What Makes a Quilt Timeless?–And an Assignment

Red and White Wedding Quilt

Good Morning, Quilters!

Several weeks ago, my sisters and I came across several boxes of old quilt magazine and books.  As we perused the magazines, we were struck by how dated many of the quilts appeared—not at all to our current taste.

The quilts were all well made quilts–after all they were featured in magazines and books-so that was not the problem….

It was the patterns and the colors and the fabrics…

So then we challenged ourselves to find quilts that we did like

The only common denominator–as in quilts we all agreed stood the test of time–was two color quilts–like red and white or blue and white quilts.


Will OUR quilts stand the test of time?  Do we care if they do?

Can YOU help my sisters and I figure out the secret sauce to timeless quilts?


Quilting the Double Wedding Ring, Kennedy


Go through your Quilt Notebook: The Unfinished Project Page or box of UFOs…

Are there any partially completed quilts that are two color quilts?  Perhaps they deserve more consideration as a priority quilt?

Are there any quilt tops or UFOs that are already outdated?  Perhaps it’s time to let go…

You might want to alter your Big Three–The Quilt Notebook:  Setting Priorites

Do YOU have time to make quilts that aren’t timeless??? 

What is Timeless to YOU?

We’d LOVE to hear!


Setting Priorities in my Quilting Life,


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt for all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!


54 thoughts on “What Makes a Quilt Timeless?–And an Assignment

  1. Wow, opening a great discussion here!! I’ve pondered that also, BUT….if you leave those quilts long enough….they will come back ‘in style’ again (whatever that is!). 30’s quilts have come and maybe gone again in popularity and civil war was all the rage 10 years ago and fading again! I’m thankful for the bright colour phase right now, but I’m sure that’ll go out again too. I’ve also learned to embrace lots of different combinations and especially scrappy…the story behind the quilt? Just musing here a bit. Great question. But, you are right….two colour quilts are fairly timeless, but I still don’t really ‘love’ brown and white ones! Maybe I’m just a “bright’s” girl. I loved wearing orange when I was a kid LOL.

  2. I share Jacqui’s sentiments. Even though the fabric will pretty much always date a quilt, I still think they are wonderful no matter what. However, I do draw the line at those double-knit quilts! LOL I hope those things never come back! All of my quilts have a story and I am planning to document all of them for my sons and grandchildren. They really appreciate all of my quilts. I am pretty fortunate that they like them because almost all of my quilts will be handed down to them.

    On the other hand, I am sure that is why a lot of quilts, tops and blocks wind up at thrift stores and antique stores. Their current owners don’t appreciate their value since they don’t fit their current decorating style.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  3. I did exactly the same thing recently. I think that the magazine design and photo settings probably contribute to making the quilts look dated. It would be interesting to see the same quilts photographed in contemporay settings and placed in a magazine with todays design styles, maybe then we wouldn’t think they were so old fashioned. The trends in fabric prints have changed too, a chintzy flowery fabric did look up to date but now, not so much, its geometics and oddly retro 60s and 70s designs that look modern so yes they’ll all come back into fashion if we wait long enough. Maybe thats why quilts made with solid coloured fabrics don’t date so much. Its a very interesting subject because although we all like to think we know our own minds and aren’t swayed by fads and fashions, I think maybe we are, much more than we realise.

    • Like your suggestion of retaking the photo. Have you encountered an old quilt in antique stores? Does it speak to you, bring back any memories or should it be relegated as a dog blanket? I can’t get past the hours spent stitching especially if it is hand quilted! Oh, that really tugs at my heart. And yet, I ask myself, where will this go? Who would use this? And the answers reveal why the quilt is still sitting there. Fabric choices like clothes do change. And then they come back, but usually with enough of twist to render the original as dated. I feel better calling it a classic….. And then walk on to the next stall with a tear in my eye. -VB

    • Wow, love that idea of retaking those dated quilt pictures in a modern setting. That would be a really fun experiment!!

