Vintage Redemption: When is it OK to Cut Up an Old Quilt?

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There are usually a lot of factors that muddy the waters when we try to determine the value of a quilt, especially if you are entertaining the idea of taking scissors to the quilt and cutting it into a completely new project, so how do you know when it is ok to cut a vintage quilt?

 A log cabin quilt  hanging outdoors of a clothesline with blue skies in the background, the quilt top is made from vintage feedsack fabric.

2 years ago I was gifted a few boxes of sewing and quilting supplies, notions and patterns. In one the boxes was an old unfinished lap sized quilt top. The quilt top was clean, well stored and in fairly good shape. At the time I was not prepared to consider finishing the quilt or repurposing it.

So I packed the quilt top away with the rest of my vintage linens, and moved on with my life.

Flash forward to December 2018, and a fresh new set of Powersheets. As I was setting my intentions for the year, I realized decluttering needed to be a priority, and I knew my totes of vintage linens would need to be dealt with, as they have been taking up quite a bit of real estate in my bedroom closet.

About 6 months ago, when I sat down with my Powersheets I gave myself an ultimatum, I would either:

  1. Find a way to use my vintage linens I had been storing away like a low-key hoarder, or…
  2. Let go of them.

I did a preliminary purge a few months ago, and let go of all the linens that were of no use to me, or I didn’t love. I was left with my small collection of vintage aprons, 1 tote of vintage bed linens (that I am planning on making a quilt with) and the feedsack quilt top, which I was actually really torn about what to do with…

I pulled the quilt top out and hung it in my bedroom in hopes that seeing it daily would help me decide what to do with it. And, in the weeks it has been hanging in my bedroom room more then once I have considered making the quilt top into something completely different, maybe Christmas stockings, throw pillow covers, or maybe even Christmas ornaments, but I have also played with the idea of finishing the quilt for light decorative use around my house.

I’ll be the first to admit it has been a while since I have been active in any quilting community, so opinions may have changed, but generally, what I remember is a lot of vintage quilt enthusiasts, historians and appraisers very vocally stating that altering, or repurposing a vintage quilt top, instantly destroys its value, and is strongly discouraged.

But what makes a quilt “valuable”? If you bring your quilt to an appraiser she will likely look at the craftsmanship or the elaborate hand-stitching, the amount of skill required to execute a difficult quilt pattern, or the fabric selection, and the color story of the fabrics, and assign a monetary value to the quilt based on what she can see.

close up view of a log cabin quilt made from vintage feedsack fabric.

But what if the value of the quilt has less to do with the workmanship and the quality of materials, and more to do with the story of the quilt, it’s history or our emotional ties to it?

What if the quilt is just an uncompleted top? Maybe the workmanship is subpar and the piecing doesn’t line up properly, the fabric is damaged or torn, or the quilt is to frail to withstand regular use and washing? But it was a gift, or family quilt? What if you found it in the attic of grandmas while cleaning out her house?

There are usually a lot of factors that muddy the waters when we try to determine the value of a quilt, especially if you are entertaining the idea of taking scissors to the quilt and cutting it into a completely new project.

I’ve spent enough time quilting, and shopping antique stores, and estate sales to get a good idea of the “resale” value of my quilt top, and suspect if this was listed on eBay it would be listed as a “cutter”. But I still am hesitant.

Once it is cut, that is it. There is no going back.

But what if repurposing it means, I can actually enjoy and appriciate it more?

If you came here looking for the answer to the question “When is it OK to Cut Up an Old Quilt?” Obviously, I am of no help. I am just as torn as the next person.

This is something I am still trying to figure out myself.

Weigh in below, and let me know… Would you cut this quilt up and recycle it into a usable finished item like a stocking? Or finish the quilt to use as a decor item? Or leave it alone…

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  1. I found this article looking to get some opinions about a disturbing site I found recently. “ Lady Lancaster” is repurposing high quality vintage quilts to become loose fitting jackets. The quilts are really beautiful as are the jackets but this seems to me to be a bit of damage to treasures. I’m not a purist, I can find the grey areas, but this is definitely a step too far for me.

  2. It needs finishing and to be loved and used. It looks in good condition and it honours the original maker if you complete it.

  3. That quilt top looks to be well done and attractive with a 30s vibe. If it were me I’d find a way to finish it.

  4. Quilts were originally created to use up old bits of cloth. Nothing wasted. Needs of a growing family and keeping warm were important. They also brightened the life of the makers of the quilts.They also brought together communities of women to create some beauty in an otherwise difficult existence.
    It is unfinished. Unused. Unloved.
    Finish it,recreate it, repurpose it or pass it on.
    Do not waste it!

  5. Cut it up and enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty. Maybe it was never finished because the quilter who pieced it did not love it enough to finish it. Think about your own ufos, would you want them cluttering someones closet in the future.

  6. Hi! I just happened upon your blog via Pinterest and your shirt sleeve pumpkins! (Love them, btw) I am NOT a professional quilter, but I have made several dozen quilts as gifts for people. When I make a quilt for a person it is meant to be used, loved, patched up if necessary, enjoyed. I DON’T want it stored in a tote somewhere because it is too valuable to do something with. That is my opinion.
    My stitches aren’t perfect, my quilting is not perfect, it is done with love, but they are done. If I threw away everything I made, or pulled out every stitch until I hit the perfect mark…. nothing would be done.

    I think, as a quilter who loves the joy of cutting up grandpas flannel shirts and making a quilt, if that quilt no longer is enjoyed as the quilt and becomes a burden for the person receiving it, a what do I do with this now, or reduced to “how much is this worth money wise”, well, that would hurt far more than hey, if I cut this into a stocking it can be used and enjoyed and passed down to the next generation to enjoy grandpas flannel shirts.

    Quite a rebel, right? But, is it worse than hiding in a tote so a hundred years from now someone can say hey, I have a 150 yr old quilt in perfect condition here…. quick, put it back in the tote to preserve it.

    I say this with all due respect to true antique collectibles or historical quilts. Mine are joy of making and giving quilts!

    1. @Linda, I love this perspective. At 68, I have so many unfinished projects of my own and numerous acquired treasures in the making. I’m now to a stage where I want to purge (actually I’ve been there for some years) but have all the same questions and pondering as the original article. I feel armed now with a fresh outlook so that as I go through all those bins once more, perhaps I can let go of a good amount and focus instead on just the things I enjoy doing. I think I shall just start posting some of these things on Buy Nothing and pass on the opportunity of having joy to someone else. Thanks again.