Drying Quilts

2016-03QuiltDryBarbGorges11

It’s best to dry quilts flat on carpet protected by a sheet. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Drying quilts: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 11

By Barb Gorges

A wet quilt is a delicate thing. The larger it is, the heavier it is and the more carefully it must be treated to make sure the weight doesn’t break quilting stitches. However, a heavily machine-quilted quilt is probably stronger than one with widely-spaced or hand-quilted lines of stitching.

It’s best to air dry quilts flat. I lay a clean sheet over polyester or nylon carpet and then spread the quilt, squaring it up, blocking it. Here in Wyoming, even quilts with cotton batting are dry in a few hours. If necessary, set up a fan.

But if I use the “max extract” option on my washing machine, the quilt is so compressed by the end that I opt to toss it in the dryer on very low heat or just air for 10 minutes to loosen it up and make it easier to spread. Some quilters, before the quilt on the floor is completely dry, will pop it in the dryer to fluff it.

If you think any of the fabrics might bleed (you didn’t make the quilt or you didn’t take steps in Part 4 to check fabric washability), forget air drying—put the quilt in the dryer immediately, before the dyes have a chance to migrate. One reason we avoid using the dryer is to lessen wear and tear on the quilt, but I think a stain from a bleeding fabric is worse.

Line drying is very hard on a quilt, especially if it’s large and clothespinned. Stitching may break. However, a hard-used crib quilt will be just fine on a line. For other utility quilts, if you have multiple parallel clotheslines, you could spread a quilt out over all of them. Be sure to wash the lines or cover them with a sheet first. And maybe put a sheet over the quilt to protect it from passing birds.

The first 10 parts of this series are available on this website.

Light versus quilts

Fading

Two navy blue fabrics reacted differently to ultraviolet light from sunlight and artificial light over the last 20 years while on display only about one month per year. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Quilt Display: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 6

By Barb Gorges

*Scroll down to see the first five parts of this series or click on the tab above for general quilt care information.

Spreading your quilts on beds is only one way to display them. Many of us drape quilts over other furniture (avoiding unsealed wood), fold and stack them on open shelves or hang them on the wall.

Quilts on display don’t get the same rough treatment as quilts used for warmth. Instead, light is the biggest problem. If you’ve replaced your windows with energy efficient, low e (low-emissivity) glass, you’ve somewhat reduced the fading problem caused by the ultraviolet wavelength in sunlight.

Artificial lighting also has UV rays. Fluorescent lighting is the worst. Look for products that can filter UV light.

It is inevitable that quilts will fade if they spend any time with enough light to be seen, and that is part of the charm of antique quilts. At least make sure your quilt doesn’t fade unevenly.

A quilt faded along an exposed fold looks worse than a quilt with overall fading. Refold those quilts on display often. Flip the quilt around so the same corner isn’t illuminated by the same sunbeam each day.

One recommendation, from www.museumtextiles.com, is to rotate quilts on display every 6 months. In a bright location, I think you should rotate them even more often. This is the justification you need to make lots of quilts—at least one for each season for each display location!

After light, dirt is the other issue for quilts on display: dust, pollution, household cleaning product fumes, pet hair, wood smoke, tobacco smoke, greasy cooking vapors. You may want to wash a quilt (a future topic) that has been on display for a while before rotating it into storage.

Next time I’ll discuss how to safely hang a quilt.

Use quilts gently

Frayed quilt edge

Pulling it up to your chin is hard on a quilt’s edge over time. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Quilt Use: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 5

By Barb Gorges

The first four parts of this series examined quilt genetics—what materials and techniques make a strong quilt that might last a few generations. Now we’ll look at how a quilt’s lifestyle—the way you use it, affects its longevity.

Lying on a bed is a safe place for a quilt. No stress on seams, probably dim light, and temperatures comfortable for humans and textiles.

The lucky quilt is protected from jumping pets, stuff thrown on it and people sitting on it. But it’s hard to train family to flip back the quilt before sitting or packing a suitcase on it.

Bedmaking can be hard on a quilt if someone grabs the top edge and just pulls. It is better to lift the quilt into place instead of tugging.

Quilt with sheet

Protect the top edge of your quilt with a generous amount of sheet turned over it. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The top edge of a quilt also gets a lot of wear from the oils from our hands and faces, and the roughness of men’s beards. I like to make square quilts so the edges can be rotated. But the best protection is a generous amount of sheet turned over the quilt’s edge.

Long ago, housewives basted fabric “beard guards” over the top edge of a quilt. The ones I’ve seen cover maybe 6-10 inches on both front and back. I don’t know if they were left on until they were completely worn out, or if the industrious housewives took them off for washing on a regular basis.

Conservation of your quilt must be balanced with use and enjoyment. Some quilts are destined to be dragged by small children or spilled on while eating in front of the TV. Hopefully, those aren’t the ones you put much time into making.

If your quilt wears out prematurely from love and hard use, take that as a compliment.

