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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…

Dorothy

Saturday 29th of October 2022

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.

Annie

Wednesday 10th of August 2022

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

Michael Kephart

Thursday 4th of February 2021

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.

K. Smith

Monday 1st of February 2021

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!

Judith Fairchild

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

Finish it please, the colors are beautiful and it does something besides just hang or lay there.