June 13, 2011

Salvage

On my last trip home my mom said she wanted to give me a quilt that my great grandmother had made.


She pulled this out and before I could even take it in, immediately sprung to her grandmother's defense. There were nicer quilts, she said, but those had fallen into her sister's hands and were lost or destroyed over the years. This was the only one of her grandmother's quilts that my mother had received, and here, in my thirties, I was seeing it for the first time.


The quilt is scrappy and asymmetrical, two things I very much enjoy. The hand quilting alternates from diagonal to straight lines, which is fun. The sashing fabric is rather bizarre and seeing it humbles me. I doubt it was her first choice. But it was what she had and what she used and that's a good reminder for me.


There is this strange loop of string hanging off one of the blocks. It looks like it was placed there intentionally but I can't imagine why. 


This poor quilt...it's not doing well.



Despite quilting lines an inch apart, the batting has shredded into lumps on the inside. There is no block that does not have some of the thin fabrics wearing away on the dresden plates. The edges are a shambles. I looked it over with my mom, taking in the fabrics, the hand quilting, and, of course, the wear.

"I thought maybe you could repair it," she said.

I shook my head slowly. I couldn't lie to her. "There is no way I could repair this, mom," I said.

She looked so shocked and upset. Her cheeks were flushed. It was the way a person would look if you splashed them with a bucket of cold water. I felt like I'd taken her grandmother away from her in an instant.


I understood too late that our simple conversation meant so much more. It was about mortality, and loss, and loneliness. It was about a young person not understanding yet what it's like to grow older, to lose your parents, to suddenly find your treasured mementos crumbling to dust.

I told her I still wanted it.  I wanted to figure out a way to salvage some part of it. With the batting in such shreds I don't think it would work to turn a block into a pillow or a potholder. And my mom has so much framed art already...I don't think that's the answer either.

So what I'm thinking about is taking pictures of the least worn blocks. But what should I do with the pictures? Print them onto notecards? Print them onto fabric and make a new quilt? I'd really love your creative ideas for this challenge, because I'm officially stuck.

29 comments:

MariQuilts said...

I have no solutions for you but your post really moved me. I actually had goose bumps when you talked about your conversation meaning so much more. I like your note card idea. These things can be so difficult can't they.

SkippityDoDahQuilts said...

Could you somehow print them onto fabric big enough for panels? Orrr, is there any way you could find really similar fabric and make a new one? This is such a heartbreaking situation, it seriously made me cry :(. I really hope you can figure something out, but I just know you'll do something beautiful!

www.skippitydodahquilts.blogspot.com

Brenda said...

I like the idea of notecards too. you could also put fine bridal netting over it to preserve what's left. you could also show it to family members and collect memories of your greatgrandma to go with her quilt. good luck!

SewHappyGeek said...

You might be able to take four of the blocks' pictures and try to paint a replica of them on canvas, including the sashing in the painting too. I know you said she's got art already, but at least it might be a little reminder. you could easily sketch it out using large photos or printouts of the photos, then it would just be a matter of the right colours and patterns to mimic the fabrics?
Not a great suggestion, but I'm not much of a designer...

suesueb said...

Your post moved me too. I have a piece of my great grandmother's quilt and a piece (not even quilted) that my grandmother made. Unfortunately, my mom was not a quilter at all. I think your notecard idea is wonderful and your mom would enjoy using them. I would maybe a few of the better pieces and frame them too. Lots of luck!!

Sue SA said...

Is there a national quilt register that you can enter the quilt on? That way your mother could provide as much information as she knows about the quilt and her grandmother, which at least helps preserve the quilts history and gives it some life back. You might be able to get some professional advice on helping to preserve the quilt in its current state. You also might want to make a replica for your mother, doesnt have to be full size, or the same fabrics, but similar colours? Happy quilting Sue SA.

Merry Made Quilts said...

A cheat print from a photo (series of photos) on www.spoonflower.com might do the trick (maybe if you're really dedicated you could even cut it apart and piece it back together for a "real" quilt. Or for art getting a canvas print.

Kelley said...

What a treasure! You say the batting is shredded up so I'm not sure if this would work but one thing people used to do with old worn quilts is use it as the batting for a new quilt. It would be a cherished gift for you to make a quilt for your mom with this at it's center. Of course it would no longer be visible but it would give your quilt a lovely soul.

quiltingnana said...

what a wonderful post. I too have quilts that are in less than perfect condition made by my grandmother and great grandmother. The notecard idea is wonderful, as is the idea of a quilt registry. Most states have a quilt project going on. I would keep it just as it is. Store it in acid free paper and box. It must have been loved to have been worn so. A copy out of replica fabric would be a good idea.

