Needed: Vintage Quilt Top Advice.

You know I’ve been working hard on my UFO list.  The number that was chosen was #9.  This is my #9.

This is not my quilt.  The owner is a friend of mine.  She was going through her mother’s cedar chest and found it.  Her mother has passed away so she doesn’t know its origin.  She only knows that it’s a quilt top that was in her mother’s cedar chest and she wishes it was quilted.  She asked me to quilt it for her.  I told her I would look at it.

It is in poor shape.

Someone washed the top before it was quilted so there are LOTS of strings on the back.

The seams are uneven…check that out where the white fabric is…Yep.  All that is seam allowance.

The white fabric…is thin.  You can see the fabric of my ironing board cover through the fabric.

There is damage at the center.  I think that is fixable, but it’s a little more difficult because the quilt top was washed.

But…it is so pretty.  So pretty.  I adore the colors.

I can’t get it to lay flat.  you can see the seams don’t come together well.

But…it’s so pretty.  I adore the colors.  (yes, I know I already said that but it bears repeating!!)

Some tugging and pulling went into putting this together.  You can see the puckers.

The biggest problem is that it doesn’t lay flat.  Quilting it would be challenging.  I’m okay with that but…Admittedly, I’m a little nervous about it.

You can see this was a small budget quilt.  The white is pieced in so many places.

Of all the big star quilts that I’ve seen, the colors of this are likely my favorite.

This is the polka dot fabric that’s in the quilt…so cute.

So I need some advice readers…Do I try to machine quilt this?

I’m wondering if I should layer backing, batting, plain white fabric, and then then the top.

Any advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.  I love the owner of the quilt and would really like to help her keep a mom memory piece if I could.  Hmm.

60 thoughts on “Needed: Vintage Quilt Top Advice.”

  1. I have no knowledge about this, but I would call a couple of smaller perhaps local museums and ask if they have anyone with fabric conservation or restoration experience and seek their advise. I think the top needs to be stabilized before you try to do anything. It is a beauty, good luck.

    1. The people I have heard talk about tops like this say to leave it as a top. You will only do damage to it if you try to quilt it.

      1. I would advise to use a iron on stabilizer on back. Be honest w your friend and suggest possibly making a free flowing wall hanging. I have done this with other antique quilts tharmyt were just to uneven to quilt.

  2. Allison C Bayer

    I work on these old beauties all the time for myself and customer. Yes, back with a layer of either white or ecru muslin behind the quilt top, then the batting and backing. I have a cupped foot for my longarm and when I encounter a repair that is needed I slip a little bit of vintage fabric (if I have it) or closely matching newer fabric in the opening and quilt away! If the pattern misses the “repair” I’ll go back and do a wiggle stitch to catch all the raw edges. Kelly Cline with the facebook page Quilting Vintage has all sorts of great tips for taming fullness, while it is in the machine!

    1. Cheryl in Dallas

      Jo, Allison really is an expert in quilting ANYTHING that comes her way. The woman is fearless.

      I have a quilt top made by my husband’s grandmother on what looks like batiste. The top was made in her declining years when her eyesight was not very good, but it all the more precious because of that. I will use the idea of lining GG’s top with muslin before I attempt to quilt it. Thanks to all for their advice on this topic.

    2. I too have used this method on vintage tops. Minus the cupped foot. I should probably get one. I have laid the tops flat and used pressing sprays on them and let them sit a bit. It did seem to help a bit. One thing for sure is you can not guarantee the top will be square and not have a pucker or two or three. But it will be secure and useable

  3. I’ve quilted many quilts over the years like this. One trick I do is heavily starch it and let it air dry. And by heavily I mean really wet – not dripping just really wet. I use Niagara starch. Drape it over your long arm and let it dry. After quilting and binding it will need to be washed to soften it back up.

    If the white fabric is really fragile I’ve had good luck using very light weight fusible interfacing – knit fuse works really well and it’s soft. I also put small pieces of interfacing on really small seams to strengthen them.

    Good luck!

    1. Debbie, I have two quilt tops that are old like this. Would you be willing to take a look at it and possibly quilt them for a fee for me? I bought two tops at a yard sale for five dollars twenty years ago. They’ve been hanging out in a chest all that time. I really need them quilted. One has a few spots where the stitching has came apart but I bought replacement vintage fabric for the small patch jobs. I’m a beginner quilter and just don’t think I could give these tops the expertise they deserve. I’d love to discuss this further if you are interested. These beauties really need to get out of the chest and displayed.

