Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Weekend Finds: How Did I Start a Quilt Collection? (Vintage Quilts + Tops)

Good morning!

How's tricks, kids? I'm back again this Tuesday workaday to showcase one of the things I actually found weekend before last, but what can you do. Behold! A MOST wonderful vintage quilt (and the kickstarter to the story of how I started a quilt collection without knowing it):

Lisa H------, quilt model
I was at a sale in Hermitage weekend before last on one of the Bonna's, a fifties' and sixties' series of houses on streets all beginning with that prefix (Bonnacreek, Bonnacrest, Bonnacroft, Bonnabrook...it's easy to get turned around back there!). The house itself was no exception to the neighborhood-- stolid 1950's ranch with an adorable knotty pine/ formica counter kitchen, but nothing much left in the way of interesting items left on the third day of the sale. HOWEVER, the people running the sale, cognizant of the fact it was the third day, were wheeling and dealing in the classical sense. Example, the salesperson and a young couple were discussing a cedar wardrobe in the back bedroom, marked $220, and the sales guy was offering it to them at $75. Seventy five bucks?! That's thrift store prices! This quilt, in gorgeous, like new, usable condition, was sitting across a desk near the cedar chest, tag priced $165. And why not! It was a lot nicer than ones I've seen for more! As I looked it over, same dude was like, "Forty bucks, take it home!" The lure of a great deal on something I wanted anyway took over. SOLD!

Ever since reading "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker in middle school, I have been the Wangero/Dee of the story, looking reverently on beautiful, handstitched quilts with a watchful, collector's eye. Yes, I know, the story's about how the one daughter actually participates in and values her culture whereas the other just pays faddish lip service to her people's history, but dang-- I can't lie and say I wasn't a little heartbroken that Maggie was going to use the thirties' and forties' folk quilts until they wore out and then just make another....isn't there a middle ground between treating them like museum pieces and treating them like old shoes (says the marrow-deep sense of collectorship in my bones)? I guess I'm a little biased because there aren't any super-heirloomy quilts in my family-- both grandmothers made one here and there in the eighties' and nineties' but as far as I know there aren't any great-grandmother's antique, hand pieced things anywhere in a relative's closet. Which is whhhhhhhy....I have harbored a secret, lifelong yen for these gorgeous, time-intensive, kaleidoscopic textiles.

Problem being, that is at direct odds with my frugality. Half the game of collecting to me is how good a deal I can get on something, and quilts are ne-e-e-e-e-ver cheap. Never not ever! You know how my little fingers start to twitch when I spend over twenty dollars, so you can imagine the sticker shock my nervous system has endured over the years of hopefully looking at the paper tags and string usually affixed by a safety pin to antique quilts. You'll have something that looks like it hung on the side of a barn since slightly after its creation in the 1930's, and a price tag of $200. "That's folk art, you know," someone working the sale will breathe reverently at me, "All hand stitched," as I feel the sting of my pursestrings/heartstrings drawing tight with disappointment. At one estate sale a couple months ago when I was trying my darnedest to add a crazy quilt to my collection, I was heartened to see two or three 1910's crazy quilts still at the sale, and on half off day! Problem BEING, the retail asking price on it was $240. TWO HUNDRED? AND FORTY? DOLLARS? And these were not like the ones I was crying about on Antiques Roadshow in this post, these were actually relatively uncomplex, ordinary, kind of boring for their kind crazy quilts. I would never want to dismiss the work and time and artistry that goes into creating one of those, but in a real world context, I have to consider one, it's a hundred year old piece of cloth, not exactly the hardiest or most built-to-last material in the world, and two, it's not exactly like Grandma Moses herself was the architect of the design. Le sigh.

So! I was freakin' my kix to get this one in miiiiiiiint condition and this beautiful, beautiful pattern, for only four sawbucks. The colors are still so bright and fresh! The combination of the pieces, in strips, rectangles, and squares, are frankly gorgeous! While I intend to use this quilt, I also intend not to eat Cheetos on it or drag it along after me like Linus's security blanket, because, after all, it's got to be seventy or eighty years old, and deserves a leetle bit more care than your average Target duvet cover.

The funny thing is-- so begins a collection! I realized, bringing this boon home, that I actually have another full quilt, and four quilt tops hanging around in my linen closet! How do these things multiply as quickly as they do, when it feels like I only have one?

This guy is less intricate in design than the other, but boasts just as much of a wallop in the visual interest category...polkadots and peonies in these beautiful 1930's cotton squares caught my attention immediately at a sale a couple of years ago. 

