How To Wash Antique Quilts

Let me preface this post by saying that I do indeed know what I am talking about – I have worked with antique quilts for almost 10 years. There are plenty of other experts out there, and each person will have their favorite method or technique to share. So if you read something different somewhere else, please feel free to get back to me (or them) with questions. We certainly don’t want to damage any of these priceless treasures.

Number one, I will always say, if it’s an old quilt and it doesn’t have to be washed, then don’t wash it. If it smells funny, try a vacuum attachment with pantyhose over the nozzle.

I do tell people with ANY quilts, that they should not be stored in plastic airtight containers because any moisture within will cause damage.

If you store them in a cedar chest, ensure it has been sealed (the wood). Otherwise the stain can leach out and become part of your quilt. If not sealed, you can use a white cotton sheet as a protector on the inside of the chest as lining.

Regardless of where they are stored, the quilts should be aired out about every six months. When they are put away, they should be folded differently than they were before. That will help ensure the quilt doesn’t have creases from being folded the same time after time.

And they should be stored somewhere with climate control. My family heirlooms were in an unfinished cedar chest in a garage in Phoenix. That was not good for my quilts. The unintentional positive consequence is that I have solid, first-hand experience about trying to restore these quilts.

My favorite method of storage that I’ve heard from a client was to stack the quilts, laid out, over a spare bed in a room with minimal light. This will protect the quilts, they can be rotated and they can air out while also not being folded.

OK, down to brass tacks. The most important thing I can tell you is that if you know anyone that knows about antique fabrics, HAVE THEM CONSULT YOU ON THE FABRIC AGE FIRST! I just restored a quilt that was made in 1965 but had much older fabrics contained within, some that looked as old as 1920’s.

The reason that bold statement is so important is that some fabrics are fugitive. Yes, think Harrison Ford on the run. Because of the mordants (the stuff that makes the dye stick to the fabric) or the nature of the dye (walnuts), some fabrics will disintegrate upon contact with water, others might stain any other piece they touch (usually reds). This is especially true of anything older than 1930’s.

How to know? Well, if you feel confident that you can handle this process, you can do a spot test. Get the head of a q-tip wet and rub it on an inconspicuous part of the fabric. If the color comes off on the q-tip or bleeds at all, STOP and try to dry the spot. If the fabric starts to shred AT ALL, STOP. If nothing happens and it dries just fine, continue. So if you are sure you have a quilt with fabric 1930’s and younger, here’s what you do:

  1. Take off any jewelry that could catch on fibers.
  2. Fill your bath tub partway with warm water.
  3. Let the water sit for 15-20 minutes for the chlorine to dissipate. This will make the water be less harsh, so to speak, on your possibly fragile fibers.
  4. Place the quilt in the water. Gently squeeze the quilt with your hands so the water soaks in through the layers.
  5. Swirl the quilt around a bit in the water. You will likely see some discoloration in the water. If the water turns dark yellow or brown, you will want to repeat the process until the water stays relatively clear.
  6. If you would like to use soap, you can either use the first or second bathing of the quilt to wash it. I can only recommend what I have used: Orvus, Antique Quilt Wash/Soap or Retro Clean. It you use these to spot clean, just know that you may end up with water stain circles around that spot. So it’s better to wash the entire thing than just a few spots (in my opinion).
  7. When you are ready to drain the water, pull the tub plug and push the quilt to the side of the tub. Don’t wring it or squeeze, just push it gently. Get the quilt up to the edge of the tub.
  8. If you need to rinse out the soap, or rinse out the quilt again (due to how dirty the water was), repeat steps 2-5 and then 7. Once you are satisfied with the cleanliness of the wash water, move forward to step 9.
  9. After draining the tub, push the quilt against the tub walls to remove as much water as possible.
  10. Lay towels on a floor (whatever room you can find space, preferably without a lot of direct sunlight). Gently take the quilt to this area and spread it out manually, over the towels. Turn a fan or ceiling fan on over the quilt to let it dry.
  11. IF YOU HAVE A QUILT TOP and not a full quilt that you are needing to wash, you must be EVEN more careful with the quilt top. Those fibers and seams are much more prone to tear than after the quilt has been finished.

