Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quilt Restoration: How to Patch Holes in a Well-Loved Quilt

I love quilts. Each one has a story to tell, whether it was made by loving hands, or used to warm generations. Sadly, no matter how expertly-crafted a quilt is, or how meticulously one might take care of it, a well-loved quilt always seems to develop holes through years of affection. Thankfully, there is no need to retire a quilt just because of minor wear-and-tear! All it takes to restore it to it's former glory is an hour or two of time, and maybe a trip to the craft store if you're not a fabric hoarder like me.

What you need is some fusible web, like Wonder Under, and some fabric scraps that match the color scheme and/or theme of the quilt. If you don't have any on hand, just go down to the quilting section of your local fabric store and pick out a few fat quarters. Or, you might get lucky and find something you like in the remnants bin. Be sure to wash any new fabric you buy to minimize shrinkage of the finished product.

Don't worry if you can't find an exact color match for your existing quilt. Of course, this technique works especially great if your quilt is already a little eclectic. Personally, I think patches that look different from the rest of the quilt add character.

Keep in mind, you are not limited to squares. I used all squares and rectangles in this example because the original pattern was all squares. If your quilt has a more intricate pattern, think about copying some of the shapes that are already there. Or add some flare of your own! If you like astronomy, make a star-shaped patch. Does the quilt belong your child? Find a simple silhouette of your child's favorite animal online, and trace that onto your wonder under. Just make sure the shape you end up with is big enough to cover the hole you intend to patch. Quilts are very personal things, so don't be afraid to make it your own.

Now, on to the patching process! Before you get started, lay your quilt out on the floor and identify all the holes. If there are a lot, mark each hole with a brightly-colored pin so you remember where they are. Lay your fusible web on top of the quilt and draw shapes on the paper side with a permanent marker that are big enough to cover each hole with at least half an inch margin on all sides.

Iron the fusible web to the back of your scrap fabric, according to the directions on the package. Now cut out the shapes and remove the paper backing. Place each patch on top of the quilt and iron it on, taking care to smooth out any wrinkles underneath it.

Next, you'll follow the same technique I outlined in a previous tutorial on appliqué. First, thread your machine with two different color threads. The top should match your patches, and the bottom should match the underside of the quilt. As you can see, I had a little trouble with the tension on my bobbin, so the top thread was slightly visible on the bottom. Learn from my mistake, and test your stitching on a "practice quilt" (multiple layers roughly the thickness of your actual quilt) and make any adjustments to your machine's tension before you get started.

Now, set your sewing machine to a medium zig-zag stitch. Stuff your quilt under the presser foot and make sure there are no additional layers bunched up underneath it. Carefully stitch down the edges each patch. When you come to a corner, put your needle in the fabric, lift the foot, and turn the quilt until the foot is lined up with the next edge. This can be tricky if you have a large quilt. Just be patient and think about which direction would be easiest to turn the quilt before you start pushing and pulling too vigorously. We don't want to break any needles mid-patch.

If any of your patches have curves, you'll need to lift the foot and turn the fabric every other stitch or so to keep it lined up properly. Make sure you keep the needle in the fabric every time you lift the pressure foot!

Once you've stitched around the entire edge of the patch, lift the needle and the foot, and pull out a little bit of thread. Cut the top thread and carefully reach beneath the quilt to cut the bottom thread, leaving a few inches of tail to tie it off.

Now pull the quilt out and turn it over. Pull all the threads to the back of the quilt. (This is usually pretty easy if you pull on the trailing thread and use a thread ripper to coax the loop open on the other side). Now you can either tie the ends and trim the threads close to the knot, or you can try to hide them.

Hiding the knot can be tricky, so bear with me. Once you have all 4 threads on the wrong side of the fabric, tie them in a knot about a quarter of an inch away from the fabric. Don't trim the ends yet! To hide that knot, thread the ends through a needle (you'll need one with a big enough eye to fit all the threads). Insert the needle back through the last stitch, but don't push it all the way through the quilt. Lead it into the batting and bring it back out an inch or so away from the knot. Now gently pull the threads until the knot pops into the center of the quilt. It may take some coaxing, as you will have a large knot. If you prefer, only knot two threads at a time. Gently pull the trailing threads tight and trim them close to the quilt, taking care not to cut a new hole.

Next time you encounter a vintage quilt, you'll be able to restore it, and add your own personal touch. Once you have each patch stitched securely, you can wash, use, and love your quilt free of worry.