  4. What if you used the double gauze under the top gently tacking or basting the two together then layer and quilt. Would suggest like a large flower or such. And you are right, it is wonderful.

    1. Double gauze underneath is an excellent idea. Kind of a soft trappanuto. I was thinking stitch in the ditch to stabilize the star and around the outside to square and then pleat/baste the white to fit within the space before machine quilting loose waves with spirals away from star with maybe a few ghost stars. The double gauze over a muslin stabilizer over the batting would help with giving a soft feel while letting the star colors shine.

  5. That really is Unique. Maybe the quilters first quilt as she looked forward to her wedding day? I’m not sure if my way of fixing it would be right but carefully taking apart a few of difficult seams and re sewing? To me it’s charming – mistakes and all – even the old spots. I don’t know if it’s possible to just stitch in the ditch and do a very simple meandering pattern or circles ? Love the happiness the quilter incorporated in the star with such an unusual choice of fabric.

    1. I agree. I probably would rip out the whole thing, recut the wonky parts, and either replace the white, or as some one suggested, interface the pieces. This is very labor intensive, but I don’t think quilting it will make it look any better.probably worse. It really is a beautiful quilt, and it should be cherished.

  6. I was gifted some very old quilt tops and didn’t know what to do with them. They were similar to yours with thin fabric and uneven seams. I decided to get them machine quilted to give as door prizes at our family reunion since they were given to me by an aunt. I told the quilter I didn’t care if there were nips and tucks, just quilt it so it didn’t fall apart. I wish I had close up pictures because yes, there were nips and tucks, but they were unnoticeable and the winners loved them. I used warm and white batting but I wish I would have thought about using a thin layer of muslin behind the top.

    1. Have you considered a thick wool batting and doing the star its self in “A stitch in the ditch“ letting the batting pile cover the imperfections you can also put back together places that have come lose as you go this way it is time consuming .

    2. Carolyn G. Riddle

      I would not machine quilt an old top. Instead hand quilt after clipping all loose threads and making repairs as best you can. Puckers will remain..that’s okay as that is how the maker assembled it. The main mission is to preserve it. I’ve repaired/stablilized quilt tops that are over 100 yrs old. If too fragile leave just as is…a beautiful quilt top. Perhaps frame it in archive quality way.

  7. Please save this quilt! It’s a keeper both for the memories and the fabric. I’ll be watching comments since I have a similar star project to try to rescue. I don’t longarm so was thinking I’d make it a long long hand quilting project. I don’t hand quilt either. Lol. I already got a helpful tip from this to add another layer of white/light fabric. Thanks.

  8. It looks like there may be different fabrics and it shrank uneven. If you can get the star itself flat, you could put a white sheet behind to reinforce the white, and quilt it as if the wrinkles were meant to be. May have to “arrange ” some of the puckers. Or if you want to salvage just the stars, replace the white blocks. Or even applique the the stars on separate sheeting. The color arrangement is really pretty. If you replace the white, I would make sure the new fabric is prewashed/shrunk.

  9. Virginia Grenier

    I like your idea of putting another layer of white behind it. I’ve done quilts like this before in my long-arm. I load the top – get the first pass into position and look it over to find the trouble spots and pin them, pulling and tucking as needed to make sure it looks like the seam is there. Then, because I’m meandering, I make sure that the quilting “hits” those spots just right so that the quilting holds it together. I hope that makes sense. As for the excess, meandering is also good for that, you push the extra around and make sure you don’t end up with pleats or tucks. You’ll still have some excess but it will be distributed rather than bunched into one area. I hope that also makes sense. It’s too pretty to leave undone.

  10. Kelly Kline has worked wonders with quilts such as this so check out a few of her tutorials. I would also try to open up some of the really bad seams to see if you can get them a bit flatter; unless fabric is to thin. Underlay with the muslin. So ditto the above and pray alot. It won’t be perfect but it will still be lovely.

    1. I agree – check out Kelly Cline. Her Facebook page is Quilting Vintage and she has links to videos on how to take the fullness out of quilt using longarm quilting, steam and patience!

