt–before washing. I had hoped to re-fashion the blocks into a new quilt design, but it was not to be.|
The results were…interesting. Lots of dirt washed out of the fabric, as well as lots of red dye. All of the fabric on the back disintegrated, probably due to the mordant breaking down the fibers. The fabric literally shredded, and much of it was in a lump at the bottom of the pot.
The ruffle–the source of the leaching dye–was now badly faded.
Washing had been absolutely necessary, but the clean antique quilt was not nearly as pretty as the dirty version. On the other hand, some aspects improved: the wool fabrics now had texture and were beautifully fulled and enough indigo fabric remained to help date the piece.
Lessons were learned, and I was able to salvage enough of the fabric to use in future projects, so all was not lost.
Quilt collecting can be enormously educational and rewarding. And viewing and researching quilts from the past can help you create your own contemporary quilt patterns.
Expert Bill Volckening has a collection of nearly 250 examples made between 1760 and present day and will present a live online web seminar, Quilt Collecting 101: 250 Years of American Quilts, January 14, 2015.
Bill says: “If you love eye candy, this web seminar is for you. American quiltmaking is such a vibrant, creative field, and I have been lucky to handle some of the most extraordinary quilts made throughout the ages. In the process of sharing my collection I discovered quiltmakers have an insatiable appetite for old quilts because the quilts are full of wonderful ideas.”
I wouldn’t miss Bill’s presentation, and I hope you’ll join us! Register now to see Quilt Collecting 101 live, or to receive a video and audio recording of the presentation you can watch at your convenience, again and again.
P.S. Do you collect antique or vintage quilts? Do you have a favorite story? Leave it in a comment below.
Join Bill Volckening as you explore American quiltmaking throughout history.