Test Fabric Washability

Dye bleeding

Red is a color likely to bleed. Not all dyes that bleed stain adjoining fabric. Test to find out, before making the quilt. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 4

By Barb Gorges

In my last two columns (see previous blog posts) I listed choices you can make that will prolong a quilt’s life before you even begin sewing. There is one more: the washability test.

Will fabric dyes bleed and make your quilt unattractive to the next generation? You can throw all of your new yardage in the washer and dryer and that will take care of a lot of excess dye problems. Or, like Harriet Hargrave, test a swatch of fabric in hot water.

But even if you see dye bleeding out of the swatch, it doesn’t tell you if it will wash away or re-attach itself to some other fabric in your quilt. Also, if you air-dry your quilt, it might take long enough that rogue dyes have a chance to migrate along seam lines to the other side of the quilt.

When preparing to make a major quilt, I make a quiltlet, piecing 2-inch squares of all the fabrics, alternating darks and lights in a checkerboard. I layer that with the batting and backing I intend to use and quilt it.

Then I put it in a bowl of boiling water with a little bit of regular laundry soap and let it soak before laying it out on a towel to dry—all the worst case scenarios that might promote bleeding and staining. When dry, I check the light-colored fabrics and along the quilting lines for any discoloration.

Testing fabrics this way will also tell you if one is substandard for other reasons, such as excessive shrinkage or fading.

If, after washing your quilt the first time, dye has migrated, quickly treat spots with a commercial stain remover and put the quilt back in the wash. You might also want to throw in a few Shout Color Catcher sheets. And after this treatment, you’ll want to dry the quilt quickly.

How Quilt-making Material Choices Lengthen Quilt Life

split seam

The borders of my first quilted pillow were not properly quilted and with use, the strong polyester thread sawed through the cotton fabric, cutting off the seam allowance. The green fabric is a polyester blend. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 3

By Barb Gorges

In the previous post I discussed how antique quilts show us the benefits of choosing good quality fabrics in helping our quilts survive more than one generation, and how you can decide if a fabric is qualified to be in your quilt.

But quilt longevity genetics depends on more than quality fabric and a quilt care label (see previous blog postings). I found out the hard way that thread and fabric should be compatible.

Years ago I pieced cotton fabric with polyester thread when I made a quilted couch pillow that got a lot of hard use. The polyester thread, much stronger than the cotton fabric, sawed right through along the seam lines. With the seam allowances cut off, there was no way to repair the patchwork.

A few years later, I brought home tied patchwork quilts my mother had made for my sister and me when we were little. All of the diagonal seams had popped open because the thread used for piecing had broken. I was able to re-stitch the seams because the seam allowances were still intact. And then I added a lot more yarn ties so that the quilt top had more support from the backing and the diagonal seams wouldn’t be under so much stress.

Back when I started quilting in the 1970s, everything was tied or quilted by hand and we were always trying to get away with the least amount of quilting so we could start new projects. Remembering my mom’s tied quilts, I told students to always use cotton thread for piecing cotton fabrics.

But now, with the advent of copious machine quilting, there is very little chance that patchwork seams will ever flex enough to come undone, so it might not matter if your thread and fabric are of the same substance, or the piecing thread is stronger than the fabric.

However, I do have reservations about using plastic in quilts. Polyester and all its cousins are everywhere in quilting: thread, trims, batting. The woman I learned to hand quilt from made lots of polyester double-knit quilts because everyone kept giving her fabric they found to be not very comfortable to wear—it didn’t breathe. We joked that her quilts would never disintegrate like cotton and in the distant future, archeologists will find only her quilts.

But I’m not so sure plastic materials will age that well. Some get brittle. Some turn yellow. Some get sticky. And that’s before being subjected to attic temperatures. I already know that polyester batting in a quilt used nightly for a number of years completely loses its loft. And I’m not sure the pilling problem—little polyester batting fibers poking through to the quilt surface and then tying themselves together in knotty pills—has been solved, though copious quilting might keep the batting from rubbing against the fabrics and poking through as much.

The biggest reason for using natural fibers for quilt batting—silk, wool and cotton (I don’t count bamboo because it is more like polyester) is breathability. In these discussions on what will help your bed quilt live to be 100 years old, comfort—as well as appearance—matter a lot. You want the next owners to keep your quilt for themselves instead of giving it to the dog if they don’t like it.

I’m also concerned about quilt-making aids that add chemicals to your quilt that are not washed out when the quilt is finished. Fusibles come to mind. I think they are great for fun wall hangings that you don’t expect to live that long. Fabric paints and markers fall in the same category, as do most non-fabric embellishments. There’s just no telling yet how some of these things will age.

I’m reminded of the time I was able to see some of Grandma Moses’s original artwork when it was on exhibit in Washington, D.C. She had decided to embellish her snow scenes with salt to make them sparkle. Except over the years all the added “snow” turned black.

Don’t hesitate to experiment with all the latest quilt-making aids. But when it comes to your heirloom-worthy quilt, ask yourself, “What did Great-Grandma do? How do her quilts look 100 years later?”