That is a loaded question, to be sure. As an appraiser, I hear this question quite often, even outside of doing appraisals. If you are a quilter, you may already know this. Maybe you are not, but someone just gave you a quilt; then PLEASE read below to get perspective on why not to let your dog chew a hole in it, or why it’s so important to NOT let your husband wipe his greasy hands on it after changing the oil in the car (I cringe every time I see an old quilt in the garage).
While there are many groups of very charitable and helpful people out there, I believe that quilters are truly one of the most generous groups of people I know. Most quilters are constantly making quilts, because that’s what they LOVE to do. Yes, some of us sell what we make or make them on commission, but I can tell you I have made and given away at least 5x as many quilts as I have kept for my family (honestly I don’t know what the number is – it could be higher, I never kept track. Because THAT’s not what mattered, I just enjoyed the process). To friends, family, for Christmas, new baby or just because. And everybody I know that quilts does THE SAME THING!
I will say this: most people I see, especially with quilts handed down from generations past, are emotionally attached to their quilts. I like some quilts more than others I have made, that’s just how it is. In the appraisal world, we call this “sentimental value”. And that type of value has zero effect on the price tag.
So, with that out of the way, to help answer the question of value, I’ll break our quilts up into two groups: old/antique and new.
Technically an antique is 100 years old or more. So I say ‘old’ here because in the quilting world, quilts from the 1930’s or even up to the 1950’s are often appraised for their insurance value. That is how old quilts are appraised: insurance, or fair market value = how much would they get from the insurance company if they had the quilt appraised and then lost it to fire or whatever.
While I can’t tell you the value of any specific quilt at this time, I can tell you this:
- Condition is (almost) EVERYTHING. Just like location in real estate, if the condition of a quilt is poor, it is probably worthless (dollarwise).
- The more rare the pattern, the higher the value. In the early 1900’s, these quilt patterns were more popular, which is why you see more of them around, hence the lower value than other, less common patterns: grandmothers flower garden, Dresden plate, trip around the world, four patch and double wedding ring.
- The more intricate the fabric/workmanship, the higher the value. In the 1800’s red/green applique was popular. As an example, there are tulip bunch patterns, and as time progresses, the curves in the stems decrease, the stems thicken, the flowers look blockier and the greens change (that’s another topic). Earlier = better workmanship = higher value. Another example is the crazy quilt phase from c1890-1920. Earlier quilts were made from velvet, silks and fine fabrics with LOTS of embroidery and many token pieces. Later, particularly after 1900, this type of quilt was made more utilitarian, with canvas, denim, corduroy and less embellishments. Earlier = better (as long as the silks aren’t so shattered that the condition is bad).
Yes, historic information is great and unusual things like signatures from a church group on quilts CAN lend to value. But these bullets above are most important.
Basically this includes anything current day. And while the values could vary greatly depending on where the fabric was bought, quality of work, tied or quilted, etc., I can give you some hints.
Most new quilts appraise at a much higher value than old quilts. Seems backwards, but for new quilts, the appraisal is done for replacement value. Yes, you would need to replace an antique quilt, but to do so, you would buy one in like and kind, which is why those quilts are appraised for fair market value. New quilts would have to be remade, from scratch.
I don’t think non-quilters have the slightest idea what goes into making a quilt. I say that not with a mean heart, but there are lots of things out there I know diddly-squat about, so when a non-quilter wants me to make them a king size quilt for $100, I have to assume they’re ignorant about my world. It’s not bad, it just is what it is.
Potential costs that contribute to a quilt coming to life (we’re going to assume it’s a large lap size, 60″ x 60″, for illustrative purposes here):
- Pattern: depending on how difficult, there may be no pattern required, or pattern and paper pieces for very intricate work, leading up into the $100’s. We’ll say relatively simple: $10.
- Fabric: the quilt maker could choose from a variety of quality and types (traditional cotton or batik), and I’ve discovered that where you live makes a significant difference on cost by the yard as well. Looking at your quilt, if the fabric is tightly woven and soft, it’s likely a bit costlier. Let’s assume $10 per yard. For this size quilt with a simple pattern, I estimate 6 yards for the quilt top, 1 yard for border, 4 yards for the backing/binding = $110 (see my point on the king size quilt for $100?).
- Thread: don’t need a lot, but at least one spool = $10. I’d actually say $12 but some folks will use a cheaper variety (lintier, maybe not as strong) for $6 or $8.
- Batting: this is the stuffing/center/whatever you want to call it. You can buy 100% poly high loft for maybe $5-6/yard, or silk or wool or bamboo for more like $16-18/yard. Cotton and blends are somewhere inbetween. We’ll take poly/cotton blend here, 2 yards at $9 per yard = $18.
- Quilting: (this is what I LOVE to do! Although, I do really love to create quilt tops as well…) For an all over design, I charge $0.02 per square inch, so in this case it would be 3600*0.02 = $72. For a fancier or custom design, the price goes up.
- Labor: this one gets everyone, and I’ll tell you why. Despite the fact that many people do not know how to sew, they seem to think that people who do know how to sew should be paid a menial wage for it. It’s quite frustrating, really. Anyway, most quilt makers will charge $25/hour and up for their time. Some who specifically dedicate their skills to making quilts for low income families charge less. Some who do fine, intricate hand work charge more. So if you try to conceive how long it took the quilt maker to: choose the fabric, wash the fabric, iron the fabric, cut the fabric to pattern specifications, sew pieces together, iron, sew, iron, trim, sew, iron, trim (seriously, this goes on), piece the backing together, then after quilting, trim the quilt and square it up, cut and prepare the binding, attach the binding to both sides (some do the final side of the binding by hand), THAT’S A WHOLE LOTTA LABOR! For this size quilt, I never charge less than 6 hours JUST for the top assembly (and that’s for the simplest of t shirt quilts). So let’s just round up to 8 hours = $200.
That brings the cost for this hypothetical quilt to $420, not including any other fees or taxes from the quilter or anyone else involved, with some very simplistic assumptions made.
Let that sink in for a moment.
So now imagine you have a queen or a king sized quilt!
Wait, tho… you may be saying. Why can I get a big quilt at Walmart for $100 then? Number of factors: cheaper fabric, cheaper labor, smaller seam allowances (the part tucked inside that you don’t see – most quilters use 1/4″ so that the seams don’t rip open after just a few washes), and finally, mass production.
And for how much time it takes to repair quilts (much of it is hand work), you’re better off investing in a good one in the first place.
So if you have recently (or even not recently) received a quilt as a gift from someone, for a special occasion or just because, PLEASE P L E A S E thank them for it, because it took them a lot of time and money and they made it because they just loved to make it. And then they thought you were special enough to give it to.