Pearl: A Restoration, Ongoing

I posted this in the thrift store, etc, finds thread, but I am giving her her own topic now, so I would like to introduce you to Pearl.

We are cleaning out old boxes of moving equipment at my place of employment, in preparation for closing our doors for good. (I have been there for 23 years. I started when I was 23. I have some feelings.) Anyway. Back in the 60s and 70s, they would buy “rag bags” from some company in NY, to use as moving blankets. So we have a lot of dirty old blankets in storage vaults that haven’t been opened since before I started. So we opened them, and I pulled this ratty, dirty, lumpy, faded, and torn thing from the pile and absolutely COOed with delight.

Boss let me take Pearl home. Idisclosed that I thought she was a Victorian-era scrap quilt, or at least was made from Victorian-era scraps, but that I thought condition-wise she didn’t have much value, and I wanted the the chance to restore her. Any value she has after that, is from my work, and she was headed to the dumpster anyway, so I got to keep her.

Before I could move forward, she HAD to be cleaned. Not best practices for textile restoration, but in some cases necessary.

This was the water less than 5 minutes after her first dunk. I went full apocalypse on her and used a small amount of Dawn dish soap in the first two bathtubs full, then eight more clean water tubs with gentle agitation from my hands. A total of TEN bathtubs full got her to mostly sort of clear water and I called it good enough for now, and laid her flat on my deck to dry.

Stage 1 complete.


I am so here for this!


Stage 2:

Now at least clean enough to handle, Pearl was inspected. I became certain that every shred of fabric, save for two early repairs done in 1930s flour sack type fabric, was indeed 19th century. There is a lot of calico, some shirting, and one section is done of lightweight cotton suiting material. She is reminiscent of crazy-quilt style piecing, or maybe more akin to the modern “crumb quilt” techniques. (I think crazy quilting is generaly reserved for the quilts made of finer stuff than our Pearl. The silks and velvets and whatnot.) Instead of being pieced into blocks, she is pieced all higgledy piggledy, in odd-shaped sections. Also, most of her is pieced by hand, but one section is done in close machine stitching. Like with hand-stitching, most early machine sewists used stitch lengths quite a bit smaller than we do today, on average. The sections may have been done by different people, or at different times, or both. The sections were whip stitched together, and the edging is the backing folded over to the front. It is tied rather than quilted, in turkey red wool.

I confirmed all these details for myself, then reached out to the International Quilt Museum, an arm of my local university’s textile department, for more help. They put me in touch with a certified quilt appraiser, who confirmed the quilt is circa 1900.

She also confirmed for me that my plans for restoration were right on the money.

Untie the quilt, and discard the batting and backing.
Patch the top with vintage patches if possible. My vintage stash is not small. It is possible.
Install new cotton batting and a new backing.

She suggested I could feel comfortable actually quilting it once the rest of the repairs were done, but that I might find that the ties left holes too large to easily conceal, so retying it might be the thing to do.

And here are some pictures of Pearl up close. Please note that in one photograph, you can see that not only is the inside side of the red fabric actually RED red, but also, one piece of blue fabric still has an entire dart taken in it. I am charmed.

And last, but not least, before beginning the disassembly process, I just had to go stash diving to audition patching fabrics.

Stage 2 complete.


I’m so glad you are sharing this journey with us! She’s a faded beauty, and I can’t wait to see how you patch her up.


She is indeed a faded beauty. And she was badly mistreated. But for all that; the stains and holes and tears, and fabrics that are disintigrating due to dye decomposition, the remaining fabrics, though faded, are surprisingly sturdy, soft, and quite lovely. A person could be forgiven for thinking they were not as old as they are. I’m confident that with not even very much tender care, she can, in the words of the appraiser, be “a lot more fun to be around.”


Oh my she is a beauty, a charming beauty. Great of you to share your journey with us, it will be fun (and maybe s little frustrating for you). Good luck


She looks like she has been patched up a few times but is still hanging in there. All of those fabric have history and a story behind them. The repairs also tell a story…maybe some not as skilled, some just wanting to be practical, etc.

You are adding to her story.


What a wonderful turn of phrase for your Pearl project! It seems just right that you will patch her up with what you have on hand since she was obviously a quilt made from what was left of what her maker(s) had around.


