Long Story -Lots of pictures !
Once upon a time I decided it would be a good idea to rescue a vintage or antique quilt top that needed some love to bring it back to it's former glory. I'm not sure where these insane ideas come from, but once they've popped into my head they rarely leave, and often become almost obsessive thoughts, until I've acted on them.
The problem with this particular brainwave though, is that in Australia it's very rare to see old quilts in op or thrift shops or on eBay, which was where I imagined I might find one. I had to broaden my search a little and look in the US , which would appear to be the mecca for cutter tops, orphan blocks, vintage and antique quilt tops and quilts that need some TLC. You guys over there are so lucky.
After many months of searching I found an unfinished vintage Martha Washington Flower Garden quilt top that I fell in love with, and duly paid what I considered to be an arm and a leg for it (can you really put a price on such exquisite hand piecing and history though?) and had it shipped over. The danger with doing this is that sometimes when you buy a quilt top virtually sight unseen you run the danger of the quilt top not being square, or having undesirable polyester fabrics tucked in there or being imperfect in some other way which means finishing it can be a bit of a pain in the arse. Ask me how I know this....
This quilt was started in the 1930's or 1940's by a lady named Fontella Holmes DeWitt in Iowa US. Mrs. DeWitt was born in 1905 in Winterset, Iowa (which is also the birthplace of John Wayne) and passed away on Christmas Day 1985. I'm assuming that this quilt lurked around in an attic somewhere for the next 20 odd years while someone thought about finishing it. Her hand work on this quilt is absolutely exquisite and she was obviously very skilled at paper piecing. I wonder why she didn't finish this. I wonder if she got totally fed up with hand sewing hexagons.
The plan was to finish the white borders on the edges ( never mind that at that point I had no idea how to paper piece hexies) and then turn this into a useable work of art. This was a huge quilt at almost 80 by 90 inches and I had visions of me hand sewing minute little one inch hexagons like some pioneer woman and actually being serene and happy about it.
It lobbed at Maison Pyjamas via the grace of USPS and Australia Post. It was gorgeous. It was perfectly square. The hand sewing of all those teeny tiny hexies was perfect. Angels sang and trumpets heralded it's arrival.
And then I hung it in a cupboard and there it stayed for 4 or 5 years while I contemplated trying to find cream fabric to match, and the agony of hand sewing 400-500 teeny tiny hexies to finish it off. Occasionally I'd take it out and stroke it lovingly and reassure that poor unfinished top that one day it would be a finished functioning quilt and that we'd be together forever.
Sometimes inspiration hits you like a bolt of lightning. While I was on holidays, I pulled that quilt top out for it's annual foray into actual light and out of nowhere I decided the time was right to finish it. I consulted with QuiltyGal at lunch that very day and came up with a plan of attack.
I laid it out to see if it had ripples...and then I basted it with about 500 pins. I used a wool batting with a higher loft than I usually use and I really enjoyed working with it. No lint at all!
I started quilting. And kept quilting for a very long time. It took 5 spools of bobbin thread to get through this baby, because I quilted it very very closely together with a serpentine stitch. I have to say there were points where this was not fun to get it all through my machine.
Then oh horror of horrors I squared the quilt up and cut all those pretty points off to bring this quilt down to 70 x 80 inches square.
I picked a plain fabric that was as close as I could get to the original cream hexagons and started binding.
And finally on Sunday night I put the last stitch in and she was finished, approximately 70 years after she was started. I'd venture a guess that this is one of the worlds oldest WIP's.
More gratuitous fabric shots. Aren't they pretty?
And the back ...I love how this looks!
The whole quilt...I'm so happy with this finish. I'm prouder of this than anything else I've ever made. I like to think that somewhere Mrs. De Witt knows that her beautiful work is finally going to be used the way she hoped it would be all those years ago. And it was a no brainer to name this quilt in her honour.
Linking up to A Stitch In Time Finishes Linky party for February over at Elizabeth's too!