Quilted Heirloom “Reticello” Linen

Customer Quilts | November 18, 2015 | By

I was completely intimidated by this 100+ year old linen! Probably because it was a commission piece by another fabulous long arm quilter, Nancy Fishpaw, at Sew Easy To Quilt.  Created by her Italian great, great, grandmother over one hundred years ago, this piece is very well done! To find out more about Reticello needlework, I contacted Jeanine in Canada, Italian Needlework expert! Now, let’s get this process started. I will warn you this is a long post, with as many steps as I could remember to photograph.


I quilt on a Handi Quilter Fusion long arm. At times I use the Prostitcher computer, but this linen was completely free motion quilted, which means I drive it myself. I start with my backing, then layer two battings, Hobbs 80/20 on the bottom and Hobbs 100% wool on top. On top of the batting is a layer of satin, right side up, which will be my background fabric. The dimension of the linen is 22″ x 33″. As you might notice, the piece is slightly out of square and not very flat. I don’t get too concerned about the squareness of a piece this old, it is what it is, embrace it!


These close up pictures show the delicacy of this needlework. The satin backing will give it a shiny pop when the work is completed. I also found a Reticello tutorial on YouTube that will really blow you away!


Once I have the linen centered, I run a stitch across and down the inside drawn thread work, using the horizontal and vertical channelocks, so I can get it as square as possible.


I also outline all of the needlework so there is no movement. When I have this all squared and outline stitched, the fun begins! This is where I can really see the canvas and the designs start to swirl in my mind.


This wide open space stumped me for awhile. It usually helps to break down the negative space or look to the embroidery or needlework for some design features. That’s exactly what I did! If you’ll notice the close up picture above, I decided to mimic those shapes as much as possible. I rarely mark my pieces, but this one needed to be exact, so I used a disappearing, purple pen. Sometimes I will choose the blue water erase pen, but frankly, they all scare me just a tad. What will happen 100 years from now? Will that ink decide to pop out again???

I always start stitching with what I know FOR SURE. I knew this would start with the center circle and work out from there.


You can see things start taking shape. I like to do most of the outline before I fill, but you can also see I couldn’t wait to see what it would look like. I had to stop myself and continue with the outline.




After so much geometric line work, I thought it needed some softness, so I started adding some circles and arcs.


It was also such a traditional piece that I had to add some feathers. I really didn’t know what to do in that arc area at this point. After studying the lines for a bit and taking a few pictures, I figured out what to do next. Sometimes it just takes squinting your eyes!


Cream on cream is NOT the best piece to photograph, but I think you can see the purple pen to know my plan!




I needed an eye “resting place” around the crazy inside, so I stitched piano keys around the inner border.


At this point I worked the rays in the satin background by lifting the outer border and stitching underneath. I did use the Prostitcher computer to do this work because I wanted it to be exact and honestly, it’s just easier to let the computer do the stitching sometimes!


After I had all the rays created, then I went back and stitched the outer edge of the linen and did an all around traditional feather border. This is one of those beautiful corners of the needlework. To bring down the incredible pouf that was created by the double batting, I added glass beads at each intersection.


Here is the fabulous finished piece! The best part of the whole thing, that makes it “human”, is the NOT square nature of the corners. The entire piece was relatively square and then I got to the outer edge. I wonder if great, great, grandmother would be upset that it really wasn’t completely square? Or would she be shaking her finger at Nancy and myself for doing this to her incredulous linen?


My granddaughter walked in as I was photographing the back and you can see she loved texture! I always enjoy watching her feel a quilt.

Nancy has talked about binding and framing this piece. I can hardly wait to see the end result! Thanks for allowing me to quilt this special heirloom, Nancy!!



  1. Leave a Reply

    November 18, 2015

    I love following your work! Thanks for sharing the process and history of the piece. I enjoy the process and know that every quilt has a story.

  2. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    Spectacular ! I could only wish to do something like this to my grandmother and mothers linen, I have a few pieces stashed away, maybe one day !

  3. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    As always, exquisite work Kelly! Thanks for sharing with us!

  4. Leave a Reply

    Karen Lambdin
    November 19, 2015

    How beautiful, that’s an understatement though… I couldn’t find the words to describe how this piece makes me feel! and thank you for sharing your process. I have been looking for the right piece to try quilting like this, but maybe it’s the quilting that makes it right. wow!

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      November 19, 2015

      Thanks Karen! Start with something that is NOT sentimental for sure! Then move on to those heirloom pieces 😉

  5. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    fascinating insight, thanks for sharing

  6. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    [email protected]– I find it hard to beleive that you are intimidataed by anything! you do AWESOME work! and I like that you admitted that you are intimidataed by that piece of linen…… I’m intimidated daily!

  7. Leave a Reply

    Nancy Fishpaw
    November 19, 2015

    Thanks for showing the process! You made my family heirloom into a family heirloom Treasure! Plus I now have an original “Kelly” to start off my collection! I Love what you did and continue to be inspired by you!!

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      November 19, 2015

      Thanks Nancy! Glad I stopped to take the pictures along the way. I got so immersed that sometimes it was hard to stop!

  8. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    You are brilliant! Love your work and so inspired! Thanks for sharing your process!

  9. Leave a Reply

    Freda Butler
    November 19, 2015

    What a wonderful life you have given this vintage piece. I loved reading your process and I am sure the owner just loved it.

    Your granddaughter is sweet. I have 5 grandsons and only 1 granddaughter who I have always enjoyed and probably spoiled..

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      November 19, 2015

      Thanks Freda! She did love it! My grandkids both love the quilts. Will try to keep the love going 😉

  10. Leave a Reply

    November 19, 2015

    Wow, this is beautiful! I believe you have really done the heirloom piece justice, thank you for the detailed sharing!

  11. Leave a Reply

    Mary at Fleur de Lis Quilts
    November 19, 2015

    Okay, some honesty from me: I was a little scandalized that you were going to quilt a historical piece that has a face and name to go along with it. So many pieces have lost their makers and we’ll never have the opportunity to get them back together. BUT, after seeing the beauty you’ve added to the piece–the texture, the feathers, the motifs–all of it! I am thrilled with the outcome. I know. I know. I’ve been following your work for a while now, so I know what you can do. (Still, preservation is so important.) This piece is so beautifully enhanced that it’s even more likely that the family will continue to hold it dear and preserve it for future generations. I can only say I’m sorry for my moment of doubt and I’d send you my own great-grandmother’s work….if only I had something!

  12. Leave a Reply

    November 20, 2015

    The linen piece is just beautiful by itself and at the beginning of this post I wondered how someone could choose to “destroy” it by attaching it to fabric, batting, and backing, and then quilting it. (You can imagine me as the grandmother shaking her finger.) But by the time I saw the photos of the finished piece I was thinking what a marvelous way to preserve and enhance the linen and lace. I think you’ve done an exceptional job choosing how to quilt it and doing the actual quilting. Well done!

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      November 21, 2015

      Oh thank you so much, Nancy! I do understand the questioning of what I do to a piece. I always cross my fingers that it will enhance the work and never “destroy” the makers beauty.

  13. Leave a Reply

    Holly u
    November 24, 2015

    this is stunning! I’m a new follower of your blog, and slowly gathering the courage to do something with the vintage linens I have stashed away.

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      November 24, 2015

      Great Holly and welcome! Dive into something that’s not too sentimental, otherwise, give it a shot. Practice is the only way to learn.

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