Last month I helped my cousin, Bonnie, make her family heirloom complete. She had given me the top months ago, but traveling and teaching kept me from getting it finished. Her county fair in July made it a priority! All of the bits and pieces of embroidery were done by her mother, Mildred. She used a churn dash block to frame the beautiful work done by her mother over many years. Her mother, my aunt, was a prolific embroiderer and quilter. There is no pattern to this quilt. Maybe these photos will inspire you to gather your family heirlooms into one big beautiful quilt!
Bonnie is the maker on the right and I know her mother is smiling from heaven!
I adore old quilt tops. Antique, vintage, ancient, or old, whatever you like to call them! They are cool! A lot of the attraction for me is the fabrics from the early 1900’s. I can spend hours just looking over ever part of an old quilt. The technique also attracts me. Simply cut with scissors, most likely patterned around a piece of cardboard, then often hand stitched piece by tiny piece to create a WHOLE quilt! I’m astounded by it all!
I stopped at an antique store, Fleas An Tiques, in Independence, KS, last week and found this treasure. It was half price! I absolutely had to have it for $12.50! I’m going to take you through the process from found treasure to a usable quilt. I always feel the maker is smiling down on me when the quilt is finished!
I knew right away from the musty smell that it would need a bath! Most of these old tops I can’t even touch or work on the machine until I have soaked them overnight. I have a terrible mold allergy! I first soaked this one in Retro Clean, which can be found on Amazon or sometimes in quilt or antique shops. It will take out age stains, yellowing, and give the fabrics a general brightening. You notice I said SOAK, not wash! Never agitate a top that hasn’t been quilted, you will have massive amount of fraying and you take the chance that the whole top will fall apart.
Retro Clean will only take out stains, not the mold and mildew. This one had a second day soak in an ammonia water bath. I mix 1 part ammonia to 5 parts water. Except for bleach (which you wouldn’t want to use), ammonia is the only thing I know of to actually remove mold spores. I do this soak for another 24 hours at least. There have been times I’ve had to do a 2 or 3 day ammonia soak because a top is so mildewed. My nose never lies!
After a multiple rinse, I gently squish out all the water I can, then take it to the grass. Yes, smack dab on top of the grass! The ozone rays of the sun and the chlorophyll in the grass will brighten and whiten a fabric. I give that about a day in the sunshine.
This top is a mix of feedsacks, shirt cottons, and just your average bits of clothing. You can almost see the worn blouses, pants, baby blankets, and family wardrobes that are mixed together in a quilt like this. That’s the fun! I swear I even see the fabric from my grandpa’s boxer shorts! Can you imagine not having the fabric resources that we have now? This reminds me that life was certainly different 100 years ago! Women were frugal and used every bit of what they already had. I’m sure my closet alone could make a dozen quilts!
You can see from the back that someone worked diligently on the piecing. Would we even begin to piece a quilt top by hand? I find hand stitching to be mesmerizing and intriguing. Hand piecing does cause a few issues in modern day machine quilting, but nothing that can’t be worked out!
I do give these tops as good a press as possible, always from the top. There really is no way to press as we do nowadays, seams pressed a certain direction. I try to get them as flat as possible, always using a good spray starch.
There are also the random holes. Since these are not collectible, heirloom quilt tops, I am usually looking for a quick fix. I use a piece of fusible interfacing and any piece of cotton to make a patch on the underside.
Once I’ve soaked, shined, fixed and pressed, it’s finally time for the quilting. Let’s go!
I load a backing on my longarm, a Handi Quilter Fusion with Pro-Stitcher computer. On these particularly wavy tops, I usually choose a 100% polyester batting, this one is Hobbs brand. The fluff of the polyester tends to fill in the excess fabric, eliminating any stitched in wrinkles.
The next important tool is my Glide foot by Handi Quilter! I couldn’t quilt so many of the things I quilt if I didn’t have this foot! It’s magic for me! On these lumpy, bumpy, uneven tops, this foot glides over everything. It’s easy on, easy off with a quick flip of my allen wrench. I can pop my regular hopping foot on at any time.
I start by basting a horizontal line across the top of the quilt using the channel locks on my machine. This locks the machine in a horizontal position. I manipulate the top with one hand while moving the machine with the other.
