Vintage “Railroad Crossing”

31 10 2013

In my previous post, I showed family quilts from the collection of Mrs. Thomas. She had one more quilt . . . actually a quilt top made by her mother-in-law . . . and she asked if I would finish it. So I brought it home and aired it, wrong side up, for five days in the fall sunshine and breeze. The quilt top smelled quite musty since it had been stored in a plastic bag for years. It’s still a little musty smelling, but I didn’t want to wash it prior to quilting.

Aby q3

At first glance, I thought this quilt of 15″ blocks was as scrappy as a crazy quilt with no apparent pattern. My eye is drawn to the bright orange or green shapes. The design looks similar to a “Churn Dash” on point, doesn’t it?

But look closer and discover that the blocks are “Railroad Crossing” with either orange (or gold) and Nile Green (or pale Nine Green) as the background fabric.

Aby q1

Hattie machine pieced some of the railroad “ties” on newspaper which she tore off once piecing was complete. Some of the sections were machine pieced, some were hand pieced. And there is a row of half blocks on one side of the quilt, presumably to make the quilt wide enough for a bed. The fabrics in the quilt range from feed sacks to poly/cotton broadcloth to dress- and shirt-making fabrics.

RRcrossing q

What made this project tricky to work with were the bias edges . . . all the blocks had bias on all four sides. This resulted in a lot of fullness in the interior of the quilt and wavy edges on the sides of the quilt. I decided that an outer border would frame the busy patchwork nicely, would stabilize the bias edges, and would made the quilt 10″ larger. Then began a search for Nile Green. Suffice it to say the Nile Green of the 50s and 60s is not the same shade of teal green as can be found in the fabric shops today! I settled on a teal green print of tiny flowers. I used the same fabric for the backing of the quilt.

As you can guess, one side of the quilt was longer than the other. I measured the quilt through the center to find the length for the borders but then had to add about an inch so the borders could fit the quilt. I eased and pinned, trying my best to tame the bias. (Another trick which I didn’t employ this time is sewing a gathering stitch along the sides of the quilt to help them ease to fit the border.) I also made a pleat in two of the side triangles and hand appliqued the tucks in place so that they look like seams.


I didn’t square up the quilt, but used the straight edge of the border to achieve a straight edge for the patchwork. I measured across the quilt in about 5 places to make sure the quilt was the same width throughout. I surmise that Hattie made this quilt in her sunset years and did not trim all the blocks to the same measurement before sewing them together to make the quilt top.

Another trick for completing quilt tops with fullness in the interior is to use a high loft polyester batting. This allows the fullness to puff between the stitching. Sometimes you can quilt the quilt into submission with lots of stitching close together, but I chose the “puffy” path this time. I feel a little guilty because all of Hattie’s other quilts contain cotton batting, but I believe that polyester batting completes this quilt to its best advantage.


In addition, all of Hattie’s other quilts were hand quilted, but I, of course, quilted it on my long arm. I freehanded a leaf and curl design in the border and quilted a medium-large meander through the “Railroad Crossing” blocks with a fresh, green thread. Curvy meandering counterbalances all the straight edges of the fabric pieces and allowed me to work in much of the fullness.

RRcrossing close up

I am very pleased with the outcome, and I hope Mrs. Thomas will be, too. I know she will be happy that, at long last, her mother’in-law’s unfinished project is now beautiful and useable. The label on the back of the quilt includes Hattie’s full name, birth and death dates; Mr. Thomas’ full name; and my info as the quilter.




One response

13 07 2014

What a wonderful job you did! You are amazing! I loved reading what you had to do to get it “right” and all the pictures! I feel like I just took a quilting class.

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