A recent post showing two of my vintage family quilts in all their torn and timeworn glory generated some very supportive, thoughtful reader comments. Instead of getting scolded for actually daring to use these aging, somewhat fragile quilts, I found kindred souls who believe like I do that stitched goods convey love and connection across generations.
(Have I mentioned lately how much I love you guys?)
Several people mentioned that seeing my falling-apart vintage quilts reminded them of older quilts they had stashed away, ones that also needed a little TLC and repair.
And some of you helped me see different aspects of this use/don’t use debate.
Says Cindy Sharp: “What is ‘historical value?’ You aren’t planning to sell the quilts that you use and love….and mending them makes you part of the historical chain that runs through them. I’d say repair the damage and continue to enjoy the love that those ladies poured into them.”
A reader using the name Accidentally Angela voted for repair and continued use, saying whatever was left for my girls to inherit would still make them happy.
“They will remember what a treasure they are because you have told them about your relatives making them. I think tangible objects make long lost relatives seem more real to our children too,” she writes.
And finally, another reader hits a very practical note when it comes to the use of family quilts. Says Kate: “Really, things only have value based on our emotional feeling about them. And no one will care if they are in a closet without being seen and having the stories told about them.”
For perspective from a modern quilter with a vintage itch, I reached out to Cincinnati area designer Heather Jones. She blogs at OliveandOllie.com and recently launched the Heather Jones Studio line of patterns. For all her modern bent as a designer, she also has a soft spot for vintage quilts, and has been collecting them for about 18-20 years. (The humble wool patchwork quilt at the beginning of this post is from Heather’s collection. It appears to have been made from a mish-mash of cut-up old suits and clothing.)
She comes by her vintage tastes honestly, her Great Aunt Ruth having had an antique store in a community about two hours away from where Heather was raised. The family visited often, and Heather says she loved wandering through the shop, seeing what old stuff was “new.”
“It was not a pristine store. You never knew what she would have. Every
time we would go, I would try to get something. I was always drawn to the
quilts she would have,” Heather recalls.
Besides her finds from Aunt Ruth’s store, Heather’s collection also includes quilts given to her by her stepmother, plus some amazing thrift store finds. And its those thrift-store quilts that really haunt her.
“They break my heart! You just think of the hours that were put into this piece and it ends up in a thrift store. I try to rescue them,” she says.
One of the notables in her collection is this Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, which she thinks dates to the 1930s.
Some of her faves in her collection have holes where they’ve been used, and she loves what those marks of use imply.
“To me, that’s what it’s about. I makes me happy to see that they were
used, that they were loved,” she says. “In the grand scheme of things,
that’s what they’re meant to be.”
When her stepmother gave her eight or nine quilts for the vintage collection, Heather decided she needed to document her collection in a series of weekly blog posts. (Start here to read the whole series.)
Where does she come down in the Mend & Use debate?
Well, with her background in fine arts history and a stint working at the Cincinnati Art Museum, she understands all about the tenuous life of textiles. It’s a conundrum, she says. Obviously you want to have these family pieces as long as possible, but you also want to be able to use them, and that use might shorten their lives.
And that’s when she thinks about her Great-Aunt Ollie, a quiltmaker from the hills of Kentucky, where quilts were made for warmth, not wall decor.
“I wish I could talk to her now that I have such an interest in these, to see what her thoughts were,” Heather says. “They made these to be used, not to be a non-functional object. They were made out of necessity.”
So, back to the debate. This won’t be a shock: I’ve decided I’m going to repair them and keep on using them. But the Tumbling Blocks might just grace the guest bed instead of the master bed, where Robin, our aging Wheaten Terrier, still occasionally leaps up for a little doggy shut-eye. After all, there are just some things a quilt shouldn’t have to endure.