Common Question: "What can I do with an old quilt top?"
I have vended at two shows this past month and sold a lot of quilt tops. The reasons are obvious. They are less expensive than quilts, take up less room than quilts, and you can have a beautiful piece from the past. What you do with that top is up to you and up to the top.
The easiest thing to do would be just to back it with an unbleached muslin fabric and finish the edges by folding the muslin over the top of the quilt top edges and loosely appliqué or baste it on. No batting. No quilting. This way, you are protecting the edges and seams of your old quilt top and can display it how you wish.
If you have your heart set on finishing the top, you have to take its condition into consideration. Lay your quilt top out on the floor or large table and give it a careful inspection.
Does it lie flat? Many tops were not finished decades ago because of this one fact. If it doesn't lie flat, you have a lot more work ahead of you. You may have to take the quilt top apart, sometimes just as far as the sashings and borders, but sometimes all the way down to the block construction.
Are all the seams sturdy? Reinforce any seams that appear are fraying or are already split.
Does it need other repairs? If a fabric is starting to deteriorate, now is the time to fix it. Using period fabric is best. If more than one block or fabric needs replacing, you might be able to remove a row in the quilt top and use the good fabrics in that row to replace the deteriorate fabrics.
Now you have a wonderfully sturdy and flat quilt top. I recommend using only a cotton batting. Polyester battings have fibers that are stronger that your cotton quilt top and can eventually rub the fabric to the point of ripping it. For backing, sometimes a period fabric is hard to find…such a large piece can be very expensive, too, and can run for $10-$50 a yard. So if you are not worried about the monetary value of the quilt, then an unbleached muslin or reproduction fabric is fine.
Basting with pins is probably fine for post 1920s quilt tops, but anything earlier I recommend basting with thread. And the same goes for quilting. It might be okay to machine quilt a post 1920s quilt top, but anything earlier, I recommend hand quilting.
And finally, label it appropriately. Include all the details you know about the original top, and document what you have done to the top and when.
As far as value is concerned, it is probably just best to leave the top as it is, or just to back in with the muslin with basted edges. But if you want to enjoy a top, and finish a piece another quiltmaker started (maybe your grandmother or aunt), the sentimental value can make up for that.
My Quilt Tops and Quilts can be seen here.
Feature Article: "Picture Buttons"
Picture buttons, simply, are buttons with pictures on them: insects, animals, flowers, architecture, children, fables and stories, people, transportation…the subjects can be endless. Metal picture buttons were first made in the middle of the 1800s, although picture buttons of other materials, were made before. The became increasingly popular from 1880-1900. Which is why often, they are referred to as Victorian Picture Buttons. These beautiful works of art were used on clothing. Today, picture buttons are very collectible, and often collectors will concentrate on just one subject. They are wonderful to use in crazy quilts, or to convert to a unique pin or other wearable accessory.
Some great references for buttons are
"Antique & Collectible Buttons" Volumes 1 & 2 by Debra Wisniewski
"Button Button" by Peggy Ann Osborne