After I have a line across the top, then I do a vertical line down both sides. Once again, I use the option on my machine called a vertical lock. I manipulate the fabric as much as possible to the vertical line. Both of these locks will square the quilt as much as possible while it’s on the frame.
I keep a spray bottle of water at my side, using it to spray the top, keeping it pliable and easily manipulated.
Another tip, when choosing a design for these busy tops, choose an all over design. Custom quilting on anything like this is really not even possible and would be lost. I look for a dense and flowing design, something that will secure a lot of seams and give the quilt strength. On these beauties, I’m looking for some great texture. I chose a digital design by Susan Mallett, called “Paisley”.
While I’m working each row, I often run into excess fabric that can actually be flattened with a good can of spray starch and a steam iron. You can see a quick video here on how I do that, but simply, spray your starch over the fabric, then run a steam iron (mine is a cordless Panasonic) over the area. You will see almost an immediate tightening of the fabrics. FYI, this only works on cottons.
The last row definitely tells the true shape of the quilt. Sometimes, you can try as hard as you might, but you can’t make a wonky quilt, square. I get very close though 😉
I did one more soak in ammonia water after the quilting. I realized when I started to put on the binding that I had used an estate sale fabric for the backing, which meant mold and mildew. I couldn’t work with it again until I soaked that fabric! Dang!!
Finally, I stitched on the binding. I usually don’t tell anyone this, but binding may be my favorite part of the quilt. Honestly, I love to hand stitch.
I hope you were inspired by this post to finish an old quilt. If everyone reading this did just one, think how many quilts we would have!!! Have a wonderful day!
Just what you’ve asked for and so many have waited for! Finally, a video that shows you how I approach quilting vintage linens on the longarm. Thanks to Handi Quilter, who recently filmed a 45 minute segment on this process. I hope you enjoy the episode and don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you are interested in my rulers or lectures/workshops, find those tabs for more information. Thanks for visiting!
I was thrilled for my first entry EVER to win a 2nd place ribbon over the weekend! What a treat! Entered in the new, VINTAGE category, at UQSM, in Sandy, UT.
The front quilting really created a wholecloth on the back of the quilt. LOVE IT!
And that second green ribbon? Even more super thrilled because it was for, “Teacher of the Year”! Let’s just say I had a great weekend! Thanks to all of you who follow my journey!
“Champagne and Caviar”, is the title I’ve given to this spectacular quilt! It began as a 100 year old, silk embroidered tablecloth, purchased from an estate sale. Unfortunately, I have no information about the maker, who is the major artist on this work!
This tablecloth was incredible when I found it! Exquisite handwork comprised of drawn thread work and a padded satin stitch using silk thread. Seriously incredible because the maker essentially DOUBLE embroidered this piece. First, with a white cotton floss to create a trapunto effect, then she stitched over the first embroidery with silk floss. Of course, pictures don’t do it justice. I will hope you might see it in person someday!
To begin this quilt, which is 75″ square, I stitched around every bit of embroidery and thread work. I backed the entire piece with white satin to give it a subtle sheen. I used the new Glide Cream color, 60 weight thread for the outlining. It’s a great super fine, polyester thread. There is a double batting in this quilt, Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 on the bottom and Hobbs 100% wool on the top. This gives the quilt fabulous loft and a trapunto effect.
I started in the middle, knowing this focal point would be an important part of the quilt. I used Handi Quilters’ Preview Paper, which is a sturdy, clear plastic to audition and play with designs. You can see what I decided on in the next photo. LOVE preview paper!!!
I worked different areas of this quilt depending on each days’ mood! I stayed on this for over a month, maybe 250 hours, which is really impressive if you know me! I get tired of working on the same thing and often hop from project to project. This was actually fun and I could hardly wait to get up every morning and work on something different.
At one point I realized I would need to start doing some embellishing as I quilted, so that I would make a show deadline. Yikes! Thank goodness I use Red Snappers, which made the loading process take just a few minutes each morning. I spent my evenings beading and my days, quilting!
