Vintage “Kansas Dugout”

My daughter, Trinity, was asked to quilt and bind a vintage quilt top. It was recently purchased from a craft group by a friend of her sister’s in Aiken County, South Carolina.

At first glance, it seems like a mish-mash of scraps, sewn together with no rhyme or reason. Upon closer examination, you notice yellow squares in the centers of interlocking octagons. Following a hunch, Trinity and I looked up “Kansas Dugout” in Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Blocks. Yes! This quilt is a variation of the design which was popular in the 1930s. Click here to see images of “Kansas Dugout” quilts; viewing this site really is worth a few seconds. You will notice that most of the fabric hexagons are cut from a single fabric whereas the maker of the quilt shown above pieced tiny pieces together to make the hexagons. I surmise that most of the fabrics were printed in the 1950s.

If you had been in my quilt studio this past week as we examined this quilt top, you would have exclaimed with us about the hand piecing. Every stitch, from the pieced elongated hexagons to the yellow border strips was stitched by hand! Truly, machine piecing this design would require many stops and starts because of the set-in corners, so hand piecing or English Paper Piecing is a viable option for “Kansas Dugout.”

Although we were amazed at the patience and frugality of the quilt maker, we recognized several problems that needed attention prior to quilting the quilt. Did you notice the wavy borders in the photo above? The fullness was largely due to the bias edges of the setting triangles all around the patchwork. The quilter did not measure the quilt through the center to find the correct length for the borders. She just sat in her chair and hand sewed the long border strips onto the patchwork center which stretched the bias edge of each triangle ever so slightly. Trinity elected to remove three of the waviest borders, stay stitch along the triangle edges, and measure the quilt prior to re-attaching the borders. Each original border strip was 3-5″ longer than the quilt!

The next issue that consumed Trinity’s attention were several holes in the quilt top. The following picture shows her fingers poking through the wrong side of the quilt.

Someone washed the quilt top. This was ill-advised because the seam allowances frayed and several of the loosely woven fabrics shrank and unraveled. We considered ripping out the holey pieces and inserting patches of vintage fabric, but Trinity decided instead to take deeper seam allowances on the offending pieces. The quilt top did not lay flat in the first place, and a few more areas of fullness would not matter.

Trinity purchased a muted green extra wide backing fabric and selected a pale yellow thread for quilting. She free-hand quilted a medium/small meander on my longarm which worked in much of the fullness and stabilized the small hand-sewn pieces.

Vintage “Kansas Dugout” Quilt

She found a yellow daisy print for the binding from the “Nana Mae V” collection at Sew There! Quilts and More in Angier, NC. It adds a soft finish with a vintage feel to quilt’s edges. It is the perfect transition between the yellow border and the muted green backing.

Although the quilt is not heirloom quality and contains puckers, it is now sturdy and usable. Trinity transformed a scrappy “hot mess” into a fun scrapbook of 50s fabrics, testimony to a frugal quilter. Whether the new owner of the quilt uses it to decorate in her home or she uses it as a picnic or stadium quilt, its cheerful colors and various fabrics are sure to bring smiles.

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