  11. I think you need to take out some of the extra fabric by turning it over and pinning in the bulk sort of like you were taking in an oversized garment. Once done it will be flatter and hopefully easier to quilt.

    1. Virginia Grenier

      Great idea especially since Jo had mentioned that the white had been pieced anyway. Disguised as a seam would be a wonderful way to get rid of some excess.

  12. Oh Goodness…. that quilt has a lot of fullness in it and is going to be quite challenging to quilt. If your committed to quilting it, I’d definitely do a cotton and a wool batting, the extra loft will help take up the fullness. With my fluffy antique quit experience, I’d be very hesitant to take it on (I personally wouldn’t after the tears I shed on one particularly full old quilt). Could the star and the little stars be appliquéd on another top and salvaged that way?

    I wish you so much luck with whatever you choose to do. I can’t speak to adding a layer of white under the top.

    Bless your heart for wanting to save it for a friend.

  13. A Kelly Cline video on dealing with excess fabric in a quilt.

    When the white squares are quilted, tucks that are taken to control the fullness in the white will not be so noticeable. I’m sure your friend will like whatever you do as a finished quilt is better than a top buried in the closet.

  14. I am sure your friend will cherish the quilt. Small tucks or crinkles will just add to the character of the final product. It’s really charming already and will be a charming keepsake quilt. I say it’s a win win and to go for it!

  15. I wouldn’t hesitate to conquer this vintage quilt .It needs to be saved . I hand quilt with a qroup we’ve had quilts that were like this and we just stitch them and
    Believe they would work out great . Dream cotton / poly batting might help it . Just mend it where it need to be . And quilt the best you can . Smoothing it out sometimes add pins if that will help.

  16. Wow. I am impressed with the suggestions in the comments. Once you figure out a plan, you can run it by your friend so she knows the pros and cons. It is going to look terrific quilted!

  17. My hat’s off to you, Jo, for being willing to quilt this old quilt. The star is really so pretty – soooo many rows of diamonds! I hope you’ll post the finish!

  18. Go for it Jo….I have total confidence in your finding a “fix” for this, and I know you can make this shine!! I love the colors and all the different fabrics, so I really hope you are able to get some guidance to repair it and quilt it so it will last for many years to come. I have no experience in what you need to do, but I can send many positive thoughts for your success!!

  19. Sheila Fernkopf

    I see others have mentioned Kelly Kline. It would be worth to go see what she does with wonky tops. She used spray starch and steam and does tucks where it won’t show. Her Facebook page is Kelly Kline Quilting.

  20. I have loved following your Dirty Dozen progress!! My projects all seem to be small so I have no excuse to leave them unfinished!!!

  21. I don’t have any experience with repairing or quilting vintage quilts, but the different advice from the commenters here is informative. All I have to offer is – Good Luck if you decide to take it on!

  22. Margaret in North Texas

    Such beautiful star –the colors are a wonderful!! Before I read the comments. I was thinking of making it like a summer quilt. I don’t know about overall quilting. It may be too fragile for that. But I think backing the top might be a good idea and I would just tack the quilt together with the backing. This quilt is not ever going to be a lap or bed quilt. You are just preserving it to be looked at, maybe draped or on an unused bed. You got a lot of good ideas–I know you will figure the best to do.

  23. Hi. I have recently quilted a customer quilt that had a lot of fullness. She described it as having snakes the size of your arm running through it fullness. So yes I was amazed when I first saw it. So I quilted it with two batts. One cotton and one wool. This helped to easy the fullness. I also quilted it slowly and made sure to test my tensions on a sample first. Also this quilt had a fusible interfacing ironed onto the back of the quilt top and was king size. It was a beast but it did lay relatively flat when it came off the frame. It also weighed 17.2 lbs after it came off the frame. It was 110×120 in size. Oh and the quilt was a postage size quilt and was made with 1 inch squares, which is why the customer used the interfacing. The customer loved it but was warned that it wasn’t going to be perfect when done.

  24. I wonder if blocking the quilt would help it lay a bit flatter. You aren’t going to get it truely flat. Absolutely use a white fabric under the top for support. Maybe some temporary spray adhesive to hold them together for quilting. I would use fray check on those weak seams, and quilt it a lot, to hold it together. Suggest to the owner that this quilt is for pretty, not heavy use.