Oftentimes, a washing like this will not remove hard set stains. It will remove general discoloration from aging, and can lighten dark spots, if it doesn’t remove them. It will give your quilt a fresh smell and brightness.

Again, if you are unsure, please ask me or someone who knows about antique quilts or textiles. I promise you’d rather do that than end up with a damaged quilt.

New material coming!

I know you probably come here for the photos, because, well let’s be honest: in the quilting world, words mean far less than photos. I can explain a stitch but when you see a picture of it, that’s WAY more meaningful. In person? EVEN better!

What I’m here to say is that I am here. I haven’t been posting pix – I had a bit of an issue with my tools but am almost back to full capability there. I have been busy writing on my personal blog (here).

So in the meantime, PLEASE please visit my Instagram site! That is where I constantly post photos. I will warn you, there are lots of photos and MANY of them are not quilt related. But, there are some beauties there and also a link to my Etsy store HERE, where I have recently posted about 30 quilt tops for sale, as well as a number of finished quilts. They are at quite reasonable prices. And of course, I can always negotiate.

My Instagram handle is @mariathequilter. Thanks for hanging in there! I appreciate you!!


Hello my friends, I know it’s been a while, but t’is truly the season. Meaning, this is THE season for quilters to be busy. June is second to the holiday season for reason of graduation gifts. But a far second, let me tell you.

I felt the need to take a moment to share a few thoughts, as I have recently found yet another “t shirt quilt maker” that offers a pretty sad result. This “company” brings customers in by way of a very low price. For those of you who want a t shirt (or memory, clothing, baby clothes, sports jersey, etc.) quilt made for you, here are some very important considerations I beg of you to ask prior to handing over your precious and irreplaceable items:

1. DO THEY USE A STABILIZER ON THE SHIRTS? Stabilizer is a light fabric that is ironed onto the backside of any jersey knit item to stop it from stretching. If you have shirts that are in good shape, or relatively new, this may seem like something that could be skipped. Not so, my friends.

When the shirts are sewn together, the stabilization prevents the shirts from stretching at the seam, so you don’t get your quilt back with all sorts of puckers at the seams. When the quilt is quilted, the stabilizer also adds an extra layer of strength and thickness to the top and ensures no puckers end up within the quilting.

2. WHAT KIND OF BATTING WILL BE USED? Batting is the center, and batting price and quality varies more than cotton fabric. If they tell you they use 100% polyester, your quilt will not be as warm, and may disintegrate after time and washing. 80/20 batting is a blend and works great for this application, and cotton will quilt nicely, and lay flat.

3. HOW MUCH QUILTING WILL BE DONE? The point of the quilting is to relieve tension on the seams and threads throughout the quilt. Less quilting = more stress on those seams, which means they will come apart sooner. Batting requires stitching or ties to hold it EVERY 4-6 square inches, (unless bamboo batting is used). So if your quilter says s/he will be quilting it every 12″, your batting will eventually tear and shift. Not good. Don’t pay someone to make your treasures into a quilt that will not last past a few washings.

4. WILL THERE BE ANY MATERIAL THE QUILTER PROVIDES? There are a few reasons to ask this question. One, if they are providing material for you, you will want to know the quality of the fabric (i.e. where did they buy it – a quilt shop or a cheaper craft store), the constitution (is it 100% cotton), and whether it has been prewashed. Secondly, you want to know that they are using good quality if that is what you are paying for. If the charge passed on to you per yard is <$10 you can bet it’s not fabric from a quilt shop, so you may have rougher texture, lower thread count, shredding seams or color bleed in the end.

5. HOW DO THEY FINISH THE QUILT EDGE? In my world, we call this the binding. There are several types, the above example is called double or French fold, applied binding. It is a good, sturdy, even and neat type of binding. Self-applied binding is when the back edge is folded over to the front, and if machine stitched, will provide a sturdy finish but softer edge. Envelope bind is when the edges are folded in and top stitched by machine. This is the toughest way to make a binding edge neat and even, so be sure to ask for photos of their work in advance.

I implore you to ask ask ASK for details from the maker PRIOR to relinquishing your shirts. It makes me very sad that there are great quilt makers out there potentially having their reputation tarnished by the few that are either ignorant or not focused on the quality and care of your special item.

