Quilt care basics: cleaning, use and storage

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Jelly Star (detail) pieced by Barb Gorges, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and quilted by Virginia Ohr, Buffalo, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Recently, I was invited to write 700 words about quilt care for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyoming) as part of the publicity for the Cheyenne Heritage Quilters’ quilt show Aug. 16-18, and mention my book on Amazon, “Quilt Care, Construction and Use Advice: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100.”  It was published Aug. 11, 2018. It was also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/tips-on-quilt-care-in-time-for-heritage-quilters-annual-show-quilt-care-basics-cleaning-use-and-storage

I used the article as the basis for a talk for the Slater Women last week, a social group that has been meeting for over 70 years in Slater, Wyoming, south of Wheatland. 

Think of this article as a synopsis of my book. 

Quilt care basics: cleaning, use and storage

By Barb Gorges

Do quilts at the fair and the local quilt show this time of year have you thinking about the quilts at your house? Here’s the most important care advice I can give you.

Cleaning

For art quilts, fragile antiques and other than cotton quilts, consult an expert.

Make repairs to quilts before attempting any cleaning procedures. Test vividly colored fabrics by rubbing them with a damp white cloth to make sure no color comes off when wet. If it does, don’t wash without a “color catcher” laundry product.

Smelly quilts don’t necessarily need washing. Try airing them on a bed by an open window, on the lawn between sheets or in the dryer with a damp, colorfast towel, just on air, no heat.

Washing a quilt contributes to wearing when surfaces rub against each other. But dirt, including body oils from hands and chins, also contributes to wear.

A quilt in good shape with lots of quilting holding the layers together can be washed in a washing machine. If you have a top-loader, stop the machine when the agitation begins and substitute gentle agitation by hand for a few minutes. Forward the machine to the draining, spinning and filling part of the cycle, until you reach the agitation part again and do it yourself again.

If you have a front loader, put it on the hand wash cycle. Be very careful with commercial machines because they may be encrusted with oil or excess soap.

Avoid using laundry aids like bleach and fabric softener. Look for laundry soap without additives, like Orvus, available at quilt shops.

Be careful taking the quilt out of the washer. The wet weight can break quilting stitches and seams.

Spread an old sheet on the floor, preferably on colorfast carpet, and carefully unfold the quilt, squaring it up. In our dry climate it should dry overnight. Then fluff it a little in the dryer on low heat.

Use

Keep the quilt in a clean place—no smoke, grease, pets, food, etc.

When you make the bed, don’t tuck in the quilt. Lift it into place instead of tugging on one end of it. Fold the sheet up over the top edge to protect it from body oils.

Make sure sunbeams don’t shine on the same spot of the quilt every day. Consider closing the shades. Or make sure the quilt is repositioned often so all parts get equal light exposure. Folded quilts on display need refolding often.

Quilts can be displayed on a wall. Avoid nailing or tacking them up. Instead, check the Internet (or my website, www.GorgesQuiltLabels.com) for how to make a quilt hanging sleeve. The tubular sleeve is attached to the back of the top of the quilt. A pole can be inserted and the ends of the pole secured to the wall.

Hanging quilts need to be taken down to rest every few months and rotated with other quilts or displays.

Storage

Quilts should never be in contact with raw wood, such as shelves or cedar chests. Either finish the bare wood or cover it with other fabric. Plastic storage containers marked #2 or #5 are O.K. as long as the quilt is perfectly dry and the container doesn’t get damp. Forget mothballs.

Never fold a quilt perfectly in half. Try to fold it differently each time or roll it up to avoid permanent creases.

Store quilts at “room temperature.” Extreme cold or heat is hard on cotton fibers.

Appraisals, Insurance

Photograph all your quilts. Make and sew on each quilt a fabric label with all the information you know about the quilt printed in permanent ink.

Getting quilts appraised for replacement value and insuring them is good practice, especially if you made the quilts yourself. It may also help future owners—like your kids—cherish them more.

However, the biggest compliment a quiltmaker can receive is that the quilt is loved to pieces.

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