It’s no secret that I love a good bargain, and nowhere are the bargains better than at a thrift store. Yes, you have to work harder at a thrift store to find the good stuff—and what qualifies as “the good stuff” will vary from person to person—but when you find it, there’s nothing quite as gratifying. Especially when it comes to vintage quilts.
I’ve come across a number of homemade quilts in my favorite local thrift shop over the past few years. My favorite find so far, hands-down, is the 1940s bow tie quilt (right) I found about four years ago; click here to read the full story of this quilt.
And then a few months later, a friend of mine who frequents the same thrift shop found a beautiful Dresden Plate quilt (left) that appeared to have been made over the course of a couple decades; click here to read the full story of that quilt.
After those two successes, I got bit by the quilt-hunter’s bug. I found a couple of 1970s polyester quilts over the next few months and took them home with me.
I dubbed the first one “the most honest quilt (below),” and blogged about it here.
The second one I found was in better shape and prompted an amusing conversation about its value with a Baby Boomer friend when I posted it on Facebook; you can read all about that one here.
After those two purchases, I started to get a bit pickier. Here are some of the quilts I saw and photographed over the following couple of years but did not buy, instead often posting the photos on Facebook for friends to see and comment on. (Click the images to enlarge.)
July 2015: “Quilt-type friends, what do you think of this thrift store find in terms of decade? I was intrigued but left it behind, even at half off.” (My aforementioned fellow bargain-hunter ended up buying this one.)
October 2015: “This is the first vintage homemade quilt I’ve seen in a thrift shop in a couple of months but I left it behind. It wasn’t in great shape, the backing/binding was nicely mitered to the front but done with some sort of brocade drapery material, and I don’t think there was an inch of cotton in the whole thing, meaning it weighed a ton. Farewell, polyester quilt.
December 2015: “Seen at the thrift shop this weekend — a long, twin-size, hand-tied, polyester coverlet (no batting). It was in good condition and the fabrics were fun but it did not come home with me.”
mid-January 2016: “I wonder if Aunt Valerie knows her postage stamp baby quilt ended up at the thrift store. ☹”
This quilt garnered a number of comments from my friends. The quilters (naturally) thought it was sad. One friend (who’s not a quilter) said, “Sad face! There’s a movie somewhere where Aunt Valerie sees that quilt again, wrapped around a homeless man or something… “ Another friend whose sons were already tweens/teens commented, “My boys were given several quilts at birth and I treasure them!”
But then there were the realists: the friend who admitted to not really being a quilt fan despite having received three of them that she’d never used “because they were given to me and the person, while making them with love, didn’t share my same sense of color or design–how could they? There’s no blame, just very different ideas of what is attractive.” She said she’d taken two to Goodwill–neither were labeled–and thought she would probably end up donating the third one rather than keep it in storage.
And then there was this, from a Facebook-only senior citizen friend with whom I share an alma mater: “Or we can think of it as Aunt Valerie’s love continuing to spread where warmth is needed. Remember we can’t keep everything that ever meant something to us. Good things can do more good in circulation than they can boxed up in a corner for years. As a user of hand-me-downs and thrift store buys every now and then my whole life, I am grateful that people send things my way rather than to the trash. Don’t most of us enjoy a nice find at a store or garage sale?”
late January 2016: “Seen at the thrift shop today. Dated 2001 on the label but some of the novelty fabrics seemed older. Cute, but I don’t need a Sunbonnet Sue wall hanging so I left it there.”
I think it was on the same late January 2016 trip to the thrift store that I found a small quilt with this label attached. It says,
Have a wonderful, relaxing retirement.
Kathy, Sherry, Charlene”
Here’s one that I photographed in March 2017 but did not post on Facebook, a crazy quilt from the 1970s or 1980s with not a single shred of cotton in it that I could find, but lots of shiny, slick polyester and even nylon.
July 2017: “This has got to be the oddest homemade quilt I’ve ever seen at the thrift store. Aside from the “use whatever you’ve got” fabric choices, it’s enormous and *heavy* — almost feels like the maker used a blanket for the batting — and the patchwork backing has huge folds quilted into it. I did not bring this one home.”
It’s worth noting (to me, at least) that my two January 2016 trips to the thrift store bracketed a major life-changing event, which was the deaths of my parents a week apart. Because they still lived in Los Angeles and I’m in Denver, cleaning out their house became a major endeavor that stretched out over most of the year and required the assistance of many hands.
Particularly helpful were my dearest friend from childhood and her husband, both of whom approached the job with the right mix of their own businesslike mindsets and a respect for my nostalgia and impulse to preserve as much as possible of my parents’ things. And boy, did they have a lot of things. If nothing else, I certainly come by my pack-rat tendencies honestly. I parted with a lot of their belongings but had quite a bit shipped out to Colorado.
So now I have a house that is full to bursting with … stuff. Our garage is still stacked with boxes I haven’t had the wherewithal to unpack and sort through. I’m sure that as time passes, I will get less sentimental about a lot of what’s in those boxes, things that I couldn’t bear to toss out last year.
And so I want to thank my very wise alumna friend on Facebook who wrote such lovely words about the value of a homemade baby quilt that ended up in a thrift store almost ten years after it had been made. I like to think that the family who donated it got what they needed from it when it mattered, and then decided it was time to pass it along so someone else could benefit from Aunt Valerie’s handiwork.
I no longer judge or begrudge anyone who chooses to part with a personal item, whether utilitarian or heirloom. If we find we only have so much space, both physical and mental, for all of the precious things we accumulate over a lifetime, then that’s something to be celebrated; we should count ourselves blessed. And if we’re no longer benefitting from those things, then we might as well give someone else–say, bargain hunters like my friend and me–the opportunity to do so.
(The other moral of the story is: Always label your work! You never know who will appreciate knowing part of the story behind your quilt.)
So with that in mind, I’ll probably head out to my local thrift shop again this weekend, seeing as how most of the store is half-off on Saturdays. After all, you never know what you’re going to find.
See you next week,