How To Wash Antique Quilts

Let me preface this post by saying that I do indeed know what I am talking about – I have worked with antique quilts for almost 10 years. There are plenty of other experts out there, and each person will have their favorite method or technique to share. So if you read something different somewhere else, please feel free to get back to me (or them) with questions. We certainly don’t want to damage any of these priceless treasures.

Number one, I will always say, if it’s an old quilt and it doesn’t have to be washed, then don’t wash it. If it smells funny, try a vacuum attachment with pantyhose over the nozzle.

I do tell people with ANY quilts, that they should not be stored in plastic airtight containers because any moisture within will cause damage.

If you store them in a cedar chest, ensure it has been sealed (the wood). Otherwise the stain can leach out and become part of your quilt. If not sealed, you can use a white cotton sheet as a protector on the inside of the chest as lining.

Regardless of where they are stored, the quilts should be aired out about every six months. When they are put away, they should be folded differently than they were before. That will help ensure the quilt doesn’t have creases from being folded the same time after time.

And they should be stored somewhere with climate control. My family heirlooms were in an unfinished cedar chest in a garage in Phoenix. That was not good for my quilts. The unintentional positive consequence is that I have solid, first-hand experience about trying to restore these quilts.

My favorite method of storage that I’ve heard from a client was to stack the quilts, laid out, over a spare bed in a room with minimal light. This will protect the quilts, they can be rotated and they can air out while also not being folded.

OK, down to brass tacks. The most important thing I can tell you is that if you know anyone that knows about antique fabrics, HAVE THEM CONSULT YOU ON THE FABRIC AGE FIRST! I just restored a quilt that was made in 1965 but had much older fabrics contained within, some that looked as old as 1920’s.

The reason that bold statement is so important is that some fabrics are fugitive. Yes, think Harrison Ford on the run. Because of the mordants (the stuff that makes the dye stick to the fabric) or the nature of the dye (walnuts), some fabrics will disintegrate upon contact with water, others might stain any other piece they touch (usually reds). This is especially true of anything older than 1930’s.

How to know? Well, if you feel confident that you can handle this process, you can do a spot test. Get the head of a q-tip wet and rub it on an inconspicuous part of the fabric. If the color comes off on the q-tip or bleeds at all, STOP and try to dry the spot. If the fabric starts to shred AT ALL, STOP. If nothing happens and it dries just fine, continue. So if you are sure you have a quilt with fabric 1930’s and younger, here’s what you do:

  1. Take off any jewelry that could catch on fibers.
  2. Fill your bath tub partway with warm water.
  3. Let the water sit for 15-20 minutes for the chlorine to dissipate. This will make the water be less harsh, so to speak, on your possibly fragile fibers.
  4. Place the quilt in the water. Gently squeeze the quilt with your hands so the water soaks in through the layers.
  5. Swirl the quilt around a bit in the water. You will likely see some discoloration in the water. If the water turns dark yellow or brown, you will want to repeat the process until the water stays relatively clear.
  6. If you would like to use soap, you can either use the first or second bathing of the quilt to wash it. I can only recommend what I have used: Orvus, Antique Quilt Wash/Soap or Retro Clean. It you use these to spot clean, just know that you may end up with water stain circles around that spot. So it’s better to wash the entire thing than just a few spots (in my opinion).
  7. When you are ready to drain the water, pull the tub plug and push the quilt to the side of the tub. Don’t wring it or squeeze, just push it gently. Get the quilt up to the edge of the tub.
  8. If you need to rinse out the soap, or rinse out the quilt again (due to how dirty the water was), repeat steps 2-5 and then 7. Once you are satisfied with the cleanliness of the wash water, move forward to step 9.
  9. After draining the tub, push the quilt against the tub walls to remove as much water as possible.
  10. Lay towels on a floor (whatever room you can find space, preferably without a lot of direct sunlight). Gently take the quilt to this area and spread it out manually, over the towels. Turn a fan or ceiling fan on over the quilt to let it dry.
  11. IF YOU HAVE A QUILT TOP and not a full quilt that you are needing to wash, you must be EVEN more careful with the quilt top. Those fibers and seams are much more prone to tear than after the quilt has been finished.

Oftentimes, a washing like this will not remove hard set stains. It will remove general discoloration from aging, and can lighten dark spots, if it doesn’t remove them. It will give your quilt a fresh smell and brightness.

Again, if you are unsure, please ask me or someone who knows about antique quilts or textiles. I promise you’d rather do that than end up with a damaged quilt.

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Latest quilting work

It has been an incredibly busy spring, business-wise and personally. Kids finishing up school, dentist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, emergency surgery… and that’s just kids. Then there was the two emergency speaker engagements and the one planned that I performed, a quick last minute trip with hubby, my own minor surgery and a weekend jaunt to see the folks.

I think I can take a breath now.

Somehow I actually accomplished a LOT of quilting work, despite everything else going on. Or maybe because of it – I find quilting so cathartic that it relieves loads of stress for me.

It was quite a variety of work, too. I quilted, bound and appraised a group of antique quilts for a client, made a few t shirt quilts, and quilted whole-cloth hand dyed panels, as well as a few all-over quilts, a custom wedding gift and a few wool applique pieces.

