Making Quilts With Vintage & Antique Fabric

Sometimes I ask myself why I am obsessed with using old fabric in my quilts — like today, for instance. I mean, my local quilt store stocks tons of reproduction fabrics at reasonable prices, while authentic vintage and antique fabrics are often expensive, scarce, dirty and fragile, with the occasional nasty odors and stains. They are usually found online where photos and descriptions can be deceptive, and one must bid against strangers who are similarly obsessed (I wonder who these people are…quilters, collectors, hoarders?).

Putting together the required pieces for a quilt takes a long time. There is much unpicking of old blocks and tops, followed by soaking, starching and pressing. Then you need to find enough scraps of a suitable print, which often requires either substituting a different fabric when there’s not quite enough, or stitching two or more scraps together to make a big enough piece. Of course, all the quilt block pieces must be individually traced with a template and cut with scissors — placement on the grain is often not possible if the scrap size is skimpy.

The whole process is sometimes frustrating, but it is also absolutely wonderful, because. . .

Old fabrics have this great feel to them. With the exception of feedsacks, they are mostly thinner than modern fabrics, more tightly woven and very smooth. They look different — the colors are slightly less bright and saturated than new fabrics. Although some of the designs can be downright ugly, I love them all, and when I’m using them in a quilt, I feel a connection to history and the quilters who cut the pieces or made the blocks and tops that I eventually (hopefully) make into a finished quilt.

What happened today, you might ask, to make me ponder my obsession with old fabric. Well. . . I just finished cutting all of the pieces for the wonderful Midnight Stars Doll Quiltalong sponsored by Lori at Humble Quilts — the one that was over weeks ago. In my defense, there are a lot of pieces in this block (33), my quilt is going to be quite a bit larger (30 pieced blocks instead of 9 — more of a crib size), and then there’s all that stuff I mentioned above.

If you check out the completed blocks in this photo, you can see that I am occasionally able to find enough scraps to make all the similarly colored pieces the same.

When I can’t manage this, I try to cut an even number of each print, hoping to make the block symmetrical. Sometimes this is not possible and I have to make compromises, as you can see below in the shirtings for two of the blocks.

Lori, I’m going to be a little late with my quilt, but I wanted you to know that I haven’t given up!

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