There’s no one moment in time that marks the turning point from antique quilts to contemporary quilts but most quilting historians and enthusiasts like to look at the hundred-year mark as a dividing line. The untrained eye may not be able to spot a quilt from antiquity but knowing a little bit about what it is the experts look at when determining age can be quite interesting.
One thing that makes antique quilts different from modern quilts is the dyeing techniques used to color them. Over the years, different materials and processes have been employed, refined, and replaced. It’s understanding a little bit about the dyeing process that helps date a quilt.
The fabrics available to the quilter are another way to date antique quilts. Just as dyeing processes evolved over the years, so did the process of making fabrics.
It isn’t just the type of fabric used to make one that signifies antique quilts over those that are newer. People have been making fabrics for many thousands of years but older fabrics just don’t look or feel the same as modern fabrics. They don’t wear the same and they aren’t dyed using the same processes either.
Style comes into play when dating antique quilts, too. Quilts may have served functional purposes throughout time but they have also been a reflection of the times, in much the same way as clothing is.
Even international commerce plays a role in determining the age of antique quilts. Quilters in the early United States, and elsewhere, could make some fabrics themselves, using the materials available, such as cotton and wool, but using imported fabrics elevated the status of a common quilt into a fashion statement. Silks imported from the Orient, laces from Europe, and other luxurious fabrics from far-off shores marked the difference between a quilt to be used on a daily basis from one that was for decorative purposes only.
Many treasured antique quilts have been passed from one generation to the next, eventually becoming beloved family heirlooms. Knowing the lineage of a quilt is also an outstanding way to date its origin.