Quilt Renovation?

My mother dropped by and commented on yesterday’s post, saying:

I don’t know if I ever shared with you, but your maternal great-grandmother used to piece just such HST quilts. She was, first, a really talented sewer and made me a bunch of gathered skirts in 6th grade and also an exquisite collection of doll clothes for my Madame Alexander 8″ dolls. The tiniest buttons, the itsy-bitsy-est lace trims, and all sewn by hand.

I actually had never known that, but it suddenly reminded me of this:

This is the quilt my great-grandmother made for my mother when she went away to college, which I asked to take with me when I went away to (the same) college.  My mother was hesitant, and at the time, I’m not sure I really understood why.  I see it in a much different light now.

Made of scraps and entirely quilted by hand, this is really a lovely treasure from a grandmother to her oldest grandchild when moving on to a life of her own, and it was a bigger sacrifice than I knew when my mom passed it on to me.

But this quilt is now (don’t tell my mom I told you this) at least 44 years old, and it’s had a lot of love and wear:

So my question is, how can I rejuvenate it, without taking it apart?  I mean, a lot of these pieces are really worn out, probably far beyond a simple repair.  I’ve found a couple good sites on quilt restoration, but I’m not quite sure where to begin–between the demise of some of the original fabrics and the sad attempts I made to patch those weak spots in my early 20s, I would prefer to approach this a single time, and get it right.

I mean, look at all those quarter-square triangles.  The woman was amazing, and I’d love to preserve this quilt.  Or is it time to call it and break this large quilt apart into smaller pieces for other purposes, preserving my great-grandmother’s work in a new way?  I’d really love to hear your suggestions–you guys always have the best ideas!

Edited to add:

Mom just sent me an email and updated the story:

[This quilt] was actually made by [my] OTHER grandmother…with the HSTs from Grandmom.  She made them for all the grandchildren as they graduated from high school.

I actually hated the pink/green, although, ironically, my freshman college roommate wanted to use the same color scheme for our room in [the dorm].  Horrified, I allowed her to bring pink chenille bedspreads for our room.  I think I made some crayon green curtains.  YUCK!

You Might Also Like

  • Barb_in_GA
    June 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I just happened to be looking at Martha Stewart’s ‘Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts’ last night. There is a detailed explanation of how to renovate a pieced quilt. It was thoughtful and sensitive to the needs of something with this kind of significance. Good luck!

  • Belinda
    June 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I have a quilt like that – sort of. It was made by my grandmother & is falling apart from it’s much loved wear & tear. It doesn’t have the cool story to go with it that yours has though. I have no clue how to repair or restore such treasures : ( I’ll be watching this space to see if you find out how to do it.
    Good luck!

  • Laine
    June 1, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I rejuvenate and restore lots of old quilts. There are two theories I go by when advising clients. Is it a “made to be loved” piece or a “made to be displayed” piece. If you want to keep giving it loving, patch it up with some new (like like old) matching fabs, stick some new batting in the blanks, cut off a little of the outside if you need new binding, and keep on loving it.

    If it is the display or keep an heirloom kind…find a professional and let them do it the right way. Preserving older quilts for the future is really important.

    Your quilt looks loved and worn…my fave….I say just keep patching! Either way, can’t wait to see what you decide.

  • liveacolorfullife
    June 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    What a treasure…

  • Chris C.
    June 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Oh, this is such a timely post for me! I also have a gorgeous handmade quilt, inherited from my grandmother, which I have been trying to figure out how to restore. It has several worn patches and also a couple large stains, but I love it too much to just throw it away. Can’t wait to hear what advice you get!

  • Amanda
    June 1, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Don’t cut it apart!!! It’s so lovely. I have a quilt that my great-grandmother made, and it is gathering more holes, so I’m curious to hear what you end up doing. My instinct is to keep it as intact as possible. I use my quilt, because I think it’s right, but I also want it to be around for my children.

  • Kay Stephenson
    June 2, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I had the opportunity over the Memorial Day weekend to see an exhibition of civil war era quilts at the Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center. It was inspirational, partly because of the stories these quilts told about another time, and partly because there are so few left. I came away with a determination to preserve and restore treasures like the one you describe. I hope you find a way to keep yours and enjoy it too.

  • Camille
    June 2, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I have a quilt made by my great-grandmother that’s also entirely hand done. They were quite poor and the “batting” inside is actually torn-up rags. It has been much loved and the binding is coming off in several places. Like Laine suggested, I plan to just put a new binding right on top of the old so I can keep on snuggling with it.

  • Stephanie
    June 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    If you figure out how to fix it, do pass on the knowledge. I have a quilt my grandmother made that I adore and want to keep using but it’s getting worn, almost exactly like in your pictures. I don’t want to retire it, I don’t want to cut it up, but I don’t know what to do!!

  • Melissa
    June 6, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Fascinating! It seems this generation of quilters has a deep, deep love for the quilts our grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ generation made. I have 3 quilts that are in the same shape and are just priceless – because of their beauty and their stories.
    (Hey, maybe you could do a guest post series about well-loved, “made more than 40 years ago”, quilts?) 🙂
    I’m very interested to hear what comes of this, too. I like Laine’s suggestion of patching and loving. It’s difficult because you want to protect and preserve the beauty and the story, but the fabric is just SO soft! I can’t decide if the fact that my 20-something grandmother hand quilted this while she was pregnant with her 4th child in 6 years and Grandpa was out running cattle makes me want to use the quilt or makes me want to hang it in a museum! 🙂
    It’s funny how our hearts are stitched up in these generational quilts and we weren’t even born yet!

  • Corrie
    June 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

    It’s so beautiful! I would never be able to cut that up. I think I would move it to “display” status, and hang it up somewhere. Or do lots of careful research before making any changes. But I think there is something beautiful about looking at a worn quilt.

  • Do You Own an Antique Quilt? Call for Submissions! | Whipstitch
    June 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    […] writing about my great-grandmother’s quilt and asking your advice on restoring it, Melissa commented and suggested having some guest posts […]

  • louie’s quilt, and the story it tells « mommymae
    July 1, 2011 at 10:16 am

    […] a few weeks ago she blogged about an heirloom quilt from her grandmother and asked if anyone had any quilts with stories to tell. i threw my hat in the […]

  • Antique Quilts: Guest Post from Eliza | Whipstitch
    July 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    […] brave enough to put back into regular rotation.  I still have guilt about shredding the quilt my mother gave me, but if any of you have suggestions for vintage quilt care, there are a lot of us who would love to […]

  • Grandma | Whipstitch
    July 27, 2011 at 9:03 am

    […] mother uncovered this photo of my great-grandmother, the maker of this antique quilt.   She actually found two photos, and allowed me to select one; I chose the one where she […]