DIY Quilt Repair

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Do you have a special quilt that needs some fixing? Maybe it has some worn spots, stains, or some of the quilting stitches have come undone.

Don’t get rid of the quilt.

Instead, spend time giving it a little love and care and there is a pretty good chance you can fix holes, remove stains, and repair stitches.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional quilt repair person. The information and techniques I share with you are based on my research and personal experience. The goal of this post is to share with you ways I was successfully able to repair worn spots, remove stains, and repair quilting stitches. I cannot guarantee you will get the same results.

The Quilt

My friend Karen’s husband has a baby quilt that was made by his grandmother. Over the years it was not only used by him but by his children too.

Karen said the quilt started to fray several years ago and she put it away because she wasn’t sure how to repair it. Recently, she rediscovered it and asked if I knew how to fix it.

After being stored for many years, the quilt now has some stains (light and dark), holes in the fabric where it looked like the fabric had disintegrated, and many sections where the quilting stitches had come undone.

A baby quilt that has stains on it. On the left is the front and on the right is the back of the quilt.

The only quilt repair I had done up until this point was to secure some holes on an antique quilt (circa 1930) made by someone in my husband’s family.

Wanting to help her, I agreed to do what I could but made no promises.

Stabilizing Holes and Thin Areas

There were holes in the fabric on both the front and back of the quilt. There were also some tears and rips. Many of these had frayed edges.

Because I didn’t want to make them worse, all these compromised areas needed to be stabilized before I tried to repair the quilting or remove the stains.

In some places, it looked as if the dye had eaten through the fabric, and overall, the quilt seemed to be on the fragile side. I realized I wouldn’t be able to do invisible mending techniques.

However, I didn’t want the repairs to be too noticeable.

Supplies to Stabilize Holes

  • nylon tulle (bridal illusion) in a matching shade
  • thread that matches the fabric
  • hand needle
  • pins
  • scissors
Supplies to repair the quilt - pins, hand needles, thread, nylon tulle, and scissors. A portion of the quilt is at the bottom of the image.

Nylon tulle provides a sheer overlay and is almost invisible. It doesn’t unravel when cut and is easy to hand sew in place.

Tip: Handwash the tulle with hot water to remove any sizing. Dry flat and press before use.

Process to Stabilize Holes

To prepare the compromised area(s) on the quilt, trim any frayed edges and smooth them down.

Cut a piece of tulle slightly larger than the worn area. Secure it with pins in undamaged fabric.

Use a running stitch just on the inside of the tulle edge to attach it to the fabric. Do not turn the edge of the tulle under.

Use a thread that matches the quilt top. Stay on the top layer and the batting. Do not go through to the back of the quilt.

A small hole that has tulle over it and has been handstitched in place.
A small hole near the edge of the quilt has been stabilized. Look closely and you can see the tulle and the hand stitches.

Tips to Repairing Holes

  • Start with smaller holes
  • Work under a bright light
  • Work over a table that is a contrasting color to the tulle (the tulle can be hard to see)
  • Anchoring a knot: When I could, I inserted the needle through the tulle into the hole/tear and came out 1/2″ from the worn/torn edge. I tugged very gently to anchor the knot.
  • Don’t make stitches too small. Small stitches could damage compromised fabric.
  • If there are many holes/worn spots in one area, use the running stitch to secure the fabric around the smaller holes to any existing batting. Then cut a piece of tulle big enough to cover the larger area.
  • If a piece of tulle is too large it may not want to lay flat. In that case, try smaller pieces of tulle and position them close together.

Repairing Holes with Missing or Bunched Batting

If there is an area with missing or bunched batting, cut out any batting that isn’t secure or won’t lay flat.

Cut a piece from cotton batting that fits the size of the space.

bunched batting being replaced by a scrap of cotton batting
Preparing to fill the hole with new batting.

Position it in the hole and flatten the quilt top around it.

Cut a piece of tulle that will cover the damaged area, pin it in place, and use a running stitch to secure the tulle’s edge to the undamaged fabric.

Finished repair to a large hole that had bunched batting in it.
This is a hole that has been filled and covered with tulle. Look closely and you can see the running stitches not only around the edge of the tulle but also in the middle to secure the batting to some of the more stable fabric.

Repairing Quilting Stitches

The quilting on the baby quilt looked like it was done by machine. While much of it was still intact, there were several places where the stitches had come undone and/or were missing.