These are truly one of a kind gifts and should be treated as such. I’ve made enough memory quilts to truly appreciate these irreplaceable gems and what they mean to the families that retain them.

In fact, your best bet is to ask to see photos of their previous work. That will give you a good visual as to what you should expect from them. Just FYI, all the pix posted here are from quilts I have made for my customers. 🙂 The three below were for siblings:

I can tell you that you will definitely get what you pay for. Experienced and knowledgeable quilt makers will charge you for the materials and labor, and that adds up to a lot more than a Walmart or Cracker Barrel quilt, so don’t expect to pay those prices. If you ask for a breakdown of costs, most quilters will provide one. Or ask why they charge more than another quilt maker, and they will be able to detail the various benefits you will get from the quality they can offer.

Buyer beware, and best of luck with your endeavor my friends!!


The first time I went on retreat, I had no idea what to expect. The person that convinced me to go moved away a few years back and the retreat house I used to love has since closed. But there are a great number of retreat options in north Texas. I belong to three groups of retreaters, and the one I was with this weekend was probably my favorite.

I was fortunate enough last year to attend four or five with this group. I just left one with plans to go again in March, April, May, August at another site (five miles from my house, I can’t NOT go), September at the beach for 10 days, October and finally, with the coveted November group. I’m so fortunate.

Retreat means different things for different ladies. Some like to sleep, some want to relax, take walks and enjoy the sounds of nature surrounding the property. I like to get quilt tops finished. As many as possible, and I really set myself up well for it this time.

This retreat we had 6 retreat virgins with us and two more that had never been to this facility. That made for a bit of a quieter group, but it was great to meet new people and make some awesome new friends! One was making gorgeous bags, and learned how to make a quilt block AT retreat. She was hooked! It was fun to watch her evolve.

Because of family schedules I was able to get to the retreat Thursday before noon, instead of my usual Friday early morning. That gave me a whole extra day of sewing. Since I had that opportunity I also joined a carful of ladies on a trip to the local quilt shop in a nearby town.

I couldn’t resist these fabrics!


So what did I get done? Well….. I began with these two little projects I had started at previous retreats, but had not brought the colors for the border with me. At this retreat I added the last row of turnstile blocks and attached the border.


This one just needed the dark blue inner border and then the scrappy 1″ blocks put on. Most of the 1″ blocks were already pieced in long strips, but as you can see, I ran out. And due to my lifting restrictions I din’t bring my usual extra fabric with in case I had this issue. So this little quilt will have to be finished next time.


Next I moved on to this quilt top.


I was so excited to use these fabrics! I think this makes a good sized twin.


Having the strips already cut to size made this guy go together very quickly! My intention was to use the focus fabric in the 6″x8″ blocks as the border as well but it looked too busy. I didn’t like the look of plain black either. I may shop a bit for a black grunge or something to see if anything will complement this center and allow me to increase the quilt size.

I succumbed to my friends’ request to go to bed early (for me anyway, it was just after midnight), so that was it for Thursday.

Friday I awoke tired and groggy. I should have downed more coffee before trying to begin my log cabin with cornerstones. Instead, I didn’t see my already cut 1.5″ squares for the 9 patch centers and took some other pieces and cut them up. That caused me to be short of the second round pieces for my quilt. Thus, after finishing the 9 patch centers, I stopped working on that one and started on a scrappy red and black/white/gray pattern called Roosevelt’s Neck Tie.

It turned out beautifully.


What’s funny is that these are scraps from many different quilts at different times of accumulating fabric for me, customers and from friends that didn’t want scraps. This is one of the ironic blocks. We don’t actually have any dogs, just cats. 🙂 I think this print is in the Atomic Cats quilt also!


If I had my bolt of black I may have used that to border it just to make it a little bit bigger. It measures 100″ square, so if it’s a bit wider it will totally cover my bed, which is what I want. We’ll see what hubby thinks. I need to convince him so I can take that stupid crown bag quilt off the bed.


I completed that quilt top that night. Technically the next morning, because by then it was 330a Saturday. We straggled off to bed (there were still 3 other ladies up with me) and somehow arose again by 9a.

