Blast From The Past

I recently purchased a quilt made entirely out of polyester double knit fabric.   Before you become totally horrified at the thought of that let me explain why.

I believe that these quilts are an important part of quilting history .  Quilting was for a long time assumed to be dying out of popularity.

We tend to think of America’s 200th birthday in 1976 as the beginning of the latest quilt revival.  Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof began collecting quilts at the end of the 1960s. In 1971 they were able to display the most fascinating of their quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

These 2 events caused a  gradual increase in women wanting to learn to quilt. Popular women’s magazines began to include more articles about quilt projects.  Quilters used the fabric at hand which was often double knit. Double knits went out of vogue for clothing during the 1970s but they were used to make quilts.

So these double knit quilts do fit into the history of quilting.  They were really at the beginning of the quilting world that we are in now. By 2010 it became a 3.58 billion dollar industry…with patterns aplenty, the most complex of machines and tools, hundreds of magazines….blogs!

Poly quickly went out of use as quilters started to look for more traditional materials….and shops dedicated to the quilter began to operate.  In many ways the polyester quilts of the 70’s are the grandparents of the quilts of today.

My quilt is tied not quilted.  The backing needs replacement because it is rather worn and the batting is in shreds!  Older batting was not resin bonded and needle punched so after several washings it ended up clumpy and bumpy and migrating everywhere, and with a tied quilt there is not quilting to hold that batting in place.

Poly X 013

But the top is in great shape!  The double knit fabric will seemingly never ever wear out!  So I plan a bit of a face lift for this quilt.  I will replace the backing and the batting, and I will do some simple hand quilting….once that is done it will last for many more years of use.

Poly X 006

Here are some pictures of the quilt (click to enlarge)

I put the rings quilt on the couch and Teddy decided that was pretty cool….but when he gets up there he always lands in the center of one of the circles.

Poly X 017 Poly X 018

Today I spent the day on the MSU campus for the annual plant sale (I bought a few myself and will write about that when I plant them)  Tonight I am going to work some more on my whole cloth quilt.  I have the center of the quilt in the hoop today and I will finish that area tonight.  It still drives me crazy that the seam is right there in the center but I am trying to get over that.  Also I don’t think I need to be driven crazy…I can walk from here.

whole cloth center 001 whole cloth center 002 whole cloth center 003 whole cloth center 004

Happy quilting


43 thoughts on “Blast From The Past

  1. Sara says:

    Sorry, have to say it, EEEEWWWWWW, polyester double knit! I was horrified before I even got your first sentence read, but ok, I see the point.
    Teddy is looking great on that quilt, I think he just might claim it, after all, he needs a winter quilt (the jean quilt) and now he needs a summer quilt, the ring quilt, works for me, works for Teddy!
    Your whole cloth is extraordinary, you know, seam or not.

  2. Kathi says:

    So a whole cloth quilt isn’t a single length of fabric always??? I thought it was… I thought it was unseamed material thus the reason it is muslin looking on most everyone’s who cloth quilt. hmmm. Love the quilts you find… can’t wait to see what you do with this one… so it was tied with no threads holding it??? Thanks for sharing all that you do 🙂 Love your blog and your quilting! Kathi

    • timquilts says:

      Some whole cloth quilts are made with one very wide piece of fabric….but some are 2 pieces sewn together to get it wide enough….normal fabric is about 44″ wide….and to get that to be an 80″ wide quilt it takes 2 pieces.

      A tied quilt uses pieces of yarn…sewn through all three layers (top batting and backing) but that is much less secure than quilting the three layers together because it is only secure in the places where it is tied and around the edges

  3. mehitabel says:

    When I first started working in a quilt shop (in 1989) the most popular quilts they did involved heavy (20 oz) batting, almost 2″ thick, and they were turned and tied. You could actually make one of those in a weekend. I’d been making quilts since 1962 and hand quilting, and I was the “maverick” there! I never did make a quilt out of polyester, though I made a large number of garments from the stuff. (With 7 kids, easy care was a priority!) I still get a student in class who wants to tie a quilt, though I steer them to a vastly different kind of batt nowadays!

    • timquilts says:

      WOW ! we have come a long way in batting….glad to know that you were doing hand quilting back then! the mavericks like you kept the tradition alive!

  4. Jane Devlin says:

    Back in 1983 after seeing an Amish quilt at the show at Meadowbrook Hall, I made my own version out of solid color double knits. Like the one you found, I tied it after putting two thermal sheets in the middle & a king-sized sheet as the backing. Not only is it warm, it has worn like iron. I’ve had to tack down the border that I turned over the edge as binding a couple times, but after 30 years, it’s still on our bed. I’ve made probably 50 quilts in various sizes since then using cotton fabrics, but I still like my hand-sewen, yarn tied #1 quilt.

    • timquilts says:

      Great!! Love to hear about quilts that really get used!! that is as it should be…..and so wonderful that your first quilt is still favored! (I wont ever get rid of my first quilt either)

  5. Trish McCurrin says:

    I have a double knit flower garden made by my husbands grandmother, she made enough that each of my 7 children have one. lol They were very popular, hand quilted all of hers. I made bedspreads for my parents as some of my early piecing projects, no rotary cutters back then. They are now my go to picnic blankets, indestructible.

    • timquilts says:

      how great that each of the children have one!….and perfect for picnic time!…I imagine that the fabric is pretty hard to stain….seems like every bit of dirt would just wash right out

      • Trish McCurrin says:

        So far they are holding up well, at least one I got for a wedding gift, which is now 39 years old. lol

  6. Annette, NC says:

    Out local thrift shop got in a pile of polyester quilt blocks – pink tulips with green leaves & stem on white. I hadn pieced the blocks together and our quilt group tied the quilt and gave it back to the charity shop – it would have made a lovely picnic quilt but even though we live in a resort area – high traffic through the shops – there were no takers until the end of the season when they practically gave it away – a lot of effort but no payoff for them unfortunately.