I love this so much! I love that you rescued her, I love that you are restoring her. Most of all, I love that you are sharing this journey with us!! :heart::heart:

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This is amazingly ambitious! I’m so glad you are giving Pearl the TLC she needs and that you gave this inspiring project its own territory. :slight_smile:


Yes, and I really enjoyed tracing the lineage of the fabrics. I poured over 19th century textile sample books the other night. Cooper Hewitt has an amazing collection available online. I will get to learn so much more about her when I get the top separated and can look at the underside. At least part of her is foundation pieced onto muslin, but I am excited to take a look at all those seam allowances.

For the part that I add to her story, since I chose patching fabrics that are visually similar, start off as vintage fabrics, and I plan to do hand stitching with cotton thread, I figured I could do a subtle decorative stitch to clearly indicate the patch fabric (not that it would fool a professional anyway, but still) and I will be putting together a label design and having it printed at Spoonflower, so it will have Pearl’s story from the point I found her on, and a detail of what I did. Maybe framed by a patch of her original backing for posterity.


Very, very cool!


this is all so fascinating!
thank you for sharing your find & your process!


I can’t wait to see what comes next! :heart::heart::heart:

Stage 3:

This one doesn’t have a lot of cool pictures to go with it. I have meticulously removed every single little yarn tie. It was a lot. I also opened up just a small section of he seam and removed as much of the balled up batting as I could, to prevent a disaster of cotton particles in my house once I get the back and top separated. That is what I am working on now.

My Morrigan is helping.

I would not normally recommend letting a dog snuggle on a 120 year old quilt. But this is a long process, and honestly, short of physically grabbing it with her teeth and tearing into it (which she is very unlikely to do), I don’t think there is much she could do to worsen the condition. So she can snuggle while I work. After I have the top separated, I will begin patching, just starting in one corner and working across, until all the weak fabrics and holes have been covered. After that, another wash, and probably I will try to press it, though that is unlikely to be very effective.

But until it has been strengthened and washed again, my little Mo can snuggle with me, and it, all she wants.


Stage 4:

Inspecting the top. The back of this quilt top really tells a story.

It is (almost) all foundation pieced in decent-sized sections. The foundation material is all rag bag. Some of it must have been fragile cotton lawn from lingerie-style gowns. Some is aost canvas-weight. Much of it was probably petticoats and aprons, often with hems and seams still intact.

Most of the sections are pieced by hand.

Some of it is worked in a very skilled, even and tidy hand.

Some of it is worked in a less-adept hand. Uneven, mostly longer stitches, and somewhat haphazard thread changes.

And some is worked with a sewing machine. If you look closely at the stitching, you can see where the tension shifts at regular intervals. Someone unused to working a treadle.

And one section done in what looks like cotton suiting samples was not foundation pieced. It was pieced by hand with running stitches then sewn to a foundation along the outside edges.

All of the sections are then stitched together with a sewing machine. The largest section is a foot-wide strip that runs the entire length of the quilt and is the only section pieced with a sewing machine.

It must also here be noted that two adjoining edges of the quilt backing were sewn to the top with whip stitch, and the other two with running stitch.

This quilt was built by a community of people. Whether it was a family unit, or friends, it was a group effort. One lucky quilter had a sewing machine and was able to complete a much larger section in the time allotted. Perhaps the one section worked in totally different fabrics was completed by someone who no longer lived in the same place as the rest. She pieced fabrics she had, and sent them along to be added to the quilt. The rest were all able to draw from the same scrap basket for continuity. And finally, four people sat together in a circle, each stitching a side closed, joining the back to the top.


I love the story you are telling!


Me too! You’re like a quilt detective!


I love this story! Imagine, their humble quilt ending up in your hands and being so carefully examined & lovingly repaired. They would be amazed!

Is it possible this quilt was worked on whenever there was time & enough scraps collected and by whoever was available at that time? Like, maybe someone aquired a sewing machine and by then had a whole pile of different fabric scrap collected.


Thanks so much for taking us along while you solve this cozy mystery! (you know it’s cozy, because of Morrigan) It’s so interesting to see all the things you’re uncovering as you go. I imagine the original makers of this quilt would be surprised and pleased to know it is still around and being cared for.

This made me smile as it encapsulates this kind of project being done by “our kind of people.”