Probably the whole thing can be summed up in three main points:
1. Quilts do not need to be one-of-a-kind masterpieces with inked inscriptions and super-fine quilting to have significance. All quilts have historic value, even garden variety, utility quilts. Many of the quilts that are valued today were probably not thought of as particularly exceptional at the time they were made. What makes them notable now is that they have survived.
2. Old quilts are, obviously, made with old fabrics. Old fabrics are weaker than new fabrics. They cannot be handled like new fabrics and expect them to keep on hanging together. They need more TLC. This can include not sleeping with them, which leads into not needing to wash them repeatedly, and instead, learning how to store or display them properly, and so on.
3. Any quilt, utility or masterpiece, with family history attached has a special value as textile history. Whatever your decision about repair, use, or storage, it's a great idea to write down the history you know: the maker's name, where she was living and what her life was like at the time she made the quilt, how it came to you, etc. All this information makes it much more special as a family heirloom, and also can be really great if a local historical society is interested in displaying local quilts. You can keep the information, maybe with a photo of the quilt attached, with your other important papers.
Check out the thoughts on these blogs:
from Melissa, at Generation Q
Mend Me? Use Me?
The Mend & Use Debate, Part 2
from Corinne, at Sewtopia
Thoughts on Quilt Care & Repair, Restore or Reuse?
Here's a, hopefully, inspirational view of textile conservation. I worked on a 500-year old tapestry a while back, and it got me to thinking about the passage of time and the value of thoughtful textile repairs.
And check out my other "quilt repair" postings for the decision process behind the repair jobs I've been doing lately. And photos too, of course.