Care for Quilts

Taking Care of Your Quilt

Whether this your Grandmother’s quilt that has been passed down to you, a great find at an antique store or your own hard work that you have created. It is an art form to be treasured. So what is the best way to take care of this wonderful piece of art. Following a few rules will help this quilted art treasure last to the next generation and beyond.

Handling your quilt

  • Do not smoke around or let pets on the quilts. The dirt from your kitty or dog will contribute to the breaking down of the fibers. Also the smoke will embed into the fibers.
  • Always wash your hands prior to touching the quilt or use cotton gloves. The oils or dirt on our hands and in our skin can attach to the fibers and contribute to staining now and in later years.
  • Keep quilts on clean dry surfaces
  • Storing your quilts
  • Keep the quilts in the house with you not in the basement or attics. Ideal temperature is 65 to 75 degrees and ideal humidity is relative 45 to 55%.
  • Quilts need to breathe so don’t store in a plastic bags or totes. Space bags are not a good idea for these treasures. Acid free storage box or acid free paper is a better option.
  • Keep out of direct sunlight. Tip: I have my windows in my living room tinted with UV protection. It is a little expensive but it protects not only my hanging quilts it also protects furniture, other artwork and cuts down on heating and cooling bills and the savings have paid for the installation expense.
  • If you fold your quilts refold them every 6 to 8 months in a different way. Quilts and fiber has a memory and you don’t want to crease the fibers. This will cause weak points in the quilts. You can also roll a quilt around cardboard tubing. If the tubing isn’t acid free use washed white cotton sheets or washed muslin in between the tube and the quilt to protect it.
  • Storing in white cotton pillow cases are also a storage option. Don’t stack too many on top of each other and remember to refold them every 6 to 8 months.
  • If storing in wooden container or metal container line with washed muslin to protect the quilts.
  • NEWSPAPERS are NOT ok to wrap a quilt in! Acid free paper only.

Labeling Your Quilt

  • You should always label your quilt with the maker, date it was made, who it was passed down from or to, reason it was given as a gift or made. Any history that you can document. Print this on Muslin with an archival pen.
  • Or use a printer and print the label on fabric through a INK JET Printer. This ink is heat set.
  • If you made the quilt SIGN the back of the quilt under the label. So if it is stolen you have a signature on the quilt. It is yours!

Cleaning your Quilt

There are two accepted ways of cleaning your quilt, but generally speaking only one should be used: vacuuming. Lay the quilt out on a large, clean surface. (If the quilt is very delicate first place a fiberglass or nylon screen over it.) Then gently pass a low-suction, handheld vacuum with small brush attachment over the quilt.

Washing (the wet-cleaning method) a quilt can be done but only with great caution. It is not recommended unless done by a qualified textile conservator. DON’T WASH YOUR QUILT if it contains any of the following: inked signatures, a dye that appears unstable, fabrics that are seriously deteriorated, the use of glazed or silk fabrics, the use of woolen yarns with questionable dyes or if it has never been washed. Remember that textile fibers are much more fragile when wet.

If however, you have determined that it is desirable to attempt washing your quilt, first test wash a small section to make sure that the dyes are stable and won’t run. Once you have decided that it is safe to wash your quilt, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Use a very mild detergent such as Ivory Liquid or Orvus (sold at quilt shops as Quilt Soap) in a solution of 1/2 ounce of detergent to 1 gallon of distilled, filtered or softened water.
  • Use a container large enough to accommodate the entire quilt at one time (some people recommend using the bathtub).
  • Do not agitate the quilt in the water.
  • Rinse by pressing down on the quilt with the palm of your hand or with a cellulose sponge.
  • Remove excess water by pressing gently with clean white toweling or mattress padding.
  • Lift quilt with a towel sling or with both arms so that the weight is evenly distributed. DO NOT lift by one edge or corner.
  • Lay flat to dry on a clean non-porous surface.

NOTE: Historic textiles should NEVER BE PRESSED with a hot iron.

Dry cleaning is NOT RECOMMENDED because the dry cleaning method involves rough agitation of the quilt inside the dry cleaning machine and the dry cleaning solvents may harm some fabrics.

Displaying Your Quilt

One of the most logical places to display your quilt is on your bed, but even there it is wise to take a few precautions. Make sure that the quilt is not in direct sunlight, is away from sources of heat and water, and will not be accessible to pets.

If you want to hang your quilt, there are several accepted safe methods, three of which are described below:

  • Sleeve Method: Sew a 4″ wide unbleached muslin sleeve along the whole width of the top edge of the quilt. Use stitches which go through all three layers of the quilt. Insert a 3/4 inch or 1 inch wooden dowel (sealed with polyurethane varnish) throughout the sleeve and hang the dowel on the wall or from the ceiling.
  • Velcro Method: Attach a 2″ wide strip of the hook side of Velcro tape onto a wooden board which is slightly shorter than the width of the quilt. Then machine stitch the remaining portion of Velcro tape onto a 3″ wide washed cotton strip. This strip is in turn sewn onto the quilt using stitches that go through all three layers of the quilt. The Velcro/cotton strip is then attached to the Velcro strip fastened to the board.
  • Mounting Method: The most protective way is to mount the quilt on a fabric-covered wooden framework. First stretch a piece of washed cotton cloth to a sealed wooden framework (similar to a support for an artist’s canvas). Both the cloth and the framework should be larger than the quilt itself. Secure the cotton cloth to the back of the frame with rust-free staples. Then attach the quilt to the cotton cloth by hand-sewing in zigzag patterns which run parallel to each other throughout the body of the quilt. A piece of Plexiglass could be used to cover the quilt as long as the Plexiglass does not rest against the quilt surface. The Plexiglass and frame should not be airtight. Ventilation in the frame system will prevent mold and mildew from forming.
  • NEVER hang a quilt in direct sunlight.
  • NEVER hang a quilt with clip-on metal curtain hangers. The weight of the quilt gradually creates small tears where it is clipped.
  • NEVER hang a quilt by directly tacking or nailing it to the wall.
  • Quilts that are hung should be rested periodically, because of the stress that occurs over extended lengths of time.
  • Quilts that are hung in the open should be periodically vacuumed to keep dust from damaging the fibers.