Antique Quilt Sections in Shadowboxes

vintage gramma made quilt

When my mother went away to college, her grandmother made her this quilt for her dorm room bed. When I went away to college, my mother gave it to me for the same purpose. After so many years and so much use, it isn’t holding together as well as it used to, but now (thanks to an Ikea shadowbox frame), my mom and sisters and I can all each have a little piece of family on our walls all the time.

damaged quilt preserved in shadowbox

One twin quilt yielded six of these, given as gifts this Christmas.  They were easy to put together and took very little time.  I laid out the original quilt and examined each section.  Because the half-square triangles that make up the blocks are scrappy, I looked for segments that were the most interesting or had the best colors for each recipient.  I cut through the quilt–totally the hardest part–and separated out a section to fit the shadowbox using the cardboard frame backing as a cutting guide.

scrappy damaged vintage quilt

Each section was bound as any other quilt would be. I used a neutral Kona so that the binding would fade into the background.  I wasn’t particularly concerned with the edges being perfectly square or even, since I love the whimsy and wabi sabi effect that lends to these vintage pieces.  The finished and bound section was sewn–literally sewn–to the backing board before being placed back inside the frame.  A few back-and-forth stitches masked in the binding seam anchor it to the interior and keep it supported behind the glass.

repairs on a vintage quilt

I’ve asked for years how to save and preserve a vintage quilt that shows wear and damage.  I tried patching this one, and I tried leaving it in the closet.  In the end, the best way of saving it was to cut it apart–ironic, but there it is.  This way, we each get to enjoy a little bit of it and see it every day.

great grandmothers quilt

Truth?  I’m even thinking of using the bits that are left to make a tote bag.  I’m not sure if I’ll need to place it inside a clear vinyl layer or not?  Since the fabric is so damaged?  But I love looking at it and enjoying it–and the further I get from my hesitation to cut it apart, the more I fall in love with the idea of having bits of it appear in parts of my everyday life.

vintage hand quilting

How about you?  How do you use quilts that have been passed down to you?  Or how would you like to see the quilts you’ve made be used in 50 years?

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  • Laura J.
    August 31, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    I have one that I’m just in love with. My great grandmother, who died before I was born, made it for my mother in the 50s when my mother was a child. It’s in remarkably good shape for it’s age, but it does show some signs of wear and tear. It sits folded on the back of my living room couch. Sometimes I will cuddle up in it in front of the fire and knit like a little old lady. When other members of my family use it, I yell at them. We have used it in a few photo shoots, including most recently some pictures of my daughter and I in which I’m pregnant with my second daughter. One of them will someday get the quilt.

    • Deborah
      August 31, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Oh, I love that! And I love that it’s still in good shape–it must be such a beautiful piece to add to your photos!

  • LouiseMarie
    September 2, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    i love the idea of the shadowbox for the vintage quilt. Some other ideas could include a pillow sham, a mug rug with clear vinyl for protection, or a doll quilt for a vintage doll on a vintage doll bed. i love the irony of cutting up the quilt to give it more life. Thank you for your great post.

    • Deborah
      September 3, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Oh, doll quilt!! What an excellent idea! I have some larger pieces left over that aren’t the right shape for a shadowbox, but a doll quilt is perfect–particularly because my mother had an aunt (maybe this grandmother’s daughter?) who sent back dolls from her travels around the world, which my mom still has in a glass-front cabinet. It would be lovely to display part of this family heirloom with those! Thanks for the great suggestion!

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