The quilting was a repeated zig-zag line that went across the quilt.

Because I was able to see the quilting lines even where the thread was missing, I used that as a guide for the quilting repair.

quilting stitches that have come out
Some of the original needle holes are visible making it easy to see where the quilting had been done.

To repair the quilting I used my sewing machine and took the following actions:

  • Cut off any original top or bobbin threads that had come undone and were unraveled but still attached to the quilt.
  • Matched the stitch length on my machine with the original stitches.
  • Overlapped a couple of the original stitches with my stitches at the start and stop of each missing section to keep them from coming undone in the future.
  • Secured the start and stop of each new stitch line by reducing the stitch length to 0 and taking a couple of stitches (instead of backstitching)
  • Used both the hand wheel and slowly sewed in an effort to follow along the original quilting lines.
  • Lifted the presser foot and made slight adjustments to the needle placement when necessary.

Even with taking these steps, I wasn’t able to always stay in the original quilting line. But I’m super happy with how it turned out.

close up of repaired quilting stitches
This section has been repaired. It is almost impossible to tell what quilting stitches are mine and which were done by the original quilter.

Removing Stains

There were stains on both the front and back of the quilt in varying degrees of darkness. Being a baby quilt, there is no telling what caused the stains. Plus the way it was stored could have contributed to additional staining.

Before picture of the quilt front and back with stains

In an attempt to remove or lighten the stains, I did two things:

  1. Pretreated the stains
  2. Handwashed the quilt

Treating the Stains

To pretreat the stains, I used a bar soap called Zote.

After filling the kitchen sink with warm water, I submerged the baby quilt.

Next, I gently rubbed the bar of Zote over the stains on both the front and back of the quilt.

Finally, I let the baby quilt soak for 3o minutes.

The stains were noticeably lighter after 30 minutes so I drained the water, carefully rinsed the quilt, and repeated the stain treatment.

Lighter stains after using Zote

Washing the Quilt

To wash the quilt I used a vintage soak product my mom had picked up at the Houston Quilt Show about 7 years ago. That company is no longer in business but what I used seems to be similar to this vintage textile soak product.

Note: I have not used the above linked product but the description and FAQs sound like the experience I had.

Following the directions on the package of vintage soak I borrowed from my mom, the baby quilt ended up soaking for 10 hours with one water change (because the water was so dirty).

After washing the quilt, I rinsed it then squeezed the excess water out being careful not to wring it.

Next, I laid it flat in a large bath towel and rolled it tightly to get as much water out as I could.

Finally, I laid it flat to dry.

Some of the batting did separate inside the quilt and bunched up in a few places, but after the quilt dried it was hardly noticeable.

Not only were the stains much lighter, but the white and the colors of the fabric were also brighter.

The front and back of a quilt after it has been cleaned and repaired.

Quilt Repair Success

While I was very nervous about restoring this family heirloom for Karen, I had her assurance that she would not be upset if it couldn’t be repaired. She told me the quilt wasn’t usable as it was and was in such bad shape, she couldn’t even put it on display.

Having her blessing to do the best I could, allowed me to take the first steps in bringing this precious quilt back to life.

Even though it has been cleaned and repaired, the quilt is still very fragile and cannot be used. However, it can be displayed on a wall or shelf and a piece of great-grandma is back with her family.

Hopefully, my experience will provide the inspiration and confidence you need to repair a vintage quilt.

Let’s Connect

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Pinterest pin image with 3 images of a damaged quilt

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  1. Hi!
    I have no sewing machine and want to repair broken quilting stitching by hand. What is the best way to secure hand stitching at the start and finish, given that the broken quilt stitched are not near edges?

    Since I hand sew, I will not have aa bobbin thread and a top thread to tie together?
    Thanks! Deb

    1. Hi Deb. I would use this Hide the Knot method to start and end your stitch line. To start your repair, tie a small knot in your thread and insert the needle in one of the current stitch holes located 3-4 stitches from the broken stitch line. Pull the thread gently to secure the knot. Then sew on top of the existing stitches (through all layers of the quilt) to keep them from coming undone. As you add your new stitches to repair the broken quilting stitches, use the same holes as the original stitches if you can see them. To finish, sew over 3-4 existing stitches at the end of the stitch line and use the Hide the Knot technique to secure your new line of stitches. ~Nicki

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