Sign quilts for posterity

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A quilt documentation label should include quiltmaker’s name, date, location and occasion for making the quilt. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 16

By Barb Gorges

In the previous 15 columns I have touched on topics relating to quilt construction, care and use that will hopefully help your quilt make it through several generations.

I have one final suggestion for you, a reiteration of my first column: Sign and date your quilt.

Recently, my cousins had to decide what to do with their now deceased parents’ belongings. I made the parents a quilt and so I told my cousins that if there were any quilts they didn’t want, to please send them to me.

I am happy to report that they did keep several quilts, including the one I made, but they shipped two quilts to me.

I was pleased to have quilts that belonged to my aunt and uncle. But neither quilt came with any information. Since neither my aunt nor uncle made quilts, I was left wondering whether one of my ancestors had made them, or my aunt’s. She was related to me by marriage.

One quilt was obviously a Lone Star made by Native Americans and most likely presented to my aunt in the 1950s when she was a public health nurse at the Fort Berthoud reservation in North Dakota.

But the other is a scrap quilt with no name, no date—and it needs repairing. If my aunt’s mother made it, I could save it for my cousins’ kids. But more likely, the day my children deal with my quilt-making legacy, that quilt will end up on the discard pile, or as a dog’s blanket since it is one of those homely scrap quilts only a direct descendant or quilt historian could love.

Even if your quilts aren’t getting passed down through your family, your name on the quilt you made will make it more likely it will be taken care of. The less anonymous the quiltmaker is, the better.

The more information you provide on a label on the back, or embroider somewhere, the better. Include your name, date, location and occasion for making the quilt. It will make it more likely your quilt will be cherished, even 100 years from now.

This is the last of a 16-part series available at http://www.GorgesQuiltLabels.com.

Shipping Quilts

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A queen-sized quilt with cotton batting will easily fit a 12 x 12 x 9-inch box if folded like an accordion (or a map), first in one direction and then the other. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 15

By Barb Gorges

In the previous two columns, I discussed appraising a quilt’s value and insuring it. It is especially important to take care of these two items before shipping a major quilt. If the quilt is valued for more than the maximum the shipping company can insure, make up the difference with a temporary insurance policy, especially if the quilt is going to a show.

When shipping to a quilt show, be sure to follow their directions exactly. The major shows have instructions that help them receive and track quilt entries and return them.

If you are shipping a quilt as a gift to someone, don’t surprise them. Double check their address. Find out which carrier they trust the most. Find out if they will be home.

Find out if it would be best to ship the quilt to your recipient’s work place or their home or some other location where they trust someone to receive it. You might pay extra for a signature to be required when the package is delivered. In some locations, packages can be picked up from UPS rather than left on a doorstep.

Once you ship the quilt, send the recipient the online tracking information, though if anything goes wrong, you will still be the only one allowed to make inquiries. If you used a shipping service like The UPS Store, they make the inquiries.

If your quilt is a wall hanging, avoid creases by wrapping it around a swim noodle or cardboard roll. If folding, fold it like an accordion, wide enough to fit the box one way and then accordion fold to fit in the other direction. Pin a copy of the mailing label to the quilt. Place the quilt inside a plastic bag—clear if possible. Place in the box. A new box is safest because it is stronger than a used box. Consider double-boxing to protect the quilt better from punctures.

If there is any space left in the box, consider cutting the box down to make the quilt fit exactly or fill the empty space with Styrofoam chunks (avoid the aggravation of peanuts or at least put them in plastic bags) or closed egg cartons. Use a black marker to cover any printing on the box.

Use plenty of packing tape. Put clear packing tape over the mailing label to protect it.

Avoid writing the word “quilt” anywhere on the box. When filling out the company’s insurance form, refer to your contents as a textile, which is not as exciting to would-be thieves but still describes a quilt.

Don’t wait for your quilt’s new owner to send you a thank you note. Once the tracking information shows that the quilt has been delivered, double check that it was delivered to them—and not their neighbor.

If your quilt is delayed by more than a few days or appears to be lost, contact the shipping company and be prepared to give them a copy of the documentation that shows the value of your quilt. Check http://lostquilt.com for more suggestions.

Storing Quilts

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.