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Quilt Collecting Can Be Fun: Great Benefits from Our Passion posted: 10/13/2003
by Hallye Bone Printable Page
Category: General Method: All
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Collecting is part of our human nature. In childhood, we begin gathering prized treasures. As a child, my collection of movie star paper dolls was large and my paper dolls were better dressed than any real starlet. The Victorians collected all sorts of oddities: signatures, shells, dried flowers and fabrics, too. Today's quilters are the most dedicated of collectors; they amass fabric "stashes." (of fabrics) Old quilts were probably what inspired us to become quilters and our first quilts may have been copies of those vintage beauties. One way to truly appreciate the craft and art of quilting is to become a quilt collector.

Where to start? Begin at home! Ask your Mom or Grandmother where the family quilts are stored. You may be pleasantly surprised that no one wants those treasures and you will reap a windfall. A man recently found thirty-six quilts, catching tractor oil drips in his grandfather’s barn. Laundered, they are in good condition and have formed the nucleus of a fine collection. The lucky owner is now phoning his aunts to find out where the rest of the family quilts are. Don't assume that quilts are carefully stored under beds or in cedar chests. I've seen quilts that were stored between mattresses and box springs or wrapped around hot water heaters. Search everywhere and ask lots of questions. Once found, document them for your family.

Usually, we collectors search for one category of quilts, with specific colors, styles or sizes. Ann Watkins Hazelwood, of St. Charles, Missouri, collects red and white quilts, and red and white embroidered pieces. She appreciated the dramatic contrast between red and white fabric long before the current revival began. For twenty-four years, her quilt shop, Patches, etc., has been a mecca for lovers of redwork embroidery and red and white fabrics. Her collection is always growing. She is sharing her collection by curating a show of some of her red and white quilt collection. The exhibit, “Antique Red & White Quilts”, will be on display December 6, 2003 through March 6, 2004 at the Museum Of the American Quilt Society (MAQS) in Paducah, KY featuring 26 red and white quilts dating from 1880-1930.

But you don’t have to own a shop to collect quilts. Lefa Moore, of Bellaire, TX. has always loved soft pastels and tiny print fabrics. At a quilt show, she bought her first '30's Depression era quilt. When she purchases a quilt, she looks for the "old-timey," appeal of scrappy fabrics and patterns. Learning from her collection, she has become an expert in '30's piecing, appliqué, and fine hand quilting typical of that era’s quilts.

When I've lectured about "crazy" quilts, I called Nancy Davis in Houston. I have borrowed her large, near-perfect "crazy" quilt. Not a true collector of quilts, she and her husband love contemporary art. They saw the visual impact of crazy quilts and knew that a crazy quilt would add interest to their décor. They located their beautiful multi-colored piece at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Hanging on an inside hall wall, it is a fine addition to their eclectic collection.

My own varied collection began serendipitously. My friend Anne Tuley of Waxahachie, Texas, took me to the flea market in Canton, TX, where dealers had hundreds of quilts for sale and I quickly caught the “collecting bug.” I started with quilts I loved: "scrappy" patchwork quilts from the turn of the century. I have since branched out to Victorian "crazy" quilts, because I lecture on these quilts. Now that I am an appraiser, I have tried to broaden my purchases to include a quilt from each of the many eras of American quilting. Although I display my quilts, I use them also when teaching: a good excuse to search for more.

Antiques malls and dealers usually have lots of quilts to choose from. Here are my personal guidelines for antiquing.

  • First: get to know the dealers. Over the years, I have acquired quilts from the same people and they know what I like. Dealers are happy to notify you of a particular style or type of quilt or if they are participating in a show or sale.
  • Second: ask the dealer "Is this your very best price?" The price of a quilt is subject to negotiation if the dealer hasn't invested a fortune in the piece.
  • Third, study! Read books like Clues in the Calico, a book by Barbara Brackman, so you can identify a quilt’s age by looking at the fabric. Go to lectures and museums when textiles are being featured.
  • Fourth: check out comparable quilts on the Internet before you shop. Timing is everything. If you’re the last customer of the day at a flea market or sale, you can often get a good price on a quilt. Why? The dealer may not want to drag it home. Price often depends on what the dealer paid for it. It's a little like playing poker, but once, in England, I negotiated to buy two beautiful pillow shams for only $20.00 because the dealer was ready to go home.

Some of my friends buy quilts at garage sales or the Salvation Army. I never seem to get there in time to snap up these finds. The key is to cruise the neighborhood each week to see what people are getting rid of. One friend has picked up some quilts on the curb, left for the trash collector. After a good wash, these are the nucleus of a diverse collection. Read your newspaper and note where likely sales will be held. Often, estate sales are more likely to feature quilts than garage sales, but, as any garage-saler will tell you, there is no predicting what you’ll find or where. I once bought several jars of valuable buttons at a ramshackle home.

History shows that we were not alone in our fascination with collecting. In Russia, the Czars collected Fabergé eggs. In England, they collected porcelain. But our quilt collections are more versatile than breakable items like crystal and china. They're more portable than antique furniture, too. You can use quilts to make an artistic statement or for bed coverings. I recently dipped into my collection and gave one as a wedding gift. And, I always use my collection for teaching and lecturing. But the greatest reward in collecting is the fun of the chase: the excitement of discovering an elusive rare design or a special vintage fabric from an unusual source and, of course, a bargain price.

©2003 Hallye Bone

About the Quilts Shown Above:
Hallye's "Scrappy 9-Patch" - made with feed sacks and calicos, bought at Canton, TX flea market

Nancy Davis' "Crazy" Quilt (Houston, TX)

Ann Hazelwood's "Drunkard's Path", part of her red & white collection

Ann Hazelwood holding a "Red Cross" quilt

An example of a "redwork" quilt made in the early 1900's

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