  25. Jo, you have some very smart followers! I’m not one, but after you take their advice and finish this beauty for your friend, please show us all your “after” pictures!

  26. That is sure pretty AND makes my clumsy beginner efforts look less disastrous because they are pretty and worth saving too ;) I love the colors I picked.
    Wonderful comments, I am learning from them.
    I can only believe that your loving heart will save this jewel.
    I currently have 17 UFOs and one finished quilt which I am cuddling under right now. I started working on UFOs. My UFO #2 had 12 completed 16 piece wonky HST blocks (squaring up? Never heard of it) are becoming gorgeous and laying FLAT now, plus I added to the design and improved it. I am piecing the back and love it too. Although I thought it was too wonky to finish, glad I only set it aside until my skillset improved. The colors are beautiful.
    I was afraid to even LOOK at my crazy UFO#1, but I may haul it out tomorrow and put it on my design wall. The squares are all different sizes and I didn’t know what to do about it. If you can save yours, perhaps I can save mine? I can’t wait to see what you do.

  27. Hi Jo
    The ladies on the Repair Shop here in England always try to retain as much of the original fabric when dealing with repairs. I’m no expert but I think your best plan would be to stabilise it from the back with some fine white fabric. I think batting would be too heavy and would pull the seams away. If the owner really wants it quilted I suggest you hand quilt it. New thread is always going to be stronger than the original thread which will again pull on the fragile fabric. If it were mine I would have it put in a frame just as it is.
    It’s so pretty what a shame the owner doesn’t know it’s history.

  28. I believe Pamela from England is the closet as to what I have heard. I know you are not into hand quilting. I have heard not to anything with tops in condition as to what you have in this quilt. Your friend should enjoy as it is.

  29. If it were my quilt, that I found and did isn’t know the origin, I would save the star and the colored trim row and appliqué the star onto a white sheet and piece in the colored trim row where it is in the original quilt. It’s the white fabric that will fall apart if left.

    1. I agree with replacing the white fabric altogether. The star could then be starched into flatness (or almost flatness), and new pieces of the white could be added. ALso redo the borders, since they really don’t reflect the artistry of the quilter, just the color choices, which could easily be duplicated. Then the “fancy” blocks could be appliqued onto the new white pieces. The handwork of the star patchwork would be retained in a more stable fashion.

  30. My initial thought was to remove the border and then work with the squares in the corners to try to get them flat. You could take a tuck. Another thought would be to applique the star onto a piece of muslin. Definitely back it with muslin or lightweight interfacing. I am definitely not a vintage quilt restorer. I inherited a star like this but it doesn’t have the corners. Always though to applique it but its far downon the list.

  31. Judith Fairchild

    One thing I have learned in fixing old fabrics is to use old fabric of about the same weights. It’s worth the time and effort. The use of a good layer underneath would make it easier to repair.

  32. I say BLESS YOU!!!!! I cannot even imagine how to begin such a job! I am sure you will come up with something that will save the quilt for the family to enjoy, even if it drives you crazy along the way! It is not meant to be used, obviously, but just prolong it’s beautiful life. Good Luck and keep us posted on it’s progress and “after” pictures! Hugs,

  33. My first thought was to give it back to the owner. But maybe you could cut the star away from the white fabric and applique it to better fabric. Good luck. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  34. I think given the sheerness of the white I would take the star off that white and after resewing so it lies flat applique it onto other prewashed white fabric. Applique the embroideries and borders onto the new white also. Lots of work whatever you do! Good for you for tackling it!
    Jo B.

  35. I love this quilt too and admire you for taking it on. I have heard many people say that these vintage quilts should be hand quilted but unless you are working on your own quilt, having someone else do that is very cost prohibitive for the average person. I’ve seen vintage quilts machine quilted and they look wonderful and even national quilters say it’s okay to do that. Quilted is better than sitting unfinished. You have a lot of great information here and I need to remember the suggestions when it comes time for me to quilt an unfinished quilt I found in my parents’ house. I suspect it was from my grandmother but I’m not sure.

