I would not have admitted this even a year ago, but now I finally agree that some quilts can't be saved, at least not in their original form. Until recently, I completely rejected the idea of cutting up perfectly good quilts to make book covers and handbags, but I did allow some leeway for repurposing quilts if they already had holes in them. My opinion was that, with a lot of patient work, nearly every quilt could be repaired and put back into service.
I admit that I don't mind a certain primitive, organic quality in quilts. A few puckers? No problem, just stitch them down. Pieced or mismatched alternating blocks? Hey, who hasn't miscalculated and run out of fabric and had to piece together a block or two? Fabric turned the wrong way around? Some people do this on purpose, just for effect. You see, it takes a lot for me to reject someone's workmanship.
The vintage quilt top that changed my mind was an interesting looking churn dash pattern that was made of small print fabrics and arranged in a checkerboard style alternating with salmon pink blocks. I bought it online, where it was described as a "hand-sewn quilt project." In retrospect, the word project should have been a warning to me.
When the quilt arrived, the main problem at first glance was that it was not perfectly rectangular and this was (at second glance) because the blocks themselves were not square. I mean really, really not square. There was no way that this quilt top could be made to lie flat so that I could pin it to a backing for quilting.
For the first time, I decided to deconstruct a quilt down to the block stage. It was intended to be limited destruction. I would take apart the seams, cut the blocks so they were square and then stitch them back together in the same order in which they had been sewn before.
I took apart all the blocks and ironed them carefully. I noticed that the alternating blocks were not made of cotton fabric. I thought it wouldn't be right to put this much work into re-making the quilt and then have it fail because the alternating blocks were synthetic. So I decided to replace the alternating blocks with cotton fabric of the same color, if I could find it. (Which I couldn't.)
Then I made the first few cuts on the pieced blocks and realized (not suddenly, because I had already cut three of them) that the blocks were sewn by hand and I had just cut off the knots that held the pieces together. Moreover, they were badly sewn, meaning with really large stitches, and there were puckers -- lots and lots of puckers.
New dilemma: do I take the time to re-sew all these blocks by hand? I couldn't do the stitching on the machine because not all the seams lined up and they weren't turned the same direction. Is it time to dump the entire project and just use the pieces to patch other quilts of that era?
Then I remembered that something attracted me to this quilt in the first place, although now I can't quite remember what that was. Online, the photo made the salmon pink look more like the vintage bubblegum pink that I adore. I liked many of the fabrics, although some of the pairings within the blocks were a little busy. And what could possibly be more endearing than having the back of the fabric showing instead of the front in a couple of places? I like this kind of idiosyncrasy.
Then, while paging through old quilt magazines in preparation for donating them to the Quilt Guild, I read an article about a woman who cut up vintage blocks and used them as the basis for her modern quilts. Blasphemy, I might have cried when the magazine was current, but now I am intrigued. This quilt top deserves to be saved, but now I knew that it wouldn't be in the same form in which it arrived.
If the pieced blocks were repurposed as appliqué pieces, then I wouldn't have to worry so much about the integrity of the original stitching. I zigzagged across all of the seams on the blocks, thereby hammering down the puckers and reinforcing those handmade stitches. Did I mention that there are 50 pieced blocks? This took half a day of sewing. I started to feel excited, though, thinking of ways to create a new quilt out of old pieces.
Using the Go Big Circles die made by Accuquilt, I cut the pieced blocks into big circles and appliquéd them onto various colored background fabrics. I chose a new alternating fabric with a cool tone because I thought it might complement some of the fabric choices in the pieced blocks.
The original quilt top measured 72 by 82 inches and the final quilt is 92 by 92 inches. It doesn't look at all like the original, which makes me kind of sad. However, it is a pretty quilt in its own right and retains a retro flavor courtesy of the vintage pieced appliqué blocks.