Monday, September 29, 2008

Collecting quilts, imported or not?

Two weekends ago we went to a CrAzY garage sale. Wall to wall people, lots of noise and confusion and general insanity. I was feeling completely overwhelmed (sometimes I am just fine in those types of sales, totally on my game and on the hunt, sometimes I am like a deer in the headlights). Jack and Dave were off hunting and gathering treasures when I spotted this quilt thrown over a rack. I snatched it up, checked for the price and decided I was ready to leave.

My first instinct was that the quilt was a reproduction, imported from China. It didn't matter all that much because it was $3. I rarely find a repro I like, so I had planned to sew up the hole and use it.
I got it home, unwadded it and started to rethink the made in China thing. The fabric was too soft, the quilt too heavy, the batting was cotton not poly and the stitching was 8 stitches per inch.
I asked Dave. He said he thought not imported. I sat on it for a few days. I really could not decide whether this was old or new.

Then I asked at one of my favorite vintage textile message boards. Their votes were all for vintage, circa 1930-1960, made from a quilt kit.

Well then.

What a nice unexpected surprise.

Sometimes it is REALLY hard to tell a repro from the real deal. Even with 50 vintage quilts in this house it was hard for me with this one. Generally I am able to guess based on a combination of instinct and the printed fabrics.

So, in the absence of instinct what is a girl to do?

I see plenty of quilts at flea markets and yard sales and on Ebay that are being called vintage quilts that are actually Chinese quilts*. It pays to educate yourself a little if you are going to be investing a large sum of money. Some tips:

If you are unsure, make sure it is cheap. You don't want to pay $100+ for something that sold in Wal-Mart for $50 brand new.

If a dealer/seller has a LARGE amount of quilts, be wary. 20 or 30? Believable. 100 or more? Unlikely that they are the real deal. Do the math. Even if she hires "pickers" how likely is it that they are coming to come up with that many quilts in a month's time?

Kick the tires, so to speak. Peek inside any open seams, investigate the stitching, look at the fabric. I know this part is harder. I would never expect to see 1930s prints with polyester batting for example. But poly batting in a quilt with 1970s prints? Plausible. If the piecing or applique is well done, is the quilting equally well done? Try and look at the whole picture.

A good place to start if you want to read more is Hart Cottage and here .

* Certainly imported quilts have a place in the market. I sleep under an Arch quilt every night. (And I need to find a replacement because after 10 years it is getting ratty.) They do offer the charm of a quilt in your decor while offering some versatility since there is no worry about a 3 year old throwing up on great grandma's handiwork. And there is no guilt about "using one up" and then getting rid of it when it has fallen to pieces.


  1. THANK YOU for the links. I have been afraid to really delve into the antique quilt market for fear of getting scammed. Your post helps me feel more confident.

  2. Anonymous1:45 PM

    I've wanted to buy Quilts before but was too afraid to. Thanks for the links.

  3. Hi Sarah!
    Thanks for stopping by my site. I've gotten pretty savy scince my first post but the header still has me stumped- I can't get the stinkin' title on there to save my life. If you have a suggestion that would be great. (the text will only go at the top of the photo- obviously i left the bottom of the photo open for text, so that's where i'm trying to go with it)
    thanks again!

  4. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Great advice. I don't buy quilts off eBay, but it's disappointing to think that knockoffs are being sold in that way. Do you have that "Dating Fabrics" book? It's really fun to look at, and really helpful, too.

  5. Sara, my great grandma taught me how to quilt while very young. She gave me a quilt for a wedding present and insisted that we use it everyday. She said a worn quilt was a well loved quilt. I have to agree. When I cuddle Gina up in that soft quilt I feel like my grandma is right there with us. That being said I LOVE finding an old one in perfect condition.


Hi there. What say you?