For the August/September 2012 issue of QN I had the pleasure of writing about quilt collector Bill Volckening of Portland, Oregon. Volckening started buying quilts over 20 years ago simply because he liked them. As time went on, he learned more about quilt history and made connections with other collectors. He only started showing his quilts to quilt guilds and study groups in his area in 2009, and has quickly started to establish a name for himself on the national quilt scene. To learn about his background and collecting methods (hint: eBay) and to view some of his gorgeous New York Beauties as well as a full pattern for one of them, be sure to pick up a copy of the August/September issue.
In the course of researching the article I contacted some quilt collectors who have mentored Volckening, including Julie Silber of The Quilt Complex in Albion, California; and Shelly Zegart, a founding director of The Kentucky Quilt Project Inc. and the Quilt Alliance, and executive director and host of the recent 9-part PBS series “Why Quilts Matter: History, Art and Politics.” Zegart is the one who sold Volckening his first quilt back in 1989.
In an article she wrote for Selvedge magazine in 2004, Zegart reported on collecting trends from the past 100 years. According to Zegart, over the past 15 to 20 years quilt collections have been driven by institutions more than by individual collectors. Collections are not being built as much quilt by quilt, but rather via acquisitions of existing private collections. Zegart predicted that museums would only seek to increase their collections of quilts, both for study and exhibit purposes. Because institutions are limited in terms of being able to show their large collections to the public on a regular basis or to all the scholars who want to study them, they have looked to fill that demand by publishing books and licensing fabric designs for reproduction.
All of these collectors were kind enough to share their advice to would-be quilt collectors. Read their words of wisdom, then learn at the bottom of this post how you can enter to win prizes to aid your own quilt collecting aspirations.
My advice to aspiring quilt collectors is simple. Collect what you love, and know as much about it as possible. It’s the same advice Mom gave me about collecting. It’s hard to go wrong if you know what you’re looking at, and enjoying it.
Learn as much as you can, and take some time. Find a mentor or two; there are no nicer, kinder or more generous people than quilt collectors. Two valuable online resources are the Quilters History List (qhl) and a Facebook page started by Lynn Evans Miller called Quilts-Vintage and Antique. One can lurk on these sites, soaking up information, or one can ask specific questions right away of very knowledgeable people who are, for the most part, willing and eager to share what they know.
Follow eBay and other auction sites for a sense of prices, but be sure to keep in mind that there can be aberrations, and knowledge of market prices can only come after a prolonged period of watching. And be sure to not be mislead by ASKING prices – only prices realized.
Follow the websites of reputable dealers, those who have been in business for some time and who have good track records. (Ask around for those from collectors you come to trust.)
Have patience and pay attention. Enjoy yourself.
Buy what you love (if you can afford it), and buy what you feel you can live with for a long, long time. You may have to.
As antique quilt prices have climbed, interest in collecting quilts has grown proportionately. The number of collectors grows each year, and often many of the new collectors have questions. What do you look for in an old quilt? What makes a good investment? How do you start a quilt collection? As a quilt collector I have developed a few guidelines.
- Buy condition. Old does not have to mean torn and ragged. Unfortunately, a signed and dated ragged quilt is still a ragged quilt.
- Quilting counts. I don’t carry a ruler in my pocket to measure the number of quilting stitches to the inch, but in general, smaller stitches and intricate quilting patterns add visual appeal and increase value. As a quilt dealer for many years, I have learned that well-quilted quilts sell. As a collector however, I have learned to break this rule. One of my favorite pieces, a bedspread, is not quilt at all!
- Think thin. In general thin quilts are better than thick quilts with heavy batting (these are also called “fat” quilts). Again, I have ignored this guideline more than once. It depends on the kind of fat quilt. One of my special treasures is a folksy cows quilt on feedsacks. Technically it is not very good, but it is a one-of-a-kind piece with naïve appeal and it makes me smile!
- Buy from a reputable dealer. You will have a larger selection of better quality quilts from a knowledgeable individual. The quilt market is fraught with repros of every sort. People who have been in the business for many years and have seen thousands of quilts are expected to be able to discern the difference .When you buy from one of them you should receive a guarantee of authenticity.
- Be an informed buyer. Read, visit museums with quilt collections, talk to other collectors. Look at as many quilts as you can before you actually spend your money. You will have a better sense of what you like as well as what is available in terms of both style and quality.
- Be realistic. Of course it is fun to use and display your quilts. However using a quilt as a bedcover or wallhanging does shorten its life. If you want to make sure your quilt will be around for future generations to enjoy, save it for special occasions. When in doubt use only a textile professional for repairs and cleaning.
- Buy what you love. This is perhaps the most important advice I can give a beginning collector. When I began I knew nothing about quilts, but I had studied contemporary art. My interest developed when looking for art for the walls of my new contemporary home.
- The marketplace. Aesthetics and form count much more than stitches, pattern name or history when you look at market prices realized for quilts.
So now that you have more knowledge about how to build your own quilt collection, QN has some things to giveaway to help you on your journey.
First up is a 4-DVD set from Nancy Kirk, “Quilt Restoration Workshop.” Topics covered include: becoming a quilt restorer; is restoration possible?; dating fabrics and dating quilts; creating and aging fabrics; cleaning, storing and displaying.
Next we have a 46″ x 57″ machine-pieced and -quilted quilt from Mary Fisher featuring her collection The Gathering for Troy Riverwoods Collection.
But perhaps you don’t want to collect quilts as much as you want to collect fabric. Well, we have something for you, too. We will also give away the following fabric bundles: Persia from P&B Textiles (17 fat quarters); Lakeside Cottage from Northcott (12 half-yards); and Emma Grace by Kathy Brown from Red Rooster (23 fat quarters).
[Please note: This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Mary, Diana, Leslie, Maida, and Lovie, the randomly selected winners of these fantastic prizes! Thanks to all who entered!]
We will give one prize to each of five winners randomly drawn from comments left below. For a chance to win, leave a comment telling us about your quilt (or fabric) collecting experiences before 11:59 p.m. MDT on Monday, July 30. You may indicate which of the five different prizes (DVDs, quilt, or one of the three fabric bundles) you would prefer, but we don’t guarantee that’s what you’ll get if your name is drawn. One comment per person, please. Open to people who haven’t won something from Quilters Newsletter in the last 90 days. Good luck!