The Carter Quilt: day one

I’ve been keeping a little secret from you guys. Well, not exactly a secret, just not exactly admitting to something.

At the beginning of the year, I decided my craft focus had to be on finishing things. I’m notorious for being ADD when it comes to my projects, and I just have too many that are undone.

I didn’t want to say anything in case I didn’t make good on my quest. It’s the perfectionist in me, but it’s time to get over it and get to work.

But, you guys, wait till you see this. You’ll know immediately why I had to say yes to something new.

One of my friends at work, Carter, has heard me talk about quilting and happened to mention he had found a hand-sewn quilt top at his mother’s house started by his great-grandmother, who passed it down to a daughter (or daughter-in-law, he’s not sure), eventually winding up with his mother.

Since sometime in the 1970s, we figure, it’s been folded up in a plastic bag in a closet. Take a look at this beauty:

DSC_0001(OK, try to ignore the toile curtains and checked bed skirt – they are so going!)

Isn’t it gorgeous? I love all the solids in it and how even though it was likely started with fabric from the ’20s and ’30s, it has a really modern feel to it. Thankfully, the fabrics appear to be in terrific shape, just a few loose threads from the frayed edges on the back. Take a closer look at some of the blocks.

DSC_0002 DSC_0004 DSC_0008 I love this block – with its little S and star, almost like it was destined to come to me!

DSC_0007Here’s an interesting detail. All of the blocks are square in shape except for a row at the top, which looks like it was cut in half. (The blue stripe at the top is my Mariner’s Sky quilt.)


So, what happened? The cut is too clean to be an animal’s work. Was there a spill and the ruined part had to go? Or did the sewist think she didn’t have enough fabric to complete a full row of blocks? Carter said there’s another top and a couple of additional blocks at his mom’s house, so lack of fabric seems unlikely.

I love trying to determine the history behind something like this.

The top measures approx. 76×85 inches, great for a full size mattress. As you can see, though, there are a lot of wrinkles. I put the question out to the MQG community forum and asked for feedback on ironing/quilting/etc.

They suggested laying it out flat for a long time (up to a month) and smoothing it with my hands and let it work out some of the wrinkles on its own.

You’ll see what I mean when you look at the back. Stitching by hand, obviously, doesn’t give you the straight lines a machine will. Also, the seams aren’t consistent in direction, making pressing difficult. I think eventually I’ll try using my Clover mini-iron and see how that works.

backEveryone also agreed (as do I) that it should be hand-quilted, but didn’t offer any suggestions as to how. What do you think? This will clearly be a long-term project, and I’m so honored Carter would let me finish a family heirloom for him, so I’d love to know your thoughts.

I’ve done very little hand-quilting, although lots of stitching, but I think I’d like to do something very simple, like stitch in the ditch. But first, I need to decide what to use for backing – should I use a ’30s reproduction print or a solid? How about the binding?

I hope my excitement for this project will keep me going. Once I finish my garter-stripe blanket, it’ll be the perfect watching TV activity.

But just in case, it’s a really good thing Carter isn’t in any hurry for it.


Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday.


17 thoughts on “The Carter Quilt: day one

    1. You’re right about all the hand quilting. Heaven knows how long this is going to take, and apparently there’s more where this one came from!

  1. The fabrics look like they are from the early 1950’s or around that time. I learned to quilt as a child in the 1950’s. A quilt like that would have been quilted a quarter of an inch from the seam or a little farther on each side of the sewed pieces. That would outline all the squares in the design. Maybe put a small circle design in the center of the block. They would of backed the quilt with unbleached muslin and probably a dark color or pulled one of the dominate colors from the piecing for the binding. They did a wider binding then we do today. Polyester was just being introduced in the 1950’s so all the hand quilters loved it because it was so easy to needle and had a fluffy loft. So don’t feel you have to stick with a cotton batting to hand quilt.

    That top was probably made for a certain bed that had a solid head and foot board to it that may have been hard to tuck all the quilt down in it. When they were making utility quilts for every day use from scraps, they would cut the blocks in half to fit the size they wanted for that bed so there would not be too much excess to tuck in. .The bed was always the design board in those days so being hand pieced she decided to make those half blocks instead of cutting them off after they were made.

