I have just finished quilting two quilts for Julie that are both "rescues". They are older, vintage quilts of an undetermined age. Where some of these are simple quilting jobs, others are not as straight forward. I thought it might be beneficial to discuss some of the nuances of what you may see if a vintage quilt top comes into your quilting studio. Furthermore, it is wonderful to be able to preserve history, whether it is something from your family or just needing to be preserved.
Here's a look at the finished 66x86 (or so) quilt. What Julie told me is this. Her former boss gave her a stack of the hand-pieced 9-patches. They are about 4-1/2" in the quilt, finished. She did the rest of the quilt with modern-day fabrics and by machine.
The blocks themselves are kind of messy when viewed from the backside. I'm not saying this to be critical. The people that made these hand-pieced tops were not as anal about pressing seams as we are today. That, coupled with the non-existent 1/4" seam that we are now religious about made for blocks that were less precise. Afterall, early day quilters were not as concerned with the accuracy as they were about keeping their family warm.
These fabrics are thinner, fraying, and likely NOT color safe. The other thing I believe from seeing the fabrics is that the lighter fabrics in the blocks appear typical of 1920-1930 fabrics, but the darker ones do not. They look to be a later genre, probably 50's or even 60's. They are rougher and may well not be all cotton.
Like I said, I have done a few other vintage tops for Julie, and on a couple of them we added a muslin liner. This is just a prewashed/pressed piece of muslin placed between the batting and the top, intended to even out the colorations of the fabrics. It is common that some are very thin, almost sheer, and others are thicker. It also puts a fabric at all locations, when having gaps (holes) where piecing comes together is not really uncommon. On this top, Julie sent me the liner, but upon close inspection of these blocks, I realized that there was a greater risk at hand. If the minute and fraying seam allowances were not tended to, even with a liner, the blocks were destined to fall apart.
The solution I went with was using the thinnest weight fusible I could locate. I cut 88 5" squares of it, and fused them only onto the 9-patches. Her other fabrics were plenty thick. This would keep the seams from pulling out, and it barely affected the quilt's hand whatsoever. I also decided after this was done that the muslin liner was not really needed. The blocks were not sheer, in fact the thinnest fabrics were the darker ones, and they were now stabilized.
One of the issues still staring me in the face was the fact that the 9-patches were not symmetrical. The squares were all different sizes, and it was very visible. The way I chose to mask this was to turn the viewer's eye to the background, and away from the 9-patches. I needed to do a pattern on the backound that was pretty. We could have just done an edge-to-edge at this point, but that wouldn't have been nearly as attractive. Feathers were my choice, with a simple framed arc-shaped border. The arc border just creates enough of another pattern that the non-squareness of the squares of the 9-patches is less obvious.
I should note that this is quilted with Hobbs 80/20 batting and a Superior Omni thread in cream. I chose the Omni because I do prefer to longarm with the polyester threads, and this happens to be low/no sheen and resembles a good cotton hand quilting thread. It's 40wt.