decorating with antique quilts

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Antiques, Decorating | 25 comments

I was recently asked to share suggestions on decorating with antique quilts and, since I love collecting, using, and displaying them, I was happy to write this post.  I just needed to round up a few pictures showing how I currently use them in my home and how I’ve used them over the years.

When it comes to collecting antique quilts, there really isn’t one place to find them.  I have found them all over including antique stores, antique markets, flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores, and online from Etsy and eBay.  (Affiliate links.)  I typically pay between $50 – $200 for a quilt, but most of them are in the $80-100 range.  I am not looking for pristine quilts, though.  Generally look for two-color blue & white quilts that have pretty fabrics, an interesting design, and hand-stitching.  I don’t mind if the fabric is worn, faded, or there are some holes or tears in the quilt.  I just fold them to hide the imperfections.

I also love white-on-white quilts, though they can be harder to find at a good price.  And, I have a soft spot for crazy quilts.

Above all, I am looking for a quilt that “speaks to me.”  Quilts are works of art and, just like with all other art, some are going to catch your eye and others aren’t.  I can’t always explain why one quilt gets me excited and another one is a dud, but that’s just how it is.  When I know, I know.  It might be the pattern, the stitching, the way it’s perfectly soft and worn, the particular shade of blue…

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

So, how do I approach decorating with antique quilts?  My first philosophy is one that not everyone will agree with, but I have to be able to wash it.  If it’s too delicate to put in the washing machine or handwash at the very least, then I’m not going to buy it.  I want the things in my home to be clean and to smell nice.

When it comes to actually decorating with antique quilts I want to both use them and display them.  While we don’t use them every day, the antique quilts are certainly not off-limits.  I love this picture I took of Calvin a few years ago, snuggling under one of our antique quilts…

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

I remember my initial reaction was, “Oh no, let me get you a different blanket to use!”  But, then I remembered that this quilt was made for everyday use and it’s been around for a long time.  It’s been folded at the end of lots of beds and it’s been snuggled around a lot of kids on sick days.  It can handle being used again.  And it should be used again.  A part of decorating is using beautiful, functional things.  We’re not trying to turn our homes into museums with areas that are roped off and furniture that’s wrapped in plastic.  I think most of us agree that those days have passed.  Antique quilts fit perfectly in both the functional and beautiful categories.

When decorating with antique quilts, I like to throw them over the backs of chairs and sofas.  They add a little color and pattern and immediately make the seating look more inviting and homey.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

I like them neatly folded…

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

But I also like them loosely draped over a chair.  I don’t leave them like this all the time, because they’d get stepped on and pushed onto the floor, but it’s nice to do on occasion.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

I like to fold them over ottomans and footstools for the same reason.  They add color and a layer of visual interest, especially over a neutral piece of furniture.  It’s a nice way to change things up for the season.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

And, naturally, I also like decorating with antique quilts by putting them on a bed.  Since the antique quilts are a bit more delicate, I fold them up at the end.  That way, they can be displayed and used, but they aren’t getting the same kind of daily use that the main blanket gets.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

upholstered French daybed | stripping & waxing antique pine

I am a fan of decorating with white bedding and adding an antique quilt at the foot of the bed prevents the look from being one-note.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

handpainted “Bavarian bed”

(I just want to make one note about the quilt pattern above…  It is a pinwheel quilt from the 1920s-30s.  Just pointing that out since questions about this pattern have come up in the past!)

I also like to layer antique quilts with other antique quilts or with new quilts or coverlets.  The layered look is especially nice in the winter and it’s a way to use smaller quilts that might not be the right size for your bed.  I’ve used several twin quilts turned long-ways and folded at the end of a king or queen-sized bed.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

I also like decorating and displaying antique quilts by simply folding them and putting a stack on a shelf or in a basket.  This is a fantastic way to display quilts that are “cutters”, fragile, or have areas that are stained, torn, or otherwise unsightly.  I’ve owned a few quilts that are beautiful except for a few squares.  Since they were often made out of necessity and thriftiness from fabric scraps, there are sometimes when colors don’t seem to belong.  Folding them can hide some of those issues and allow you to buy imperfect quilts at a bargain.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

And, I also like making things out of antique quilts that are “cutters” and decorating with the things I make.  I’ve used quilt pieces to make ottoman covers…

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

…Christmas stockings…

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

(You can find the upcycled antique quilt stocking tutorial HERE.)

…and a tree skirt.

decorating with antique quilts | blue and white | miss mustard seed

(You can find the quilt tree skirt tutorial HERE.)

I do want to make one comment about the pricing of quilts.  If you didn’t know, quilts take a lot of time and skill the make, which is why you’ll see them at prices at and above $1,000.  That’s not a ridiculous price for a skill that took years to master and a piece that took months to make.  Antique quilts are typically undervalued, especially the ones I buy, because there is a disconnect from the person who made them and the time it took.  It’s just a blanket that has to compete with $25 throws from Target.  So, I just wanted to point that out.  If you are having a quilt top finished or a custom quilt made, expect the prices to be much higher than the prices quoted earlier in this blog post because you are paying for that artist’s time and skill.

