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
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:
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