Repair & Restore: Giving Old Quilts New Life

Monkey WrenchBefore an old quilt is repaired and restored, I study the quilt, checking the sections of the quilt that need repair.This Monkey Wrench quilt needs to be repaired next. Before I begin, I examine borders, binding, and patches for tears and worn portions. Examining the quilt in its entirety helps to understand the amount of work involved. Often, there are sections of the quilt that are more worn than others. There may also be one particular fabric that has not performed well throughout the quilt.

Before I begin the task of giving an old quilt new life, the approximate date of the quilt needs to be determined.  This will help when sorting through my collection of old cotton fabrics. I will choose fabrics from the same era of the quilt being repaired or restored, and knowing the approximate date of the quilt will be helpful when choosing whether or not certain antique cottons can be used or not.

Jacobs Ladder QuiltOne quilt that I purchased to repair was a Jacob’s Ladder quilt. I loved the colorplay of the patchwork in this scrappy quilt and the quilt was cheerful to me. This Jacobs Ladder is dated circa 1945 and repairs to this quilt included a new binding and 12 new patches appliqued over the old, worn triangles. This twin size quilt was a pleasure to repair, and after giving this old quilt new life, I have added the quilt to my personal quilt collection.

Shaw Family QuiltsPinwheels

A very special quilt that I restored came from my husband’s grandmother. She made three matching scrap Pinwheel quilts for her grandchildren during the 1950s, and one needed to be repaired. The task was a large one due to the wadded batting that needed to be completely removed. Since the quilt was hand-tied the job was not too difficult — but the entire quilt had to be disassembled to its separate layers. A new backing replaced the tattered, old blue cotton fabric, but care was taken to locate the same solid cornflower blue fabric. This old quilt received a new life with the repairs made and I was very happy to have “shared stitches” with the Shaw’s grandmother than I never knew.

Monkey Wrench with Repair FabricsSince the Monkey Wrench quilt is my next quilt to repair, I have begun to study the quilt. The quilt has several blocks with badly worn cotton fabric. To make the repair to this block, new triangles will be appliqued over the old worn triangle patches. This will not only keep the quilt intact for durability, but will not disturb the original quilt. Repairing patchwork with appliqued patchwork on top ensures integrity for the quilt being repaired.

Color Choices

I bought this Monkey Wrench quilt because the patchwork and design layout were simple and the overall colors are so autumnal. I especially loved how the quilter wasn’t afraid to use the double-pink calicos with the orange calico in this quilt.

The Quilt Inside Monkey Wrench

When I began looking at the Monkey Wrench quilt to see how much repair work was involved, I discovered that there is another quilt inside this quilt. I am unsure what patchwork pattern was used in the interior quilt, but when looking into several of the block sections where fabric has worn out, it is very apparent that a double-pink geometric print has been used throughout the interior quilt. Before this quilt is repaired, a great deal of time will be spent trying to see what lies inside this quilt.
Somewhere another quilter gave an old quilt new life. How ironic that I will give this old ‘new’ quilt new life now…..

22 Responses to “Repair & Restore: Giving Old Quilts New Life”

  1. Karen Dylewski Says:

    I have been married for 25 years, one of my wedding gifts was a quilt. Almost everyone in my husbands family and my family stitched a square about something of our childhood. My mother-in-law and her quilt group quilted it and it was just beautiful, needless to say I did not save it we used it all the time. I did not realize how important this quilt is. It is our life. I want to pass it down to my children who have used it their whole life but it is worn and torn. I need to find someone to restore my heirloom.

  2. Rosalie Says:

    nice work!

  3. Carolyn Tucker Says:

    Do you know of any books currently in print and available on restoring old quilts? I have several from about 100 years ago I intend to fix. I don’t have a source for period fabrics but have studied some books showing quilts of that era and will have to use current fabrics that resemble the period ones. I found several books on Amazon but they were very expensive, must be out of print. Any information you can send will be appreciated. Thank you. Carolyn

  4. Marcia Worcester Says:

    Does anyone know how to get mildew out of old quilts? A friend of mine has an antique quilt that was stored in a plastic bag. I have not seen the quilt, but understand that it has mildew in several places.