  7. Sharon Eshlaman says:

    I cringed when you said “double knit”. But I have to admit it looks rather nice and the colors are pretty cool too. I graduated in 1970 and made all my own clothes – yes, from double knits. That’s a scarry blast from the past! The whole cloth looks spectacular and I love the design. I also love the little guy in the middle of the circles. thanks for including him in your post – he makes my day.

  8. CalCat says:

    I am so happy you “get” the double-knit quilt!! My Mom made a couple of them because she had made leisure suits for my Dad. When I told her I thought they would be tacky – she said, “Do you see how your Dad sweats in that suit? Think how WARM these quilts will be in the winter! And that, my girl, is the true worth of a quilt!”

  9. huggybears says:

    Did you ever get tempted to use an * underlightning* and some steam to get that long ,long seams fixed to turn left/right=flat and so a little easier to handquilt? Just a curious question-your stitches are beyond :* And that new arrival is *up to date* for 2013-colour wise !! Simple patchwork blocks can create gorgeous pattern layouts ! Love what you are doing to preserve this piece from the past !

    • timquilts says:

      I guess I don’t understand the question…not knowing what underlightning is…
      the seam is pressed open so it is as flat as it can ever be

      the simple blocks to sometimes make for a very interesting quilt….I think we often forget that and get too complex!

  10. audrey says:

    I hated double knit when I was a kid, but I can understand the interest in the quilts as it pertains to history. Plus, the color in double knit is so bright and bold without ever seeming to fade. Your quilt is an interesting pattern, but it looks very nice. Good luck with the makeover!

  11. Anne Kasten says:

    thanks so much TIm
    that double knit thing is a real period piece. you really scored!
    and I love your sense of humor…
    “I can walk from here….”

  12. Carol Trail says:

    My Florida Grandma didn’t have much money after she retired and managed to occasionally get bags of remnant pieces of fabrics for her hand sewn quilts from the local fabric store. She made me a quilt 30 years ago that had double knits and other fabrics. The top was tied to a thick blanket. That sucker was warm! (She probably thought that living in the Pacific Northwest I needed something extra warm.) I wish I had known then how to care for hand made quilts. I threw it in the washing machine and dryer once too often and pieces started disintegrating. I didn’t know how to fix it so eventually I threw it away. I feel so sad about that as so much work went into that quilt from hand cutting each hexagon to hand sewing them all together to tying it to the blanket.

  13. quiltsalott says:

    I absolutely agree with you that these quilts are part of history. I rmember being educated about that on Simply Quilts.
    Love, love the rings quilt, you got that one done super fast.

    • timquilts says:

      I miss the show simply quilts! I only saw it a few times before HGTV cut all the good programing and turned into a real estate channel…..but it was a good show and I like Alex Anderson a lot

  14. Suzanne says:

    Your white quilt is a stunner, seam or no seam.

  15. I am sure you will turn this double knit quilt into a work of art…as usual! Keep inspiring us, Tim!!

  16. Jill C. says:

    Oh My Goodness. Hope the polyester quilt was a bargain. It is bright and colorful. Those fabrics are indestructible.

  17. Mary Britton says:

    I made polyester double knit quilts in the 70’s, when we were broke and needed blankets! My girls still have and use theirs. I told them not to throw them away, they are becoming collectable! LOL! They said they had no intentions of getting rid of them as they are so useful and still indestructible. I used a polyester batting and sheets as backing, turning the backing to the front for the binding.

    Love to see what you are working on, Tim. Love the whole cloth quilt!

  18. Jean says:

    Thank you for this blog on double knit quilt. I am going to attempt 2 for an elderly gentleman who kept them after his mother died. The tops are finished but the real job will now be to hand quilt them. I’m excited about getting these projects completed. Thanks again.

  19. Mary Szczepanski says:

    I love your double knit quilts! I made one back in the early 80’s from a bag of polyester scraps a friend gave me. It has been my “car quilt” for all these years and the top is still perfect and the colors true. I can’t tell you how many uses it has had from picnics to padding furniture that we have moved. That stuff is tough. After many washings and such, the cotton backing is disintigrating like yours. You have inspired me to repair it.

    • timquilts says:

      great! I really think that poly is overlooked ….all the things you have used if for show how great it can be…..I will have to get one for the car 🙂 very good idea

  20. Sharon Hicks says:

    I have a quilt that my grandmother hand pieced and hand quilted made totally of polyester double knit. I am not sure of the date, but I think late 60’s or early 70’s. I never really liked the colors or the fact that it was polyester, it but kept it because she made it. . A few nights ago I woke up cold in the middle of the night, stumbled to the closet and pulled out the first quilt I could get my hands on. I was amazed at how cozy warm it was. It is now my new favorite quilt to sleep under. And, I especially appreciate now that I am learning to hand piece and hand quilt, all the time, effort and skill that she put into it.

  21. Leona Good says:

    Glad to see these comments…I am making ‘throw size’ quilts from my mother’s dresses, polyester knits, single and double knits, for me and my siblings in Amish patterns because they are solid colors. My dilemma is how ‘quilt’ it…tie, hand or machine quilt. What is your recommendation?

    • timquilts says:

      many of the older poly quilts were tied…..I think that is the easiest way to go and it looks good too…..use a really good batting because there wont be as much quilting to keep it in shape…..for tied quilts I recommend warm and natural


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