Photo of a vintage 30's Apple Core quilt in need of repair
Tutorials & Instruction

Vintage Quilt Repair: Techniques used to repair a 30’s Apple Core Quilt

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

If you love old quilts, this is the kind of story that will break your heart. I’m stitching along with my quilting group when my phone rings. The woman on the other end sounded completely desperate as she explains how she got my number and asks if I could repair her quilt. I knew I didn’t really have room in my schedule to work on it, but I told her to bring it over and I’d take a look. An hour later she shows up with what was once a beautiful specimen of a 30’s feed sack quilt. Not only that, but it was an Apple Core design that had been entirely hand stitched. She had recently inherited it and, like many a good housekeeper had thrown it in the washer.

The washer was not kind.

Photo showing Damaged patch on Vintage 30s Apple Core Quilt
Damaged patch on Vintage 30s Apple Core Quilt

Actually, the quilt had held up rather well to the abuse apart from the red plaid patches and a few other small spots.  It was the red patches that were really an eyesore. My guess was that the red plaid had probably been a well-worn work shirt, and the fibers were not as strong as the other pieces in the quilt.

She was surprised to find out that her quilt had been such a nice specimen of an Apple Core Quilt, done entirely by hand. I pointed out the ways I could tell it was from the 30’s – the muted yet cheerful color palette, the periodic use of black.

My initial reaction was, No, I can’t fix it. But as she persisted in asking me about perhaps darning the rips, I said, “The only way I can see fixing this is to applique patches over these damaged areas.’  I asked one of the girls in my stitch group who is excellent at applique what she thought, and she agreed that was the only way to fix it. I gave her a quote and told her she’d have to be patient, as it would take me a while to get to it, and it would take some time to find the right fabric.

Only vintage fabrics will do

If you have a vintage quilt in need of repair and will need to replace any of the fabrics, you should do your best to find vintage fabrics from the same time period.  My client and I spent some time searching online for replacements. We were lucky enough to find a beautiful replacement fabric from Almost Paris Antiques on Etsy.

photo of Vintage Feedsack Fabric with red background ond white and black leaves
Vintage Feedsack Fabric to use in repairing quilt

When the fabric arrived, it was apparent that it had already been prewashed. That was a good thing because you should never mix old and new fabrics. If you do, and you later wash the item the shrinkage in the new fabric can cause the older fabrics to split.  In this case, my client knows that she should never wash the quilt again. Her plan is to display it on a wall. But you never know what will happen in the future, so it’s still a good idea that the fabric is prewashed.

Repairing a Vintage Apple Core Quilt

Flash forward 4 weeks. I’m finally ready to do a little vintage quilt repair.  I pulled out the damaged quilt and worked out again in my head what I needed to do. First I needed to make a template for the apple core patches. I had a few templates in my studio but none were the correct size. My project needed a 5.5″ finished apple core template. I found a few good tutorials on the web for how to make your own, but they were all dependant on tracing a circle using a jar or a plate. That’s all well and good if you’re willing to use a random or approximate size, but I needed my template to be an exact 5.5″ finished apple core. I picked up my trusted drafting tools and figured it out. So, if you need a precise size, I’ve shared my steps below.

How to draft a specific sized Apple Core Template

Drafting an apple core template turned out to not be nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I took some drafting in college but it was NOT my favorite subject. (I think mainly because I was the only female in the class and my instructor was far from helpful.) Anyway, I started thinking through what points I would need to mark and what follows below is what I came up with. There may be a better way, but I think my drafting teacher would have been impressed that I remembered ANY of this!

  1. Gather the following tools:  paper and/or template plastic, sharp scissors, a compass, a pencil, and a good ruler.
photo of the Tools needed to draft an Apple Core Quilt Template
Tools needed to draft an Apple Core Quilt Template
  • Determine how large your apple core needs to be.  The measurement for an Apple Core is taken lengthwise through the middle of the design. On my quilt, the patches were 5.5″ finished.
  • Set your compass to half the distance of your finished size.  Since my finished size was 5.5″, I set my compass to 2.75″.
  • Photo showing compass measurement
    Set the compass to half your finished size
  • Find the center of your paper or template plastic (I used template plastic) and mark a small dot. Press the needle of your compass firmly down into the dot, to make a tiny pinprick hole. Carefully draw your circle from that position.
  • Using the ruler, draw a straight vertical and a straight horizontal line that both go through the center point dot of your circle. Next, draw parallel lines that are tangent to the circle. (sit on the outside edge of the circle.) Finally, draw diagonal lines that pass through the center dot and the intersections of your vertical and horizontal lines. Try to be as precise as possible, as these will mark your reference points for drawing the apple core “bites.” It should look like this once you have drawn all the lines:
  • photo showing Reference Lines around Circle
    Reference Lines around Circle
  • Now to draw the side cutouts or the “Bites” as I like to call them. Find the point where a diagonal line crosses the outside of the circle. Make sure that your compass is still set to half of your finished size (it can slip! If you look carefully at the final photo of this step, you will notice that I had to adjust mine on the right side because my compass had slipped.) Place the pencil part of the compass on that point. Then place the needle of the compass on the horizontal line below your point and outside the circle. It should look like this:
  • photo showing Position of ruler before drawing apple core bites.
    Position of ruler before drawing apple core bites.

    Now, draw a partial circle to take a “bite” out of your apple. Turn the paper around and repeat for the other side. Now, if your reference lines are precise and your compass is still set exactly to your radius, when you draw your “bite” the semi-circles should not cross over your diagonal lines. (Note that mine needed adjusting.) When you’ve finished drawing both sides it will look like this:

    Photo showing Reference Lines and bite cutouts around circle when making an apple core quilt template
    Reference Lines and bite cutouts around the circle when making an apple core quilt template
  • Wallah! Cut out your apple core template and get going! It’s a good idea to label it, too. I keep all my handmade templates in a box under my cutting table in case I need them again,
  • Photo of Final Apple Core Template
    Final Apple Core Template

    Prepare your fabrics:

    So, next, I needed to cut my fabrics.  I made another template using cardstock to include my seam allowance.  I simply placed my plastic template down on the paper and marked lines about 3/8″ outside of the plastic template.  I carefully cut my pattern out, then I used it to cut my patches. Just a tip – In my case, the fabric patches don’t have to be cut very precisely. What matters is that the template is very accurate, because that will be the shape the fabric will conform to.

    Photo of Pattern, cut fabrics and the finished size template
    Pattern, cut fabrics and the finished size template

    There are several ways to applique, but I decided to use the starch method to prepare my fabrics.

    Photo of Starching seam allowances over the template
    Starching seam allowances over the template

    Using an iron, some starch, and my heat-resistant mylar template, I turned the seam allowance over the edges and set them in place. Here is a photo how my appliques looked after I starched under the seam allowances.

    photo of a Apple Core Applique prepped with the Starch Method
    Apple Core Applique prepped with the Starch Method

    So, now I need to sit down and stitch all these in place.  I will be back with the rest of the story soon!


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