At any rate, I love sharing the photos and as much as I enjoy looking at other quilters’ work, I figure someone out there will enjoy these too!

a beautiful piece of history

a beautiful piece of history

I kept the antique quilts simple; they were going to be auctioned to family at an upcoming reunion. This is one of my favorite old blocks. It’s called Strawberry and it’s not all that common. In this case it was beautifully pieced and scrappy but within a specific color framework.

the classic grandmothers flower garden

the classic grandmothers flower garden

This one (above) has a high visual appeal as well. Quite striking.

field of flowers

field of flowers

I did this one for a friend. It’s hard to see the overall quilting in ANY of the photos, and a photo of the whole is too far away to get a good idea of the quilting in detail.

hand dyed floral

hand dyed floral

Debra Linker did a beautiful job hand dyeing this panel, and I had fun quilting it.

I also quilted a few for a client for her husbands office décor…

waves

waves

and this one…

squares

squares

and this one…

a shell

a shell

Creating this was almost as artistic for me:

tshirt quilt

tshirt quilt

and this one…

BIG tshirt quilt

BIG tshirt quilt

And then a little less custom quilting work…

wool applique quilt

wool applique quilt

And a little more. I hope the bride is happy with this gift from her friend – she should well be – it is so beautiful!

wedding quilt

wedding quilt

Speaking of diagonal lines, here is what I’m currently working on:

diagonal lines

diagonal lines

I can’t even begin to explain how tedious these are, and how pickled I am that they look so straight and evenly spaced! Mind you this is freehand, with my only tools being a tape measure, chalk and my ruler!

my simple tools

my simple tools

 

There were a few others in there. I didn’t snap any pix of the 4 Quilt Of Valor quilts I finished, but after this custom is finished I think I’ll need to do some all over charity quilts to clear my system.

I hope my photos have inspired you, or urged you to create something on your own. Happy quilting my friends. Stay busy!

blooming 9 patch

blooming 9 patch

 

A quilt is a quilt, not a blanket

This is one of those ‘pet peeve’ type articles, but really it bears addressing, since there is a technical difference between these various types of bedding. And being a grammar aficionado and semantics perfectionist, as best as I try (and of course fail, from time to time), I insist on ensuring when the inappropriate word is chosen, that it is corrected and the proper word found and put in it’s place.

Regardless, there is a point to be made: there is an absolute, positive, identifiable difference between a blanket, quilt, summer spread, duvet, comforter and (tied) comfort. Are you ready? Get your pen and paper at the hand…

It’s actually quite simple, but incredibly often (for some reason, ignorance, perhaps?) that these terms get mixed up. Before I began quilting I thought anything with three layers was a quilt. Not true.

QUILT: 3 layers, to include a back, a top, AND a center of batting (in poorer times they even used old blankets or old quilts as the batting as not to waste a thing) that HAVE BEEN STITCHED TOGETHER at relatively close intervals.

feather border from backside

TIED COMFORT: 3 layers, same as above, but TIED together at intervals, rather than quilted.

tied comfort

tied comfort

In the case above, the strings are thin and long, and you can see them hang off the top of the quilt. Some comforts have short strings frayed (yarn), some tied to have the strings show on the back.

COMFORTER: 2 layers of material with feathers in between. Can be quilted or tied.

feather down comforter

feather down comforter

DUVET: the fabric that slips OVER a comforter, basically a comforter cover, single layer.

SUMMER SPREAD: a top and a bottom, with no center, quilted or tied.

BLANKET: ONE SINGLE layer of fabric (usually thicker), usually with a finished edge.

blanket

blanket

I’ve fielded numerous requests for many of the above items on numerous occasions in the past 4 years, and many times the requestor really wants something other than what they are asking for. This incredibly simple guide is a helpful tool to insure you are asking for what you actually want. Because I would hate for someone to ask for a blanket, wanting a quilt, and actually end up getting a summer spread.

Happy quilting my friends. May you always get what you want, even if it wasn’t what you asked for. 🙂

Sports jersey quilt

In this case, it was hockey jerseys. And the boy-man that wore these jerseys was NOT small.

hockey jersey quilt

This quilt was quite hard to make due to it’s size (it’s a queenie) and the weight of the jerseys. There were 25 panels to deal with, each measuring 17″ wide by 18″ long.

Eachc panel was stabilized and trimmed, then sashing added to give a little separation to each panel. I appliqued a few patches with the team names onto the top and quilted it in my steadfast manly stitch style.

This is a great stitch to use with tough materials.

triangular meander

 

With parts of these jerseys very thick (like the necklines and the patches) I had to be very careful with my hopping foot to get over those spaces for an even stitch.

So my main point is that really, a quilt can be made not just from t-shirts, or even baby clothing. This quilt required the same thought process of a t-shirt quilt = use stabilizer for each block, trim it square, be aware of stretching while attaching sashing, iron, trim, iron, trim, etc. Then when quilting, watch out for the trouble-generating areas, like where there were thick seams.

You can make a quilt out of home decor fabric if you like. Just consider how the fabric will react in each stage of the process (buckling, stretching) so you can work with it for a great end result. And look for resources to help you (most quilters are super happy to share info). Happy quilting my friends!