First Quilter: “They say the one who dies with the most fabric wins.”
Second Quilter: “You know you can’t take it with you, right?”
First Quilter: “In that case, I don’t intend to go!”
The revival that began during the 1970s has generated hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of quilts. The multibillion dollar industry that supports quiltmaking has left many a quilter with thousands of dollars’ worth of tools, equipment, furniture, notions, books, and fabric.
Does your family understand or value your share of this wealth? Do you? What will happen to your quilts and quilt stuff once you pass on? Maybe you have children and grandchildren and know where all your quilts will go, but what about your quiltmaking items? What if you don’t have family, or your family isn’t interested in your quilting passion? An astounding number of quilters have no idea what they’ll do when the time comes to make tough decisions about quilts and quilt things dispersal.
After discussing this issue over the years with many quilters – some famous, some collectible, some neither -- I conclude that the best gift you can give your family, heirs, or executor is conversation. This is especially true if they do not share your passion for quilting and are thus on the clueless side, but it turns out that this is important, no matter what your situation.
Coming to Grips
Take, for example, your quilts. You might have to be beyond the pale before the ones you love wake up and realize exactly how many quilts and UFOs you’ve left behind.
The explosion in unique, one-of-a-kind quilts (traditional, modern, or art) is ongoing, and perhaps you’re among the artists whose work stands out. However, today’s magazine, catalog, and online patterns and kits mean at least many hundreds if not thousands of similar quilts have been made – not to mention the same-but-different projects sewn during quilt shop and show classes, on quilt cruises, and at retreats. As a result, one quilter’s prized possessions might look a lot like those of many other quilters. That fact affects how you or your family might think about disposing of these quilts and whether they would be attractive to buyers, collectors, or museums.
Although not all quilts should be appraised, having appraisals for your unique or heirloom work is essential to guide enlightened dispersal. (Note that not all museums are equipped to receive your intended donation unless accompanied with a monetary gift for storage and maintenance.)
It’s your job while you’re on this side of the grass to figure out where your quilts belong: Are they destined for home use, are they collection-worthy, do they belong in a local historical society’s cache of important artifacts, or should they serve some other noble purpose such as being teaching tools for restoration, fabric identification, or gifts to charity? Having made this determination, you should share this information with your nearest and dearest. Quilts intended for another home should be clean, and that means either you personally make sure they’re in good condition or you educate your heirs about proper ways to eliminate pet hair, stains, odors, and make repairs.
This is starting to sound like work, isn’t it?
Well, you’ve been having tons of fun living the quilt life and it’s time for some heavy lifting. Make no mistake: Every quilt you make adds to the body of a worldwide cultural phenomenon and that’s a good thing. Deciding what to do with your part of the legacy and helping your survivors make informed decisions is a precious gift to them, indeed.
Sitting on a Gold Mine
Many quilters own more than one sewing machine and longarm machine ownership is on the rise. If you’ve listed these on a home insurance rider, that’s a helpful clue for your heirs. And some of us may have considered the value of fabric and books, but who thinks about the value of all the thread they own? Rulers and tools? Patterns? Notions? Show pins? Special furniture? Think outside the box: Among all those tote bags you’ve amassed, the sturdy ones could be useful to survivors after a natural disaster. Take the time to appreciate and estimate the value of all you own to give your heirs something to go on. This is especially important if you’ve spent years sneaking fabric into the house underneath the groceries.
Getting started. Oh, the assumptions we make: ‘I’ll take care of that tomorrow’ tops the list of denials that we are mortal and won’t be here to finish what we start. Plus, we’re reluctant to make plans because of our attachment to the items we own. An independent opinion can release you to make decisions -- declutter, keep, toss, give. Enlist the aid of your guild, church, community members, family, or friends in sorting through what you have. And be willing to return the favor.
Think geographically. Explore local needs by asking around. If you’re active in a quilt guild or frequent a quilt shop or two, you might want to discuss plans for selling or donating your quilts and materials with them. Are you more interested in a location overseas? Use the Internet. Quilting, clothing, and other textile programs in all corners of the world are happy to receive fabric, tools, and gadgets not readily available to them. Help move this dispersal idea along: Become a source of information yourself; share what you’ve discovered with your family, friends, quilt guild (great program idea), community or church group.
Think historically. Signature, community, or memorial quilts should return to their homes (guilds, churches, libraries) because of their historical significance. Although guild contact information can change (and some guilds disappear over time), leave behind what you know about how to reach both the group and individual members so your executor has a place to start.
Think in terms of causes. If you can’t choose, giving your relatives a list of programs or ideas will surely ignite their imaginations and help them find a recipient for your stash or quilts. You might suggest short-term, localized disaster relief as well as ongoing community programs such as Project Linus, domestic violence recovery, and neonatal unit decoration. Sadly, manmade disasters like mass shootings also belong here; quilts are, after all, a comfort. Take care to be sure your intended recipient organization actually wants your contributions and can handle them appropriately.
Think honorably. First responders often have critically important volunteer components. These groups are always raising money (pancake breakfast or spaghetti supper anyone?) and might be very receptive to having your quilts and quilt stuff to sell or auction. And several great organizations create quilts for our military personnel; they know how to use what you’ve left behind.
Think strategically. Still stumped, or wishing to make smart decisions per the above suggestions? Professionals experienced in creating and managing trusts and estates have more expertise than most executors in dealing with special interests and collections. Seek their advice.
This is a really big topic, more than can be addressed by any single article. But giving it thought will help start conversations that can give you something manageable, something you can wrap your head around.
Do your family, heirs, or executor a favor. Do some legwork, do the homework, and make a plan to give them some guidance as to what to do with your quilts and quiltmaking paraphernalia. Let those who care about you off the hook and give them the gift of guided dispersal of your lifetime’s passion.
International causes, locally important efforts, catastrophic natural disasters, quilt museums – homes like these for your quilts and quilt stuff are easy to research on the Internet. Harder to find are places for less-than-stellar pieces, unfinished tops, and orphan blocks, but these are valuable to textile students and quilt historians, restorers, and conservators. Look to the Quilt History List, which includes regional quilt study groups and textile studies links (quilthistory.com) and the American Quilt Study Group, an excellent academic resource for all things quilt (americanquiltstudygroup.org). To find quilt appraisers, who provide insurance, donation, or fair market values for quilts and tops, check out quiltappraisers.org. Note that appraisers are not equipped to tell you what to do with your quilts; they wear the same shoes you do. Estate planners, however, have experience in dealing with fine art and valuable collections, so consider a discussion with an attorney skilled in this area.
By Andi Reynolds
Following almost five years as the executive book editor for the American Quilter’s Society, Andi Reynolds retired and has resumed the freelance life. She spends her time writing, quilting, cooking, and obeying the commands of her large dogs Lucky and Mousse. Her husband Dennis is the beloved co-leader of the pack. They live in Paducah, Kentucky.