  4. first we need to understand “why” we quilt altogether. if just for posterity, then we really need to keep an eye to what will withstand the chalange of time. but i for one am suspect that i quilt because i “need”to today, for the beauty, for the beautiful fabric that i get to touch and create with, for the joy that todays receipient will have on receiving todays quilt, for the challange of “can i really do this…” and one million more reasons that even if in the next 20 years, my quilt will be dated, it was still worthwhile for me today.!

  5. I tend toward two colour quilts – so as I’m in the midst of planning yet another two, two colour quilts this is good news for me! I’ve been thinking of not making those two new quilts with just two colours as I have already done red & white, green & white, blue & white twice, and I think a couple more that don’t come to mind right now. I love working with two colours and the shading can do so much if you have a lot of variant in the colour, and I love the contrast of just using just one fabric in each colour.

  6. I guess quilts can be like clothing that I purchase or desire. Sometimes I want something fashionable and trendy. But I also invest in timeless pieces that will always be fashionablez

  7. Like Suzy Webster, my first thought was that Baltimore Album quilts are timeless. I also agree with the comments saying that everything old is eventually new again. The main thing is that we love the quilts we’re making right now! I enjoy many happy hours in my sewing room and the recipients of my quilts are glad to get a quilt made with love. The question of timelessness doesn’t really occur to me. Definitely a thought-provoking topic. I love that you get us thinking about more than quilting technique. Lori, you’re our “quilting philosopher!”

  8. I think scrappy quilts will always be timeless, I have one from my grandmother. Although the colors are a bit dated, mostly browns and golds , I still love it. I think our taste changes over time, so things will seem timeless or dated as we change what we like. At one time I loved Wedgewood Blue, now I cannot tolerate that color. A quilt with that color would appear dated to me, but might appeal to someone else as timeless.

  9. This is so relevant for me this month! I think sometimes I “excuse” quilts from not being timeless because they hold very special memories. As I look at my 2017 UFO list (my second year of chipping away at it), I see that some 10 year old WIPs constitute the majority of it. Some were even moved from last year to this year. I no longer feel drawn to them, and it is partially design/partially fabrics. I noticed myself doodling one of the older patterns in fresh new colors! Thank you so much for this post. It really pulled together all of the things I had noticed and helped me see why I was dragging my feet. It also made me realize why I love working in solids. ?

  10. I don’t generally join in these discussions but this topic really hit me. I think all quilts are timeless. The thought and work that goes into each one should be treasured no matter how long ago they were made. My grandmother made quilts and I tell you everyone of us will fight over one to keep and treasure. When I think about how much work went into those quilts, as most of them were done by hand, and machine quilting wasn’t a known thing not too long ago. My grandmother made quilts from flour sacks as material was so hard to come by. I treasure mine for sure. The time and love we each put into the quilts we make, makes us happy and those we give them to. I for one will continue to make quilts and not worry about how timeless they are as long as I take pleasure in making and giving them.

    • I agree with you that all quilts, when we see them ‘in the flesh’ or hold them in our hands are timeless because them we experience the quilt and all the work and love that went into it but Lori spoke of seeing quilts in old magazines. When we just look at pictures we are not emotionally attached to them so I think that’s why we can allow them to look dated (see my earlier comment).

  11. What timing you have for this question! I have a kit I purchased early on in my quilting quest. It has more traditional fabrics that don’t fit with my more modern taste today. I like the pattern, may keep some of the fabrics, but add a modern twist to it. Think I’ll drag it out (for the last time!) and tackle it this weekend. Thanks for the inspiration. … once again!

  12. I’ve been sewing for over 50 years now and started quilting in the early ’80’s so you can imagine my stash must have outdated fabrics. I use these to make donation quilts for less fortunate children In Guatamala and they love getting something warm no matter what the fabric looks like. It gives me a great opportunity to perfect my machine quilting too. Love your lessons!

