Gifts from my Quilting Grandmother aka the story of the Polyester Double Knit Quilts

I grew up in Missouri. In a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. about an hours drive from my maternal grandparents farm. In a small town near their farm a clothing manufacturing operation set up business in maybe the late 60’s or early 70’s. Think back, in garment construction what was all the rage during this time frame? Polyester Double-Knit. This garment manufacturer produced lots of scraps. Lots and lots of scraps. Enough so that when this business took all these scraps to the local dump, the women of the small surrounding towns would gather at the dump to pick through the trash and load their cars up with bags of these free fabric treasures. I remember wearing dresses made from the dump scraps which tells me sometimes grandma would find sizable pieces of the fabrics!

From the left: mom, grandma, me and my daughter, circa 1993?

Why did I tell you about polyester double knit fabric scraps? Because most often these scraps became quilts. Mind you, they because heavy quilts. I used to joke that these quilts could be used as body armor. Oh my goodness were they warm! Missouri could get some really cold winter weather but under a double knit quilt, all was good with the world.

But first let me start with this picture, one of my own very first quilts I ever made, most likely when I was in middle school. Every time I see this quilt today I want to start singing Aquarius by the 5th Dimension. This was my one and only quilting adventure using anything other than cotton. I cut out and assembled the top and my grandmother hand quilted in in the Baptist Fan pattern. She used a lead/graphite pencil to mark her arches and to this day the quilting lines remain. No amount of washing has made them budge. That’s ok, they are faint and if I hadn’t told you about them you might not have even noticed.

This quilt travelled with me from home to my college dorm room to my first apartment after graduation, on to cold and windy Chicago and every other city I’ve lived since. It’s also been a warm bed for my sweet black cat Winston from time to time. Today it visited the DortWorld Day Spa (my washer and dryer) because I couldn’t remember the last time it had been laundered. What I’m saying is basically this 76×88” quilt is indestructible.

You may notice there’s no binding. Grandma simply folded over the outside edges and hand stitched them into place.

So after what seemed like a hundred years after I graduated college, I was planning a wedding and grandma asked me what kind of quilt I wanted as a wedding gift. Red has always been one of my 2 favorite colors and I remembering immediately telling her that I wanted a red and white Drunkard’s Path. Nowadays I laugh out loud at myself, a bride to be requesting a Drunkard’s Path for her wedding, but way back then all I remember is loving red and white and being intrigued by that quilt block pattern.

But here’s the catch about this quilt; I had no idea she was planning to make it out of polyester double knit. You think the quilt that I made out of double knit is heavy, well this one beats that one I’m sure by several pounds. Today I absolutely love this quilt. If you look closely there are a few blocks turned the wrong way but it just adds to the charm and what’s not to love about the borders! This quilt measures 92×101”.

Pieced by machine, hand quilted on a wooden quilting frame, the back fabric is a bed sheet and the batting is polyester. She was an excellent hand quilter considering she suffered from arthritis in both hands.

But the polyester double knit quilts that puts the others to shame in number of pieces and poundage is this one, the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt.

This monster measures in at 92×132”!!! Here’s the thing: I’m not sure if grandma or my mom started making this? I’m thinking Grandma, I’m waiting to hear back from my mom.

** Update from mom: grandma made this. Thanks mom!!

You can see this one’s not finished. It’s machine pieced and hand quilted. If I can, I’m planning to finish it this coming winter. No amount of Houston air conditioning right now during these summer months could compel me to have this draped over my lap to be quilted!

The back fabric is a very large bed sheet or two and the batting is polyester. It just wouldn’t take that long to finish quilting it if I would just get to it this winter! The crazy part is going to come when I try and tackle the binding. There’s a big part of me that’s thinking about the possibility of trimming all the edges to straight lines. Maybe I should consider the “fold over and stitch down” method of finishing the zig-zaggy edge. ** update: I’m going to just persevere and tackle the zig-saggy edges!

So now you know all about my very heavy but very treasured polyester double knit quilts. Do you have a double knit quilt or two? I understand they were the “in” thing to make way back when. Speaking of when, I’ll do another blog post about this Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt when it’s finished 🙂

Blessings to everyone and of course, happy quilting!

Rhonda

49 thoughts on “Gifts from my Quilting Grandmother aka the story of the Polyester Double Knit Quilts

  1. I live in Africa (Zimbabwe) my sister and I use to have to wear double knit outfits as children. I remember how hot we used to get in it in the African heat but it was the height of fashion! We used to call it crimplene a brand name used by Courtalds of England I think. I see that something similar is being used for dresses again in the fashion shops. Both my daughter and I love quilting and are missing our guild meetings.

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  2. I just love these quilts. I can’t even imagine all that hand quilting , plus putting together cokirs wonderfully. WOW. These really are beautiful quilts. You get your eye for beauty from your Grandmother and Mom.

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  3. I’ve never seen a double polyester quilt before so it was very interesting….. but, my mother used to work in a dressing gown factory (Givoni) in the 60s and they could get scraps also… My mother didn’t get any until one day I saw a 6″ x 6″ squares, patchwork quilt made by her supervisor when I was in grade 7… It was in blood red and royal blue velour …. I fell in love with patchwork that day…. in the late 60s…… But it wasn’t until I was nearly 50 that I decided to learn patchwork and quilting…. still doing so years later…

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    1. These quilts are in a category all to themselves, that’s for sure! I do so love patchwork, it is a wonderful way to express my creativity passed down through the generations in my family. It does bring me so much joy!

