Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lets talk about old quilt tops for a moment

So, Hey there! I have so much to blog about but I wanted to throw this post out into the either before I buckle down and blog about several of my latest quilts I have quilted for ladies.

I LOVE old quilt tops. And old quilt blocks....few things get me as trilled as when I find an old quilt top. My kids help me hunt for them in antique shops....and I have been known to buy some off ebay from time to time.

All the quit tops I collect I intend to finish....but sometimes I feel like I am so busy finishing these old birds that I neglect my REAL quilting and designing. But frankly there is SO much to learn from an old quilt top. I love the scrappy ones with a zillion fabrics that are perfect for tiny piece work....I think that is why I love Denyse Schmidt fabric so much because so many of her designs are inspired by old fabric. Gives me shivers it does!

I am often asked about what to look for and where to look for these special projects. I am going to be frank here....I have started leaving many quilt tops behind at antique shops. Think about you have UFO quilt tops laying around your sewing room? I bet you do. The ones I have made and just not quilted are because I have fallen out of love with them....or they just aren't fully finished yet and are waiting for the next inspiring boarder to pop into my head. Well, I am pretty sure the same thing happened with many of the quilts I have been finding lately. The quilter fell out of love with them or died...or in 2 cases the quilt tops were given to grand children to have finished....but the grand children had no clue how to go about having them finished so over time they wound up in my quilt lair. Thank goodness I KNOW how to do the finishing work. I will endeavor not to leave my offspring in such a state when my end comes.

Some quilt tops are not worth your while. For real! Don't waste your money and valuable time on someone else's mess. I have some that I really wish I would have thought about more before I bought them.

Basically here is what to look for:

  • look for a top that has never been washed. You may think that is gross, but washing a top with fragile seams can make a bad situation a downright nightmare. The seams will fray and then your seam allowance is gone...the top tends to be weak and will never stand up to any sort of use.
  • Look for a quilt with strong stitches
  • look for a quilt that is mostly square. The vintage quilt I just finished (at the bottom of the page) was all hand stitched and that quilter could care less if that quilt rippled and bucked like a wild horse. And let me tell you towards the bottom it did. 
  • If it is not square make sure it has enough character to make up for it!
  • do try to find a top with most of its seams intact. There are some special ones I have collected that do need some repair before I quilt them, but take the time to repair them. it isn't rocket science after all.
  • If there are tears in the top make sure the tears are just seams and not tears in the actual fabric. I don't mind quilting patches at all. I think it adds a great deal to a quilt, and mending means love.
What else? Let me know if you have questions about what to look for...I need to go get my kids from school, so I have to cut this post shorter than I wanted.

Oh, where to look for quilt tops?

I have had a great deal of luck with looking through antique shops. I can tell almost as soon as I step inside a quilt shop if it will be worth my while to look around, I bet you can too. Ebay is also a good bet. But with Ebay you can't judge odor. I have had some quilts that were just too foul smelling to work on...most of the stink airs out, or you can put it in a paper bag with (unused) coffee grounds for a few weeks and that absorbs the stink pretty nice.

This is the one I found today. Pretty good looking log cabin. It is old, but all machine pieced onto foundation. I do wonder what sort of machine was used....judging from the age of the fabric I wonder if it was a treadle?

Sadly this one has quite a few bad spots, but for $30 I bought it anyway. I love a log Cabin quilt. The first design I knew how to assemble was a log cabin I am pretty sure I made 7 of them before I even tried anything else.

Can you recognize anything special about this log cabin? A log cabin is a very traditional block...I wonder it you can spot where this quilt maker did her own thing?

The back of the top shows the foundation bits. Mostly cotton flour sacking, but some dress fabric as well. This is a very heavy top considering its size.

See where the foundation is tearing on the back? I don't think I am going to actually quilt this one. I may change my mind later, but I do like the construction of this top.

Forgive this terrible shot of the Ocean waves quilt I just finished. I am afraid my camera is getting ready to die on me. I will blog about this one in its own post, but I just wanted to show that these old quilts can be finished and Incorporated into your home. I use my antique quilts all the time. They are in full rotation in my house with my children.

 So this may be a question you are wondering....should you send an antique quilt top to your long armer???? Hell Yes! I can't speak for all the long arm quilters out there, but I love to quilt them. Think of all the work that goes into one of these hand pieced tops...only to spend the rest of its life in the near nude state. Finish them up! Give dignity to these beauties!

Happy hunting folks!



  1. I look for tops, also. You are right one that some are not worth quilting. Now and then I find one that I can take apart and use the pieces.

    1. I totally agree with you! I am actually thinking of canabolizing the log cabin I just bought. I see coin purses and paint brush holders. But that will only happen if I can find dome free time.

  2. So you're the one buying all the fun tops!
    I found some vintage quilt blocks at an auction that seem to be worth making up, but they're horribly uneven(up to an inch difference between blocks). It's a very unique log cabin, almost all dark scrap wool with a bright gold or blue velvet center. A very exciting piece, but I'm a bit frightened to start cutting the blocks down and ruin it. It was hand done, but I'd like to machine the rest of the assembly, and maybe hand quilt it. Any advice?


Thanks for commenting! I read each one. I will either respond via email or here in the comments. xo - Tia