The original quilt was a double bed size, knotted with yarn and two-sided. The "top" was made up of sampler blocks. Each different and fitted together with a common background fabric. Notice the blue block in the upper right corner. That used to be a basket block and measured 12" square. Now it's almost completely ripped out.
The sampler blocks were beautiful but in very bad shape. Most of the quilt was cotton and so thin that it had just deteriorated away to tissue paper.
The "back" of the quilt was made up of bowties set with alternate blocks. The bowtie pattern was very popular during the Depression although none of the fabrics dated back that far. These blocks were comprised of a solid bowtie paired with a stripe, check or plaid.
Let me explain my thoughts when tackling a project like this. I can appreciate the history and sentimentality of this piece, but I won't spend hours refurbishing it simply to hang it over the back of a couch. I firmly believe in using my vintage pieces, no matter how precious. I like to think that Grandma would want it that way. Her generation had more common sense than to just let something fade away unused.
Step one was to completely deconstruct the quilt. I did not rip a single stitch. I took my shears, cut out all the knots, picked out the wool batting and cut out the quilt blocks that were worth saving, leaving a 1/4" seam allowance where I could. Approximately half of the bowtie blocks had to be thrown away and 2/3 of the sampler blocks. Then all the pieces that I wanted to reuse were put through the washing machine. In my thinking, this is the final durability test. If a fabric can't handle a gentle cycle, then it's not worth reusing.
This is what I ended up with, a stack of frayed blocks. Some still needed a seam repaired or a hole patched shut, but for the most part, these were up to the challenge of another 50 years of use.
I used my rotary cutter to size down all the bowtie blocks to a 6" square. Grandma had made these 6 1/2" originally so I wasn't losing much, and there were not points being lost either. Some of the blocks that were more akin to tissue paper than fabric were completely reinforced on the backside with iron-on pellon.
Originally the sampler blocks were all different sizes, and that's how they trimmed up as well. Unfortunately, there were many points, on the stars and the green leaf block, that were lost in squaring these up. It couldn't be helped. Refurbishing is not a lesson in perfectionism.
And here is the reconstructed quilt, measuring approximately 55" x 70".
The nine sampler blocks make up the centerpiece. I sashed them with muslin. Looking back, I should have put a skinny border of muslin around the entire center. But at the time, I was more concerned with getting a finished size that accommodated the strips of bowties.
The border consists of the bowtie blocks alternated with a black and white stripe, similar to the original fabric. The quilt is layered with a wool batting and knotted with white yarn.
My sister-in-law was happy to have her quilt back again, and I'm glad that she'll be able to use it. Last year my husband made her an oak quilt rack so when this quilt gets too loved, it can find a home on that rack. But I hope that won't be for many years to come. Grandma started something good, and it's up to us to keep it going.