Maybe the most difficult decision I had, was to eliminate some of the makers’ embroidery. It was the only part of this pristine piece that had some wear. I either had to repair the work that was missing or take it out completely. I spent many evenings taking out her work, which made me feel terrible. Once the quilt was finished, I loved that I made that decision!
A few more pictures of my process. This quilt is off to the Utah Quilting and Sewing Marketplace show in Sandy, Utah. It can be seen live and in person from May 4-6 at the South Towne Expo Center. Later this summer, it will hang at the Kansas City Regional Quilt Festival, held June 15-17, in Overland Park, KS. Finally, it will hang in an exhibit titled, “Gilding the Lily-Embroidery In Quilts Past and Present”, at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. This is the exhibit it was created for. I’m so excited to show her off and particularly the historical value associated with this one of a kind piece. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!
This quilt is something I consider to be my masterpiece, as I wonder if I will ever have the patience to work on something so intricate again. I am beyond thrilled with the final product! I hope you enjoy this quilt in pictures and especially if you are able to view it in person. Yes, it is hard to believe that someone actually did all of this by hand, especially in our modern day world of machines. It was created in a simpler time, where TV and computers did not exist, when women used their spare time to perfect the handwork that they had learned from generations before. I also respect the imperfections and the fact that this piece is not square. I couldn’t bring myself to trim any part of this tablecloth and kept the shape as I found it. Maybe the maker is looking down on me and deciding that my quilting brought her work to another level, I hope so!
Thanks for visiting!
I have TUBS of linens and embroideries! One of my good friends, Shelley, mailed me this linen she found in an antique store recently. This did not get to the tub! I was compelled to stitch it the day I got it, but oogled over it for a few weeks before loading on the longarm. Originally, this was a 100ish year old pillow cover.
Having found a few of these, they date somewhere between 1900-1920. They were pre-printed/tinted pillow covers and were dyed in the areas where you would stitch. Some ladies chose to embroider the whole area, while others did smaller areas, leaving some of the printed colors showing. A few companies that produced these were Richardson’s, Royal Society and Vogart. I love when the selvage has the name of the maker as it can also give me clues to the date of the embroidery. This one did not have that information.
This treasure had quite a few stains when I received it, but I’m never bothered by smell or stains as I’ve experimented plenty with great results. My favorite cleaner is called Retro Clean. It is a powder that is dissolved in warm water for best results. You can find it in antique shops and quilt stores, also on the internet. I soaked this piece for 24 hours and it sparkled when it dried! The heavy stains were gone and it brightened the linen considerably.
I always begin by basting around the edge of the entire piece. I work like that is my frame. Then I stitch around all of the embroidery, as you would stitch in the ditch around applique. I use my very favorite palm size ruler to use as resistance against the hopping foot to guide the machine.
Once I have all of the outlining done, the fun begins! I did a very small fill in the center and the outside felt like it needed some flowing feathers to move with the stalks of what I think may be milo. I’m pretty sure I created the movement I wanted.
I always begin with what the linen is “telling” me. They don’t all speak the same way, but I definitely get a feeling from each one. The density of the french knots made me start with the pebbles and spirals in the center. YES, those are all french knots! The trapunto effect was caused naturally by using two layers of batting, 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom on the bottom and 100% Hobbs wool on top. This double batting will cause some drag on the machine when starting, but the effects are dramatic!
I made sure to work the feathers into the same direction as the stalks of milo. Beginning with a spine to follow that line, I worked the feathers right up to the original embroidery.
What was I thinking when I made a 1/2″ grid! It was a bit tedious, but the end result is fantastic! This ruler is so great for small areas. For design purposes, I often balance straight lines and circular forms. You don’t want too much of anything!
I can’t decide which is my favorite, the checkerboard or the feathers!
AAAAAAND the almost finish! I can’t ever wait to share these things, so no binding yet. For traveling purposes, I’ll put a tiny binding on so it lays flat in my suitcase! Have a fabulous weekend folks!
I LOVE these unique pieces of handwork! I found this one at D. Palma & Co. Mercantile last weekend and I just had to get it on the frame!
This style of lace is called Teneriffe. I sent a quick note to Mary Corbet, Needle ‘N Thread, who was a doll to identify this for me. I’m always concerned with correctly identifying handwork. I visited YouTube to see how this is done and WOW! Amazing!