    • Kudos Susan for your volunteering time! For most of 2015, I inherited BOXES of fabric. You name, it was in there. Some I love and some I actually used way back when and some well, I’m not really sure what to do with. LOVE your idea of getting practice and then donate the quilts. You are right, those children are not concerned with dated colors. You’ve inspired me. VB

      • I will add Kudo’s to you also, Susan. I have made donation quilts a couple of times and it is a wonderful thing to do. Being as I don’t seem to get as much done anymore, and have way too much fabric, I donated boxes and boxes of fabric I didn’t want to a couple ladies who make quilts through their church. They have to be 60 x 80 and they are tied. They send them all around the world and can actually track their deliveries. It is an awesome thing to do for children/adults who I am sure love them, no matter the colors or prints. Quilters are awesome folks!

  13. Great topic! For me, one of the aspects of a timeless quilt is the intricacy of the block design. If the blocks are complex or unique or creative I’m drawn to the quilt. Having said that I’ll also add that quilts made by my family members are precious. I currently use one on my bed that came to me via my mom. It was an unfinished top that had been kicking around in the family so long that no one still alive remembered who made it. It was out of square, not hand-pieced but done on a treadle machine (uneven, but clearly machine, stitches), and a bit stained. I finished it, often with a feeling of reverence, and now use it everyday. Oh … and it’s a two-color (yellow and white) Hunter’s star pattern!

  14. I make quilts that please me and my eye. If nobody else likes them…oh. well. This attitude probably comes from being almost 85, and by that age, we mostly just care about what we like ourselves, after years of trying to please others.

    • Donna, I’m soon to be 63 and I feel exactly the same as you! If I love it, that’s what counts! Who care what anyone else thinks!

      All quilts to me are timeless – some just appeal to me more than others! I inherited three from my mother-in-law, and I have no idea who made them. One is hand quilted and though the colors do not really strike my fancy, it is very special. They all are because someone in my husband’s family made them.

      I’ve begun teaching my 8 year old granddaughter to sew – just like my grandmother taught me. Her first project was 6 charm squares sewn together to make a “doll blanket.” She did a pretty good job. I hope I’m instilling the love of quilting into her. Her mom surely doesn’t care anything about sewing or quilting, so I’m hoping she will carry on and I will have someone who will appreciate all my sewing, embroidery, and quilting machines when I am gone!

      I love most all colors of fabric (but like Jacqui brown – not so much!)- just maybe not necessarily how they are put together! And, as someone said scrappy, to me, will always be timeless as will those appliqued quilts, especially Baltimore Album!! Brenda

    • I’m with you, Donna. It is not that you’re 85, just that you like what you like! I make quilts that I like and couldn’t care less if they are “timeless.” (Also, I’m definitely not a fan of two color quilts…oops!)

  15. I love two color quilts and I have yet to make one. I think the secret is true scrappy, when all the colors get to play, I have one so far and it’s still our favorite… Anything from John Deere to Betty Boop, kids prints, checks, stripes, floral, Christmas. , all made from scraps from my years and years of sewing clothing for kids mostly. There’s a little troll face from the 80’s on Guys side… It makes us laugh. The squares are small and as Bonnie Hunter says about ugly fabric… If it’s still ugly you haven’t cut it small enough! Lol!

  16. Like all quilters we are somewhat prisoners of the textile manufacturers and color gurus for colors/patterns unless we dye and/or print/paint fabric ourselves. So in another 50 years the colors and patterns we enjoy now will look dated and out of place. We are influenced by what we see which is how they keep us buying new clothes and like.

    We also have our own preferences which I think is somewhat influenced by where we live, how we live. The quality of light here in Boston is very different from the light in Hawaii. And people who live in Hawaii are more focused on being active outside so smaller houses/rooms are more accepted that being snow bound in New England.

    When I first started in the mid 70’s, my first quilts were always two color quilts – and thus would be a blue/white print, the reverse print in white/blue and then either white or blue. But it is amazing what one can do with this limited selection. That was all I could handle as I focused on mastering the various techniques and designs. Slowly I added more and more colors/patterns/textures. I was learning to crawl before I walked and ran,

    it makes me sad to think of all the quilts that have been “lost” because tne colors look dated. Is this why we have only a small percentage of quilts from certain time periods? The succeeding generations didn’t value or understand them?

    Each quilt has a story and we need to save and record these stories so that future generations will honor them as the works of art they are. And we need to find good homes for them so at the very least they will be used, loved and worn out.