  5. Jan Thomas Says:

    A couple of things come to mind here. First, I recommend a book, Quilt Restoration: A Practical Guide by Camille Dalphond Cognac. It features repairs you can do at home on quilts that are not important pieces or that are so complicated they need the tender touch of a conservator. Second, google Nancy Kirk and quilt. She teaches workshops on repair that deal primarily with silks like crazies but the techniques are pretty much the same. She does videos for purchase also, if you can’t make it to her sessions. Third: There is NO way to remove mildew. It is a live organism that does its damage on a cellular level of the fibers. The only thing you can do is stop the spead to other parts of the quilt by getting it out of the plastic and drying it. Most of the time the damage is not widespread and can be replaced with fabric ‘of the period’ when the quilt was made. If your friend can’t/won’t do that then she should seek the advice of a conservator. Happy repairing. jt textile historian

  6. Mary T. Bright Says:

    Thank you

  7. Mary T. Bright Says:

    I am working on a family quilt that my mother made. I has been over used and over washed and dryed. However, I sure am having fun trying to “fix” this delightful quilt. TB

  8. linda Says:

    my friend gave me an quilt that is very worn in the center star to fix for her i quilt she does not. the colors are green and pink calicos bet extremly worn so i ripped the whole stat out by hand. I would be using new fabric that i have on hand, but they wont be calicos. is it ok to just use what i have or do i need to try and use light prints? I would love to brighten up the star with vivid colors i will do it by hand since the quilt is to large to machine quilt. My question is would it look funny if i just used new fabric of my chice?? She said i can do what i want to fix it. She does not care. Im doing her a favor on my own im not going to scour fabric shops im to busy. I wondering how it would with a new star in the center and old worn out on the rest???
    Thanks

    Linda

  9. Lura George Says:

    I have two antique quilts that have been very worn out from washing and use. The batting is just about gone or is balled up inside. The one has the edge fraid. What can I do to this to repair or reuse for to something else. Thx for your time.

  10. Melanie Says:

    Thank you so much for this info! I inherited an well worn quilt that my grandmother had made. I’m assuming it is one we used as kids, though I don’t remember this exact one. It popped in my brain last night to try to restore it and I’m very grateful that I stumbled onto this page. It gave me the confidence to try to restore it!

  11. Melanie Says:

    Correction. It may have been one of my great-grandmother! Meaning it may well be over 100 yrs old. Ack! How in the world am I gonna do this!!!

  12. Trudy Kamen Says:

    Get WORTH DOING TWICE by Patricia Morris (1999), in your public library or Amazon, etc. Really interesting, great ideas.

  13. Lynn Says:

    Hi Melanie. You are so lucky to have a quilt from your great-grandmother. If you’re unsure about how to begin, you might want to take it to a quilt shop or join a guild to get some help from those who live near you. Good luck!!

  14. Lynn Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Trudy. I’ll keep an eye out for that book!!

  15. Hannah Says:

    I have a quilt that is frayed and faded, and I have no idea how to fix it. I’m terrified that I’ll mess it up if I try, because it has a lot of sentimental value to me. I think that the only reason that it’s frayed though is because it’s been used a lot, as it’s only 13 years old. I think that it just has a few very large pieces. It still needs fixed.

  16. Roger J. Picard Says:

    I found this all interesting. I Hope to learn more, thank you for all your info. I am 67 and bagan quilting by machine about 6 months ago, and people found my work to be very beaytiful, but I was ask to repair and old quilt, witch will take a great deal of time. But I did want to learn more about it.

  17. Lynn Says:

    I have a hand-stiched quilt more 100 years old. How can I wash it?

  18. Linda Jackson Says:

    I love reading about your quilts.

  19. Sissy Says:

    I have purchased a number of quilts and quilt tops over the past year and a half. they range from 50 to 75 years old. I have cleaned them and done some repairs to prepare the quilts to be re-quilted. I love to think of the people who put so much time and love into them.

  20. Sally Says:

    Hi! I am so glad I stumbled on your site. I recently took a class on repairing old quilts – I have a quilt top from my husband’s grandmother as well as a well (shall we say?) used quilt we found at a garage sale. They’ve been hanging around me for several years untouched due to my fear of hurting them. I’ve been quilting for several years (more than I like to think about) and finally decided to brave it – I LOVE doing the repairs – finding complementary fabrics, learning how to bring back brittle fabric, the calmingness (is that a word?) of the stitches and I would love to learn more, but don’t know where to start – finding your site is a great first step for me! And learning about the books, etc. Thanks! BTW our dog Brody (bearded collie) says bark to your guys : )

  21. Sally Says:

    First – sorry for the looooong post above – but second – I just looked up Quilt Restoration: A Practical Guide – YIKES – do you know way it is so expensive? Like I mean over $100 to $500 expensive? Thanks!

  22. Judy Says:

    Soo glad to find your encouraging site! GREAT GRANDMA’S QUILT WAS MADE IN TH E 1940′S. Where should I begin to look for antique fabrics. I am not clear about when I am to use the sheer fabric.

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