Quilt Appraisals—What’s It Worth?

If you’ve watched Antiques Roadshow you’ve seen that thrilling moment when someone’s garage sale find is appraised at $30,000 to $50,000. But even when an item is worth no more than the $2.50 paid for it, there’s always something to learn. And so it is with quilt appraisals. Having a quilt appraised isn’t only about finding out it’s worth millions, and it’s not just for antique quilts, either. Quilt appraisals can be done for insurance purposes at home and to protect the value of the quilt when shipping it to or hanging it in a show. Appraisals also help determine the value of a quilt for donation or estate purposes. And finally, appraisals can provide a record of both the value and history of a quilt. It’s this last kind of appraisal that is Marcia Kalakie’s favorite.

This a is rattlesnake quilt form Texas from the 1920s. Very humble looking quilt but the pattern is very rare and that makes it desirable.

Marcia is a Texas appraiser certified 17 years ago through the American Quilter’s Society (AQS). She started seriously studying quilts at least five years before that, when she fell in love with antique quilts and realized that she needed to know more about them before buying any (her collection today is sizeable). For Marcia, it’s researching the history of quilts that’s most satisfying. “I was a mediocre history student in high school, but quilts gave me something tangible,” she says. “I knew a real, live person with talent and creativity made them. Being an appraiser and studying quilts is phenomenally pleasurable.” (That love of quilt quilt history also led her to write the book, Texas Quilts and Quilters: A Lone Star Legacy in 2007.)

When determining the value of quilt, appraisers take several things into account. For a modern quilt, the Internet can help in determining the cost of thread, fabric, and batting. Marcia prides herself on keeping up with contemporary trends and techniques so she can determine how long it takes to make a quilt. This helps her calculate the per hour cost of reproducing it. “If a quilt has 40 ruched roses on it I figure out how long it takes to make one ruched rose,” she says. This gets to the heart of an issue that not many quilters take into account when considering what their quilts are worth—the hours they put into them. “It’s important for women to see their work and time has a monetary value,” says Marcia.

This is a Blooming Ninepatch quilt that Marcia Kaylakie made in 2014 and entered in her local (Austin, Texas) quilt guild show. It took an NQA Judges Award for quilting that year. The size of the quilt is very large and the amount of time to make blocks, amount of cost in fabric, and hand quilting all add to the value to reproduce it.

It’s especially exciting to uncover the value and history of antique quilts and Marcia may use clues such as initials, names, or dates embroidered on the quilt, as well as the stories told by those who bring them in. Provenance—the record of ownership and earliest known history—adds significant value to a quilt, but throughout the years Marcia’s learned that quilt owners and collectors may not have the story straight. “One owner was sure the quilt was made by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but when I finished my research it turned out it was another branch of the family altogether, and the quilt was 100 years newer than they thought,” she says. She also has people bring “bundles of rags” for her to appraise. “They’re very special things to that person,” she says. “Tact is very important, because even in tatters they’re precious to that person.”

A rose of Sharon 1860s from near Abilene, Texas. The quilt is a fine example of red/green mid-19th century with heavy echo quilting 1/3” apart

This gets to an element of prime importance in quilt appraisal. “Condition, condition, condition,” says Marcia. “Only rarely—such as if it’s a quilt that owned by George Washington—would it not play very heavily.” The rarity of the pattern and what comparable quilts are currently selling for in the marketplace are also taken into account. Unlike on Antiques Roadshow, where valuation is typically done across a range (that lamp worth $30,000 to $50,000), quilt appraisers set valuation at a specific dollar amount.

Certified quilt appraisers can be found via the AQS website. Appraisals are done in person and you may have to travel to find an appraiser. Quilt shows sometimes hire them to value show quilts and guilds may hire them to lecture and do appraisals.

A certified instructor should be able to appraise quilts from any region and Marcia has enjoyed traveling the country as part of her work. She’s also seen quilts from many regions while doing appraisals in Texas. She remembers an especially exciting moment when a couple unrolled a rare Royal Hawaiian Flag Quilt in front of her. “I had to take a deep breath and walk in a small circle to gather myself, because it’s such a rare thing to see,” she says. The quilt had a clear provenance and the couple, with no children to pass it along to, wanted Marcia’s help in determining some appropriate places to donate it.

This is a Princess Feather 1880s from around Marshall, Texas. The gray is an indicator of dye migration in the fabric and may once have been green. Note the four-block style of the quilt.

