Storing Quilts

2016-05QuiltStorageBarb Gorges12

A queen-sized quilt is folded on the bias lengthwise, about 2 feet wide, and then rolled and inserted in a custom-made pillow case. A wall quilt is loosely rolled on a swim noodle and tied in place with a fabric strip so it can stand upright in a closet. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Storing quilts: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 12

By Barb Gorges

The best way to store a quilt is flat, in the dark, protected from dirt and interactions with chemicals, and at “room temperature.” Layering a few quilts on your guest bed comes close, especially if you lay old sheets between them.

However, most of us have to compromise with textile collection standards. I fold my big quilts, but I try to fold them in unprecise thirds or on the bias, differently each time. I don’t want to end up with that permanent crease down the middle that is seen in so many antique quilts. After folding them in one direction, I often roll big quilts in the other direction, then put them in extra-long pillow cases I make for each quilt, either out of cheap, washed muslin or the quilt’s fabric leftovers.

For small quilts, I use a swim noodle that is longer than the quilt is wide, or other cylinders covered in batting and muslin scraps. I roll the quilt around it, tying it loosely with a couple leftover fabric strips. I often roll more than one quilt on a noodle and top it all off with a covering of muslin.  In my closet I stand the rolls upright on the protruding ends of the swim noodles.

I place fragile quilts in acid-free boxes and use crumpled, washed muslin instead of tissue paper to stuff in the quilt folds and to wrap them to protect them from contact with the box.

Situations you want to avoid include contact with raw wood (including cedar chests—wrap the quilt), plastic that isn’t museum conservation-quality, damp places, dirty/smelly places and anywhere temperatures get extremely hot or cold. And don’t stack quilts more than three or four deep.

In whatever situation you store a quilt, it is important to take it out every several months to examine it for insect damage and to air it—and enjoy it.

The first 11 parts of this series are available at this website.

Drying Quilts

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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.

Washing Quilts

Quilt washing

Front-loading washing machines make washing quilts easy, but top loaders can be adapted. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Washing quilts: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 10

By Barb Gorges

From Part 9 we have the list of what we need before putting a quilt in a washing machine: color-fast fabric, Shout color-catcher sheets, quilt in good repair (not fragile antique), stains treated, Orvus soap–either from the feed store or the quilt shop, and clean front-loading machine.

Don’t use other laundry products such as bleach or fabric softener.

Orvus soap is a white solid at 65 degrees. Even if it’s warm enough to be a liquid, mix it with half a cup of warm water before pouring into the soap dispenser. A tablespoon is enough for a queen-sized quilt. Use less for smaller quilts–too much and you will be rinsing forever.

Set the machine for cold wash, cold rinse, and hand wash cycle—or the lowest amount of “agitation” possible. Add an extra rinse or plan to send the quilt through a complete wash cycle again without soap. The “Max Extract” spin setting is good.

For top loaders, fill with lukewarm water. Mix in the soap. Turn the machine off and add the quilt. Use your hands instead of the agitation cycle for a few minutes, gently lifting and moving the quilt. Then let the quilt soak 10 minutes before setting the washer controls for the rinse cycle. Substitute your hands again for the agitation in the rinse cycle, then let it spin.

With either machine, when finished, check immediately to see if there was any bleeding. If so, treat with stain remover and rewash immediately (and recheck immediately again)—and plan to dry that quilt fairly quickly in the dryer.

Otherwise, check to make sure the quilt doesn’t sound soapy. If in doubt, run it through another washing again, without soap. Next issue we will discuss the finer points of drying quilts.

Scroll down to read the first nine parts of this series.

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.

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?”

How Quilt Fabric Choices Lengthen Quilt Life

Quilt detail

Gold-printed stars tarnished on a well-loved quilt, leaving smudges. Quilt and photo by Barb Gorges.


How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 2

By Barb Gorges

The longevity of a quilt depends not only on the care it receives, partly remedied by having a quilt care label on it, but also the quality of its materials. Spend some time with old bed quilts and you will see how a quilter’s choices play out.

My mother found and gave me an old, well-worn double nine-patch scrap quilt that was made with a collection of all kinds of fabrics, everything from a little bit of terrycloth to filmy chiffon. Many of the less hardy weaves (and knits) had disintegrated and the batting was fluffing out in many places. But the plain “quilting” cottons were wearing their age well.

If you are going to make an important bed quilt, you’ll want to buy best quality fabric so that it does age well and whoever owns it in the future will want to take care of it and not use it as a dog bed.

How do you find good fabric? As a general rule, we figure the big box stores have seconds and quilt shops have top quality. But once in a great while I’ve been lucky at Wal-Mart and unlucky at a quilt shop.
There are two ways I judge fabric quality: the fabric itself, and the color.

Spend a lot of time at quilt shops and feel the expensive fabric. It has a good thread count—but not so much that the fabric feels like sail cloth, though batiks have a much tighter weave than regular quilting cottons. Good fabric isn’t too thin, but not as thick as broadcloth. Thick or high thread count fabric is difficult to hand quilt (does anyone hand quilt anymore?). Thin fabric won’t wear as well.

