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Hand Quilting an Antique Quilt – A Story of Serendipity

Updated: May 18, 2021

Life is funny sometimes on how the stars align to bring people together. This is a story about a two fashionistas, two quilters, and a pandemic, and how their lives connected to finish an antique quilt.

My daughter Molly is a hairstylist. A few years back, one of her clients, Amy Moore, was opening a shop for unique vintage clothing, Closet Karma. Molly picked up an extra few hours a week, helping merchandise for sale at the shop which, in her world, was heaven. Working with fashion and get paid in clothing! One day, the two were talking and Molly mentioned that her mom was a quilter. Amy said that she had an unfinished quilt that she would love to have completed. So, Molly called me and put us in contact. Within a few days, my daughter dropped off a project to add to my ever growing to-do list.

The quilt was beautiful, vintage, hand-pieced, basted and partially hand-quilted. It was a Dresden quilt in lovely 30’s and 40’s prints on a muslin background. It obviously had been made with love and was still in very good shape. But the quilting covered about two blocks and then stopped.

The backing fabric totally took me by surprise! This reminded me of a pair of bell bottom jeans that I owned as a kid in the 60’s! Wow! Judging from the fabric choices, this quilt spanned a few years! I found out later that the quilt top was done by Amy’s great grandmother. I was told that the fabric definitely reflected great grandma’s personality!

After a nice chat with Amy and set it in my pile of projects, not terribly excited to tackle this one. A few months later, I talked with a long-arm friend and we discussed just finishing the quilt on her machine, leaving the hand-quilting in place. I thought using a machine was probably the best answer. But again, I stalled out and didn’t go further.

There was a problem with the border. The quilter had spent laborious hours piecing a lovely, scalloped border. But when the backing was added, it was about an inch smaller all around the top, and the batting had completely disintegrated away another 2 inches in. This meant that either I needed to cut off the scalloped border for a clean edge, or undo the hand quilting and start over with the correct size batting and backing. And so, I procrastinated getting the project moving along for over a year.

Fast forward to the week that it was announced that all of California was to shelter in place for Covid-19 in 2020. I looked around my house at all of my unfinished projects and could not imagine working on any of them, due to the unnerving anxiety that was building inside of me. And then I saw the vintage quilt. Handquilting – that I could manage right now. Busy hands calm my nerves. Hand stitching grounds me. I picked up the quilt, grabbed some neutral thread and just began. I didn’t worry about the scalloped border problem or the tattered batting on the edges. I didn’t worry about what quilt design to use. I just looked at the quilt and followed what had already been started.

And so I stitched. And stitched, and stitched and stitched. For weeks and into the next month. At some point I was able to function again. The pandemic had become our new normal. I was able to work on other projects, so this quilt morphed into my evening project, until one day, I actually finished quilting all the Dresden blocks!

All that was left was the border, but that was a whole lot of work all on it’s own. By then I had had plenty of hours to think about how to tackle the problem. I noticed that one side of the back had a little extra fabric. I decided to trim off what I could, and add it to the other sides, so that all four sides would be just the right size. Then I very gently filled in the batting with new batting, trying to meld it into the old. This took a lot of fiddling, but it worked. Great. Now I can quilt the border!

And then, just as I thought I was on the home stretch, I realized that putting a binding on this beautiful scallop would be like a whole other project on itself. Ugh! I put an SOS out to Laura and all my other quilt expert friends to figure out how to tackle this. Everyone had great ideas, but it came as no big surprise, Laura’s made the most sense, and was the one I used.

I cut strips of muslin, which was somewhat close to the muslin background of the quilt. I made 4 strips, matching the length of all four sides of the quilt. The width of the strips was 2/3 the width of the Dresden blades from the top to the curved bottom. I carefully pinned, then stitched the muslin to the right side of the border, following the shape of the curves, and allowing 1/4″ seam allowance. This could be done on the machine, but I chose to stitch by hand. After stitching down one side, I turned the strips inside out, and gently pushed the curved shapes into place. The space between the blades was a bit tricky, but I clipped the corners and that helped tremendously. I folded under the raw edge, and blind-stitched in place.

The four corners didn’t behave so well with this technique, but I would have to write a whole other post on how I tackled that. You can see from the photo below, how the muslin strip becomes a clean finish to such a finicky border. Thanks Laura, for your infinite wisdom on how to finish this border.

Finally, the quilt was finished! I took lots of photos and then contacted the owner, Amy. She came and picked it up and we had a wonderful chat about the history of the quilt. It was made by her great grandmother, Florence Weir of Sioux City, Iowa.

As she left, I said to her, “Turn the quilt over and run your hand over the back. Do you feel the knotted stitches? Those are the stitches of your great grandmother’s hand. I bury my knots, and she didn’t. So you will always know which stitches are hers!”

Pati’s Paintbox

If you would like to see more of my busy hand work – I have an exhibit called Busy Hands Grounds My Spirit, at Bay Quilts in Richmond CA right now. If you are local, you can reserve a time slot online here to visit the exhibit and shop in one of my favorite fabric shops. They will be hosting a Video Chat with me on March 28th about my quilts. Follow them on Instagram for upcoming details – SFBayQuilts. I have also been posting some of the quilts on my Facebook page and Instagram account. Stop by and visit me on Pati Fried on Instagram and Pati Fried on Facebook

Happy March to all of you! Chat with you soon! Hugs, Pati

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