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Topic: Need help with old quilt top

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Subject: Need help with old quilt top
Date Posted: 6/13/2009 11:08 AM ET
Member Since: 10/31/2007
Posts: 157
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My mother made a quilt top, probably in the 1930s, which I have inherited.  It's a Jacob's Ladder design and for a while was pinned as it is, with unfinished edges and no backing, on my then teenage daughter's wall. I would like to perserve it, but am not very skilled in such things as my sewing skills are limited.  It is far to fragile to make into a quilt at this point in time.   Any suggestions for preservation and display?

Date Posted: 8/21/2009 6:57 AM ET
Member Since: 11/4/2006
Posts: 795
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You can always sew it to a heavier plain cotton fabric, so the backing takes the weight of the fragile quilt. I would use a sewing stitch called tacking. And, sorry, but, if your sewing skills are limited, I woudl get someone else. It can be sewn so the new stitches are not visible and so the new stitches and new backign support the weight, but you will have to know what you are doing. (No nylon thread and where and how to place the stitches so they support yet are not visible. With a proper backing, you can hang it again - and all the weight will be supported by the new backing - IF - IF it is done properly. The new backign can have a tube on top - through which you put a rod to hang it. (like a shower curtain rod.) If you have a backing put on it and there are ANY stretch marks or it does not hang perfectly, then the sewing was not done adequately, or it might require a frame to keep it taunt. (but not tight).

Also, get it out of the sunlight, or, use those UV films on the window to block out the UV rays - the UV rays break down the dyes and causes the fading.

Also, old quilts tend to always be folded a certain way - the creases become permanent. Fold it a different way than it usually is. Or, if you have a big tube (like from an upholstry store), you can roll it up. As long as you can roll it up without folding it.

I would place it in a clean cotton bag or on archival paper (you can get quilt storage paper for $10 and new cotton quilt storage bag for even less). Do not set it directly on a wood drawer or anything that could get moist and transfer the dye. And, please do not put it in plastic. Don't let it touch wool, either, especially not blanket type wool. Regular paper is a no-no.

Anyway, you are lucky the batting wasn't put inside.

You might look up and see if there are any quilt guilds in your area. They usually meet once a month. Go to a meeting. (The women will all be friendly - I guarantee it), and they will appreciate your quilt top as much as you do. Great place to meet someone to do restoration work.



Date Posted: 10/8/2009 7:25 AM ET
Member Since: 7/5/2007
Posts: 1,157
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Patricia's recommendations are excellent.

I would like to suggest the idea that, with a backing fabric to support it and provide structure, actually quilting the top would probably help preserve its life, rather than ruining it. The quilting stitches would help bind it to its backing fabric and thus help to stabilize the pieced top by evenly distributing the reduction of stresses across the top.  You don't have to have it quilted with batting, just have it quilted directly to a good undyed unbleached cotton.

I will add that, if I recall correctly, the Smithsonian uses "All" brand detergent to wash its collection of the first ladies' inaugural dresses. And, in preparing my web site about laundry I consulted a mechanical engineer who is an expert in the history of washing machines, and he explained to me that the Wollmark Institute, in Germany, did a study and determined that front loading washing machines are more gentle to fabrics than hand washing. I'm not trying to imply that you're going to use it on the bed and that it will thus get dirty, it's just that all fabrics need to be laundered from time to time. (As rarely as possible, with something delicate, but nonetheless necessary once in a great while.) I would vacuum the fabric from time to time to reduce the frequency of necessary washings.