If you've found a box of quilts at an auction, chances are you have found a stash of vintage quilts. Vintage quilts are from at least 20 years old to less than 100 years old. Quilts older than 100 years old are considered antique. Quilts may last for several centuries depending on how they were made and how they have been preserved. Most vintage utilitarian quilts either fall apart from use or are re-purposed into quilt filling, pillows or other household items.
Kit or Not Kit
For many years, quilts made out of pre-made embroidery flower and animal kits were considered to be vintage. Since renewed interest in quilting in the 1970s, embroidery and patchwork quilt kits are once again popular and no longer a good indicator of a vintage quilt. Quilt blocks made decades ago and now finally finished are not considered vintage. A quilt is dated by the last work that is completed on it. I recommend if you have incompleted family quilts, go ahead and get them finished. That way you can appreciate the work of your quilting relative and have a wonderful family heirloom. When finishing quilts, add the quilter's name and, if known, date the quilt blocks were made.
Ways to Help Date a Quilt
If you are not sure how old a quilt is, check the back of the quilt and look at the quilting. Older quilts may have very detailed hand quilting with intricate quilting designs and very tiny stitches. Detailed, precise quilting is a sign of an experienced quilter who used their skills to make practical bedding and other items for their home.
Sometimes the types of fabric used in a quilt can help date it.
Quilts made out of feed sacks, for example, are from the 1930s and 1940s.
If quilt fabrics look brand new, the quilt may be made out of new reproduction fabrics.
Favorite Quilt Patterns
Sometimes the quilt pattern can help narrow down the period in which the quilt was made. Some quilt patterns were not easily available or distributed.
How to Make Sure You Are Getting a Vintage Quilt
The best way to make sure you are buying vintage quilts is to buy them at estate sales and directly from quilters.