  17. I inherited 2 quilts made by an aunt in Tennessee. They’re over 53 yrs. old. I gave the yo-yo quilt, done by hand, to my cousin, who had gotten nothing from his Mother; not deliberate, but they had very little. At the time, their value (not monetary) may not have been appreciated. I think they quilted partly out of necessity. My quilt is pieced by machine,and hand quilted. It it solid orange and solid white. It’s some type of a star pattern. My sister got a solid white and solid red in a similar pattern. I saw hers on the floor in her garage, stained with oil. I can’t say that I appreciated my quilt right away until I got into quilting a few years ago, when I learned about rotary cutters, etc. and that everything did not have to be sewn by hand. How refreshing that my quilt is now modern!
    When I first started quilting 15 or so yrs. ago, I’d read that a stash was needed. So, I bought and ordered fabric that I liked (Don’t like any of what I bought from a “big box store” ever).
    Looking back, I wouldn’t buy indiscriminately again. When Modern quilts started being seen more, I fell in love with them . Fortunately, I have a lot of Kaffe Fassett’s fabric- he is timeless, right?
    Anyway, I started looking for modern patterns and fresh ideas and have decided that by using solids, I can quite nicely use my older stash and still have the fresh, clean, artistic look.
    I probably have enough fabric for 100 projects, large and small. I have donated fabric to “Little Dresses for Africa”. I need to donate more.
    I’d like to donate fabric and equipment to someone or group in the US (there are so many) who have lost their homes due to floods, fires, or tornadoes.????
    Sorry to take up so much space.
    Thanks, Lori for everything.

  18. Lori, this was a great topic. I have another question for the audience though. For the first time, I’m contributing two mini quilts to our quild’s silent auction. The proceeds go to charity. I only used from my stash so there was no extra cost. One is a paper pieced with two colors–red and white. The second is a modern style, white with tiny primary color triangles. For both I used many of your quilt motifs to FMQ. Thank you!

    My question is can we get an article about how to market them? The entry form requires that I talk up my quilts, and I have no idea what to say. Could we get some ideas? I found a few comments on the Internet, but not nearly enough to get inspiration going. Thanks so much for your blog. It’s my favorite.

  19. This is a great topic and I love to read everyone’s thoughts. I think this blog is touching on some of the topics that we discussed r/t quiliting and art. We may or may not appreciate the beauty in one piece or not another- I’m not as enamored with the Gee’s Bend quilts as others. I think of the art in the Art Institute here in Chicago – can’t say I like all of the pieces there either – some are worth millions of dollars….. But there are qualities that help to make a quilt timeless: does the design have balance, is the quilting even (not tight in one place and far apart in others); is it well-executed —in other words, I think some of the qualities that make any art form “good” can be applied – if that is one of our goals. So whether the prints or colors go in and out of fashion may not be the issue. We spend a lot of time and money to make these quilts and we enjoy it! We want our quilts to be used but if we just wanted to give the gift of a blanket – there are easier, less expensive ways! The distance of some time – even the space within my own quilting career – gives me the “distance” to judge some of my projects—sometimes I think, “it is good” and sometimes, “what was I thinking?” 🙂

  20. you know, that is interesting. While Ive bought many antique 30s quilts because they appeal to me still, I also focus on quilts that are hallmarks of their time period- a wonderful 1980’s blue, Great seventies fabrics in a cathedral window quilt…
    My children and I designed a quilt in the year 2010 colors ( yellows and greys) purposefully so that when My sister saw it in the future it would remind her of that year.
    I certainly recognize that most of my quilts will be dated – some even before I start them! But, those are for fun or a specific holiday so I don’t mind.
    I will keep this in mind if I make quilts for my kids to take with them when they leave home. No sense making something that they will see as “yuck” in a few years time!

