Remaking an old quilt is just like visiting an old friend

Preparing my old denim quilt to be put back together (you can see some of my fav pincushions working the borders.)

Spending time with an old quilt is like visiting an old friend, you just pick up where you left off.  I made this denim quilt in high school, collecting used jeans from friends & purchasing more when I needed it. Not really knowing all the “quilt rules” back then, I just did as I pleased.  Now I’m finding that’s not a bad mantra to quilt by!  In a Gees Bend sort of way, I just stitched odd pieces together as they fit.  Some of the squares (or rectangles) have machine appliqued colorful patches.  These fabric vignettes represented whatever I was interested in at the time.  One is a cute toddler red sneaker with a white toe bumper.  I’m certain I had a pair of those!  There’s a double ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles.  Also a stuffed dimensional teddy bear with teeny velvet paw pads & plaid bows.  My then-boyfriend, Stanley, was immortalized as a young boy with red hair & a backwards baseball cap.  You can see he dropped his cone on the ground below.  Such detail!  I am still enamored with all these things (except the boy) and they are still frequent subjects in my quilts.

Close up of quilt block: a pie in the window & a dog & balloons above!

Originally, I used a green & white herringbone print sheet for the back (gasp!)  For extra fluff, I used 2 layers of puffy batting and tack-stitched white satin bows to the green side to hold it all together.  I hated the yarn tied look so this was an alternative.  Somewhere along the line, I lost the quilt from my memory & from view, too.  About 7 years ago, my niece, Kristin, revealed that she had the quilt.  The story goes something like this: she and her parents had been visiting her grandparents in an open-sided jeep.  Leaving later than expected, and to alleviate the cold, they grabbed my old jean quilt and wrapped her in it.  Since she loved the quilt, it just stayed at her home and I had long forgotten about it.  Her father brought it to me shortly after and I truly had intentions of returning it after completing the necessary repairs.  But I fell it love with it all over again.  It’s been cathartic to see it – to see what I created when I was only 17.  I was (apparently) fearless back then, putting together blocks anyway they fit, creating applique as inspired, and not conforming to the rules.

Another block featuring scrap corduroy & calico "hills" with embroidered rainbow and spots. The stitching to the left is just basting for an inner reinforcement layer.

Another fun thing about seeing this quilt is, just as our grandmothers, aunts & mothers quilted, I used whatever fabric was available.  So the above block features fabric from my 8th grade graduation dress and my sister’s 2-piece rust-colored corduroy suit.  It’s like a walk back in time… remember embellishing jeans with scenes of hills, streams & sunshine everywhere?  Some of these fabrics are making a comeback.  I love seeing all different textures together blending peacefully.

Preparing the new backing on my design floor

A few years back, I worked up a new backing – still embracing the green & white theme.  The center medallion takes in fabric from the 70′s era: tie-dye, batiks, and gingham.  Beyond the center, the inner borders were based on a Kaffe Fassett quilt pattern. The outer gingham border was left intentionally wide, to accommodate the varying quilt top’s wavy edges.  It was surprising to discover the upper edge was 1″ smaller than the lower edge, yikes.  The extreme puffiness must have disguised my squaring up technique.

A close up view of the backing

I do much of my design planning & quilt sandwich prep on the floor.  My sewing room design wall is too close to get good perspective and the floor helps me spread out.  I used blue painter’s tape to tack the quilt to the floor and spread it flat, reducing wrinkles.  The same method was used to attach the batting to the front.  Then pinning through all three layers, the quilt is secure for machine stitching the quilt-sandwich together.

Quilt top, with recycled "green" batting attached, upside-down over backing

I also know more about batting now, than I did then.  Brilliantly, I purchased this bamboo batting made from part recycled plastic bottles.  It sounded like another 70′s thing to me for I went for it!  It’s also a pale green – perfect.  We’ll see if it stands the test of time like the quilt top.  See that red, white & blue hearts block at the lower right? I had a maxi skirt made from that fabric and more.  Featuring 8 panels that swirled around the skirt, with a scalloped hem, it was ingeniously shaped & cut!  Now where did that skirt go?  Who knows but the memories are still here.

Nearly completed jean quilt hanging over my 3rd floor railing

In keeping with the original quilt construction, there isn’t any binding and I’ve pick-stitched the quilt edges.  Using a beautiful variegated Italian pearl cotton embroidery thread, Valdani, in denim-y blue, that exactly compliments the quilt top, I stitch in & out, at approximately 1/4″ from the edge.  Now to decide what color to tie the quilt?  The thread will show on the back, rather than the front, so it should coordinate with the back, right?  Somehow that Melanie of ’76 probably wouldn’t have cared about matching!

The portly Teddy, but oh so cute. Note the pick-stitch edging.

What I love about this quilt is the possibilities: as a teenager, I was full of hope and what the future might be.  My best friend and I wanted to open an ice cream parlor so we could eat two double cones each day, without worry or judgement.  But we were also going to work at an amusement park for the summer, pinch our pennies and save our riches.  So looking at the quilt again, all those memories flood back.  I didn’t know I was so fearless, creative, experimental, persevering, and unwaveringly positive in outlook.  Now I want to be that person again.  I will recognize her when I pull the newly refurbished quilt up over me once more.