Have you ever had the fright of finding a hole in your favorite heirloom quilt – that your great grandmother made before you were born?
Or maybe you’ve finished a quilt then had the horror of finding a hole or a ripped seam? That marathon of effort and time and now it’s all ruined!
I’ve been there before with my well loved quilt that my grandmother and her friends hand quilted me.
In this article...
Fixing Old Quilts
I tried to forget the decaying threads but slowly the applique became unthreaded and I delved into the world of learning how to repair a quilt.
You know what? It was so much fun! Repairing quilts is another opportunity to add personality and texture into your project.
This happens to almost every quilt at some point in their life and I have many solutions! Stick with me – I’ll show you how to fix it!
Can you repair quilts?
Yes, absolutely and I’m going to tell you how. All is not lost! Say it with me “ALL IS NOT LOST!”
Even quilts that are family heirlooms are meant to be used and loved, and I’ve never understood people who spend energy making these artistic creations for them to be too precious to use.
It doesn’t matter if you just used software to design it, an heirloom is an heirloom!
However, the more love you give a quilt, the more chances there will be of wear and tear, which leads in turn to learning how to repair a damaged quilt.
Hard to Avoid
Damages happen to any particular quilt, it’s heartbreaking I know, but it happens.
Even experienced quilters have mishaps during quilting they don’t notice until they have finished.
The re-do repair method will depend on the extent and type of damage, but I’ve got four main methods which should cover you across all repairs – don’t worry – I got you!
The type of damage
There are only so many ways a quilt can be damaged right?
Probably the most common damage, these are the edges of fabric that have come away from the material and can sometimes curl up. They can occur at the edges of your quilt or where seams intersect.
This can happen to a brand new quilt or a very old quilt that’s been well used.
Another common problem in an antique quilt is when seams become frayed and look like wispy bits or loose cotton.
This can happen when the fabrics are sewn too close to the edge.
Holes in old quilts (and new for that matter) can happen through punctures, burn marks, rips or tears.
Sometimes they go a bit deeper and the batting is visible underneath. In this case needs to be addressed as quickly as possible so the batting is not damaged.
The extent of the damage
You also need to examine the extent of the damage as a factor in the method used for repairs.
If your old quilt has really disintegrated, you won’t be able to use only a stitch method or applique, and deconstruction might be the only way to repair it.
When quilts become severely worn it’s not always a factor of age, only use. If a quilt has historic value to the owner they might want to spend the effort and expense in repairing a quilt professionally rather than potentially causing more damage by tackling the repair themselves!
How do you repair an old quilt?
Vintage quilts are likely to have been loved very much. They may be coated in stains and have a few holes or unraveling in the fabrics.
Antique quilts are often passed down as treasured heirlooms to families, and so when you start to see frayed edges on the vintage fabrics, you might think it’s beyond repair work.
If there are only smaller holes on quilts, I think the best way to repair older quilts is by hand stitching a second patch made of similar fabric onto the quilt top. I find that by using a hand stitch quilting process, it adds to the authenticity.
Thrift stores are some of my favorite places to find fabric cuts of the same color. I always look for old clothes that are still in good shape I could use to fix an older quilt.
However, the below methods are all suitable to repair a vintage quilt which make sure the sentimental value of a quilt doesn’t get lost.
Quilt repair methods
Let’s take a look at the most commonly used methods to repair a treasured quilt.
Patching is a repair method that can be used for all quilt types, not only patchwork quilts for when material is frayed or to cover a hole.
It can be used when a whole area of the entire quilt has been damaged by a dog (ehem.. my puppy chewed through an entire patchwork quilt. I only just had enough fabric to start all over again!).
You will begin by trimming away any loose strands of embroidery thread neatening up the area to be sewn.
Find some new fabric that looks close in color, or contrasting color to stand out on the quilt.
Make a fabric cut that will cover the whole area of the hole, including around ¼” seam allowance. Press the seam allowance down the wrong side facing and then attach the patch to the quilt using any type of decorative stitch. I like to use zig zag stitches, or a whip stitch hand sewn.
If you are replacing an entire area of a quilt with a patch, cut out a section of batting (with ½” larger to turn the edges) and a back layer. You may use a temporary glue or fusible web to set the patch in place. Create a quilt sandwich, and then sew your patch on.
Finally quilt over your patch by sewing machine quilting.
When making a quilt top try to keep all of the scraps of old squares and the original fabric that can be kept for any repairs.
Stitching is a good way to repair small holes or snags to quilts, without having to deconstruct it or add a huge amount of fabric.
Depending on the damaged quilt there are different stitching techniques.
If your seams are closed and you need to fix a hole, make a knot with a matching color thread and start sewing under the edge of the fabric, come up the fold, do a whip stitch up the seam with a short stitch on the outside of the fabric – the whip side traveling up the seam under the fabric.
Make a knot and bury it under the fabric then trim.
If you have open seams you will use a ladder stitch.
Bury your knot behind the fabric, and come up where the seam lines are still intact and then do the same on the other side, don’t go through all the layers, only one layer of quilt if possible.
Come up through a couple of threads at a time, and then pull the threads tight. It produces a nice flat seam.
You can repair an existing quilt with machine stitched decorative sewing but remember that it will show on the back of the whole quilt.
A hand stitched quilt repair is also an opportunity to add decorative stitches like a cross stitch. – I like to call these quilt kisses, and it’s fun to use these stitches with contrasting thread colors!
You can replicate the original quilting stitches so the amendment blends in.
When I’m making really small repairs, I like to use glue or interfacing underneath a small hole and then zig zag stitch to hold the edges together.
Frayed seams can be fixed by rolling back the seam and whip stitching it, starting several stitches before the fray and continuing several stitches after.
Bigger frays that expose the batting or a fray on an open seam should be treated like an open hole on a damaged quilt.
This can either seem absolutely terrifying or really exciting depending on your perspective!
This way to fix your quilt involves carefully taking the quilt apart, and saving the block and pieces you can.
Use the pieces to create a whole new quilt, with lots of new flavors and totally revamp it!
I probably hand quilt applique about 90% of any repairs I have to make on quilts!
Sometimes a small hole on a patchwork quilt can go unnoticed for a while as there are no raw edges or seams to it.
My process once I’ve found a small tear or cut, is to add a fun texture to my quilt.
Find Similar Fabric
First I would find a fabric that is similar to the patchwork quilt and cut out a shape: diamond; square; heart or even a print that is large enough to cover the damage.
Then add a fusible inside of the quilt hole, and darn it to reinforce the texture.
Then I would either hand applique or use a raw edge applique using a zig zag stitch, or a turned edge applique.
If you are using a patterned print, why not use several patches and spread them across the quilt. No one would ever know there was damage hiding under there!
How do you fix batting in a quilt?
When batting is damaged in a patchwork quilt it results in a whole new level of repair.
If the batting is damaged, trim away any damaged fibers, then trace out the size of the hole.
Cut out a piece of new batting that is the same size.
You may choose to secure the new batting to the old with some fusible tape or a couple of loose stitches. Then repair the top if necessary the back with one of the previous methods.
Now you know everything there is to know about repairing quilts!
If you’re feeling anxious about doing it yourself, there are communities such as Carolina home, where many quilters will offer a repair service, quilt-alongs or a great tutorial so you can feel more confident to take the first stitch!
Feel Free To Share!
What’s your preferred method to repair a quilt?
Do you have a solid plan for a damaged quilt that works every time? Let me know! And share this with anyone you know who’s getting in stitches about holes in their grandmother’s quilt!