Hey I had stuff to do. So I got to work :). I finished Atomic Cats which is this cute little lap quilt. It’s a simple alternating block with 6″ focus squares and 16 patch scrappy black and white patchwork blocks.


Tell me these cats aren’t cute! And look – there’s the dog bones again!


Then on to this scrappy four patch alternating block in red and black


with this generous 12″ border all around.


And that’s it. Sadly these quilts have topped the pile in this large blue bucket of quilt tops awaiting their lucky chance to get quilted. By now there must be 30 in there, at least.


I was happy to have three more projects to choose from at retreat that I didn’t get around to – that gave me options of what to work on. Interestingly I chose many projects in a similar color palette. I have some more ready to go that will come with me in March and April, and from there, I will have to prepare more. I 100% believe that cutting everything to size in advance made my sewing time more efficient and made me more productive. I loved what doing that prep work did for me at retreat. So I picked these magazines up from the scrap table for more quilt ideas.


Now I just have to start prioritizing my quilting work in that bucket. Especiallly anything I want to end up on my bed!

If you haven’t been on a retreat, ask some of your friends where they go and get together for one. It can take a few tries to get with people that best fit your personality, but I highly doubt you will be disappointed in the end. Happy quilting my friends!

This girl has been BUSY!

I truly love my job. Some of it is stressful, but I still love what I do every day. That being said, I had completely forgotten the great joy I feel from ‘kitting’ up these quilts! Finding a pattern, instinctively knowing what fabric was meant to be used for it, finding coordinating fabrics and the excitement of anticipation to put it all together – I can’t believe I forgot how fun that is!

I have been cutting ‘kits’ for days, literally. I cut one today, two yesterday and one the day prior. By cutting, I mean cutting out the pieces to be sewn. I do keep some intact for strip piecing, but many squares are cut to chain piece and other squares marked on the diagonal to become two sets of half square triangles sewn together.

I’ve also decided that I need to work on larger quilts, like some queen and king bed sized. For quite some time I was creating a lot of lap quilts. I still think this is a good gift practice – I don’t want someone feeling compelled to put their quilted gift on a bed. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I don’t even have designated quilts that stay on all the beds in my house.

That will soon be remedied. Well, relatively soon. Once completed, these tops will get stacked on the pile of other tops I’ve completed, awaiting their turn to get quilted. And maybe years later, bound. That’s my least favorite part…

Here’s where I decided to play with my non-scrap batiks:


I got a few groupings of these put together with patterns.

Here are a few examples:

I bought this magazine for the cover photo alone. I happened to get this one all cut out yesterday.


I have an admission to make here. I am terrible at following patterns. That’s why I’m not allowed to bake in my house. Cook? Absolutely, I’m good when I can wing it. Just not with specific and exact directions. So if I use a pattern, I have to write out what I need in a way that works for me. When I get to putting it together, it again will be by my own method.


I took out the red fabric bin to choose my fabrics. I got some of those and some black and white and grays from the scrap boxes for a really good mix.


In these cases, I had only a photo in a magazine to go by, so I used my trusty graph paper to formulate a pattern and calculate my required yardage.




The one above I even colored in the strips to ensure I remembered to alternate fabrics within the two different blocks in the pattern. I’m so frustrated – I knew I should have kept this magazine out with the page tabbed. I shared this with a friend and she was having trouble grasping it so I told her I’d look for the original photo in my stack of magazines. I have looked for two days now, to no avail. Still can’t find the darn thing.


This one needed no pattern. I have a variety of these adorable holiday prints, and will simply make them into 4-patch blocks with sashing (likely in white) with scrappy cornerstones. Haven’t cut this one up at all yet. I’ll maybe wait until July when I’m wishing for cold weather to come back around.

I am so excited for retreat! I have two small wall hanging sized quilts that only need borders. Then I’ve got probably 8-10 already cut projects just ready for me to sew! It will take me a while to finish them because not one of them includes large block pieces, but I look forward to it nonetheless.

Maybe at the March retreat I just signed up for I can include some big block quilt patterns for a few quick finishes. But between now and then I need to get back to my longarm as well, so I can get back on track with my workload. And I am excited for that too!



my 2017 projection

Well hello there! Yes, it has been a while… a LONG while. there’s a good reason though, and that reason is that 2016 was crazy busy. I had the busiest year by far out of my seven years of longarm quilting for the public! Like 140% of business compared to the prior year!

