A quilt can be a lasting piece of family heritage, or simply another layer on the bed for a cold night. There are several things to take under consideration when buying a quilt, including its intended use and the person the it is intended for. There are numerous sources for quilts, including craft fairs, department stores, and specialty shops, and once you have decided what kind you want, you can visit the source most likely to provide it for you. Craft fairs will tend to feature hand-made quilts created by artists, while a department store will stock basic machine-made ones that are functional, although often not as attractive.
The basic form of a quilt is two layers of fabric stitched together with an insulating layer of cotton, straw, feathers, or some other heat retaining material between them. The entire quilt is covered in an intricate stitching pattern to prevent the filling from clumping, and the pattern is usually decorative. Most quilts are pieced, meaning that the top layer of fabric is made from many smaller pieces of fabric, stitched together to form a pattern. Originally, they were made from scraps of fabric, but most modern examples are specially designed with particular fabrics to create an image or overall pattern.
The first thing to consider when buying a quilt is its function. Some are designed purely for decorative use, and should be displayed on a wall from quilt rods. Other lightweight varieties are meant to be used as throws and coverlets, while thicker quilts can form an important layer of insulation on the bed. If you intend to actively use the quilt, you should get one that is washable, and you may also want to consider the potential for allergies. Many people are allergic to feathers and straw, and would not appreciate a gift that caused an allergic reaction; quilts with cotton or polyester batting are a better choice, and will be easier to care for. Decorative quilts, on the other hand, can be made with any filling or fabric, and are sometimes quite stunning.
You should also choose between a hand- or machine-made quilt. Hand-made ones will cost more, because the crafts person will have individually cut out the pieces of fabric and stitched them together. Some quilters use sewing machines to make their quilts, but the overall pattern will still be unique, and represent a substantial investment of time. A hand-made quilt is the sort of gift which might be passed down for generations. Machine-made quilts usually have a generic pattern, and are constructed entirely by machine in a factory. These are practical for keeping people warm, but are unlikely to be treasured long into the future.
Think about the overall color and pattern as well. Quilts come in a wide range of styles, from very simple modern designs to explosions of color that can transform a room. Choose a pattern with care, thinking about where the quilt will be used and the aesthetic of the person you are purchasing it for. You may also want to do some research into quilt blocks, the basic squares which are used to construct most quilts. A number of traditional designs such as the Tree of Life, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, Log Cabin, Kansas Star, Pinwheel, and many others can make up the core of the design; if you find one which appeals to you, try to find a quilt which integrates it.