Quilt Restoration

Quilt restoration is necessary when trying to preserve an old or antique quilt. The first question that one needs to answer before attempting to restore an old quilt is “do I have the necessary skills to do it?” If the quilt is valuable, it might be best to contact a professional restorer and ask for their opinion. If the quilt has any historical value, it needs to be preserved rather than restored. If the quilt owner has any doubts regarding historical value of the quilt, the first step should be to contact an appraiser. If any work is done on a quilt, it should be documented and kept with the quilt.

What Should I Do To Restore A Quilt?

There are three levels of care regarding preservation of old quilts. Depending on the quilt and the value of it, a quilter could repair it, restore it or conserve it. Heirloom quilts passed down in families might have little more than their restorationintrinsic value monetarily, but can be very sentimental and have great value that way. The first and simplest way to preserve a quilt is to repair it. Repairing an old quilt simply means doing whatever sewing it is necessary to keep the quilt in fair condition to continue using it. Mending tears or replacing a worn binding (normally the first part of any quilt to wear out) would be considered reparation work. Repairing a quilt doesn’t take the quilt’s age or fabric into consideration. Rather than trying to use period appropriate fabric, repairs are made with contemporary fabric that fits the colorway of the quilt. The ultimate goal of quilt repair is to keep it useable. Washing might be necessary, and as long as the fabric is colorfast (test unstable colors before washing any textile by rubbing dark colored fabrics with a piece of white fabric), it can be done in the washer in a gentle cycle with mild soap. Rinse very thoroughly and run the spin cycle an extra time to try to remove as much moisture as possible. Agitation in a washer can do damage, but spinning won’t. Air drying quilts is a better alternative than drying in the dryer. If possible, always air dry by laying the quilt on top of a clean sheet on a lawn, or laying it on a clothesline provided the seams are strong enough.

The next level of preservation is restoration proper. In restoration, a quilter tries to match the fabrics that are restorationdamaged and possibly the batting as well. To restore a quilt, you will have to consider the overall condition of the quilt, figure a way to get period fabric or a reproduction fabric that will if not match perfectly, at least fit with the general colorway of the quilt. Seams might have to be re-sewn by using an invisible stitch and a matching thread, either silk or fine cotton. Batting might need to be replaced in places and patches might have to be appliqued over the original patches if the fabric is too frayed for successful mending. The binding style needs to be taken into consideration and if binding needs fixing, it is best to leave the old binding in place. Any fabric, threads or batting used must, as far as possible, match the original being restored. Regarding cleaning a quilt that has been restored, common sense needs to be the first guide. Sometimes the fabric is simply too frail to be washed or in the case of silks and velvets, they should not be washed, in which case airing or vacuuming with a brush attachment is all that can be done to keep it clean. If washing is to be attempted, it needs to be done in a washing machine used as a washtub, that is, by placing the quilt in the machine and soaking it in sudsy water with no agitation. After soaking, spin the dirty water out and rinse very thoroughly. You might need to spin it twice to remove most of the water so the quilt won’t take long to dry, minimizing water damage that way. Air-dry the quilt by laying it on the lawn between clean sheets. There are several products available to wash antique textiles and provided the color is stable, a mild soap can be used as well. It is of the uttermost importance that the quilt is very dry before storing it. Stain removal is not the goal in cleaning a restored quilt, but rather removing dirt that can cause further textile damage.

The third level of care is simply to stabilize the damage the quilt has sustained. This is considered conservation and it restorationrequires the highest level of skill and care. In quilt conservation, the parts of the quilt that have sustained damage are held in place by careful appliqueing of a fine mesh fabric over them. Conservation does not allow the quilt to be used afterwards, but simply allows the quilt to be stored or displayed and it attempts to keep the quilt from suffering further damage. Conservation doesn’t try to hide the damage, but rather to maintain the historical value of the quilt intact and allow the quilt’s life to be extended.
Sheer fabrics are very carefully appliqued over areas that have damage. Silk tulle, bridal netting and other sheer fabrics are appliqued over the damaged areas. A quilt that is being conserved shouldn’t be washed at all, or only washed by a professional quilt restorer. Airing and vacuuming with a soft brush attachment over a screen is all that should be done to quilts with historical value. Displaying this type of quilt should be done with care, as the weight of the quilt itself can cause further damage if the quilt is hung.

When Not To Restore

Sometimes the quilt is too damaged to be repaired or restored. If the quilt has no historical significance, parts of it can be cut and preserved as a smaller quilt, but always documenting the work that is done as not to confuse future quilt historians.

For more information on making a quilt click here!


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