The highlights of Marcia’s career aren’t always about unusual finds, however. She tells of a grandmother and her nine-year-old granddaughter who brought quilts in together. “The little girl had just made her very first quilt and wanted it appraised because her grandmother told her that’s what you do,” she says. “I still smile about that, ten years later.”

Amongst the reasons listed on Marcia’s web site for appraisals is one suggesting that if you send a quilt as a gift you include an appraisal. “Some people treat their quilt better if they have an appraisal,” Marcia notes. It might be just the thing to ensure that your beautiful quilt doesn’t wind up as a cozy bed for the family dog.

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18 thoughts on “Quilt Appraisals—What’s It Worth?

  1. A few years ago I had my great grandmother’s quilt appraised at Antique Roadshow in Biloxi. It is a Sunbonnet Sue made all of feedsacks on bleached feedsack background and is a queen size. You could see some of the writing on the background feedsacks. The appraiser gave me an insurance value of $3,500. My great grandmother was 82 when she passed in 1963. This is a treasure for me no matter the value.

  2. I think I would like to see an appraiser for a quilt I purchased at an estate sale. I’m not so much interested in value as I paid $250.00 for it (and probably overpaid!) but I would like to know more about the quilt itself. It is a large Broken Star, is in Amish colors, was hand quilted in larger stitches with black thread and has I think a polyester batt which suggests newer rather than older although the top looks older. I suppose people use an appraiser for value, history and/or just some sort of solid info about the particular piece.

    1. Appraisers love to delve in the history behind a quilt. They can’t always figure out where it came from, but often can tell you something about its age, etc. Marcia mentioned she loves educating people about quilts.

  3. I have some pictures of a friends quilt made in I believe 1877. It’s a dated crazy quilt pattern with lots & lots of beautiful embroidery on lots of pieces. The attachment of each piece is with different type of embroidering in all different colors of thread. Do you know anyone in LA area that does appraisels on this type if quilt.. I have seen hundreds of quilts but nothing like this, it’s a must see.

    1. Check the AQS site for names of appraisers in different areas of the country. You can also try searching online for a certified appraiser. Your quilt sounds amazing!

  4. I like the idea of including an appraisal with a gift quilt. Many people take for grated a hand made quilt not realizing the cost in materials, sewing & quilting time. Perhaps an appraisal would help the giftee better appreciate a quilt that didn’t come from a big box store but rather from the hands of someone that invested a lot in the quilt.

    1. Agreed! Sadly, people don’t always realize the number of hours that go into a quilt, along with the cost of materials. An appraisal just might help them better understand it.

  5. I, too, am intrigued by the idea of including an appraisal with gifted quilts but not sure I would do it. I did just make a lap size quilt for a co-workers first granddaughter. A week later he asked me to make a second quilt so he could send it to his daughter in Ecuador (who he had not seen in 25 years) who also just had a baby boy with a request to have it done by the weekend so he could send it along. It was such a casual request as if I ran to the local department store to get one. I made the quilt but I agree that so many people do not have an understanding of what goes into making a quilt! Thanks for the very informative post!

  6. I have my grandfather”s Storm and Sea quilt top which he was apparently sentenced to piece by hand while spending a year in bed with what they called St. Vitus’ Dance. It was made with scraps of shirtings and dress prints with the background a lovely bubblegum pink print.

    He was 10 years old and this was in 1900! Of course, it was never finished and I’m so lucky to have it. There’s even one piece of bubble gum pink fabric which came with it. I would love to finish it just to show his story at a quilt show. He pieced it well enough that I could probably flatten it out and quilt it…..I don’t know where to get it recorded: Arizona where he was then, or in Oregon where it ended up.

    1. What a wonderful story! Sounds like an appraiser might be able to help you with your question about your treasure.

  7. I have a Grandmothers Flower Garden Quilt my Mother did completely by hand in 1933 it is in mint condition. She passed away in 2007 a few weeks before her 100 th. Birthday

  8. I have two quilts my grandmother made, which I inherited. I took them to a large local quilt show to be appraised. Not for their value, because they were priceless to me. I wanted to learn about when they were made and about the fabrics. It was very interesting to hear what the appraiser could read from the quilt. You should try it with your.

    1. I don’t. Check the links mentioned in the post to find an appraiser who might be able to help you.

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