March 12, 2014 - 9:48 pm

Old Quilts Never Die

By Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

Quilts that are made to be used all have one thing in common: They eventually wear out.

I call them much-loved, but in reality, it is more than love that causes them to become threadbare. Laundering quilts is just as hard on the fibers as having the dog sleep on them. But when a quilt becomes too worn to use, its life shouldn’t be and isn’t over.

In today’s green society, we repurpose things as much as possible, including food containers, newspapers, bags, furniture, clothing and barn wood. Reuse, repurpose or turn it into art is my mantra. This is certainly true with old quilts.

You can find worn and tattered quilts at thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales for very little money. You can easily repurpose the quilts because you have no sentimental connection to them, and cutting them up doesn’t hurt.

Family quilts, on the other hand, can be more difficult to repurpose because Aunt Mary made them by hand, and they’ve been passed from family to family since 1930. But if Aunt Mary was like me, she didn’t intend the family to keep those quilts forever. She meant for them to be loved and used and would probably be very happy that they continue their life in some other form.

So let’s see what can be done with those tattered quilts.

Doll quilt
First, is there an area of the quilt that isn’t quite so worn? Usually, the top and edges of the quilt go first. If this is all that is worn, can you cut and rebind the quilt to make a smaller quilt? How small? Think lap quilt, baby quilt or doll quilt size. Square or rectangular; there are no rules for size when it comes to repurposing.

If the quilt is really worn, is there a block you can save? Cut the block out, and have it framed. Or turn it into a pillow or two or more. Another option is to make pincushions from old quilts. Once again, they can be square, rectangular or round; big or small. Aunt Mary won’t feel any pain from the pins and needles, and this is one way to divide an old quilt up to share among many friends or family members.


One of my favorite ways of repurposing a quilt is to turn it into a stuffed animal. For this, you don’t have to find perfect sections. A little wear and tear adds character to the animal. Bears are always popular. They can be any size, any shape, jointed or not. My friend Cheryl is a skilled crafter when it comes to making “green” bears. She can turn an old pair of jeans into the most wonderful bear.

Teddy Bear

Cats and rabbits are next on the list. Depending on the size and shape, they can decorate a bed or hold a door open. They can sit on the mantle or watch TV with the kids. A stuffed animal will continue to be loved, and the quilt will live on.

Dolls are another option. Making dolls from old quilts is evidently something that has been done for ages. I’ve seen many simple stuffed dolls made from quilt blocks. Perhaps they were even made by the little girl who played with them.

Quilt doll

You also can make art dolls from old quilts. Terry Clothier Thompson made the doll shown here. Her name is Clara, and she has red hair. Terry used an old quilt block or two to make Clara’s dress and collar and then used another old block or two for Clara’s quilt. How lovely and fun she is – repurposed for another hundred years.

Clara doll

So you see, old quilts never die. They are simply recycled for the next generation to love.

Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.

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