I can remember feverishly dickering the saleswoman down to $20 and then having to borrow that from my mom (in days where I thought if I only brought a couple bucks with me I would only spend a couple dollars...someone cue Sammy Davis Jr's "What Kind of Fool Am I", right?) in a swelteringly hot, air conditionless house in West Nashville, in the height of summer estate sale season. Carrying the bundle to the car, I was trying my best not to actually perspire on the quilt, which was in good shape though a little faded from that everyday use Ms. Walker was talking about-- still, see how it's not in rags? And how it was dead cheap? And how it looks different than just any quilt? Love at first sight. It needs some places sewn up and maybe a few patches to the backing, which is why I haven't used this quilt yet, but I'm hoping someday I live in a house where this would look just like a tapestry hung along a wall the same size, with a love seat in front of it.

Speaking of, I have three different quilt tops that I had hanging in the office by curtain clips until I decided to go with the seventies' textile pieces for that one wall-- one came from the flea market (the strips and large squares one), one came from Goodwill (the all-squares one; and seriously, $5.99 in the blankets section-- you never know what you're going to find out there), and one from a sale this past weekend (the one with the strips of patterns and plaids; $4 and I couldn't pass it up). Look at all the individual pieces of clothing and scraps of fabric that went into making these things! I know that's the whole idea of a quilt, but I feel like a lot of modern quilters go buy fabric and select colors for patterns out of books, rather than using what was laying around the house (and how!), creating the wildly varying color combinations that make me like these things in the first place. Here are some closeups from the three tops:

The lunch hour is singing its siren's song to me (and I have Omaha Yakisoba from Isa Does It waiting for me in an ET lunchbox in the fridge....talk about a persuasive argument for breaking bread), but let's talk! Do you have quilts, heirloom or otherwise, here there and everywhere in your home? Are you more of a fluffy comforter person, or do you like the wild patterns and visual stimulation of a patterned, handmade quilt? What's the best bargain you've ever gotten on a quilt? Is this going to be like some gateway drug where suddenly I'm spending exorbitant sums on granny crafts before you can say Jack Robinson? You tell me! :)

Have a great Tuesday! I'll be back tomorrow with more goodies from a golden era. See you then! 


  1. What finds!
    I dream of having a quilt covered bed in every bedroom but can never stomach the thought of firstly, paying for the quilts, and secondly, putting such patchwork beauties through the wear and tear of regular use. Someday, perhaps, I'll hang one as a headboard instead, much like you've thought to do with that fabulous polka dot and flower quilt.

    I've just been told about a few quilts my great-great-great-grandmother, Cora, made, that are still in the family. One is rumored to have pieces of her wedding dress sewn into it; oh how I'd like to get my hot little hands on that one (not that I'd have any idea what to do with such an heirloom!)

    1. How neat is it that your grandma's wedding dress has a little representation in a family quilt! Love that. I ended up hanging mine by the little clippy curtain rings up on one wall for now, but I do worry about that long term-- I never realized, for example, how much sun one room in my living room got until we moved pictures to paint and the wall underneath one framed sixties' Cher record was two shades darker than that around it! :0 My bedroom doesn't get hardly any sun and this is on a wall where it shouldn't get what light does through yonder window break, but it still makes me antsy! I'm the reason I can't have nice things, haha...

  2. I've never bought a quilt (because, yes, they can be eye-wateringly expensive and then you're afraid to actually use them) but I'm lucky to have a couple that my great-grandmother made. Yes, one of them is totally polyester but someday the fact that it is a genuine 70s polyester quilt will make it desirable. Right?

    I've been to The Hermitage! I love visiting "stately homes." I always feel a bit weird at plantations, though, like "maybe I shouldn't think this is so cool." I think the awkwardness comes from having ancestors who owned people. I have a long line of predecessors with questionable moral judgment (cattle reaving, anybody?).

    1. I found a book at the library with photo of the Hermitage from the 1880s or so-- it was so interesting because the place looked like something out of a Faulkner book. It was still a private residence at the time (the Hermitage Ladies Association took it over shortly thereafter) but it had seen waaay better days. I wish I could find the photo online, it was so unsettling!

      And haha on your polyester quilt-- at least it's uniformly polyester! I see 70s quilts a lot at the Goodwill that are 25% polyester and it's always like...these textures DO NOT go together, with the 75% cotton! I bet it's neat looking, though.

  3. It was Bonnacroft, and I'm glad we gave you a good deal! That's a pretty quilt!

    1. Michael Taylor Co. keeps the hits COMING! Love those sales.

  4. We have two quilts (non-heirloom) from my mother. One of them is pink and my husband prefers it because it's softer. I like to tease him for sleeping in a pink blanket. :)

    1. Haha, I would, too! I love a good, soft worn in blanket though.



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