Quilt Appraisals: What Are They and When Do You Need One?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about show quilts.  In that blog, we talked about what steps you should take if you’re entering a quilt in a show.  I mentioned it’s important to have a label securely fixed to your quilt, due to the fact quilts have been stolen from shows.  This is occurring with somewhat alarming frequency – and not just with the quilts hung for judging.  I’m friends with a few major vendors at these quilt shows.  The vendors have also reported quilts stolen from their booths.

In my opinion, it takes a pretty low person to steal a quilt, or any artwork for that matter.  These objects are more than just a price tag.  They are the artists’ passion, creativity, and life work.  Most of us want these thieves to be caught.  We want the full judgement of the law brought down on them.  However, life isn’t an episode of Law and Order, so unfortunately this doesn’t always happen.  Quilters need to be vigilant and wise about how we mail quilts and how we surrender our quilts to be shown.  We will deal with mailing quilts at the very end of this blog.  However, what I want to discuss with you now is something you need to do before that – and may want to do with all the special quilts in your life. 

After I published the blog on show quilts, I had a wonderful reader offer a suggestion.  She said it would be a good idea to have a quilt appraised before sending it off to a show.  This is a great idea and I’ve had a few of my quilts appraised.  But  I wasn’t sure  if my readers knew what a quilt appraisal was, how to go about getting one, and why it’s so important.  According to the National Quilt Museum, a quilt appraisal consists of a description of the quilt in terms of pattern, fabrics, techniques, and quality of construction.  It takes into consideration the quilt’s condition, confirmation of information known by the current owner, replacement value, and an approximate date of quilt.   A qualified quilt appraiser will carefully look over the quilt and consider the following:

  • The current market – What are similar quilts selling for now?
  • Construction techniques – Quilts made by skilled quilters and well-made quilts are generally worth more.
  • Condition – Fading fabric, holes, or tears from use or fabric weakness and staining all reduce the value of a quilt.
  • Quilt design – Is it pleasing to the eye?  Does it have good color and design choices?
  • Quilting – How much of it is there?  Is it enough?  Does the quilting add or detract from the quilt itself?  Is it hand or machine quilted – one is not appraised better or worse than the other.  Regardless of the method used, the quilt will be evaluated on how much quilting there is, how complex it is, and how well it was executed.     
  • The quilt’s provenance — They will consider any of the quilt’s history you may have.
  • The quilter’s resume – Quilts made by well-known and award-winning designers are generally worth more.  In other words, you may construct a quilt from one of Scott Murkin’s patterns, and even if your quilt is perfect, it still won’t be worth as much as any of Scott’s.

After all of this is taken into consideration and the appraiser verifies as much as they can, a dollar amount is assigned to the quilt. 

Please note, nowhere in this information does sentimental value figure into the appraisal equation.  Nope.  Appraisals deal with cold, hard, facts and numbers.  If you have one of your Great-Aunt Sally’s Sunbonnet Sue quilts appraised only to find out it’s worth a mere few hundred dollars, you may experience a moment of offence, because the quilt may be (in your eyes) a priceless heirloom.  The quilt may have huge sentimental value because it’s a family treasure.  But the bottom line is Aunt Sally’s Sunbonnet Sue’s quilt must be compared to others from the same pattern, and frankly there are literally hundreds of Sunbonnet Sue quilts in existence from the 1930’s.  While your quilt may be extra-special and irreplaceable in your eyes, the bottom line may tell a different story. 

Now that we have a good idea about what an appraisal takes into consideration, who exactly are these appraisers?  Quilt appraisers are folks who have a concentrated focus on textiles. They have an extensive background in fabrics/quilts/garments/other textiles and have worked with an experienced appraiser in a type of apprenticeship program.  Appraisers are defined as “someone who holds a certified designation from a recognized appraisal society and regularly performs appraisals for which compensation is received and follows the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices.”  Appraisers should be independent contractors (no links to fabric houses, museums, quilt brokers, etc.)   They are expected to perform ethically and competently in accordance with accepted appraisal standards of their professional organization and by the accepted standard of the appraisal industry as defined by federal guidelines of The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).  Probably the most recognized quilt appraiser certification comes from PAAQT – the Professional Association of Appraisers – Quilted Textiles.  Appraisers who have PAAQT certification have gone through rigorous training and overall are very good at what they do.  The American Quilter’s Society also has an appraiser certification program and it’s rigorous and thorough.  Between AQS and PAAQT, there is at least one appraiser in most states and several regions of Canada. 

With all this information about quilt appraisals and appraisers behind us, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this blog – When should you have a quilt appraised and how do you put the appraisal process in motion.

