May 29, 2020

Why Restore and Conserve Old Quilts?

Why do I like repairing quilts?  My academic background is in anthropology, which taught me about how much meaning the objects we make and use every day can hold.  And all quilts have their story.

"Storytelling is the place where social and personal history meet."

This is a line from a lovely book I recently received, How to Write Your Personal or Family History, by Katie Funk Wiebe.  The book was written by the mother of a dear friend of mine.  She wrote many books, many of them about family and history.

One thing she stresses is how small memories and facts can build a valuable memoir.  I feel the same is true of quilts - it's not only the flashy and museum quality quilts that are worth gentle handling and care.

Every quilt cared for and saved preserves a little bit of both family history and our collective history.  It brings to life the history that is not written in textbooks.

Some things to think about:

1.  All quilts have historic value.  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 fabrics are weaker than new fabrics.  They cannot be handled like new fabrics and still expect them to last for future generations.  This can include not sleeping with these quilts any longer, which would lead them to be washed repeatedly.  Instead, they can be stored or displayed properly.

3.  Whatever your decision about repair, use, or storage, it's a great idea to write down all the history that 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.                      
I had the great opportunity of helping a conservator work on a 500-year old tapestry a few years ago, and it got me to thinking and writing about the passage of time and the value of thoughtful textile restoration and conservation.

Sometimes the owners of the quilts I repair have shared their family stories and photos of the family and the quilters.  Such a treasure for historians to come!  I've collected those stories under the History - Family Heirloom label. 


  1. AnonymousJuly 05, 2023

    I’m doing some research on the best way to repair antique quilts. I bought the most beautiful quilt online and intended to cut it up because it has large tears but it’s so beautiful, I can’t bear it. It’s all hand cross stitched and hand quilted. I would love to be able to use it and enjoy it but I need to repair the holes.

    1. Hi! I can certainly offer to help with repairing your quilt. I teach an in-depth workshop, that you see at the top of this page. My book, also described at the top of this page, has illustrated instructions. If you want instructions about your quilt in particular, the best way to start is to email (annquilts at comcast dot net) some photos of your quilt, preferably one of the entire quilt (both sides) and a few details of the damage. (I prefer larger rather than smaller photos. If you need to send them in more than one email, that is fine.) Also, please tell me the approximate size of the quilt.  I teach virtual lessons via Zoom. I also offer a lesson plan that includes an individualized instructional video. Email me to discuss those options. Thanks for writing! Please email me with your questions.