You can find other articles about shopping for and decorating with antiques HERE.

I poked around online and picked a few quilts that I thought were lovely…

25 Comments

  1. Mimi

    I’ve been the lucky recipient of four antique quilts made by long-ago ancestors, also one slightly more recent quilt made by a beloved great-aunt (it was her quilt that I wrapped myself in when the pandemic was new and worrisome). My challenge is that the quilts are such different colors from each other and don’t fit in with my current color schemes. They mean so much to me that in our next house I may design the rooms to match the quilts!

    Reply
    • Erika

      I totally agree with you that some quilts “speak to you”! I love the blue and white ones that are worn soft and thin, maybe a little tattered in some places and if there’s ticking or pretty calico on the reverse, I’m smitten!

      Reply
  2. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm

    Hear! Hear! Total agreement. I’ve made quilts, my first quilt, at my husband’s request, was laid across his casket in lieu of flowers. That same quilt will serve the same purpose on my casket, when the time comes.
    The idea of stockings is lovely! I have a quilt, made of silk pieces that is literally falling to pieces and wondered what I could do with it. I think stockings and thank you.
    As to using things instead of displaying things (a la museum style), I’d much rather something break while I’m using it instead of dusting it. Beautiful, meaningful items give meaning, joy and love to our lives. I want that daily in my life.

    Reply
    • Lisa P in Canada

      This is really lovely!

      Reply
    • Evelyn

      How is the antique baby dress attached to the background/mat in the framed piece on you wall? I have heirloom crochet doilies I would like to have framed but am concerned about what to use to attach them to the background/mat.

      Reply
  3. Jenn

    You inspired me to bring quilts into our home!

    Reply
  4. Michelle

    If you are looking for quilts on line, Hannah at stitchedandfound.com has a sale every Thursday night. Some are antique, some vintage, not all are hand made but most are beautiful and affordable. You can find her on instagram as well. She has had some beautiful blue and white ones Marion. P.S. Love your idea of using worn out quilts for other purposes such as stockings and tree skirts. They would make great pillows too.

    Reply
  5. Lottie

    I really like this post!!! I started “piecing” quilts a few years back & made a few quilts for my grandkids & then I got so busy with them that I quit sewing altogether. I started back up this past spring to make a quilt for my oldest grandson’s high school graduation. He’s tall(6’5”) so I made it plenty long enough for him to be able to wrap himself up(100” long X 73” wide). When you explained that quilts took lots of time-therefore they can be very expensive-you we’re definitely right. Not only time consuming(But I enjoyed every minute of the sewing), but, I spent over $200.00 just on the fabrics & that didn’t include the batting or the cost to have it quilted. I knew I’d never hand quilt it so I let someone else take care of that. My grandson said it was his favorite gift. There’s nothing like a quilt to cuddle up in to make you feel so cozy. I love how you have yours displayed & how your family uses them.

    Reply
  6. Gail Hunt

    As a quilt artist, I do appreciate your perspective on both the art and the craft, particularly the idea that they are valued as such, and not mass-produced by underpaid or unskilled crafters in foreign lands. When people ask me how long it took to make my quilt, I often respond “33 years”, because that’s how long I have been building my expertise. Quilts are an important part of our home, which is filled with original art.

    Reply
  7. Karen

    Love this post! Over the years I have followed you, you have inspired me to build a collection of vintage blue and white quilts. I have noticed that recently the prices are going much higher. There seems to be renewed interest in vintage quilts in just the past couple of years which I think is wonderful to see them being valued more, even though it also means rising prices. Love seeing how you use them in your home.

    Reply
  8. Nancy

    My sister took a beat up old quilt my grandmother made and made a big throw for my mom. Talk about made of necessity. One prized block still had a button hole with its button in place.
    My mom has made teddy bears out of other nearly destroyed old quilts.
    I am not a chippy fan at all but I cherish another beat up old quilt my great grandmother made, mostly blue and yellow with *scalloped* edges. Yes, it’s a treasure!!!!

    Reply
  9. Sharon

    I always like to share this story. My grandmother was a beautiful quilter and I guess I get my love of guilts from her. When her quilts came up at auction, I had my bid card in hand and no one was getting those quilts but me. Yes, I did get everyone and love each one. The best part of this story is when our home was burning down, after Hubby got the kids, pets, etc. out of the house he thought what would my Wife want. So I did have them out for display so he ran upstairs and threw them out the window and that is why I have them today and love each one. Family….the sweetest word! Since I am in my 80’s having trouble deciding what to do with them. Gave a quilt to a family member, went to her home and the dog was laying on; grabbed it and it is again in my custody.

    Reply
    • Kim

      Wow, Sharon, that’s an incredible story!

      Reply
  10. Melissa

    My oldest quilt is mid 1800’smy great great great Gma maid when she was a young girl I luv the fact of all old things tell a story and all the hands that have touched them and my relatives that has snuggled in them they still look beautiful they r very fragile I just adore them and being it’s my family’s history no matter what color and how tattered I display all of them !!❤️

    Reply
  11. Judeth

    I found a unfinished quilt in a junk store, it costs me $5. I scooped it up quick. I took it to a lady and had her finish it. It cost me $300. It was well worth money. I have a bunch old cutter quilts, also. I cherish them, due to the fact I cannot sew for anything.

