What is that quilt REALLY worth?

October 14, 2019

What is that quilt REALLY worth?

I recently saw a post from someone looking to buy a quilt at an estate sale. She was wondering if it was hand or machine made. I am not sure why she was asking because I don't know what her plans were for the quilt. But I have encountered this question before and thought it would make a good subject for discussion.

I was a professional machine quilter for many years. I once had a booth set up at a local town fair to advertise my business. This gentleman saw my booth and made a bee line to me. He started asking me about my work. Then he proceeded to tell me about how he had a huge pile of "hand-quilted" quilts that he's bought at estate sales/auctions, flea markets, etc. He bragged about how he had a small fortune in quilts because they were "hand-quilted" and was rather demeaning when talking about the quilts that were "machine quilted". I just smiled and kept quiet because it's true about better to appear a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.

First off, just because a quilt is hand stitched does not make it more valuable than something machine stitched. There are several things that go into determining the value of a quilt. But let's first talk about how to tell the difference.

To determine if a quilt is pieced by hand vs. machine, look at the seams. From the top of the quilt, gently open up the seam line so you can see the stitches. If you see a line of "V"s, then that piece is hand stitched. If the stitches are parallel lines, than it is stitched by machine. To determine if a quilt is quilted by hand, there will be spaces between each stitch. With machine quilting, the sitches are continuous.

So what goes into determining how valuable a quilt really is? If a quilt is made by someone special to you such as your grandmother, then it is, in my opinion, priceless. Or if you have been awarded a quilt as a special honor as with a Quilt of Valor, then that too is priceless and you cannot (nor should you) put a monetary value on it. Take care of this treasure.

If the quilt is not a priceless treasure, then below are some of the criteria of what makes one quilt more valuable than another:
1. Who made the quilt - If the quilt has been made by someone famous, like Elizabeth Taylor, then it will be worth more.
2. Visual appeal - Is it pretty or is it not? If it is a visually attractive quilt, then it is worth more than an unattractive one. But this is subjective. All of us have different taste and what I think is pretty you may not.
3. Condition - Does the quilt have wear and tear, holes, fading or stains, or seams coming apart? Quilts that hold up over time have been made with good workmanship and good quality materials. The owners have also taken special care in how the quilt was stored and cleaned. Therefore, they will be worth more because they have held up over time.
4. Uniqueness - Is the design of the quilt something you see a lot?  For example, Sun Bonnet Sue quilts have been around for a very long time and there are lots out there. If you compared two different Sun Bonnet Sue quilts, one hand stitched and the other machine stitched, neither one is really unique so other criteria will come into play in determining the quilt value.
5. Design and quality of the quilting. Is the quilting design (the stitching that holds the 3 layers together) visually appealing? How much quilting is on the quilt? A quilt that is heavily quilted with a lot of intricate quilting (feather or wreath designs), aka: heirloom quilting, is going to be worth more than a quilt with just straight lines because more artistic expression and work has gone into the quilt.
6. Type of construction. This is where the difference between hand and machine comes in. If you have two quilts that are identical in every way, but one is hand stitched and the other machine, then the hand stitched one will be most likely be more valuable.
7. Stitch consistency - Award winning hand quilters normally try to achieve 10 to 12 stitches per inch when quilting. However, as long as there is a consistent number of stitches per inch over the entire quilt, the value will not change that much.
8. Age - Just because a quilt is old does not make it more valuable.

I once saw a very old quilt at a garage sale. It was dated correctly in that it was made in the 1800s. Lots of different types of fabric was used, which is typical for that age of quilt. Unfortunately, the quilt was coming apart and, in my opinion, was a very unattractive quilt. The asking price was $100.  I was also doing some minor quilt repair at that time so I thought it would be good for that and offered less but the owners would not go any lower on the price. I continued to wonder around the sale and found a real treasure. I found a king size, wedding ring quilt top made from Batik fabrics. There was probably about $250 worth of fabric in this quilt, not to mention the construction was good quality machine piecing. The price on this gem was only $25.  I still have yet to get this quilt quilted, but when I do, it will be a real treasure in my collection.

So the next time you are at an estate sale or auction and you see a quilt that you like, and they are asking what you are willing to pay, then buy it. Give it a good home and take care of it. Investing in a quilt is not always about resell value but about the love of the art. And for the record, I am NOT an appraiser, certified or otherwise. This information is what I've learned from appraisers and informal research I have conducted. If you are a certified appraiser and I have given incorrect information, please comment on this post.

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