Written by Jody Sanders
The pictured quilt is from Jody Sanders' collection. You can buy the pattern here.
1. Educate yourself
Join groups or guilds that specialize in vintage quilts, for example the American Quilt Study Group (celebrating 40 years in 2019). AQSG has a national convention every year that includes lectures, academic research, an auction, and small group discussions. Regional groups have meetings more often. Most regional meetings include a study topic and lots of show and tell.
Go to museum exhibits. There are many wonderful museums across the country that have permanent displays of quilts or rotating exhibits with special themes. Read the descriptions to learn about time periods and regionals uses of color and patterns. Take photos of the quilts and the descriptions and keep a notebook/photobook to refer to later. (See popular museums with quilting exhibits here.)
Join an online group. Facebook has many you can be a part of. While some have strict rules about what can and can not be posted, most welcome newcomers' questions and realize we all started as newbies. We recommend this group.
Follow hashtags on IG that include #vintagequilt or #antiquequilt.
2. How will you use the quilt? Before you buy, consider where the quilt will be displayed in your home or what purpose it will serve. Do you intend to use it daily or display it on a wall? Will all of it show or just parts of it (for example, will it be rolled up in a basket or folded on a shelf). Will it be the showcase of a particular room, and therefore, need to match the colors and feel of the decor?
3. Determine your budget. It is easy to get carried away and spend more than you intended, especially at auctions. Before you pay, consider the condition of the quilt, the difficulty of pattern (New York Beauty is worth more than a Four-Patch), the quilt's age, the technique used (needle-turn appliqué or expert hand-quilting is worth more than a tied quilt), who made the quilt (was it made by someone well-known, did it win a prize, or was it published?), and current decorating trends---all are factors in the cost.
4. Where to buy vintage/antique quilts? Check out flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, re-sale shops. Open up the quilts to get a good view of the whole thing. If you are using it for display purposes only, you may not mind a faded, stained, or torn spot -- particularly if it has a discounted price.
Online: Look at Facebook groups for buying and selling quilts, and make sure there are good quality photos for examining the condition. (Check out this Facebook group.)
Online auction sites: A word of warning about Ebay or Etsy: buyer beware. Before you buy, look for detailed photos and a seller ratings history.
Reputable dealer: Find someone who is knowledgeable, honest, and willing to share info. There are many reproduction quilts in the marketplace that are advertised as "handmade" and "antique" that are not. Some recommended dealers are here, here, here, and here.
5. Let family and friends know. You never know when they may stumble across older quilts for your collection.
And finally...buy what you love, you will never regret that purchase.