The quilt list: antique, vintage, resale?

A couple of weeks ago, when I asked Catherine E. what kind of quilt she was interested in, she told me she loved the look of Dresden Plate quilts from the 1930s. I started researching it, and discovered something I really should have predicted, but had not: many things on places like eBay turn up from estate sales, and quilt pieces are part of estate sales. I've been staring in fascination ever since.

What I realized: if you're looking for the right type of item, it is possible to pick up actual antique unfinished quilt pieces for less money than it would cost to pick up the same amount of reproduction fabric representing the same period, and make the pieces yourself.

Discretion is required, obviously. I've seen some real nightmares up for sale:

(I should note that there's a question coming at the end)

I Know What It's Worth, So Pony Up, Suckers

These are the people who have provenance, have an exquisite item, and are asking for museum-quality prices. I have trouble believing these ever sell, but they do occasionally get listed, and when they are listed, they are stunning.  I love you guys, but nowhere on The Quilt List in my head does it say "I will buy you a $12,000 quilt." Love, it seems, has its limits.

I Know It's Trashed But Maybe You Won't Notice

These are the ones that are sold for parts, for decoration, for creative crafting and reuse. The best example I saw last week was a quilt whose seams weren't just busted, as the seller claimed, but whose seams appear to had been nested in by mice. Someone bought it, much to my shock. I would have burned it.

If We Call It 'Americana' Will You Buy It?

Lots of cheap quilt tops with bad design decisions show up here.  I can understand the preservationist drive on some levels: "it's old, you know you want to save it!" they say, but deep inside your head there's the little voice that responds, "But it isn't very good!" This is probably the biggest category I've seen. The items' main attraction is their age, not their quality or design choices. Sometimes a poorly sewn or ugly quilt top didn't get finished for a reason...

So what's left?

What's left after all those are blown away in a Kansas storm? Not much, but a few scenarios remain:

  • I found an unfinished quilt top and don't have the time or skill to finish it, so I'll make a few bucks and get it out of my house.
  • I already had one like this and don't need another.
  • I have no idea what this item is, or its worth.

Not very many items fall into this final category, and most of the ones that have caught my interest fall into the "I found an unfinished item and can't/won't finish it out" subcategory. I've wrestled with the idea of "is it really still a gift from me if all I do is find it and finish it out?" I think the answer is yes, but I think I'd like to hear the answer from others.

At last, the long and rambly question

If I found antique/vintage pieces -- or heaven forfend an entire quilt top -- would having a finished quilt out of such items appeal to you?

I think for some of my friends, the answer would be no; there are some people for whom I have specific motifs and color choices in mind, and these quilts probably wouldn't appeal to them as much as a quilt that was designed specifically for them. This is a totally okay answer.

I suspect there's a subset of people for whom the answer is a vehement yes: they would get a kick out of 'their' quilt being a rescued / resurrected antique quilt top, even if it isn't wholly perfect.

I'd like to know which you are. Are you a new-quilt person? Are you an antique-salvage person? In either instance, did you have a pattern or color set growing up that fascinated you? (Muted Civil War colors, crazy quilts, turn-of-the-century indigos, Depression-era pastels, 1940s-1950s brights, etc)

(For myself, I'm likely to go trolling for a Depression-era 'double wedding ring' quilt; I slept under one as a child, and it wasn't until I grew up that I understood those pastel colors marked it as being from a certain place and time.)


I've always, always been a jewel-tones person.


Somewhere, my mom has a couple of quilts my grandmother (her grandmother, actually, I think) made. I have vague memories of them, lots of blocks, with names stitched into them; they might have been community-effort quilts, I don't really know.

I figure that any quilt that gets finished and passed to someone is a gift of time and care, regardless of the origins of the top :D Even if you didn't make the top, you found it, finished it, and rescued it from, well, destruction. Preservation of handicrafts is worthwhile!

They were almost certainly community effort quilts. There was a rage for "signature quilts" exactly like what you're describing in the late 1800s, which would probably line up well with it being your great-grandmother.

I'm gonna be a "no"!  You see, I didn't grow up with quilts.  So they were never really my thing.  When looking for bedspread decorations and such I usually just passed them by.  However, in the past few years, I have come into posession of some quilts that are very near and dear to my heart.  My aunt passed away 2 years ago from cancer.  While she was in the hospital, her co-workers made her a beautiful quilt featuring fabric with brightly colored cats.  She left it to me, and I LOVE IT.   Then when I got married, your AMAZING star quilt, quite literally, changed my life (or at least my outlook on quilts).   I have found that i really enjoy the more modern fabrics and patterns (like the uber cool star pattern).  But more specifically I have realized that I enjoy the sentiment behind the quilt.  That people you love and care about got together and made you something, with snippets of their past that meant alot to them.  So while having a quilt with historical value is cool, I most definitley prefer the homemade, heartfelt touch.  That's just my opinion!

I think that a rescued and repaired quilt is just as wonderful a gift as a new from scratch quilt.  If you have taken the time to find and procure the pieces or top with a person in mind, then it is the same or better than all the time you put into a new quilt.  I think there is something gained by the added, if unknown, history of the quilt.

Maybe I'm weird, but my family doesn't really have many heirlooms like linens, furniture, or photos.  The family farm house burned down during WWII and my uncle set the storage shed on fire when he was 3, so nothing really made it past the 1970s.  My mother has been trying to fill this void for my sister and I by purchasing and refinishing furniture from estate and church sales.  I think the, "My mother bought this early 1900s cedar chest for $10," story is just as fun to tell as the,"This belonged to my great-great..." story.

That being said, I am in love with all of the aperiodic tilings you have been sharing.

Like dear esmerel, I believe that preservation of handcrafts is important. It's a neat way to be connected to the past and to women's past in particular. That you would save those pieces and incorporate them into your own work is pretty cool. Obviously I'm a big fan of saving things if they're worth being saved.

If it were me, I wouldn't have an opinion one way or the other on the age issue, but my sense of taste tends towards "modern and quirky" instead of the kinds of colors and patterns you tend to find with antique fabric . . . but that doesn't mean I couldn't still appreciate that you can do something beautiful with it.

So what you're saying is that your next quilt should be of a giant purple penguin looming over Tokyo?

(Given that you already have one penguin quilt) ;)

YES!! Absolutely. And the beauty is that you can either finish it as it was meant to be finished, or use it in a more modern concept. There is a quilt in one of Fassett's books, I forget which, where he did just that. It is gorgeous.  I had quilts as a little girl in the 30's style, but I am also really attracted to more brilliant modern things. No favorites....except for whatever I am looking at in the current moment. HA! I just love color and quilts. ;0)  I adore your crayon quilt!!!!!!!