When Sharon, a new friend at chapel, learned that I finish quilts for customers, her eyes brightened. “I’ve got three quilt tops pieced by my grandmother that were inherited by my mother. My mom passed 20 years ago without having them finished. Could you take a look at them?”
Before accepting the commission, I talked with Sharon about the options of preserving older textiles for posterity’s sake. Many quilt historians advise leaving some antique or intricate quilt tops as they are – unquilted – because “the quilt is only as old as the newest piece of fabric it contains.” We determined together that her quilt tops are not museum quality, but they are important pieces of family history. In a real sense they are Grandma’s heirlooms passed down to Sharon. They will be most useful if they are finished and their coziness is enjoyed as Grandma originally intended. (In researching the origin of this quilt, Sharon learned from an aunt that her grandmother Flora often pieced quilts with her friends Ms. Georgia and Ms. Della Mae all of Dawson, Georgia. This top may have been completed in the sixties or early seventies.)
All three quilts were pieced by hand and included home decorator fabrics, cotton/poly blends, and twill as well as 100% cotton. When I asked Sharon to select the quilt she most wanted finished, she chose the “Bowtie” twin size quilt because she remembered her mother mentioning it.
Most of the white and all of the solid fabrics are twill (like khaki pants or school uniforms are made of). Many of the squares were pieced together prior to constructing the “Bowties.” Grandma Flora used what she had!
The print sashing fabric is charming; notice that two colorways of the print are used. There’s a farmer and his wife holding a baby, a cat on the roof, a goose girl, chickens, and a woman hanging laundry on the line while a dog looks on. The bright colors of the sashing influenced my selection of the bright print backing fabric.
Although I generally use a predominantly cotton batting, in this case I chose a high loft polyester batting manufactured by Fairfield because I observed that the quilt was irregular and did not press flat. Polyester (and wool) allow the uneven places of a quilt top to puff up, making the fullness less noticeable. A pale yellow thread blends well with the bold colors and is nearly invisible on the white background. By using a simple meandering quilt design, I was able to work in most of the fullness.
Interesting Construction Technique: Sharon’s grandmother constructed the “Bowties” with a technique I have not seen before. Normally when we observe bowties like this, we assume the small center square has been set in, stitched to the 4 larger pentagons.
Take a look at the back of the block. Instead of cutting out 4 pentagons (2 blue and 2 white), Grandma Flora simply cut out 4 (large) squares.
I replicated Grandma’s method for you, and snapped pictures as I went along. Beginning with two white 3 1/2″ squares and two blue print 3 1/2″ squares, I marked the white squares 1 1/4″ from the corners that will end up being in the center of the “bowtie.” I machine stitched from the edges of the squares toward the center of the “bowtie” and back-stitched at the marks. The four 3 1/2″ large squares form a “Four Patch” with a hole in the center. I folded and pressed the unsewn triangular flaps toward the back of the block.
The next step is securing a 2 1/4″ square of blue fabric on top of the triangular flaps on the back of the block so that the right side of the blue fabric shows on the front of the block. Since pins proved difficult to use, I applied washable school glue on the folded flaps. Then the flaps could be easily lifted upward as I hand stitched on the pressed fold line all around the small square.
When I came to a seam, I back-tacked and slid my needle through the seam allowance to the adjacent flap. Grandma Flora did not trim away the triangle flaps. They don’t show through to the front of her quilt because the twill fabric is thick. However, I recommend trimming the seam allowance to 1/4.”
I share this technique, similar to “reverse applique,” with the thought that in the future we may see an application for using this idea in quilts we are working on. It’s always nice to know several construction methods for patchwork designs. If this method intrigues you, I recommend “Piec-lique: Curves the New Way” by Sharon Schamber.
Do you own a vintage quilt top that needs completing? What is its approximate age? What “problems” do you need to overcome in order to finish it?