    I would just fill a spray bottle with hot water and spritz it as I iron it from the front on wool setting heat. If needed I would turn the heat up a little on the iron. I would not worry about the direction of the seams if you quilt it like I suggested above. Then flip it over and do the back smoothing out any bunching up in the seams. It should be all right if it was made from all new fabrics. You should be able to tell if there is used fabrics in it because they will look worn now and deteriorating from all the washing. It there is any places that need to be repaired just make them with a pin to fix later. You will be able to see that while ironing. The reason for all the different seam widths is because she followed a line from a template that she match up on both sides as she sewed by hand. If you were good you only need a couple of dots to line up on. There was no rules in those days about the back side or seam widths. Some times you would press the seams open some times the block design just didn’t press in nice order so you just made it as smooth as possible. Mostly on utility quilts you would just quilt it to avoid needling through seams.

    I hope I gave you some ideas on finishing this quilt and removed the mystery out of how it was made.

    1. I looked again at the fabrics and there are fabrics from the 40’s and early 50’s in the blocks.. Sometimes families lose track of the history of a quilt top as it get handed down. People kept fabric scraps for years and years. Just like we do today.

      1. My friend is in his mid 40s, so his great grandmother was likely quilting sometime in the 1920s or 30s, since she has been gone for quite a few decades now. You’re right about families losing track, but I’m glad the fabric is in great shape and will be a lovely heirloom for my friend and his children.

    2. Thank you for all that information! I agree, a lot of it came from fabric in the 1950s, but there are definitely pieces that are older. At the moment, my thought is to quilt it using a muslin or cream colored thread, probably in the ditch or near it. I don’t think I’ll do every seam line in every square, but quilt enough to make it user friendly. I have an antique quilt from the 1920s that’s a log cabin block made from old clothes. It’s backed with solid red and just tacked every few inches. I like the idea of using red more than muslin, since that’s a traditional center color for log cabin blocks, and there’s so much red I the quilt. I’ll likely do a modern style binding, but again in a solid color to keep the emphasis on the quilt. One of the women in my MQG does a lot of hand quilting; I’ll probably ask for ideas from her, too. Thanks again!

      1. The rule of thumb is to date a quilt by its newest fabric. People saved scraps for decades and use them. It is not uncommon to find a scrap quilt from that era with fabric from early depression. Also some fabric prints had a long run because they kept selling. I have fabrics in my stash that are a couple of decades old that I am still working with.

        It is always fun to look at old quilts and tops. There is always so much interesting fabric that triggers the imagination of an era gone by. .

  2. I loved this quilt when you posted the picture for the individual group at MQG, and love it even more now that I have seen more pictures. I would definitely go with a solid back (or a very small subtle print). If Carter thinks the red is too much, you could do a deep blue too. It’s hard to know what to do with binding. You don’t want anything that stands out too much and detracts from the fabulous blocks. I might use a lighter blue or cream? I was also going to suggest that you quilt about a quarter inch from the seam, but I agree that doing every seam could turn into a life’s work. On the other hand, a hand sewn top is going to need more quilting to stabilize and hold it together (especially if it will be washed) than a machine sewn top. I would probably shoot for every other or every third round in the blocks, knowing that you can go back and add more quilting if it seems to need it. Hope you will keep us updated on the project.

    1. Thanks so much, Kay. I showed Carter the post and he liked the idea of a solid red back. In fact, he was very specific that it not be a print! I’ve always wanted to get a Kona color card so now I have the perfect excuse. That way I can find the best red for the project. For the binding, I think I’ll do the same red as the back, but maybe cut it at 2.25 inches rather than the standard 2.5 so it’s a little tighter. Thanks also for the tip on this needing more quilting because of its hand sewn nature, I hadn’t thought of that.

  3. this is a beauty! and i know that everyone is suggesting hand quilting, but my gut says it could be tied, too. my husband’s grandmother made a quilt similar to this and it was tied with wool yarn that felted when it was washed. so cozy! but, i can see the allure of the hand quilting, too. and if you want, i think i have an older kona card you can have. i can bring it next week.

  4. Hi, Erin! I’ve thought about tying it, too. I have an antique quilt from the 1920s that’s tied neatly – no dangling ends – and it really looks nice. You get to see the beauty of the fabric alone and since I’m not a hand quilter (though plenty of x-stitch on linen) that might be best. I plan to bring this to our April LMQG meeting for more feedback. Thanks so much for the offer of the color card!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s