How to Repair a Patchwork Quilt

Mend any rips and tears, holes, or frayed seams.

stitching a patchwork quilt
Photo: Raymond Hom

If a well-worn quilt needs repair, tend to it sooner rather than later; frayed edges, tears, and holes will only get bigger with time. These instructions will show you how to patch a hole or tattered area (while leaving the original fabric underneath intact), and how to replace worn or ripped binding. Make the patch templates in the shapes you need to mimic—squares were cut for the colorful postage stamp-pattern quilt pictured here. Always prewash new fabric before sewing. (Keep in mind that the restoration and repair techniques demonstrated here are for patchwork quilts to be used and enjoyed at home. Quilts of more than sentimental value should be treated by a professional conservator.)

Make a patch pattern.

To create a template for your quilt's shapes, measure a piece and draw the shape on card stock, then mark 3/16 inch all around it; use a craft knife to cut out along both lines. Trace template (outer and inner edges) onto a piece of the new fabric's back with a disappearing-ink fabric pen; cut out around outer edge. Repeat, cutting as many pieces as you need. Use a running stitch to sew two together, right sides facing, along the marked inner lines. Press this seam to one side. Continue sewing units of two pieces, then attach two to make units of four, and sew four-square units together; depending on the shape and size of the hole, you may need to add single pieces to the edges of the patch.

Patch the back.

If holes extend through the quilt's backing, create a second patch. Lay the pieced patch (for front of quilt) onto cotton in a color that matches the back. Trace patch onto cotton, mark 3/16 inch all around it, and cut out around outer line; pin this patch over hole and, turning edges under 3/16 inch as you go, sew using a slipstitch: Insert needle through a folded edge, and pull thread up through it. Pick up a thread or two from quilt fabric. Insert needle back into folded edge of patch 3/16 inch from previous stitch; pull thread through. Continue around perimeter of pattern.

Patch the front.

If the damaged area isn't as fluffy as the rest of the quilt, tuck a little batting in the hole, pulling it out around the edges to thin. Slipstitch a pieced patch onto the front of quilt, matching the seams. Remember to leave the tattered fabric remnants underneath the patch.

Make bias tape.

It's a good idea to custom-make bias tape to rebind a vintage quilt, as packaged tapes are often starchy polyester blends. Cut 100 percent cotton fabric on the bias into 1 1/8-inch strips. Sew ends of strips together, right sides facing, until you have a strip a few inches longer than the perimeter of your quilt; press the seams open. Pass fabric strip through a bias-tape maker.

Rebind the edges.

Frayed edges are a common problem; many vintage quilts will have had two or three different bindings during their lifetimes. To rebind a quilt, make your own bias tape or look for bias tape in the same color as the original. To attach the bias tape, open it and place it on top of the quilt, wrong side up. Line up the edge of the quilt with the tape's outer fold. Using cotton thread in a matching color and a running stitch, sew along the inside of this fold. Once you have stitched the tape to the quilt's front, wrap it over the edges and use a slipstitch to tack it to the back.

Quilt the patches.

Give the repaired area the same texture and appearance as the rest of the textile by quilting over the patch. Place the quilt loosely in an embroidery hoop or quilting frame. Using cotton hand-quilting thread and a small needle, copy the length and design of the original quilting stitches (with an X through each square), sewing through all the layers.

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