  21. I work for a library. When I started here 15 years ago, the manager asked me to “weed” in the quilt section, meaning remove books that are no longer relevant or are in bad shape. She knew I was a quilter, and figured I was the one who had the necessary expertise. Most of what we had was from the 1980s and early 1990s, including nearly everything Georgia Bonesteel wrote (I am in North Carolina, after all). While the books were still relevant (I mean a log cabin is a log cabin, after all), the fabrics, photography and tools were all dated (no rotary cutters, no mid or long arms, etc.). The books were useful to knowledgeable quilters who could adjust the fabrics and methods to more modern styles, but would never have attracted a new quilter, especially one under the age of 50. We cleaned out a LOT, but bought a lot, too. More books about modern quilting and the “new” stars, such as Bonnie Hunter (another North Carolinian), Angela Walters, Kaffe Fassett, Ellie Senkowitz, etc.

    • I agree–sometimes you need to clear the old to make room for the new! (I hope your library will add Machine Quilting 1-2-3 to their shelves when it comes out next month–LOL!!)

  22. Wow, lots of input here. Is making me wonder whether I even want to quilt a couple tops that have been unfinished for 5-10 years!! I might offer them to my quilt groups first, then my guild. Would really be a load off my mind. Or I might just keep them as tops for me!

  23. Like nice clothes, classic, they have to be simple and well made. Two colors is as simple as it gets! BUT, and this is a big one, scrappy quilts make my heart sing. Whether they are as old as the hills or a Bonnie K. Hunter, Quiltville scrap quilt. I’ve completed many of her mysteries and am working through her seven books. 14 scraps quilts I’ve completed since 2010 grace the upstair banister. It is a vision to behold!! When I look at them I think to myself, wow! did I really make all those beautiful quilts? I did, indeed I did!! Hugs, Allison C Bayer in Plano, Texas USA

  24. Sometime ago while at a local thrift store, I purchased for $1.00, (a hand-drawn with pencil) a very large center medallion on white fabric–that was beautiful flowers in a basket. The basket was pieces that had been hand appliqued and just a few hand quilting stitches started with perfect and exact 1/8″ stitches. I dismantled the backing and batting carefully, leaving the areas where the stitches and applique were already applied because that part was so beautifully applied that I just couldn’t destroy it. I now have all the surrounding squares completed and can’t wait to put together and complete the quilting. I am using trapunto on the flowers, so what I left of the hand-quilting will fit right in. I believe that whoever disposed of this treasure just didn’t know what they had in their possession.

  25. Quilts are the history of the quilter’s life and the history of those who receive them. It emphasizes the need for detailed labels on our quilts to place them in correct time period of when they were made, who they were made for and the occasion. Then when you find these treasures in the thrift shops and antiques stores, they take on new meaning and evoke feelings of more than just an old dated quilt. They are now “historical” pieces and are timeless and “dated.”

    • I completely agree, Joyce. I recently purchased a beautifully made quilt top in my LTS with the intention of breaking the blocks apart and adding modern fabrics. Its a 1990’s Tree of Life with an octagonal center medallion. As I was overlaying fabrics from my stash I realised I could not bring myself to cut this top, even though I would not have chosen to make this particular pattern with these fabrics even in the 1990’s. So her work, whomever she may be, will live on in its entirety underneath my folk arty appliques. And I will document so as not to confuse future generations, though they may be confused anyway 😉

  26. I spent endless hours on a Christmas sampler quilt that I do not like at all. It’s been up on my design wall since December and I know I am not going to finish it (all pieced but needs to be quilted). I have no motivation to finish it because (1) I do not think it is timeless and (2) my husband doesn’t like it AT ALL. I’ve decided to send it off to the long-arm quilter and get it done, so at least I can hang it this Christmas. This will make time for me to work on the Baltimore Album I’m making in a BOM class at a local quilt shop! Yay. I say, “Do what you love in quilting and give yourself permission to dump the rest!”

