Friday, January 6, 2017

Antique quilts and gift followup

Janice, over at Color, Creating and Quilting, recently wrote about a vintage quilt top made by her husband's great grandmother. It's a cool piece, and it reminded me that I wanted to follow up on a story I posted back in September 2015. I'm going to repeat a bit of what I wrote then, so please bear with me if you've been following me that long.

While we were in Boston that fall, our friends Erin and Chris generously agreed to receive a big batch of our mail. As we unpacked the boxes in their living room in order to discard the cardboard, Erin asked about all my fabric and learned I was a quilter. She darted into their bedroom and returned with a pile of absolutely gorgeous antique quilt tops. All had been hand pieced by her great grandmother Mary LaVerne around 1910, but had never been finished into quilts. She asked me what I thought could be done with them, and I told her about professional quilt restoration experts. She had four bed tops and thought she could have them finished for herself and her sisters. 

She also had 23 orphaned quilt blocks, and I offered to stitch up a little lap quilt so we could see how durable and washable the pieces were. It was a fun project and I got to admire great grandma Mary LaVerne's meticulous handwork. The 100 year old fabric seemed to be in great shape, with very little fading or staining. Lovely!

Here is the finished lap quilt. Each block is a different pair of fabrics, sewn into half square triangles. This design is still used today; a true classic. I like the "oddball" ones, with the blue and gray chambray triangles instead of white or cream. I put the three remaining blocks on the back, with some new fabrics from my stash. Sewing all the layers together was a challenge; Mary's blocks were heavily starched and bent two of my sewing machine needles. But the quilting process started to soften them up and the quilt finished more pliable. But there was still ancient starch in it, which would attract modern bugs if left unwashed.

Most of my research into quilt restoration indicated that washing your antique quilt would RUIN IT BEYOND ALL RECOVERY. If you must clean it, you were supposed to soak it gently in the tub overnight, squeeze out the water by hand, repeat fifteen times, then lay it flat on your dining room floor on while dabbing it with pristine lint-free tea towels. I was very discouraged at the doom and gloom (not to mention the tedious work) of all this, until I stumbled on the blog of Tim Latimer. He has purchased many, many antique quilt tops, finished them and then tossed them in his home washing machine and dryer. He uses Dawn dishwashing liquid because it binds the dye. His extensive experience shows that the new quilting strengthens and stabilizes the vintage stitching and they clean up beautifully. His photos don't lie, and as a bonus, his cute little dog Teddy poses on the quilts for most of the pictures.

So with Tim as my inspiration, we washed Erin's 100 year old lap quilt. It came out great: soft, sweet smelling, and not a spot of red dye migrated to any other part of the quilt. Success! Armed with this victory, Erin decided to move forward with getting the larger pieced finished so they could be used and loved. 

In September of this year, Erin took the four large, completed tops to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA for their monthly "Documentation Day." There they dated each quilt, took photos, and added the pieces to their archives. Neat!

Here is Erin's description of the process: 
What a blast!  All went well and the five ladies clad in museum aprons and white gloves examined each quilt, photographed them and estimated their age (two at 1890 and two at 1900).  They are now catalogued with the museum and I will send along a documentation with each finished quilt when delivered at Christmas.  Both quilts had a combination of hand and machine sewing with a few ad hoc improvisations to even out square size.  [The long armer] is now ready to finish the quilts after the museum inspection.  
One detail emerged from the fabric history...It is that gold/cheddar orange fabric was used in some quilts to show support for McKinley and his gold standard (full story below).  The interesting thing about that is that Mary LaVerne's husband was a "Democratic Leader" as noted in his short obituary of 1916.  Well, the museum ladies said that the cheddar squares might be myth. But maybe Mary LaVerne and her husband disagreed on politics...or the gold standard stance...or someone else made the quilt (two of the four quilts have the cheddar squares). Mary LaVerne's quilts have only four or six squares in the cheddar color on the entire quilt... Interesting any way you slice it.
Erin then had the four quilts quilted and bound professionally and here they are:

Aren't they wonderful? And to think they were pieced at least 115 years ago, by a relative she had never met! She is so happy with the results and I'm tickled pink that I was able to get the ball rolling by telling her about the phalanx of folks who could help her get these finished.

Erin and Chris kept the pink and white one in the back left of the photo, and surprised her sisters and mother with the other three for Christmas. Here's one on her Mom's bed in California. I think it looks fantastic and surprisingly modern in the room with the soft yellow walls. See the diagonal line of cheddar pieces?

As I was admiring this photo, I realized that the last Project Linus quilt top that I pieced used this exact same pattern of four patches and larger squares. Talk about classic! I think I must have been channeling Mary LaVerne that week.

And speaking of relatives, I'll end this post with a photo of my nephew Andrew and his gorgeous fiancee Sarah. I was able to give them their engagement place mats in Houston right after Christmas. They seemed quite pleased with the gift. Sarah is going to be a great addition to the family. She's smart, funny, and organized. She even whipped out thank you notes for everyone within several hours of the party! My kinda gal.


  1. what a lovely story ... and ending witht he beginning of a new life story...

  2. Louise, thank you so much for the mention and that is an AWESOME STORY!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading that and especially seeing those wonderful old quilts. They spectacular! I love them! It was so fun getting to enjoy that particular part of your quilt journey with you. That must have been the most rewarding feeling!

  3. Wonderful post - enjoyed it very much!

  4. Thank you for sharing the story of these quilts. It's wonderful to see them finally in use!

  5. Oh wow, loved seeing the antique quilts! And I had no idea about Dawn and binding the dyes. I'll have to explore the link! Looks like the placemats were well received!

  6. That was so sweet of you to sew up the blocks for her! What a fun story to read about.

  7. I love this story! It's so wonderful that those quilts can finally be used as they were meant to be. And yea for braving the washing machine with them so they can be used again. That took courage. I never cease to be amazed by Tim's talents and drive to just jump in and teach himself about quilting. He's a great resource.

  8. What a fabulous story! I had to read it twice! XO


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