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  4. Rhonda, Thanks for sharing the quilts and story! I have never see a quilt made out of that fabric! But, they are beautiful. I am glad I am on your email list. I always admire what you do. Blessings and love in this difficult Corona 19 virus season. I live in Katy Texas. My family is doing well. Jane Slexander

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail Get the new AOL app: mail.mobile.aol.com

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, this Texas sized horrible virus has me reeling. Thank heavens everyone here at home and immediate family remain well. Glad to hear the same for you! Blessings to you!!

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  5. Ronda we have two polyester quilts that my husband’s paternal Grandfather made in the 70’s. They are just squares and tied. You really can date them by the sheets that are the backing.

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  6. What a lovely story about Grandma. Those poly quilts will be here for years to come – they are nearly indestructible. Grandma’s hand quilting is enviable – small stitches and even. I hate for any of Gma’s Flower Garden to be cut off to make it more square. What about hexies hand-sewn to the front and then flipped over to the back to make up the backing?.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, and yes, I’ve rethought how to handle the edge of the GFG. there’s a good chance I will do it just like she would have by folding over 1/4” and hand stitching it to the backing fabric. Yes it will be time consuming but I think well worth the time and effort 🙂

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  7. Yes, I, too have a double knit quilt which my mother made out of many scraps from double knit dresses we wore back in the 70’s. There is no batting, just a backing. Also have a double knit quilt my husband’s mother made out of double knit. These quilts will never wear out!

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing your treasured quilts! I can relate to much of your story! I don’t remember my Mom ever buying quilting fabric! It was all about using what was at hand! And you are right to say they sure were warm on cold Michigan winters!!

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  9. Be sure and let us know if you Mom started it or your Grandmother. I received a similar quilt to your first quilt, except instead of green it was orange, given to me by my grandmother. Even though it was way too bright and a bit of an eye-sore, I LOVED it and yes it was polyester, and hand quilted. It lasted for many years, but eventually worn out.

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  10. Loved this! I would think double knit would be hard to hand quilt! I do have my very first quilt made from poly double knit scraps from some of my clothes and maternity dresses early 70’s. I backed it with a raggedy Ann prequilted fabric and bound in a satin quilt bias tape and tied it. Oh my! The satin is frayed but the double knit is as bright as ever. Just baby size. What memories it brings!

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  11. Hi Rhonda,
    I’m also a Rhonda living in Houston!
    I love the story and content of your quilts, I wish I’d had the quilts that my Iowa and Mississippi Grandmothers has made!
    What part of town are you in? I’m in Spring Branch.
    Do you belong to a guild?

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  12. That’s really funny, but endearing, too! I can’t even imagine owning a polyester quilt – having had a hated relationship with it all my life for some reason. I guess the fabric just never seemed “real”. Like plastic flowers in pots at the door, or magazine photos as food on my plate. 😀

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  13. I am actually laughing through this whole post! My grandmother wasn’t a quilter but she wore polyester double knit exclusively in the 1960’s And into the 1970’s. She was a necessity sewist and She would have done the same thing as yours if she was a quilter. I am a vintage linen dealer and avid sewer And having come across a few of these double knit quilts, I always wonder what they were thinking when they made such heavy quilts. They are a treasure, to be sure! I enjoyed your post.

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  14. I remember when I was in high school in the ‘70s a lady made my mom a double knit quilt of all bright colored yo-yos. It had a black backing that really set off all those bright yo-yos. But, I do remember it being so heavy you could hardly pick it up. It was a very nice gift and my mom loved it! Yours are beautiful!

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  15. I have 3 polyester quilts. My mother made one for my dorm bed back in 1974 and it is still in perfect condition. My grandmother made me a full sized one after graduation for a full bed. I used it as a couch cover for years after our children were born. It was machine pieced but sadly much of the stitching has given way. I don’t know if it was bad cotton thread or the kids jumped on it too many times. Fabric is still good so I could repair it. LOL (Right after I finish my many quilts I want to piece.) The third one is a lap throw also by my grandmother. All three have cotton backings. Mom bound hers with cotton. Grandma folded her binding over same as your grandmother did. What fun memories are contained in them.

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  16. What treasures! My grandma also never did bindings—just folded the edges to the inside and sewed around. We used to have a double knit nap quilt—but not sure what happened to it.

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  17. I love your polyester quilts! I have a couple. One I purchased at a thrift shop because it deserved saving. It had the blue ribbon on it, won at the fair – hand quilted.
    The other is a hexagon I use in my 200 years of Hexagons lecture…get this…rouched pink binding! It’s very fun!
    Thanks for sharing your quilts!

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  18. I love those quilts! I do not have any polyester quilts. Only cotton that my great aunts quilted with their bee. I’m thinking my mom did the tops, but no one to ask now. It was always a happy day when we got a batch of quilts from my great aunts! I now have half those quilts (one is on my bed now) and my brother has the other half.

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