Preserving Your Heirloom Textiles

By:  Professor Beth Newcome, Ph. D.
Applied Design Program Director, School of Human Services of Pierpont Comm & Tech College

According to Webster’s dictionary an heirloom is a valuable object that is owned by a family for many years and passed from one generation to another. Early English law defined such valuables as part of an estate which could not be disposed of, but were willed to the heirs. Today we continue this tradition and place high value on items that have been bequeathed to us. Items in the top 10 list of most valued heirlooms, includes many personal items, and high on that list are quilts.

The Top 10 Heirlooms That Family’s Value    Quilt Blog Picture 1
#10 Musical Instruments
#9 Clocks and Timepieces
#8 Recipes
#7 Photographs
#6 Letters and Diaries
#5 Weapons/Guns
#4 Quilts
#3 Furniture/Household Items
#2 Stories
#1 Jewelry

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Quilts are well known treasures among families, often considered an American folk art form. Quilting today remains a hugely popular pastime. Wonderful heirloom quilts that used to be common flea market fair are now gracing the walls of art galleries across the country. That crazy quilt your grandmother used to drape across the back of her sofa is a treasure with its vivid velvety and decorative stitches and is the stuff of family memories.

The heirloom items that come in direct contact with the body carry a special place in our memories. It creates an almost intimate connection with another person. If that person is dear to you, the object has enormous value apart from its monetary worth. So it would then follow that jewelry, apparel and other personal textile items are of great value, as we often feel closer to those who wore, touched and cared for them.

Do I have Heirloom textiles worth saving? Many people keep wedding dresses, christening garments and other household items for sentimental reasons. Often people invest in or collect fine old pieces that increase in value over the years. Family textile heirlooms represent a family over a period of time. This means that individual family members are caretakers of the textiles, preserving them for the enjoyment of future generations. The care and giving of heirlooms thus becomes symbolic of the love and continuity of the family. Textiles tell a story.

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