Jamie Lee said...

This reminds me of the Irish chain quilt I told you about that was absolutely destroyed. I took many, many photos of it and plan to actually remake the entire quilt as accurately as possible. With the repros available, I think I could mimic is very closely. I'm not sure if you could remake this one as accurately, but maybe you could remake one or two of the dresden plates and then make them into pillows? Or maybe you're up to the challenge of remaking the entire thing...could you imagine your mom's face seeing it?

I really liked what you said about the sashing...whenever I am sewing I think of my grandmother.

Wendy said...

How about doing a shadow box with little mementos of your great grandma and adding a block or two that is in good shape......then she would always have a memento.....which could be passed down to future generations.....your story really moved me to tears.......

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

Turn the photos into note cards for your mother. Keep the quilt. I display antique quilts on an old wooden ladder in my guest bedroom. One is almost in shreds, but, I still like it. Because of the sentimental value alone, it is worth keeping as long as possible.

Regina said...

I had a top that shredded and then got mildewed from my grandma - I salvaged what blocks I could - and am going to reproduce the block style for myself. One block I framed and wrote an accompanying poem and gave to my brother - it's on my blog - his quilt from her was totally lost so this is what he has. He loves it.

Debbie said...

Beautiful story about a beautiful quilt. Your insights are priceless. Photos into notecards--yes!! And on the back have portions of your post included with the story of the quilt. Understand about not being able to salvage much or any of it. Remember the fabrics were probably used in clothing or etc before they became the quilt. And the batting contained the oils and seeds of the cotton that also caused damage. It's a miracle you have this much left...so cherish it and display it somewhere safe. Enhoy the heart of it.

Anonymous said...

Check out what Cathe Holden (graphic designer with a wonderful blog, Just Something I Made) did with photos of her grandmother's quilt...also a Dresden.
http://justsomethingimade.blogspot.com/2010/09/personalized-jewelry-grandmas-quilt.html

Brenda said...

I would display it on a high chair or somewhere. The quilt has a lot of sentimental value. I have an old quilt displayed on a wooden highchair. It is no longer able to be snuggled with but every time I see it, it reminds me of my husband's grandmother.

Suzanne said...

I too was moved by your post. I was given someone's quilt to see if I could repair it and it was beyond what I could do.

I know you mentioned that your mom has a lot of wall art but what if you created a photo patchwork quilt using pictures of the quilt from different angles. There's so much you can do with graphic computer programs. I received a photo quilt and the blocks were actually stitched together by machine. (It may be on flickr. I'll see if I can find it if you are interested.)

Here's another random thought I had. I don't know if it would work but I'll throw it out there to you and the universe because it may lead to a workable solution.

What if you used that wash away stabilizer (maybe a layer on the front and the back) and did some of your amazing quilting? Super tight designs would strengthen the weak spots and then the original fabrics would still be there. I have seen this same process used in knitting where various yarns were sandwiched with the wash away stabilizer and then the sandwich was sewn with fancy thread on the sewing machine. When completely sewn, the scarf was submerged in water and what was left was an amazing piece of wearable art.

Good luck! You have a good heart and I know you will do something wonderful to honor your mom and your great grandmother.

Creative Mom said...

I like the spoonflower idea to recreate some of the blocks or even the whole thing. I actually have an old quilt I was going to bring to the guild meeting this week to get feedback on for the same issue, just hoping to find a way to patch the quilt.

A Left-Handed Quilter said...

A couple of random thoughts -

(1) - I like the idea of photos on note cards for your mom - but - if she used them - she would be sending them to other people - right? She couldn't use them and keep them at same time - or am I missing something?

(2) - I would keep it just the way it is. If you cut it up or quilt over it or anything like that - you will lose the charm and beauty of what your great grandmother made. If you change it - it won't be "hers" anymore.

(3) - I also like the idea of the historical quilt directory. Your mother could document what she knows of her grandmother and the quilt - and it would be historically preserved for future generations.

A side note - my grandmother made quilts - by hand. She gave me one as a child. I loved it - but didn't know then what I know now. As an adult - I put the quilt in the washing machine - and it shredded to bits! I destroyed the quilt my grandmother made! What I wouldn't give to have that quilt back!