This has all been a good thing, because things happened: I paid off a student loan, I put money in savings and CD’s for my girls, and I sort of learned to say no. Most importantly, I had an intervention with some quilty friends at retreat. They sat me down (more than once) and explained how important I am. That I have value, and that I need to make time for ME.

So that’s the plan. This year is all about balance, and about keeping myself as a top priority on my to-do list.

Last year I had quite a few friends that made resolutions to finish UFO’s, to not buy new fabric, to not start new projects but finish their old. My resolution (if you want to call it that) this year will be to start new projects! Ha!

I would like to say one per week, but I think one per month is more realistic.

There is another fuel propelling me towards this goal: I went a little crazy on buying fabric over my holiday time off. I mean like, $6-700 crazy. It’s been a long time since I really went on a spree to buy anything just for me. Usually it’s something to finish customer quilts, bolts of black, or stabilizer. Not necessarily the fun stuff.

When I got home and had the opportunity to fondle my purchases, I decided to see if I had some things in my stash to match or coordinate with my new things. I was appalled. Absolutely embarrassed by the amount of fabric I have hoarded, yet at the same time, I can’t stop. I cannot stop buying beautiful fabrics within which I see great potential for beauty when combined in the right group with other fabrics and a great pattern.

The interesting thing is that I noticed that my fabric tastes have changed. I purged a lot of fabrics over the past few years that were cottagey, boho chic, sort of floral in favor of marbles, solids and blenders, with colors being the opportune eye catcher of the quilt. Interesting to note, at least for me. I have also picked up quite a few black and white prints.

What to do? USE IT. I need to make things. Well, not just things, but QUILTS. So today I started.

Actually it was yesterday. I set out some focus fabrics on my table and some fabric groups. But today I cut fabric from three sets into ‘kits’ that will work with the patterns I chose for them. I’m having surgery next week, and I figure I may not be able to cut or quilt or do heavy lifting, but I could certainly sit at the machine and piece.

So I guess what I have to say about all of this is:

  • if you love fabric, buy it. eventually you will use it or give it to someone that will.
  • use it, and use it now. don’t save the stuff you love for another day. a friend of mine said she knew a lady that did just that, and suddenly went blind, so could no longer play with her favorite fabrics she has saved.
  • start new projects. if you have UFO’s you can’t get back to, give them to someone at your guild, or in a friendship group. It may just become a cherished, and finished project.

I’m a scrapper, so I use a lot of them in quilts and just love the way scrappy quilts look. If you aren’t a scrap saver, give them to someone who is. They will find a good use for the fabric! If you do applique or postcards, the smallest piece of fabric is often still usable.

So, like I said, for me this year is about balance. Balance, meaning I will find time for the gym, to cook some dinners, and most importantly, to make some quilts that I want to make. That does mean that my business goals are less aggressive, financial goals less skyward, but in exchange my happiness level should be stable, achievable, and daily. AND less stress to boot!

Essentially, this is a re-evaluation of my measure of success. This past year was about driving my income over and above the year before. OK, check that off, done. This year, that’s less important than finding peace with a balanced lifestyle, and a holiday season that isn’t overwhelmingly busy to the point of no time for family.

I’m quite excited for this new year. I hope you are too! Happy quilting my friends!

Custom Quilting Pix

It’s been a while… and I have certainly been busy (my excuse for not writing…). So if I’m going to keep you at bay for this long, I suppose I should share with you what I have been up to!

Here are some photos:

I worked on a large, very special Christmas quilt…

quilted grout

quilted grout









I also spent some time on this one:

custom baskets

custom baskets

A LOT of time, actually…

I did another custom quilt with feathers as well:

feather circles

feather circles

Made this for a friend:

sandy's quilt

sandy’s quilt

and this one for a retirement:

signature quilt

signature quilt

And quilted this hand dyed panel:

freehand sunflowers

freehand sunflowers

There were numerous other quilts in there, just none of which I took decent photographs.

My current project includes freehand braided rope and my next quilt will also have a bit of custom fun, so stay tuned!

Happy quilting my friends!