    Reply
  12. Cheri

    I have several quilts made by both my maternal and paternal grandmothers and one made by Kirk’s grandmother. I love quilts and ones made by women I loved are treasures.

    Reply
  13. mary m

    My grandmother Mary Theresa (1880-1940) like most women of that era quilted. I know on some of her quilts she used floour sacks. Unfortunately one was too far gone but the blue binding with white ducks was in perfect condition. So I cut it off and wilo repurpose it. I was exposed to polio in 1950 and much to my chagrin had to take a nap every day wrapped in one of her simple patchwork quiots. So I remember how comforting a quilt can be. I still have that quilt. The red patches have worn but can be mended.

    Reply
  14. Janet G

    I’m a sucker for anything blue and white and quilts are at the top of the list! I decided I wanted an antique cabinet full of blue and white quilts in my living room but had neither the cabinet nor the quilts… gotta start somewhere, right? So I learned to quilt and am well on my way to creating my collection. Still looking for the cabinet though. Love all your display ideas!

    Reply
  15. Diane Turscak

    As a long time quilter, long armer and collector, your article was right up my alley. I have a 100 year old farmhouse filled with quilts! Thanks for sharing! Your home is beautiful!

    Reply
  16. Amy

    Hello! I stumbled across this blog randomly but really enjoyed the beautiful quilt photos and inspirations. The only quilt I had any part of creating was connecting the batting to the top part of the quilt. I’m not sure what that’s called. My grandma and I made this quilt and I wish I had stopped to pay more attention and learn more from her when she was still here. I have a question about quilt squares: any suggestions (from anyone) with things to do with them? I do not sew but I have a box of beautiful white stitched quilt squares that my great grandmother started and never got to making a quilt. Ideas that are not too expensive? What would you do with a box of quilting squares? They are quite large, not small squares. Any feedback is appreciated!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Laura B

      I would try to find a friend or aquaintance who is willing to help you put that quilt together! If you don’t know anyone who fits that bill, you could stop in to a local quilt store and ask if they have classes to help you with it. Finishing the squares into rows, then into the complete top, is very basic sewing if you can get your hands on a machine. From there, you can baste it (connecting the top, batting, and bottom fabric) and just tie it at intervals with perle cotton yarn to keep it together. Binding it would be the hardest part, but I think you’d find that many quilters are willing to help people finish passed down quilts like this as little to no cost. (Or you could pay someone to complete it. That is more expensive – but it doesn’t hurt to ask just to price it out.)

      * One thing you’ll want to look at is the condition of the fabric. If it’s very thin or wearing through in places, you’ll want a very experienced quilter or quilt restorer to give you guidance on how to treat the fabric.

      Another idea is to frame one square for display and to store the rest together. Or to enlist similar help as above to make table runners to share among family members.

      Reply
  17. Rita

    Lovely blue and white quilts and wonderful that you use them. I come from a long line of quilters. My mom is 82 and still quilts. Her mother used to hand quilt pieced tops for ladies in the community and only charged $3. All the girls had to help. Glad it stuck with my mother and she passed it down. My suggestion is to refold your quilts often in different directions so you don’t end up with those permanent creases.

    Reply
  18. Susan

    Could you tell us how you wash your antique quilts?

    Reply
  19. Lynnett Ratchford

    Oh, I love this post! My grandmother and her sister were excellent quilters and my favorite quilt is one she made especially for me. The color is not what I am using in my guest bedroom so I display the back side on the bed. Since it’s a guest room it doesn’t get as much wear, but it is still used.

    I, too, have pillows and Christmas stockings from cutters, but as a young bride, I was able to purchase some very old, very worn farmhouse quilts with cotton batting. When the layers became worn the sewers just added another layer of feed sacks, scraps or whatever they had. Another assortment was inherited from my husband’s family, and these are better quality.

    Recently our fellowship committee hosted a bridal shower for our pastor’s daughter who was using a very rustic theme for her wedding. One of my committee members had connections to an antique dealer who let us borrow old weathered doors, windows and props to create a very aged backdrop in our family life center. I draped quilts over the gift table, sign-in table and the doors as well as used them in small vignettes around the sterile white walls. We softened the look with a few lace tablecloths, especially on the tables were food was being placed (no quilts on around the food). The look was a marvelous mix of chippy, worn, mellow blend.

    Reply
  20. NATALIE K

    Marian, I’m brand new to your blog. I just bought your book” feels like HOME” and I love it!! I’m not a blue person at all!! But, as I looked through your book I knew I had to have it. I needed it to help me get my home in order!! It has been 15 years since I last decorated my home!! Please understand I’ve been on dialysis this entire time and I have other major medical issues plus I’m a chronic pain patient. I’ve had a lot on my plate!! I have to have help which my best friend said she would do so I have hope now!! Your ideas are fantastic!! Thank you for writing your book!!

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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