Quick Fixes for Old Quilts ~ How to Salvage/Rehab Your Quilting Finds

on January 23 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 9 Comments

Meryl from My Bit of Earth shows you how to fix up old quilts with a variety of quick and easy techniques today. Don’t miss Meryl’s introduction, and please share your own quilt rehab solutions and links in the comments below!

Frankenquilting by Meryl Carver-Allmond
Like some people rescue stray kittens and abandoned dogs, I have trouble passing by an old quilt at the flea market and not bringing it home. They’re never museum quality; my budget doesn’t allow for that. Nope, they’re just patchy, typically fairly-worn old ladies that I love to put into use again. The old girls are just the thing for picnics and my little-boys-and-dogs lifestyle.

But while I find “worn” to be beautiful, actual holes and structural problems typically have to be fixed to keep a quilt usable.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like to spend a lot of time doing that. Matching up seams perfectly and meticulously evening out binding has it’s place, of course, but it seems silly for a quilt that’s going to be jumped on by my pup or wrapped around a wet toddler after a swim in our city fountain. To that end, over the years, I’ve started fixing up my “rescued” quilts in a slapdash, shabby chic way, that I call “Frankenquilting.” Again, this is not “how to repair your historical quilt,” but if you have a tattered quilt that you’d just like to see get some use again, here are a few ideas for repairing it.

Crooked Stitch Binding
One place that rescued quilts are often coming apart is at the binding. After years of shifting batting and lumping seams, however, it can be hard to apply new binding evenly. Additionally, finding binding to perfectly match the old binding can be impossible. My answer to these problems? Don’t worry about it!

Find some bias binding tape that you like– homemade or store bought– in whatever color or pattern makes you smile. Pin it to the side of your quilt like you normally would, and start stitching up and down the length of it. As you stitch– I recommend going up and down the length of the binding at least three times– let the fabric drift back and forth to make squiggly crooked lines.

This is also a good place to use up scraps of binding tape. When you run out of one color of tape, just start a new one. To avoid leaving a raw edge, tuck the raw edge of the new color underneath and press it before you start with the new piece.

Stick a Patch On It (Quick and Dirty)
Have a really big hole to fix? Stick a patch on it. Again, don’t worry about matching. Let go of your need to line things up. Just pick a swatch of fabric that you like from your stash and slap it on that quilt.

Of course, there are many ways to do that, but what I do is first position my patch and pin it in place. Then, setting my machine to a wide, tight zig-zag, I stitch all the way around the edge once. You can leave it just like that, if it makes you happy. If I’m feeling persnickety however, I’ll often wash the quilt, and then do another round of stitching, just to make the edges a tiny bit neater.

Also, don’t worry about matching thread unless you want to. This is my favorite place to use up the odd bits left at the end of a spool. When you run out of one color, re-thread your machine with something new, backstitch a little and start again.

Stick a Patch On It (A Bit More Politely)
OK, but you say you want to make a nice, neat patch. In that case, use a piece of scrap paper to make a template the size of the patch you want. Then, cut a piece of fabric slightly bigger than the patch. Using a hot iron, carefully press the edges of the fabric up around the paper to make a folded edge. Remove the paper, and– again, if it bugs you– tuck up the excess fabric that will be at the corners. Pin the patch to your quilt, and using that same wide, tight zig-zag stitch, sew the patch to the quilt.

Or use a straight stitch if you want. The beauty of this is that by varying your fabric choices and/or thread you can make your patches pop out or you can make them really subtle. Have fun playing with your options.

Just Stitch It
If you just have a tiny hole, or even just a thin spot that looks like it’s about to be a hole, you can skip the patch altogether and reenforce the quilt with a bit of stitching. Again, by choosing different colors of thread, you can make the stitching stand out or it can be almost invisible.

A straight stitch or zig-zag will do the job, of course, but I think this is another fun place to experiment. If you’re like me, you hardly ever delve into the fancier stitches that are pre-programmed onto your sewing machine. This is a great place to try them out. Spin your little stitch wheel, see where it lands, and sew away.

Start Over (For the Ones You Really Love)
I would not recommend this method for a run-of-the mill quilt you come across at the thrift store, but for something you really love, you can always break the quilt down and start completely over again.

The quilt pictured above was originally one that my darling husband kept in his trunk for impromptu picnics when we were dating. It was in tatters then, so when I found it at my mother-in-law’s house several years later it was basically unsalvageable.

I couldn’t just throw it away, however, so– over the course of a winter– I trimmed away all the usable fabric. Patching the tiny pieces together, I made “stringer” blocks, and eventually put the whole thing back together as a baby quilt for our son. While it was a lot of work, it makes my heart so happy each time I see him sleeping under it. I think of all the women who’ve touched and worked the fabric over the years, and imagine how happy they might be to see that their work is still keeping a baby warm.

I think, at the heart of it, that’s why I can’t walk past these old quilts. Most of us who make things get a good bit of satisfaction in imagining how they will be used for years to come. My “frankenquilting” is just an easy, fun way to help those daydreams continue to come true.

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9 Responses to Quick Fixes for Old Quilts ~ How to Salvage/Rehab Your Quilting Finds

  1. Jamie says:

    Nice post! All your techniques sound like something a regular person could do. Perhaps the first commenter didn’t read your disclaimer all that carefully. I understood you perfectly clear.

  2. KerryQ says:

    This is a great post. I’d love to see more repair ideas, even for new quilts. I have a popped seam that is plaguing me!

  3. Sarah Park says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I never thought it is just that easy. And it looks presentable also.

  4. Meryl says:

    Absolutely Jen–and I hope I was clear about that! This was certainly not intended as “how to fix your heirloom quilt”. I wouldn’t be brave enough to even think about writing something like that!

  5. Fran says:

    We have quilts that have been part of the family longer than I can remember, and I know that my mom has used some of these tricks to help hold them together.

    These are truly scrappy quilts made by my great-grandmother and others, out of pieces of my mom and her siblings and cousin’s clothing along with pieces of whatever other fabric was available.

    Its less about preserving monetary value, and more about preserving the family history the quilt represents, often while adding a bit of our own history.

  6. Southern Gal says:

    I have a quilt my grandmother (passed away in 2006) made me and it’s in good shape, but the backing and the binding are a satiny type fabric which makes the quilt slide off of anything you put it on. So I want to take the top and put it on a new backing. I hadn’t thought about it in a while. I may have to just jump in and do it now.

  7. Persia says:

    Thanks for this! I have an old quilt I cover our bird cage with and I was just the other day looking at it wondering how to fix it up. Lots of patching it seems like!

  8. Thanks! I so needed this, I have a couple of old quilts I bought at estate sales (I couldn’t pass them up) and I need to get to work on them….

  9. Jen says:

    If you have a valuable vintage or antique quilt, I would not advise using any of these techniques since they will all detract from the beauty and value of the quilt. There are some professionals who specialize in quilt repair that entails more than haphazard patching and stitches everywhere. If you have no regard for the value, then by all means, use these techniques.

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