The lace piece is about 10″ square. It’s so delicate, which intrigued me when I saw it. I did my best to press and give it a good starch. Those circle laces were rather loose, so they took a bit of moving, stretching and starching, to get them to behave!
My favorite background these days is satin! On this particular piece I used a double batting of Hobbs 80/20 on the bottom and 100% Hobbs Wool on top. You’ll see this gives some great loft to this piece. I stitched around the perimeter of the inside square first.
Next, I stitched around the outside edge, outlining around all of the lace circles. My hand gives you an idea of size.
Once I have all the outlining and edges stitched down, I start the design process.
I added a “piano key” border with my longarm ruler.
Beads and rhinestones add the finishing touch!
Many times a quilter needs to keep a quilt “under wraps”. I’m good at it, but it’s probably the worst part of my job! I have learned to quilt a top, then absolutely forget about it. This quilt is a prime example! Quilted for Mary Kerr’s latest book, “Twisted: Modern Quilts with a Vintage Twist”, it’s at the top of my favorites list!
In this book, Mary takes abandoned blocks and vintage fragments, then incorporates them into modern settings to create one-of-a-kind quilts. She then sent them off to longarmers across the nation, with no rules, to finish them as they desired. This book is a wonderful collaboration of many talented quilters. I am thrilled to be a part of this group!
Mary asked everyone to send pictures as we worked, so there are progress pictures from each quilter. We also shared our reasons why we quilted it a certain way or what inspired us. My ideas originated from a dream I had about the quilt! It has to do with “stirring my coffee”, hence, the appropriate title!
This top was very simply created. Mary used vintage Dresden Plates and treated them as applique on white fabric. I was thrilled I had taken a photo of the original top right from the box! I must have stared at it for a month, all that white space!!! I had so many ideas of complicated background designs. Then, I realized the simplicity of this quilt was just that, KISS……..keep it simple, sister! Thankfully, I had a dream. I was stirring my coffee, and the cream would NEVER stir in. It was making me crazy; but in the morning, I knew this had to do with swirls on those Dresden Plates. I got started right after that dream!
I used various swirls from my ProStitcher computer on my Handi Quilter Fusion long arm. The lines were created using the channel locks on the machine. My greatest feat was creating the half circle swirl in the largest area of the quilt.
You can see the texture on this quilt is outrageous! Trust me, I wanted to keep touching it; and I did, right until I packed it up. The back is just scrumptious texture!
One last closeup on the swirl. I used Glide, white thread, and two layers of batting, Hobbs 80/20 on the bottom and Hobbs 100% wool on the top. If I know a quilt will be in a show or photographed for a book or magazine, I will use double batting. You can see from my pictures that it’s automatic trapunto, without the work!
NOW, if you enjoyed this story, there are 21 other stories in this fabulous book that are must reads! You can order it directly from Mary on her website. Have a wonderful holiday weekend!
This dresser scarf was more of an experiment than anything else. I wanted to see how tiny I could quilt this wine glass/orange peel pattern. The linen is only 6″ x 12″, if that gives you an idea of small!
The layering of this piece is backing, a layer of wool batting, satin and linen. I always like something special to show through the cutwork. I usually don’t mark on my linens, but I had to for this pattern. I created a grid of 1/2″ squares with a purple air erase pen.
The next step is to stitch down the outer edge, which I stay inside the satin embroidered edge so I’ll have an area to trim off at the end. Before I start quilting, I also outline all the embroidery. I loved this piece because it was so perfectly stitched. I can’t even imagine doing the work that these ladies did so long ago!
This gives you an idea of scale. I’m thinking this would be easier on a domestic machine, but on a long arm it’s really tedious. I usually love working small, but this was crazy small!
Each linen has it’s own personality, which means every edge is treated differently. After I took it off the frame, I used a curved scissor to stitch as close to the stitch line, on the back, as possible.
This shows the completed back. You can see it’s cut close! I don’t worry about the raw edge on this one because I plan to mat and frame it soon.
Hard to see, but I added a few rhinestones in the tiny flower middles. I always try to pop in a few beads or sparkles to finish a linen.
Such a sweet little piece that was given new life! Have a wonderful weekend!