Not every quilt you make needs to be appraised.  If you’re making a back-of-the-couch quilt, a play quilt, or a quilt which is made for day-to-day use, it probably does not need an appraisal.  However, if you’ve made a quilt in which you’ve put a great deal of time, effort, money, and it holds some intrinsic value (such as it was made for the first grandchild, it was a wedding quilt, or it’s destined to be an heirloom quilt, etc.) then you may want to take the time, effort, and cash involved and get it appraised.  It could be worth your time, effort, and the fee just to know how much the quilt is worth.  Allow me to insert a personal story here.  I had quilted for years, and my technique of choice is applique – primarily hand stitched applique.  A local quilt show had an appraiser on site, and I took what I believed was best hand sewn applique quilt and had it appraised.  I knew I would be happy if the appraisal showed my quilt was worth several hundred dollars.  My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I found out it was worth almost $4,800.  And may I add this was in the late 1990’s.  I can only imagine what it’s worth today. 

Besides the self-satisfaction, there are other quilty scenarios when an appraisal may come in handy:

  • You’re donating a quilt for some non-profit use.  You may decide to donate your quilt to an organization and allow it to raffle your quilt off to raise money.  You may choose to donate one of your quilts to a museum.   When this happens, you can have your donation documented as a gift-in-kind.  The organization or museum will not state what the quilt is worth, just simply acknowledge you gave them a quilt.  The dollar amount you assign to this quilt to claim it as a charitable gift for a tax deduction is up to you.  If you plan to claim this gift as a tax deduction, you will need some paperwork to back the deductible amount, and this is when an appraisal is needed.  If you have an appraisal by a certified appraiser in hand, the IRS will have a difficult time declining the deduction.
  • You want to sell a quilt.  If you plan to sell a quilt you’ve spent a great deal of time, effort, and money on, an appraisal is an item to have to support your asking price.
  • The quilt is in a scenario where it could be stolen OR you need to ship/mail the quilt to another location.  I’ve lumped both of these situations together because they both involve insurance companies.  With either of these cases, your quilt could disappear, never to be seen by you again.  This is a painful thought for nearly any quilter.  So much time, attention, love, (and not to mention money) is spent on the special quilts we want to put in shows or send to others.  It’s excruciating to think the quilt may never reach it’s intended destination or recipient.  However, between the tears of frustration and anger, we still have to think logically, and this means we should file an insurance claim.  We may not ever get our quilt back, but we can be recompensed monetarily.  While this won’t replace the quilt, at least we can have the funds to go buy some more fabric and start over.

But…there’s bad news about this type of insurance claim.  Unless you have an appraisal from  certified appraiser stating what your quilt is worth, the insurance will only pay out an extremely small amount – the cost of a blanket from a big box store.  Insurance companies make no differentiation between quilts and blankets.  To them they’re one and the same.  An appraisal at least gives you the documentation to correct them and be rightfully recompensed. 

I also think if you have this type of quilt in your home, or some well-made antique quilts, you need to have them appraised just in case the unthinkable happens.  If thieves break into your home and have an affinity for fancy textiles, at least you’re covered.  However, be sure to check with your homeowners insurance to make sure the quilts are covered by your policy.  With some companies, quilts are considered fine art and need to be covered by a rider (which generally isn’t too expensive). 

Before we leave the topic of why you need an appraisal, I do confess I don’t have every quilt I mail appraised.  If I’ve made a friend or relative a chemo quilt or just a “regular-nothing-too-special” quilt, I don’t have those appraised because I can reproduce those without a whole lot of issues.  I may not like to re-make them, but those quilts usually don’t merit an appraisal.  However, with that said, when you mail a quilt (any quilt – appraised or not) don’t put the world “quilt” anywhere on the package.  If you must supply a description anywhere, label it fabric or blanket.  This lowers the chance the quilt could be stolen. 

By now, you may be wondering how you can find a quilt appraiser.  If you go to the PAAQT or the AQS website, there are listings of certified quilt appraisers broken down by state (for the US) and providences (for Canada).  Most states have at least one appraiser and the site has their contact information.  You’ll need to email or call to set up an appointment for the appraiser to look at your quilt.  The appraiser needs to see the quilt in person – not just from photographs.  Along with your quilt, bring any additional documentation.  For instance, if it’s an antique quilt you’re having appraised, bring any certified Provence.  If it’s a quilt you’ve made, any fabric sales receipts, pattern, etc.  The appraiser will take pictures and issue a report about your quilt’s value.  Another option may be quilt shows.  Sometimes quilt shows have appraisers on-site for the duration of the show.  An appointment still must be made, but if you’ve got plans to attend a quilt show and an appraiser is there, take advantage of the opportunity. 

Lastly, it’s important to remember time changes the value in things.  Overall, well-constructed quilts go up in value.  Likewise, if you become a well-known quilter, quilt designer, or have some successful quilt sales, the value of your quilt will go up.  It’s a good idea to have quilts re-appraised every three to five years, for insurance purposes, if nothing else.

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,


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