Last Friday evening a friend of mine posted this photo of a Dresden plate quilt on Facebook with the following caption: “Pretty little vintage thing spotted while thrifting tonight. Too bad I couldn’t justify the price. So, I’ll have to settle for a pic and the hope that it’s still there next week, when it would theoretically be on sale.”
My first comment was, “Where? How much? (Just curious, not going to take it.)”
Her reply was, “You know where! $35.”
I sure did know where. Apparently I live near one of the better thrift stores in the Denver suburbs, to the extent that this friend (Stacey) as well as fellow editor Gigi both visit it regularly even though (as I regularly point out to them) they are traveling out of their zip codes and into mine to do so. The unmitigated gall of some people!
It’s the same thrift store where I found my vintage quilt made from 1940s bow-tie blocks. But I got my quilt for only $9, and the one Stacey had found was priced almost four times as much. Either someone new was setting the prices, or she had found a real treasure. The more I looked at the photo she’d posted, the more questions I had.
Essentially, even though it was scrappy and the fabrics looked vintage, there was something about the quilting in the sashes that bugged me. It just didn’t seem crinkly enough for a quilt that would presumably have been washed a number of times. My curiosity was piqued. I told Stacey I’d try to swing by the thrift store the next day to take a look at it: “If I think it’s truly vintage (note I’m not an expert but I have seen a wide variety of quilts) I’ll snag it for you.”
So when my husband said something about having bagels and lox on Saturday morning, I volunteered to go get some. By some strange coincidence, the thrift store is between our house and the bagel shop — what are the odds?
I strode into the thrift store shortly after they opened and made a beeline for the linens section, a woman on a mission. I found it quickly and pulled it off the hanger. Stacey was right: it was large, and it had a $35 price tag. She was also right about it being vintage. As with my own vintage quilt find, I checked the binding on this one carefully. There were no tags or labels at all, and the binding was certainly done at least partially by hand. It looked like two opposite edges were bound by folding the backing to the front and tacking it down by hand (with white thread), and the other two edges were bound with strips, again back-to-front. The quilting and turned-edge applique were also done by hand, and done quite well, with neat, small stitches. [Click on the photos to enlarge them.]
Most of the blocks were made with fabrics that looked to be from the 1930s or 1940s.
It was also really dirty, as in someone might have used it to wrap furniture being transported in the bed of an old pick-up truck type of dirty.
In other blocks I saw fabrics that looked more recent, maybe from the 1950s or 1960s.
I snapped some photos, and conscious of the bagels cooling in my car, headed back out. Stacey texted me just as I was leaving, so I called her to tell her what I thought: certainly homemade, definitely hand quilted and appliqued, most likely not any more recent than the 1970s and probably earlier. I suspected the fabric used in the sashes and borders was not 100-percent cotton but probably a blend of some sort, based both on how it felt and how smooth it looked. The one thing I forgot to try to assess was the type of batting used, which would have told us a lot.
My advice to Stacey was, If you love it, get it. The price, although high for that particular shop, is still a lot better than retail, and it was good quality if in need of TLC. I offered to post my photos on the Quilts-Vintage and Antique Facebook group to see what some of the experts might think. She said she thought it was a great idea and looked forward to hearing what they would say even as she was simultaneously sending her husband over to the store to pick it up.
There are some serious quilt collectors and historians in the Quilts-Vintage and Antique group who really know their stuff, and membership in the group certainly has its privileges. People were quick to help me play Quilt Detective, and in addition to input I got from Bill Volckening, to whom I’d sent the photos separately when I was having trouble uploading them directly from my phone, I got a better sense of how and when the quilt was made. (Bill also made some recommendations on how to clean a vintage quilt safely. He’s done so many times with great success; click here to learn more about Bill’s tips for collecting and caring for old quilts.)
The consensus seems to be that it’s an intergenerational quilt that was started as early as the 1930s with additional blocks made in the 1960s; friend-of-QN Pepper Cory said, “perhaps in order to make it a larger quilt, the assembler used what older blocks she had and then added new ones.” One woman commented on the photo directly above, “I made a maternity dress from the fabric with the aqua, pink and small flower. That was in 1964.” Another said of the same photo, “I couldn’t see it as well in the other photo, but in this one, it does appear that the block center is different than the border. And yes, newer fabrics by far.” Yet another said, “I think the quilting reflects the later dates too, not as dense as older quilts.”
Regarding the peach fabric, one woman commented that it could be a polished cotton, which she said was popular in the 1950s. I don’t know anything about polished cotton, but now I’m intrigued. I’d like to find a time for Stacey to come to the office to take advantage of the experienced eyes and hands of some of my colleagues, Lori in particular, who know a lot about different quilt and garment textiles from the past few decades.
Until then, my friend will just have to be content with the one thing everyone agreed upon: she found a true treasure and she should be happy. And she is.
If you also love vintage or vintage-looking quilts, here are some resources you may want to check out to tide you over until you find your own hidden treasure.
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