  36. I’m not a longarm quilter so I don’t know what’s possible from that perspective. If it were my grandmother’s quilt, I would think about appliqueing the star to a new muslin top, and appliqueing the little stars onto that as well. Border with a new similar purple and yellow and then quilt it all by machine. I have redone one of my grandmother’s quilts which had thin fabrics that wouldn’t have stood up to quilting as is. I took the top completely apart and re-pieced it with as many of the fabrics as I could and new sashing and background fabrics. I think grandma would have approved. Good luck whatever you decide, and I know you can do it!

  37. Mary-Kay Colman

    I like the idea of putting a white fabric behind the top before quilting. that quilt is going to require a lot of “hand surfing” to get rid of some of the puckering. I have done a few vintage quilts that were not expertly pieced and had a lot of uneveness. Seeing as I have a computerized machine, I stood there and had my hands pressing down gently around the machine as it quilted to reduce the puckering. Maybe quilt it when one of your daughters can do that while you do the quilting.

  38. I recently found a queen size quilt top and enough finished squares to do 2 more quilts in a box of fabric scraps I had stashed in a shed for at least 35 years. Much of the fabric came from scraps left over from custom sewing jobs from my mother and grandmother. I started sewing when I was about 6 yrs old. 40 years ago I was just starting to raise a family and went to work full time and eventually put all my sewing projects in storage. Last year I retired and started making quilts again. When I opened one of the boxes with some of the quilts that I started back then, I discovered rodents made a nice little home and chewed holes in one of my quilt tops. Now I’m trying to figure out how I want to repair the damaged areas. Before I could even handle it, I had to wash and dry it. I too have strings and wide seams. I have several pieces that are thin and I want to back them for stability. Lots of good ideas from others on this post… thanks. For me, quilts are to be used, so I am thinking about taking it apart, removing the damaged areas, reinforcing the thinner fabrics and maybe make it smaller.
    With that said, as fabric gets old, it dries out and machine sewing can cause damage to the delicate fabrics. Judging by the tangle of thread on the back side, I would guess that your friend’s quilt was not only washed, but dried in a dryer. I would make sure it was rehydrated before I did any sewing, repairs, etc. There is a fair amount of info out there on how to work with vintage fabric and rehydration. From the looks if the fabric designs, I would put it in the same era as my old quilts. I would definitely find out from your friend how much sentimental value is in the quilt and how much restoration or reconstruction she wants, and if she wants to show or use the quilt.

  39. Perhaps the easiest way to do it justice would be to repair it where needed, then reinforce the back with a light interfacing, and make it into a duvet cover to be filled with a thin down blanket. It would look lovely folded over a wicker sofa on a summer porch..

  40. Billi, I saw a vintage quilt top that had rodent damage. Over the chewed areas, the quilter had appliqued little mice. It was charming and acknowledged the quilt’s history.

  41. Susan the Farm Quilter

    I would definitely do a white fabric between the quilt top and the batting, as well as a fine, soft tulle over the top, to help hold it together. I would use a double batting…thick poly on the back, wool on top, to help with the fullness. I would make sure the quilting reinforced all the hand-stitched pieces of the stars and tons of quilting in the negative space. I don’t know that you would be able to get away with a panto on this one. After you have done all the repairs (I’m sure you’ll find more), I would starch the heck out of the fabric to give it more body before loading it on your LA. Looking forward to seeing how you handle the challenges of this quilt!! Honestly, it may be easier to remove the super-thin white fabric and applique the stars on a new wide backing piece of fabric and re-attach the borders!!

  42. During the 30s, thread count was significantly reduced , due to the Depression, and this piece could very well have been from that era.
    Leave it as is.

  43. Ok, I’m out in left field, but here goes.
    I was handed a worse one. I spent a week of TV watching while trimming threads, cut carefully around the star’s sides, flattened and adjusted a few seams, resewed the star to a new, better quality white background, added the already made side strips and hand quilted. Came out great.
    Promptly got handed 4 more.

  44. I would sharpen my seam ripper! Removing that “sleazy” white quasi-gauze would be first. Salvaging the cute little stars and the two “stripes” would happen next. Many of the diamonds need mending, so I’d tend to those before using some really good quality white fabric to replace the truly awful white that is kinda attached in such a non-professional way! Of course, those cute little stars and the stripes contribute to the beauty of the BIG star, so I’d re-use all of those. I’d recommend a very neutral and/or tiny print as backing, a very dark (?navy?) binding and batting appropriate to the ultimate use of this gorgeously colored, but badly mistreated, quilt. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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