Collecting and Exhibiting Quilts

How to Get Started Collecting

Collecting Quilts

When it comes to collecting quilts, remember:

  • Collect what you love
  • Always do your homework!
  • Make sure you have the time and means to care for them properly to preserve beauty and value.

If you are considering beginning a quilt collection, approach the process as you would if you were collecting in any other area – whether it is antique toys, fine art prints, musical instruments, or snow globes.

There are really just two rules: collect what you love, and always do your homework!

Think about:

  • What kind of quilts appeal to you (size, color, fabric, pattern)
  • Area of specialization, if any (regional, historic time period, ethnic origin, contemporary)
  • Whether you plan to use your quilts, display them, or store them
  • What price range you can afford
  • Whether you have the time and means to care for them properly.

Want some tips for buying antique quilts, and getting your money’s worth?

Tips for Buying Antique Quilts

Price tags for antique quilts can run into the thousands. Remember that fabrics will deteriorate over time, and with use. To make sure you’re getting value for your dollar, always consider these factors:

  • Condition (pay more for good condition)
  • Quality of repairs (if any)
  • Age (as with any antique, the older the quilt, the more valuable it is)
  • Beauty
  • Rarity (an unusual design is typically more valuable)
  • Craftsmanship (the quality of design, piecing, stitching, use of appliqué or other embellishment)
  • Provenance (pieces that are signed, or attributable through history to a particular family, will bring a higher price).

Always establish the credibility of the source you are purchasing from, as with anything of value. Many antique quilt dealers are members of state-specific or regional antiques associations, such as S.P.N.E.A. (Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities). 

A good source for the care of antique quilts: http://www.reddawn.net/quilt/antique.htm

Where to Find Collectible Quilts

Here are some Internet resources we found, just to whet your appetite.
For a fine resource on collecting, appraising, and quilting history, see quilting expert Shelly Zegart’s site, www.shellyquilts.com, including superb examples of antique, vintage, and contemporary quilts. Prices generally range from $1200 to $4,000.

http://www.antiquequiltsource.com/Gallery.htm is another wonderful resource for antique quilts – prices range from $800 to almost $3800 for antique quilts, and approximately $100 to $1400 for new quilts)

Try an Internet search on antique quilts, collectible quilts, and art quilts – and see for yourself. You may also find collectible quilts in galleries, country fairs, and through quilting guilds and associations.

Museums and Other Collections

Internationally renowned, national, and regional museums now house textile and decorative art collections. Often these museums have quilt collections. Check with your local museums, and on the Internet.

Here is a great online display from the Smithsonian Institution, showing 18th, 19th, and 20th century American quilts: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/quilts/.

And coming the end of March to Atlanta’s High Museum (www.high.org), the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. More on this spectacular collection in a moment.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt

Perhaps the most famous quilt of our times is the collection of blocks that form the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Considered the largest ongoing community art project ever, this quilt, tragically, continues to grow. It is a memorial to the loss of life to AIDS-related diseases, and it is also a way for the quilters to honor the lives of those they have lost.

Tying a Quilt
AIDS Memorial Quilt

In this way, the AIDS quilt is typical of all traditional memorial quilts – a remembrance created in design and fabric. But unlike other memorial quilts, this project is a staggering illustration of tragedy on a massive scale. Each quilted block consists of eight 3’ x 6’ panels. These panels are intentionally sized and designed to resemble coffins, and are pieced together into huge 12’ x 12’ squares.

The full quilt was displayed in 1996, on the Mall, in Washington, D.C. There are currently more than 5,700 “blocks” in the quilt. It is these blocks – each consisting of 8 panels – that tour the world.

For more about the Aids Memorial Quilt, and the associated Names Foundation, visit www.aidsquilt.org, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAMES_Project_AIDS_Memorial_Quilt

The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend

Both contemporary and antique quilts are now exhibited in some of the most renowned museums in the world, as well as sold as fine art.

The quilts of Gee’s Bend represent one of the most spectacular examples of quilting as art form, social document, and communal activity. These masterpieces originate in a small, rural area southwest of Selma, Alabama. Here, six generations of African-American women have been creating remarkable quilts in stunning and bold geometric designs that have been compared to the works of 20th century masters Matisse and Klée. 

But it is unlikely that these quilts were directly influenced by anything other than what was handed down, generation to generation, among these women. Uniquely African-American, and with traces of Amish elements, these extraordinary quilts have been exhibited at such prestigious venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and Atlanta’s High Museum.

In addition to being highly collectible original works, these quilts now serve as the basis for fine art prints, available at a growing number of galleries.

To learn more about the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective, visit www.quiltsofgeesbend.com and Tinwood Alliance.

Tying a Quilt
Bars and String Piece Columns
Jessie Pettway
Collection of Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta
"Gee's Bend" Photos Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios
Tying a Quilt
"H" Variation
Nettie Young
Cotton, 88 x 77 in.
Collection of Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta
"Gee's Bend" Photos Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios
Housetop Quilt Variation
Housetop Variation
Mary Lee Bendolph
Quilted by her daugher, Essie Bendolph
Pettway, in 2001
Collection of Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta
"Gee's Bend" Photos Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios
Tying a Quilt
Bars and Blocks
Mary Lee Bendolph
Collection of Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta


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