Antique Blocks Revisited

Last week I decided that since I have finished everything that had a firm deadline, I'd start on the antique blocks.  I pressed each of them and was very discouraged.  They were more stained than I thought, they were not as flat as I'd hoped and will require disassembly and reassembly to fix, and, most discouraging of all, when the iron hit them they smelled so bad that I felt more than a bit sick.  

I set them aside while I considered what to do.

In the meantime, I thought that maybe I'd finally finish a top I made years ago.  I'd found some matching fabric that I could use for backing and binding on an Instagram de-stash, so I figured that was a sign.  I gave the top a good press and noticed that it was really wavy and bumpy and even had a bit of a curve to it.  Big old sigh.  I will be ripping it apart and reassembling it using proper measurement techniques so that it will be closer to flat.

Okay.  Now what?  I have stinky, wavy antique blocks, a wavy quilt top, and a lot of disappointment and disgust.

My friend invited me over for a sew day, so I thought this would be a perfect time to finish my dinosaur napkins.  You may recall I mentioned a while back that we didn't have any more than four of any napkins except a set of Valentine's Day ones and I'd found this cute dinosaur fabric that I thought would be great.  I had all eight cut, but the thought of doing all the ironing to prepare them wasn't appealing.  It seemed like a great take along project though, so that's what I did.  It was nice to counteract the tedium of all the ironing with being able to have a nice chat. And now I have a set of eight guest-ready napkins.

If you're wondering what my process is, it's to cut as large of squares as I can get from my fabric, which usually works out to 17-18".  Then I press up a 1/2" hem all the way around.  Next I fold in the raw edges so that I'm left with an approximate 1/4" hem.  I then just topstitch down the hem and voila!

I'd also packed an ongoing project to work on, but the napkins took longer than I expected (don't things always?) and my day was cut a bit short since my husband sold our car while he was at work and had no way to get home! For the time being we are back to two cars and 2.5 drivers.

The ongoing project is making a quilt using a bunch of Cupcake Mix Recipe 3 papers and American Jane charm packs.  I'd been collecting them for a while and this seemed like a good idea since all the fabrics from the various lines work well together.  I'd had the first pack (her Bread and Butter line) sewn and cut for a while, but hadn't pressed them (since April or May, maybe??  Nope, March.)  So I pulled out these to work on. I have my guild retreat next weekend and this is the project I'm planning to work on there as well. I'm using Kona Snow with them and will need to cut a bunch of 5" squares.
Well, as I'm pressing these I am seriously doubting my sanity.  These things are tiny!  And there will be a lot of paper to remove!  Right now I am leaning toward making the Jacob's ladder version of the blocks, which appear to finish at 2.5". What!?!?!?!?!
Anyway, I found this quilt, with the pattern available for free here, as a basic outline of what I will do with my blocks.  Though at this size it may be years before I get all of them sewn.  This image is a screen shot of the quilt I'm using as inspiration.

Okay, so back to the antique blocks.  I was Googling what to do with them to get rid of the smell.  I found a few different products to try and then realized that I had one of them already.  I figured that since I have something in hand it would be worth a shot.  I used a small tote, four gallons of water, and 12 tablespoons of the Vintage Textile Soak.
The water started turning a gross yellowish color right away and the smell was not good either.  The fabrics themselves had dark spots on them that I figured were from age.  They didn't really looks like stains per se.  Some of the backing fabric, which does appear to be from feed sacks, has black spots.  I'm not sure if this is mildew, mold, or something else.  The spots are very dark black and have a tar-like look.
Okay, so after the first several hours the water was looking pretty nasty.  When I dumped it out to start fresh again it almost felt oily.  The blocks definitely looked a lot brighter, but they still smelled terrible.
I left them soaking in the Vintage Textile Soak another 24 hours.  Thankfully, none of the colors bled, though I found one that looked a lot lighter than I remembered.  However, the black spots were still on the backings and the blocks still smelled pretty bad.  Here you can see a few of the black spots.  The giant white circle in the second picture is a reflection of the light above.

I drained the water, rinsed the blocks, added fresh water, and added vinegar and have left them for another 24 hours.  I haven't checked them yet to see how that turned out.

So the question is, what is the black substance on the feed sack backings?  And how should I proceed?  If they still smell terrible I'm not sure that I should continue since I'd have to handle them quite a bit.  And if the black stuff is mold or mildew, that's certainly not healthy to work with.  Any thoughts?

Linking with For the love of geese (hey, look, my mini from last week is featured!) and My Quilt Infatuation.


  1. I would pitch them. Mold and mildew are not healthy to work with and who know what gunk is on them. If they still smell after several soaks, get rid of them. It's not like you don't have any other projects to work with. Just my opinion. Happy Stitching!

  2. First off the Dinosaur napkins are fabulous! As for your vintage blocks, I am no expert, but I have a friend who does work with vintage blocks and quilts, so she may have some ideas. Her name is Sarah, and she blogs at Confessions of a Fabric Addict. I love the quilt pattern you found. Pinning!

  3. I think you have gone above and beyond to restore the fabrics for sewing with. I agree with Gretchen above. If after this last soak, it still smells bad. I, too am for throwing them away. Who knows what all that greasy, spotty, stuff is that you have released.

  4. I have no suggestions other than vinegar. If hot water and vinegar do not get rid of the smell I would not continue. You could try baking soda and the blocks in an air tight container or good old fashioned sunlight. Keep in mind, the smell that bothers you may not bother someone else. I am very sensitive to scents and odors, many people cannot smell what I can so I would prob offer them to someone else. I'm curious how this turns out. Thank you for linking up to Put your foot down.