Too much finish can be added to fabric. I’ve bought nice, crisp fabric—great for piecing. But it never relaxed in the wash. Sometimes a stiff finish washes out and has been hiding a light-weight fabric you would not have bought.

Quality of color is the other aspect I look at. In a multi-colored print, colors are printed separately and need to register, or line up, correctly. Are those flower centers supposed to be set in some abstract design a quarter-inch away from the center of the circle of petals? Look at those dots on the selvedge. Each little circle (some companies use more creative shapes) in the row should be filled perfectly with each color. There may be some extra circle outlines if a print doesn’t have a lot of different colors.

Watch out for prints that feel like they are painted on. I ordered a red nightgown with white polka dots and when I received it, I realized I could feel each dot, as if I could pick them off with my fingernail. Over time, color applied this way, instead of with dye, will crack.

All those luscious prints sparkling with gold highlights have a similar problem. I used a navy blue fabric printed with gold stars for a quilt for a son who used it every night for more than 10 years. The stars tarnished. Otherwise, the quilt has a wonderful patina of wear and love.

Another quality of fabric is color fastness. It’s foolhardy to put a lot of work into a quilt without testing for bleeding. I make up a little potholder-sized quilt, alternating squares of dark and light colored fabrics I plan to use, layer them with my preferred batting and backing and machine quilt through each square. Then I wash the quiltlet in hot water and detergent and let it air dry slowly.

That’s how I catch reds that creep into whites, or colored backing dyes that migrate to the front along quilting lines. Also check for print motifs sliding sideways. Any fabric that doesn’t make the cut should be returned to the store. If it’s been in your stash a long time, make dog beds with it.

Light-fastness is something else you can check if you aren’t in a big hurry to start your project. Cut a 2-inch square of each fabric and tape them to a south-facing window for a couple weeks, then compare with the original yardage. Navy blue is the unstable color I’ve seen most often, turning lavender. OK, so I have a wall hanging with a block that’s now lavender and green instead of blue and green. But in another block in the same quilt, a different navy blue is still strong.

Unless you truly only need to make a quick, disposable quilt, use the best fabric available. You and your quilt deserve it.

How Labels can Lengthen Quilt Life

Gorges Quilt Labels Quilt Care Label

A GQL Quilt Care Label sewn to a back corner of this quilt, plus the identification label, may help it be valued and taken care of by future owners. Photo by Barb Gorges.

By Barb Gorges

We quilters are regularly reminded to label our quilts or to at least embroider our name and the date in a corner. We’re more likely to do it if we are giving the quilt away. It seems silly if the quilt is the one I’m using every night or that hangs on my wall.

But seriously, it’s hard to know when you and your quilt may be parted. It’s better to make signing your quilt a regular step in your finishing process.

Labels are nice because you can add more information about you and the quilt using fine point permanent ink. Or use a computer and printer to print on fabric.

Some of the information you may want to include is: your name, the date, your location, name of the quilt, size, pattern, inspiration, and the occasion for making the quilt (wedding, baby, graduation, etc.). Maybe add a note about fiber content, especially that of the batting. Don’t forget to add the name of the quilter if it wasn’t you. On quilts that will be exhibited, I also put my address and phone number.

If you’ve ever had a vintage quilt appraised, you know it is more valuable if there is information about the quilter and the quilt, so label your quilts for the sake of your heirs—and to impress them with the value. Perhaps it will help them treasure your quilts more.

In addition to quilt and maker information, it’s good to have quilt care instructions. Thirty years ago, I was making lots of quilted pillows and placemat sets (hand quilted!) for friends and relatives getting married or graduating and I was pretty sure they didn’t know how to wash quilted things safely.

I made “hang tags” out of cardstock, writing out washing directions and pinning them to the gifts. You can imagine as soon as the recipient unpinned them, the directions were not filed by the washing machine. So I started printing brief care directions at the bottom of each label.

Printing with permanent ink on fabric, no matter how fine the point, takes a lot of room. But one day I said “Eureka!” when I realized a solution had already been invented. Care labels are in all of our clothes and linens. Why not make the same kind for home-made quilts?

My realization and subsequent research took place in 1998. Using a directory of manufacturers, I was able to find a company that could weave a 3 x 3-inch taffeta label with the basic quilt care information I thought was necessary: cleaning, display and storage. I was going to make some just for me, but there was a good price break at 10,000 and I thought I might sell some to other quilters.

I have since sold more than 60,000 Gorges Quilt Care Labels—in all 50 states and a few other countries. I have loyal customers who buy a package of a dozen at a time.

But I am surprised the labels don’t sell better. Part of it is I can’t afford glossy ads in magazines for an item that sells for so little. Part of it is that I’m selling something quilters don’t need until they finish a quilt. And you know how many unfinished quilts we all have!

Part of it might be that a quilter has read the care information on the label, but doesn’t agree it is the best information.

But actually, I think quilters have faith that the person receiving the quilt will know how to take care of it. Really?! I just heard another horror story during Quilt Wyoming 2014 about another handmade quilt inadvertently ruined by the recipient.

Most of my customers are putting the quilt care labels on quilts they give away. But why not put them on quilts at your own house? Remember, some day you may not be there to protect your quilts. Even if you are still alive.