It’s happened to all of us: you paper piece a quilt block, and then find that one of the pieces is just a hair too small. There’s a little sliver of paper showing through. Do you need to start all over? Or maybe you have a treasured keepsake quilt that’s been loved to death, now wearing a few holes as a badge of honor. Can it be saved? Quilt repair is often possible, and it’s not as hard as you think.
First, a disclaimer: in some cases, a hole in a quilt might not be reparable. I don’t really recommend quilt repair methods for quilts that you’re making for clients or planning to display in an exhibition. There are also some ethical questions and issues of changing the value of a quilt when it’s an antique. But for older family quilts that you’re trying to restore or for gifts where no one will notice a bit of “enhancement,” you can definitely repair (or disregard) a hole in a quilt. Here are some methods, from least to most aggressive.
Fray Check and Forget
I’ve been slowly working on this paper-piecing pattern of my own design, and it’s a pain in the pincushion. I’m optimistic about the final product, but it has a lot of bias seams and opportunities to either waste a ton of fabric by cutting huge initial pieces or end up just a tad short. This seam is an example of the latter:
Regular readers will know that I am, in most cases, a big fan of “good enough.” The little hole in this piece is honestly so small that no one but me will ever know it’s there. Even the white batting underneath will never show up, especially after the whole thing is quilted. I’ll get some Fray Check, which keeps any raw edges from fraying, and call it a day.
Bring in the Reinforcements
If the quilt is already quilted, you can also do some reinforcement stitches on a small hole with a blending thread. A narrow zig-zag or satin stitch in a very small area should do the trick and won’t show up too much. If you’re concerned about it showing up on the back, use a different color of bobbin thread for the back of the quilt.
Patch It Up
If you’re concerned about lighter batting showing through a hole in a quilt top, you can use a bit of temporary fabric adhesive and affix a small scrap of fabric behind the hole in the quilt top; then baste and quilt as usual. Make sure that the small piece has some quilting on it to hold the patch in place permanently.
The Big Guns
Short of taking a quilt (or part of a quilt) apart, the appliqué technique is probably the most labor-intensive but also the least conspicuous. If you have a piece with a hole in it, either on a top or on a finished quilt trace the entire piece onto a piece of freezer paper or cardstock. Cut it out, and then use it as a template to cut out a new piece of fabric (including a fair amount of seam allowance around the outside). Fold the seam allowance around the paper, as you would for English paper piecing or for needle-turn appliqué. Then you can either hand-appliqué the piece onto the quilt, following the original seam lines to make it blend in, or machine-appliqué the piece onto the quilt. I recently saw this method used by Sabrina Krüger and was really impressed by her results.
If desired, requilt over the piece.
Sometimes holey quilts or quilt blocks are too far gone to be repaired, and they’ll have to be either deep-sixed or started over. A lot of the time, though, there are ways to compensate for small amounts of damage or careless piecing. Have you ever fixed a quilt or a top? What method(s) did you use?
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