  27. This has been a very enjoyable discussion. There are always going to be Fabrics that appear outdated. I agree with those who talk about trendy prints and geometric and fashionable colors. It’s just my opinion but I think Scrappy quilts will always be timeless.
    Like at resale shops in garage sales, it is said that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Quilts are like that too. My adopted sister is from Ghana Africa. She’s an obgyn and started maternity hospital there as many children have died in third world countries childbirth. I started small group 3 years ago and we make quilts so that every baby born there goes home with a quilt. To those who have nothing, it will be a treasure handed down in their family for many years. We ask for donations 4 no longer wanted Fabric and scraps. Things that you would never dream of putting together come out as beautiful scrap quilts. Anyone who has scrap, outdated Fabrics, or quilt tops They Don’t Love, please message me and they will get used in our Ghana Fabrics. My email is irishredhead814@gmail.com. You can go on Facebook and check out the wonderful work my sister and her colleagues are doing and see some of the quilts, at Serving Women in Ghana. It is truly inspirational.
    Thank you Lori for all your work and great blog and patterns.

      • Fabric is always great. Quilt tops are also great. If you do a small quilt do not put batting in it. It is very hot in Ghana. They need something to wrap the baby but two pieces of cotton together is enough. Thank you for asking and I’m so glad you got to look at my sister’s site on Facebook. It is really important work.

  28. This is a very appropriate thread, as well as timely for me. My guild is having a UFO challenge, so I’ve been going through a lot of tops I’ve made over the years but haven’t quilted due to time constraints of 15 yr of caregiving. I recently gave up on a 2-color Hunter’s Star I intended to make. I still love the two fabrics, but for some reason a two color quilt didn’t appeal to me anymore. I added a few more fabrics and have a top already planned. At a recent guild retreat our retreat block was a blue-white block. Armed with many modern blues, I only made one block because I just didn’t like the overall effect. And going through my pile of UFOs this week, the ONLY quilt top I don’t like is my two-color drunkards path. I still love both the fabrics…it just doesn’t have the ‘pop’ I like to see. The rest of my tops, with the exception of maybe 2-3, still make me smile. I have evolved in my tastes over the years and am now leaning toward modern quilts, where before I was a traditionalist. I never liked scrappy quilts, but have made several, mostly with controlled backgrounds, and have come to love them, both controlled and wildly scrappy.
    The quilts that call out to me most are those that I’ve made for family members, those that bring back memories, both happy and sad, of family and friends. Like music, a lot evoke powerful memories of the different stages in my life…the good, the bad and the ugly. Those all have their own timeless beauty in my eyes.

  29. This is such an interesting discussion! I started quilting in the mid 80’s. Nobody in my family quilted so I didn’t know much about them.
    When I look back at my early creations I can see that I had no concept of color values. I laugh today when I look back but they are still very precious to me in their way.
    I love scrap quilts but my very favorite are blue/white, red/white, pink/white. kI don’t know if I will ever really like contemporary quilts although I do appreciate the work that goes into them.
    But you never know………… 🙂

  30. I have the priorities set, but in 2014 you mentioned having ideas what
    to do with all the no-longer-wanted UFO’s and I can’t find that info on
    your site.

  31. sometime I would like to read a discussion on the definition of “scrappy” quilt. I see photos of what is called scrappy but it seems there are so many examples that are not like each other.

  32. I would like to correspond with Lori regarding performance of her Bernina 770QE. I bought my 770 about the same time Lori became an ambassador for the Bernina 770QE. Some problems I’ve encountered are breaking threads, monogramming where only the top of the letter sews, difficulty attaining a good top tension, Are you experiencing any difficulties with your machine? Are you still using the three year old one? What machine will you purchase next? I do love all your hints and the exciting ways you do free hand quilting. PS, I am 81 but still engaged in a lot of quilting. Just started at age 60! What a life.

  33. I have a few wall hangings that I use on a rotating basis in my living room. Today, I wasn’t feeling well, so I took a nap on the couch, and really got a chance to look at the quilt that is up at the moment. I noticed that it was made in 2005. Is it dated? Yes, all are prints (which are most likely older than 2005). But I think that is what makes it so special. It represents my tastes at a particular moment in time. When I see dated fabric in quilt magazines, it is off putting because I am thinking of making a 2017 quilt, and want a new quilt to represent my current tastes. While I do want to make some timeless quilts, I somehow doubt they would be timeless. Even the two color ones, the shade of red (and probably the setting in the magazine) does date it.

Comments are closed.