Preserve it the best way you can - as is!

Jeane said...

What wonderful comments and suggestions. I really like the notecard idea. If you think you can keep it as a whole quilt, I would certainly go with that firstly. Secondly, I would put a few samples in a shadowbox display for yourself/children. You are so lucky to be given such a beautiful treasure and I know you will come up with a great solution.

Please let us know what you decide or better yet, a picture.

Chris said...

Hello~Just found your blog, and your lovely post. First, I have an idea about the "string" - some of these fabrics may be from feed sacks, which were closed with a heavy thread or string. My grandma, super frugal gal that she was, unravelled the string, and used it to tie the quilts with. Second, I would suggest (a)making a replica quilt, to honor the original and have something to pass down for the next few generations - with a history on the back; and (b) keeping the orginal as is, to love and display carefully, or if it is indeed falling apart, dividing it and sharing pieces with various family members, as small wall quilts or shadow box pieces or the like. This is obviously a treasure.

Fleur de Lis Quilts said...

Sorry this post is so long but documenting and preserving quilts is close to my heart, so I've already done some research that may help you.

The Alliance for American Quilts is "a nonprofit...whose mission is to document, preserve, and share our American quilt heritage..." (from the website)

You might consider contacting them to have your beautiful quilt documented. Many states have a chapter that may also be able to help you. I do recommend that you document the quilt before it gets much older. When you take the quilt in, make sure you have as much information as you can about the maker, maybe even go to their website to check out the different bits of info that they accept. They also have a wiki so you can document the quilt but I don't know how that works.

You might also use the internet to see if there's a quilt museum in your state that would take the quilt (if you're willing to give it up) and preserve it. At least it will be cared for correctly and the quilt will be studied and viewed by others.

Last suggestion: try the International Quilt Study Museum's website they have great info on quilt care. They do accept donations but you have to follow the protocol.

Hope this helps. You have a wonderful treasure, please don't cut it up or attempt any preservation until you are sure that what you are considering will not damage or devalue the quilt. I can't tell you the joy I feel knowing that my mom had one of my grandmother's quilts documented in 1989. Now both have passed away but the quilt image and info are preserved forever.

bunbear said...

i liked the idea of making a replica quilt in similar fabrics and colors.

oh, and that strange loop that was on the quilt - was there a button in a strange place too? maybe it was wrapped around something and hung somewhere? just a guess.

Michelle said...

Honestly, I would keep it the way it is and try to reproduce it with new fabric. All of that wear and tear is part of it's history, proof that it was used and loved.

Annie of Blue Gables said...

Oh, Christine, that is such a beautiful quilt. I had a wedding ring quilt that looked to be in about the same shape and realized I couldn't repair it either.
I LOVE the idea to try to reproduce it and document the original. I also LOVE the idea of making cards out of photos of it. What a very sweet way to preserve it.
You are so lucky to have something like this.
~a

Anonymous said...

I also have a quilt that belonged to my husbands grandmother. It is in dire need of some help. I decided I was going to use the best blocks and make small wallhangings for my four children so a little piece of it can be remembered. I like the idea of taking a picture first to go along with the wallhanging.
Vicki B
Nebraska

Eileen said...

Maybe a quilt restorer could help. I can't remember who, but do know there's one in I think salt lake city. There's a museum in new York city that recently had a red/white quilt show and think they have lots of very old quilts and might have ideas.

Lana said...

I say this...take the quilt squares you have that you can reuse...cut them out with the back, and remove the batting. Add your own little touch of new sashing, attach them, re-sandwich it out of some of the old peices of the old quilt back along with new ones from you, requilt it and give it to her for Christmas.
I have done this, and was able to save more of it than I thought, and when I added my little tag to the back of it next to the old one...I felt like I was a part of the wonderful history of the quilt... She will love it. Something old and dear, with something new and near...and she can still enjoy the warmth of it. You can do it.

adrushta said...

Recreating the fabric in Spoonflower is a good suggestion.In India where I come from,we don't always use batting;old bedsheets,sarees etc are used in the sandwich.So with the fresh replica fabric from spoonflower and a few old sheets you can whip up a replica quit that is totally washing machine,dryer and rough use safe! It would actually make a very usable keep sake that reminds your mum of her grandmother...worth the effort of painstakingly recreating the fabric and re making the quilt..but the original remains untouched and the replica is totally usable!

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