Dance Top Picks

Quilting Blog

Vintage Redemption: How to Finish an Antique Quilt

In the quilting world, it is certainly not uncommon to come across a beautiful antique quilt. A few months ago, I was antique shopping and ran across a vintage quilt top that was unlike anything I’d seen. The colors and construction were simple (butter yellow and a navy pinstripe), and the log-cabin piecing was done completely by hand. With a price tag of less than $30, I decided I had to add it to my collection.

Now that I have the quilt home, it’s folded and stashed in a dresser drawer. But I’d love to learn how to finish an antique quilt and turn it into the blanket it was intended to be. With that end goal in mind, I’ve done a little research on finishing an heirloom quilt. Here’s what I’ve learned!

Vintage Quilt Top - Photo via Lindsay Sews

1. Repair the quilt top

The first step in finishing an antique quilt is getting the top itself into restored condition.

If there are any undone seams, you can reinforce the piecing with your sewing machine. Small holes can be patched with coordinating fabric and a hand-sewing needle. When shopping for my heirloom quilt top, I selected the one with the strongest natural seams. I only had to contend with one small hole, and the quilt top had no visible stains.

To remove stains from an antique quilt, spot treat them with a mixture of cool water and oxygenated bleach (sodium percarbonate), which is also called color-safe bleach.

OxiClean or Clorox 2 are two popular products that can be used to remove stains on vintage quilt tops. Quilt History gives a great primer on how to remove particular stains, like wax, wine or grease, from antique quilts.

Before you prepare your quilt sandwich, it’s probably a good idea to air out your quilt top outside to get rid of any musty odor.

Cleaning a vintage quilt requires extra care. If the quilt top is dusty, try slipping pantyhose over the end of a vacuum hose and gently sweeping up dust particles this way. It’s generally recommended that you do not wash a vintage quilt top, which may cause damage to the fabrics. If you decide you must wash it, make sure you do so by hand, testing out a small section first to see how the fabric responds.

If you believe you have a valuable quilt top in your collection, you may wish to have it professionally appraised before you quilt it.

After all, the quilt may lose value if it is truly rate. However, many quilters live by the philosophy: “It’s not a quilt unless it’s quilted!” So if you’d prefer to finish an antique quilt and enjoy it rather than letting it collect dust, feel free to jump right in.

Vintage Quilts Photo via SuKnitWitty

2. Choose batting and fabrics

To finish an heirloom quilt, you’ll need to decide which type of batting to use, as well as any supplemental fabrics like backing and binding. SuKnitWitty recommends choosing reproduction fabrics that match the era of the quilt.

When choosing quilt batting for your restoration project, think about how you’d like to finish the quilt (by hand or machine, and how far apart you’d like to place your stitches). Cotton batting, polyester batting or other blends can all be good choices for finishing an antique quilt. Quilter Judy Shubert recommends cotton batting if you plan to use lots of stitching close together or polyester batting if you’d like the quilting rows to be 3 inches apart or wide.

Colorful Floral-Themed QuiltPhoto via Canton Village Quilt Works

3. By hand or machine?

Finishing antique quilt tops can be done by hand or by machine. One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking parts of finishing an antique quilt is deciding how to quilt it.

One Bluprint member asked:We have been given two Flower Garden tops hand pieced by my husband’s grandmother. Is there a particular quilt pattern that is good for Flower Garden?”

Since antique Flower Garden quilts are hand-pieced, a hand sewing pattern that echoes the flowers is a good choice. The quilt above, featured at Canton Village Quilt Works, is a good example of hand-stitched echo quilting. Bluprint instructor Andi Perejda’s course Hand Quilting: Heirloom Design & Technique will teach you all that you need to know about heirloom quilting by hand.

If you only have the time or desire to machine quilt your vintage flower garden top, don’t feel limited by the hexagonal piecing! Kati, who blogs at From the Blue Chair, quilted a modern Flower Garden with free-motion loops, and it looks stunning. If you are unsure of what quilting pattern to use on your antique quilt top, you can always add it to Bluprint’s Projects section and ask for suggestions from the community.

Have you ever finished an antique quilt top? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments!



What makes a quilt an antique? Age or design or fabric?

mary young

I acquired a lovely antique quilt last summer at a rummage sale. Did minor repairs etc. The only flaw was
that the edges were gently frayed. So I very carefull turned the edges over and hand
basted to the back. It took me one evening of watching TV. I will try the oxyclean trick as well. The slight stains actually meld into the design.

grumpy realist

Make sure you lay the quilt top out on the floor to see if it is really honestly flat. Sometimes the reason the quilt top never made it into a quilt is because it has ballooning parts or extra fabric. I bought a beautiful antique nine-block quilt top off Ebay that was badly put together, resulting in mismatched seams and extra fabric. Since it was all hand-sewn I’m still using it, but am going to shirr the extra fabric to render the whole thing flat.

Doris Holloway

I was recently blessed with 4 circa 1960s quilt tops and am looking forward to finishing them. thanks for your helpful hints.

Mary B.

I found an antique (1860’s) album quilt top at an estate sale in New York. The reason it hadn’t been quilted was because seven triangles in the top were bright red instead of madder red like most of the alternating background blocks. I was able to find matching fabric to replace them.
It took a year to hand quilt it like the old quilts were done traditionally. I wish I had used needle punched cotton insead of polyester batting, as it would have been more authenic. Also, 19th century fabrics were vegetable dyed, and react differently to sunlight. The newer replacement fabric has not faded, but the madder red has lightened, so I would suggest you protect an old quilt from strong light..

Mary Shiffer

I am repairing and then hand quilting a vintage 20’s to 30’s vintage quilt. top. I suspect that it is depression era because every fraction of an inch of fabric is used. Some seams are 1/16 of an inch . I suspect that some fabrics are flour sacks.. Does anyone have suggestions on where and how to confirm this? I have entered ‘vintage flour sack fabric’ for search and only come up with reproductions. Also, some fabrics are very thin. I believe I need to reinforce the fabric with muslin before hand quilting. May I safely fuse the muslin to the back using Misty or Steam a Seam or other product? This is a postage stamp quilt with blocks of 91 1 inch squares sashed with bright blue fabric.


Did you get any comments about this quilt? I have one just like it to quilt and I cant get started cause I am agonizing about it.


How did your quilt turn out and did you use stabilizer?
I am finishing a quilt top made by my third great Grandmother in 1914-1916. The nine patch blocks are delicate and need to be stabilized. I removed the stained and torn smashing and am redoing it with navy blue Kona. Thank you for your feedback.

Marie Lund

I have a quilt top that my grandma made me for my wedding 25 years ago, through the years some of the blocks have frayed, I remember a type of fabric she used to make a dress for me 42 years ago. I need to repair it just need advice to do it. Thank you


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply