Quilt Buyer Beware


For those of you who like to buy quilts at on-line auctions I thought I would give a bit of advice.  There are many quilts out there that are reproduction quilts.  There is nothing wrong with a reproduction quilt as long as the buyer knows that is what they are buying.  A reproduction quilt will never have the antique value of a “real” hand-made American quilt.  These quilts are made primarily in China.  They are machine pieced and hand quilted.  If you are looking for a quilt for every day use these quilts are a good option.  If you are looking to buy a quilt for vintage or antique value pass on reproductions.

Leigh at Heart Cottage Quilts has done a fantastic article about reproduction  quilts.  This should be required reading for anyone interested in antique and vintage quilts

http://hartcottagequilts.com/archquilts 

and http://hartcottagequilts.com/vintage

She does a great job describing the hallmarks of import quilts and has an extensive picture gallery of many of the most common quilts that are appearing at on-line auctions.

These quilts were produced starting in the mid 80′s so they are starting to show up at estate sales across the country.  People who buy up estates assume that if a quilt has hand stitching and is found at an estate sale it must be old.  I can’t count how many times I have had a seller tell me that the estate told them that the quilt was made by the grandmother , or great-aunt, or assorted other ancestors, when in fact they were made in China.  Family history is often a fuzzy thing, and quilt history can’t be based on assumptions.   “This quilt was in her house in, an antique cedar chest so that proves it was made by her and is antique”.   Not exactly logical is it?  My house was built in 1884, does that make all the contents of my house antiques?  Of course not. I have a collection of clocks; one is a french clock from the early 18th century, does that make all my clocks french antiques? Crazy.  So for quilts you have to look at them apart from any assumptions and evaluate the fabric, the workmanship, the colors, the pattern and the quilting, and then decide if you can believe that it is a true antique.

I took a quick tour of an on-line auction site today and below are some of the many many “fakes” out there and a discussion of what to look for.

Before the pictures let me say that not all of these were misrepresented as antique.  Most sellers will say they are unsure of the age and list them as vintage.  Vintage is a fuzzy term and provides a lot of cover. In eBay terms vintage is anything 1930-now, so a one year old item could be sold as vintage.

Rare!  When it says rare buyer beware.

Some things listed as rare are in fact rare….some not so much.  One of the things often listed as “rare” and “desirable” is the Knife Edge.

In order to understand the knife-edge I need to do a quick review of quilt construction.  In traditional quilting when the quilt top is completed the quilter makes what we call a quilt sandwich.  the backing fabric is laid out flat, then the batting layer is placed on top and smoothed out, then the quilt top is laid out on top of that and smoothed out.  after the “sandwich” is made the 3 layers are basted together.  Quilting begins in the center of the quilt and is worked out to the edges, this way any wrinkles or puffiness can be worked out to the edges.  once the quilting is complete the edge treatment can be done.   to make a knife-edge the batting is trimmed smaller than the top and backing.  the top and backing fabric are folded under and sewn together, encasing the batting and forming the knife-edge.  A true knife-edge is flat, no batting is sewn into the seam between top and backing fabrics, the edge is flat like a knife blade.  This type of knife-edge treatment is in fact fairly uncommon.  Reproduction quilts are made differently.   the batting is laid out first, then the backing goes over that (right side down) then the top goes over that (right side down) and they are machine stitched together around the perimeter, leaving one area un-stitched.  Now it looks like an inside-out quilt.  the batting and backing is trimmed to match the top and the whole thing is turned inside out (or right side out) and then the opening for turning is sewn together.  This means that the batting is sewn into the seam that creates the knife-edge, and makes for a full edge.  here is a picture.

And here on wedding ring quilts

some quilts add a row of stitching around the edge to simulate a piped edge some do not.

Notice the fullness in the edges, you can see where the batting is folded into the seam creating the ridge.

What should a true knife-edge look like?

The green top fabric is folded in as is the white backing fabric…none of the batting is sewn into the edge treatment.  The edge is flat.

Here is a knife-edge on an 1800′s quilt…..notice how flat the edge is and note how the edge is stitched.  This is a rather rare edge treatment and very nicely done.

When a quilt is constructed by inverting it to create the edging (creating a false knife-edge), it tends to make for wrinkles and a less than smooth appearance because you can’t work out the fullness to the edges, the edges are already finished.

The above quilt shows that bunching typical of the reproduction and import quilts.

Here are a few more examples

How should a “real” quilt look?

more like this:

What about fabrics?

Fabric dating is not an easy thing to do, but there are many resources available to help.  Barbra Brackman’s book “Clues in the Calico” and  Eileen Trestain’s book “Dating Fabrics, a color guide”  are among the most popular and helpful.  True antique quilts will use fabrics indicative of the era they were made.  When a quilt is made of fabrics in “trendy” colors that should be a red flag.

These pink and blue and green colors were very popular in the 80′s, but not so much in the 30′s and 40′s

These arent vintage colors either, more popular in the 90′s, but again not the 30′s and 40′s.

Another clue is when every block in the quilt is the same, in a vintage or antique patchwork quilt it is common to have a wide variety of different fabrics, it is much more unusual to have a 5 or 6 fabrics used uniformly throughout the quilt.

Lets look again at the wedding ring quilt.

Many different fabrics and no two rings are alike.  Much more typical.

What about the quilting stitches?

Reproduction quilts are hand quilted, but not very well quilted.  The stitches are not very uniform in size, and the quilting is not very dense.  Antique quilts were quilted very densely to prevent the batting from bunching up and migrating.  Old batting needed to be quilted at about 1 inch apart but modern batting is constructed differently and allows quilting to be much less dense.  look at the density of the quilting in the wedding ring quilt above.

Now compare that with a reproduction quilt

Now lets look at quality of the stitching.  All hand quilting is not the same.

Reproduction quilting is uneven, and at a low stitch count per inch like this

Quality antique quilting is more like this

Now for a gallery of some reproduction quilts

This Baltimore album style is mistaken for an antique very frequently.  This week it is listed by 2 sellers on eBay, each claiming it is an antique, pre 1930 when in fact it was made by Arch quilts, in China, in the 90′s

This Tulip quilt shows up fairly frequently on eBay.  This is one of the later Arch quilts, and while it is pretty well done it is not an antique!….this seller say “THIS QUILT WON OUR COUNTY FAIR AND WOULD OF WON THE STATE FAIR,IF IT WAS ENTERED!!! –I WAS TOLD IT TOOK OVER 1 YEAR TO MAKE!!!!”  nice story but not true

Here is an Arch quilt they called “americana” But fortunately it still had its tag

I will add more examples as I find them.

Now for what should be obvious:

Tags

When in doubt ask the seller if there is a tag, or evidence of where a tag has been removed.

And how about machine quilting?

This quilt shows up on eBay frequently.  I saw it once represented as being from 1800′s.

These eagle quilts were mass-produced and sold in the hundreds, the eagle is printed onto the fabric, and it is machine quilted. Nothing special about this at all. and 1970 is not anywhere near 1800

and here is one in gold that claims to be antique and handmade

And what about repetition?

This quilt is listed several times today, when there are 20 the same its hard to imagine its antique

If a seller lists that they have more than one of any quilt available it should be a big red flag.

What about “dated” quilts?

We can presume that a date on a quilt is truly that date it was made.   This seller Had a quilt with “21″ embroidered on the back and assumed that ment it was made in 1921.  If it was it would have been a very different kind of quilt; different fabric, edge treatment, quilting etc. And the date would be written differently, perhaps ’21….or 1921….but not “21″.  My guess is that it was given to someone for their 21′s birthday.

Remember that the true value of any quilt is in how much you like or love it.  If  a quilt appeals to you then buy it, but be aware that things aren’t always what they seem so don’t pay antique prices for inexpensive reproductions.

I have been saving up more pictures since I first wrote this…here is a gallery of more

Here are some more

I will continue to add more as I find them

65 thoughts on “Quilt Buyer Beware

  1. Great article. Thanks for all your research and sleuthing.

    • timquilts says:

      Thanks Sandra
      Im always on the look out for more examples. I will continue to add to the post.
      Tim

      • trish says:

        Thanks Tim, this is a fabulous article, well researched and written. I have shared it with my facebook fans! ~trish

      • timquilts says:

        thanks!….I am glad you liked it and I hope that it helps people make informed buying choices!

      • SALLY PARSONS says:

        I WENT ON LINE TO SEE IF ANYONE WANTED TWO QUILTS THAT I RECENTLEY PURCHASED (NOT FOR MUCH MONEY) THEY ARE IN PRETTY BAD CONDITION BUT THOUGHT THAT SOME AREAS OF
        MATERIAL COULD BE USED. I WAS CONVINCED THAT ONE OF THE QUILTS WAS OLD, & HAND STITCHED.IT APPEARS TO HAVE THREE LAYERS (THE OTHER NOT BUT APPEARS TO BE OLD)AFTER READING YOUR GOOD ADVICE, I AM NOT CONVINCED
        I THINK I WILL CUT THE QUILTS UP TO SALVAGE THE AREAS THAT ARE GOOD, AND SELL THEM. KIND REGARDS SALLY

  2. Lynn Miller says:

    Great info. And when you add in quilts made from commercial kits from the 20′s-70′s it get even harder to tell. Lots of these quilts were done by very inexperience quilters. And knife-edge was generally how the directions said to finish the quilt. I saw a whitework quilt recently that was very hard to tell made in Asia or just an inexperienced quilter. Beware is right.

    • timquilts says:

      So right! It is hard to tell!!…At some point I think you get a sixth sence about it…..but it seems pretty difficult to know for sure. I look for matches. If I see one on eBay i search for an identical one…..2 the same is a pretty good clue
      I just hate to see people buy something that is not what they think it is….picture them some day on the antiques road show proudly showing the treasure that turns out to be trash :(

  3. Sue says:

    Oh my gosh! This was a most informative post! Thank you so much for sharing this information. While I am not great at dating antique quilts, there are some that you just know were mass produced in another country.
    I like that you brought out the hand quilting. I have heard many folks think that the quilt they own is a true antique because it was hand quilted. When you take a good look, you know they are holding a fake, but how do you tell them :/
    This is so good to pass along! Thanks again for your insights.

    Sue

    • timquilts says:

      Thanks Sue

      I am glad you found it helpful
      I was talking with a quilt appraiser just a few days ago about these import quilts. She sees them all the time and people are convinced they have a national treasure because it belonged to their grandmother….grandmothers can also shop QVC and walmart….so it is always a challenge to convince people that they were made in the 80′s in China. I am a big believer in having Amreican Quilters Society appraisals on quilts. I have seen appraisals from other sourses (antique dealers and others) and they dont know how to properly appraise an antique or vintage quilt. AQS appraisers have training in fabric dating and can give a real picture of the history of the quilt.
      Ok Off my soap box…thanks again
      Tim

  4. Renie Levecchia says:

    Thank you so much for all of the info. I bought a Broken Star on Ebay because the pix showed a separate red binding that was worn all around and when it arrived, I was pleased to see tiny quilting stitches in a wreath pattern as well as cross-hatching. Today I noticed alot of quilts on XXXXXXXX Ebay site that look like Arch quilts, especially item # XXXXXXXX and many others that seem to have a machine-stitched knife edge. Some of her pix are hard for me to decipher. She has over 9000 feedbacks but I now suspect something fishy!

    • timquilts says:

      I am glad you found this useful. I did look at the quilt you mentioned It is my opinion that this one is not an import. It is not what you could call an antique, Id guess maybe from the 60′s, but it looks like the real deal to me. I have not seen this seller ever misrepresent a quilt, (there are others who do it all the time!) just remember that the term vintage can mean anythig from a few years old like 2000 to many years old like 1930. Best advice when buying is to always ask the seller questions first. If they can’t give you satisfactory answers dont buy.

  5. Renie Levecchia says:

    Thank you. Maybe it would be a good idea to remove that Ebayers’ user name from my post so we don’t get hit with any legal issues!

  6. Nelda says:

    Thank you for this great post. I found your site when looking up a tulip quilt with an Arch Quilt tag that I bought at a thrift store for $10. I knew the stitching wasn’t very good…very child-like…and nowhere near the quality that my grandmother used on her handmade quilts, but I didn’t expect the seams to fray after one washing. My kitty loves it just the same!

  7. Sophia says:

    Dear Tim,
    this page is soo interesting! I have to confess that some of my quilts look like cheap reproductions but I am getting better. I can see that especially the amount of stitches gets the quilts as dense as shown in your pictures. What do you use for lining to get that wonderful antique quilt look?
    Yours, Sophia

    • timquilts says:

      Hi Sophia
      I am glad that you found the info helpful…I use 100% cotton quilt batting and 100 % cotton backing babric…the batting and backing shrink about 3% when they are washed after I finish the quilting and that gives the “antique look” and the very dense quilting looks more antique as well

      • Sophia says:

        Thank you so much for the answer! I´ll try and find some “backing fabric” here in Germany, too. Your quilting is wonderful! Looking forward to seeing more of it.

      • timquilts says:

        Good luck! I hope you can find what you need in Germany…you might need to do mail order if they dont have what you want in the shops.

  8. Sophia says:

    oh, I am sorry, it took me a while to understand that “backing fabric” is the normal backside cloth of a quilt. I use to wash it before quilting and its a good idea to wash it afterwards – thanks! how thick is the cotton batting you use? The last cotton lining I used looks rather flat -

    • timquilts says:

      the cotton I use is rather flat as well….I have tried many different brands and I am still looking for the “perfect” one. I like the brand ” Warm and Natural” but many quilters find it difficult to hand quilt. I would also suggest reading the blog “celebrate Hand Quilting” Click the button for it on the side bar of my blog. The site has many different hand quilters from all over the world who love to share. Every quilter has different ideas

  9. Sophia says:

    Thank you so much! I´ll read the blog you suggested. Yours, Sophia

    • timquilts says:

      you are welcome!
      I know that it must be difficult to find all the quilting supplies in your country that we use in the united states. I would love to see some of your work and hear about your progress. Keep me posted!

  10. Maggie Klaas says:

    Hi. I just had an appraiser at the HMQS show look at what we thought was a quilt my husbands grandma had made. It turns out it is one of those fake reproductions probably Arch. I can send you a picture and maybe you can confirm it. We were heartbroken because we thought we had inherited an heirloom.
    Thanks for your whatever you can help us with.
    Maggie

  11. cheri says:

    Thank you so much for the info. I have an Arch Quilt which I bought at a rummage sale, knowing that is was newer. I did not pay much for it and love it. However, I am unsure if it is machine washable. There is no info. on it; other than a tag “Arch Quilt.” Does anyone know if I can wash this in my washing machine? Thanks, Cheri

    • timquilts says:

      you should be able to wash it in your machine with out any problem. use cold water, mild soap and the gentle cycle. machine dry on low temp until almost dry and then hang to dry for finishing

  12. Carla says:

    Tim,
    I recently bought a small bow tie hand pieced quilt top. I plan on hand quilting it. It is in good shape, but I have seen other tops on ebay that have some yellowing or a few stains. Do you find most stains wash out once the quilt is quilted or have you tried soaking a top prior to quilting it?

    • timquilts says:

      Hi Carla
      I always wait until after the quilting is done to do any washing. I find that the quilting makes it stronger and better able to stand up to the washing machine. So far it has worked fine…just wash on the gentle cycle and then dry on low temp. Some stains dont come out completely but I dont mind a few age spots…adds to the antique look

  13. Debbie says:

    I have a yo-yo quilt that I am interested in selling. What can you tell me about it. I was told it was from 1930′s.I have very little knowledge of quilts and do not know where to begin. Thanks for any info you may have.

    • timquilts says:

      I am not an expert on Yo-Yo quilts…I do know that they were popular in the 30′s, but I have no Idea what value they have…I know that those I have seen sell on eBay do not go for very much…less than $100 is common

  14. JW says:

    Really helpful post (which I actually stumbled on in looking for photos of how to sew a 19th century-style knife’s edge!) As a quilter I always feel sad when I see those handquilted Chinese quilts. As someone said above, the stitching looks childish … so childish that I can’t help wondering if they really ARE produced by child labor. And as for passing those quilts off as antiques … One careful look would tell a sensible person that no 19th century girl over the age of seven would have gotten away with such sloppy stitching!

    People need to be less focused on whether something is a “rare antique” and more focused on whether it’s a wellmade quilt plain and simple. I have personally seen modern Baltimore Album quilts so flawless that only dating the fabrics and batting could distinguish them from the originals … but those quilts also sell for thousands of dollars. And for good reason, since they are exceptional works of art in their own right.

    I think a lot of the ebay fraud issues would vanish if people actually took a few handquilting classes before setting off to “collect” quilts. Then they’d at least know what quality materials and craftsmanship look like. And even if they did get fooled, at least they’d be buying wellmade quilts that would continue to give use and pleasure down the years … just like so many “used up” antique quilts have done in their time.

    That’s a lot of why I quilt — I want my kids and grandkids to be able to USE my quilts and not feel obligated to keep them locked up in a cedar chest as “priceless antiques.” And hopefully they’ll also keep the skills to make their own “using quilts” instead of buying them from sweatshops. If nothing else it’s better karma!

  15. New follower and just read this article. I think you just explained a quilt and pillow sham (2) double wedding ring I bought at an antique store for $25. Machine pieced and hand quilted (with the “eye” design, if you know what I mean). Now I don’t feel bad using it on my bed! lol The matching pillow shams bothered me, but thought maybe the maker made extra blocks for that purpose. Thanks for the great info!

  16. Thank you! I found the knife edge discussion particularly helpful.

  17. Kathy Tsark says:

    A big mahalo from a Hawaiian quilter. Your article was so informative!
    There are many reproduction Hawaiian quilts being sold in stores in Hawaii. Being a quilt maker, I hate hearing lies in shops about these fakes.

    • timquilts says:

      Hello!! I didn’t know that they were making repros of Hawaiian quilts too!…so sad!! to ruin such a rich tradition with fakes…I will have to add a bit in the post about that

  18. Cathi Botta says:

    Hi Tim, I always check out your website to see if you have ever gotten to quilt the pieces that you bought from me some time ago…you do such beautiful work!!
    I had a question for you if you could help. I bought a quilt at an auction this weekend in NC, it has a few issues which I don’t mind, but I had a question about the batting. I washed it in a front end loader and then put it in the dryer at the laundry mat – it came out with what appears to be some sort of hair on it. I left it out to dry the rest of the way last night and it was a pretty damp night (left it out on the porch!!) so I popped it in my home drying this morning for 10 minutes and when it came out of the dryer all of the hairy bits ended up in the lint trap. Do you know if any other sort of batting was ever used besides cotton?
    Sorry the email was so long….
    Thanks for any help you can give me!!

    • timquilts says:

      I am sure that I will get to quilting them some day…I just have more quilts than time!…anyway as far as the batting, and “hairy bits”…It is hard to say….one thing that would help is to know the fiber content of the bits….did you save any of them? if they are held to a flame and melt then you know that you have a polyester batting, which could have been used early 50′s on….it they smell like hair then you have wool which was used in many quilts back as far as quilts have been made, older polyester batting is my guess, the newer battings are resin bonded to keep the fibers together…old poly batting would not have been bonded and stray fibers migrate through the fabric and the seams. I hope that helps…you can also send me a picture if you want and I can get a better idea

  19. Cathi Botta says:

    Thanks so much for your response! Now why didn’t I think of wool? I burned it and is certainly smells like hair. The quilt does appear to be quite old – I will email a picture to you at the email you indicated in an earlier thread. Thanks again.

  20. [...] page about how to look at quilts and see if they are new imported quilts and you can see it here: Quilt Buyer Beware  If you have read it before it might be worth another look because I have added many new [...]

  21. fibercrush says:

    All the warnings you mention totally apply to my quilt. I have one of these imported quilts — a trip around the world pattern in dusty pink, green and blue calicos. It has faded so much that at first I didn’t recognize your photo of it in your gallery in your post (http://timquilts.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/94a686355bd74597a7ac1679d9429a9f.jpg) I bought it at a department store in the 1980s and, yes, it has a matching pillow sham. It’s just as badly made as your photo shows. It has the look of being washed but I know I could never throw it in the washing machine on any cycle because the quilting lines are so far apart and use an extremely fine thread. I think it would fall apart! The handstitching is about 3-4 stitches per inch and quite uneven. Clearly mine has faded a lot as I’ve had it protecting a dining room table for the past 15 years — the once solid blue border is now light grey. I can’t believe anyone would try to pass this off as an antique!

    • timquilts says:

      Glad that you have been able to put it to good use!..I think that is just the right way to use them..as protective covers for something that is really good!….but they do try to pass them off as antique!….and they can get away with it better when they are faded like yours (gives the impression of great age)

  22. Kathleen Campbell says:

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for this article.
    A few years ago the ‘National Geographic’ had an article of fake Amish quilts. The article said and showed quilts being sewn by children in Cambodia. The Amish piece the tops and send them by container load to be quilted. True they are hand-quilted but not by the Amish.
    Love your quilting absolutely love it.
    Quilter68 who is now 71

  23. Lisa says:

    I have an Arch Quit, complete with tag and all. It’s pattern is the Dresden, and it has seen many a better day! It was everyone’s favorite “sleepy” blanket. I won’t let the hubby throw it out as I just love it too much myself. Would you know where or if I could get one to replace it? I did see a seller on EBay had one “slightly” used for $65, if it wasn’t stained I may have placed a bid. I’m hoping you could help. Thanks so much.

    • timquilts says:

      I have been focused on alerting people to not buy them….but yours is a different story since you know that they aren’t antique quilts….I see them all the time on ebay, so I would continue to look there. in the search line on ebay type in “vintage quilt” many of the results will be arch quilts but they will not be listed as arch quilts….good luck! I am sure you can find one

  24. Margie says:

    Hi Tim, I just discovered your website and have enjoyed reading about your extensive knowledge about Quilts. I had an interst in quilting about 15 years ago and even made a few small ones..a Christmas Tree Skirt and a wall hanging. My parents were aution lovers and went to many over the years in Ohio. Because of my interest in quilting at the time, they bought and gave me a pieced, but not quilted, quilt top. I really do not have time to quilt anymore only time to still admire them. Anyway, I am going to try to sell it and would like to know if you would know the value of it and where to sell it. I have photos I can send you.
    Thanking you in advance,
    Margie

  25. Margie says:

    OK…I re-sent them. Hope you got them.
    Margie

  26. Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was truly informative. Your site is useful. Thank you for
    sharing!

  27. mary says:

    I just found your site. Thank you so much for the valuable information. I just bought my first quilt on ebay which was described as vintage old stock scrappy . I haven’t received it yet but will be checking it against your criteria. Thanks again

  28. evan says:

    I was lying in bed this morning with the corner tag from our quilt staring me in the face (Arch Quilts, Hawthorne NY), and I decided to get online today and research that company. Because we bought it in a department store in the ’90s I knew it wasn’t an antique, but I still found your information very interesting. I can definitely see how someone could be fooled, and how there are lots of opportunities for misconceptions and flat out scams in the quilt market, particularly online. We like our quilt and as has been pointed out, repros make a good, low cost decorating option, as long as you know what you’re getting, what you have, and you don’t try to fool other people. Thanks for the info!

    • timquilts says:

      thanks! I have several quilt collector friends who would agree with you…arch quilt not are heirloom quality but they are great for daily use and brightening up the room…

  29. Anna Vaughn says:

    Hi Tim!
    I just read this and, wow, I am now educated! I have been researching tulip appliqués and saw the Tulip Quilt above several times, now I know why. My question to you is are most of the repros really repros? What I mean is are these repros of patterns or kits?

    • timquilts says:

      most of them are not actually a copy of an actual quilt, that were just made in the style of (or in the company’s idea of the style) old american quilts…I do think the tulip is an actual copy…but most are made up….anyway glad this was a helpful article

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