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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Quilt Care eBook and print books on Amazon

Dear Quilters, Quilt Owners and Readers,

I’m happy to announce that three editions of “Quilt Care, Construction and Use Advice, How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100” are now available on Amazon (if these links don’t work in the future, just search my name, “Barb Gorges”:

The eBook edition, $4.95, eBook link, can be downloaded onto any device, phone, tablet, reader or laptop. If you don’t have a Kindle, you’ll see a link right there for a downloadable free app on the same page that says “Read with our free app.”

The B & W edition, $6.95, black & white edition link, is perfect for sending along with the quilt you just made for someone. Be sure to read the chapter on shipping before mailing your gift quilt. This edition has 32 black and white photos.

The full-color edition, $14.95, full-color edition link, has a slightly different title, the addition of the words “Full-color edition.” The 32 photos in color will help you visualize what I’m talking about.

And what am I talking about? The book is based on the columns I wrote for the Wyoming State Quilt Guild’s newsletter and posted here. The information has been updated with the assistance of Jeananne Wright, AQS-certified quilt appraiser and antique quilt expert. And the topics have been realigned into 12 chapters. The first two are of interest to quiltmakers and the other 10 to all quilt owners.

Make – Quiltmakers need to think about quality materials and techniques when constructing a quilt.

Test – How do you test for washability and light-fastness of fabrics for those special quilts?

Use – What’s the best way to make a bed with a quilt?

Display – Keep fading even if not absent; learn stress-free way to hang a quilt.

Air – Sometimes all a quilt needs is a little airing.

Wash – What do you need to know before you wash a quilt?

Dry – Air-dry or machine-dry, it’s all about the balance between abrasion and migration.

Store – Where to find a clean, unlighted place for your quilt to rest.

Appraise – Showing a homemade quilt is worth something could encourage future owners to take better care of it.

Insure – A quilt is an investment, in time and effort, if not money. Protect it.

Ship – There’s much to consider when shipping a quilt to a show or its new owner.

Sign – Find out how to make a label about the quilter and the quilt to sew on the back. The more information, the more important the quilt could become in the future.

Find out more about the book at https://yuccaroadpress.com/. And consider leaving a comment or review there or on Amazon.

Thanks,

Barb Gorges

“Quilt Care” book now on Amazon

Quilt Care book coverMy classes on quilt care and the previous blog posts referred only to “How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100.” That’s a title that would stand out in a quilt shop. But in a book shop with over 200,000 other titles, the most important words needed to be up front.

To find the book, go to Amazon.com and search for either “Quilt Care” or “Barb Gorges.” It’s a mere $5.95 investment. The original blog posts have been reorganized and include additional information. If you buy a copy now, you can share it for up to 14 days–that could help save a few more quilts from unnecessary hardship!

And while you are there, feel free to write a review. However, if you find any mistakes, please let me know by email, bgorges4@msn.com. The beauty of the digital format is that I can edit and improve the book anytime—and the updates will show up on your device.

I hope to have the paperback version formatted and offered on Amazon later this summer. It’s a matter of figuring out how to get unfamiliar software to play with familiar programs.

Spread the good word—save a quilt!

 

 

 

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.

Preparing to Wash Quilts

Orvus quilt soap

One of the best and most widely available quilt soaps is Orvus. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Preparing to Wash Quilts: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 9

By Barb Gorges

You’ve done your best to keep your quilt dirt-free (Part 5) and you’ve aired it regularly to keep it smelling nice (Part 8), but now it needs to be washed.

If you made the quilt, you already tested the fabrics for washability (Part 4). But if you didn’t make the quilt, and it has never been washed before, do a test for bleeding on these kinds of fabrics: color saturated, especially red and dark blue; any hand-dyed; and cheap fabrics.

Wet a piece of white cotton fabric and rub it on the potential bleeder to see if the dye transfers. It doesn’t necessarily mean this excess dye will transfer to the rest of the quilt, but you’ll want to treat the quilt as if it would.

If the quilt is well-used, be sure to inspect it for any damage and sew up any tears and patch any holes. If this is a valuable antique quilt, let the experts repair the quilt (or instruct you on how to do it). However, the washing directions here are not for antique or fragile quilts.

Find soap. It should be free of perfumes and additives, like Orvus quilt soap. If you might have bleeding problems, get a box of color catcher sheets, such as the Shout brand, and use multiple sheets per quilt.

Find a front-loading washing machine. Avoid a commercial machine used for washing oily clothes or that has soap residue (run it empty to see if suds develop). A nearby dryer capable of very low heat settings is useful. Chlorine-free water would be nice.

What you won’t need are bleach, fabric softener and any other laundry aids–unless the quilt has a stain. Then try one of the spray-on stain removers.

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

Freshening Quilts

Quilt freshening

A little time with a damp cloth in a dryer on low heat will freshen a quilt. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Quilt freshening: How to Help Your Quilt Live to 100, Part 8

By Barb Gorges

Quilt care directions seem to be synonymous with quilt washing instructions for many people. But when does a quilt need washing? When it has actual dirt on it, actual body oils.

Quilts can often smell musty after being in storage, but that doesn’t mean they need washing. Each washing shortens the lifespan of a quilt (however, grit can cause fabric wear).

Sometimes, all a quilt needs is a good airing. If it has been folded up, lay it out on a bed. Maybe open a window to get some cross ventilation.

If it is too smelly for indoor airing, go outside. Find a shady place to lay a sheet on the lawn, with the quilt on top, and another sheet over it—to protect it from the birds. This is supposing you have a nice lawn and the wind isn’t blowing.

Resist the temptation to put your quilt on the clothesline—it’s hard on the stitching, although today’s densely machine-quilted quilts are probably up to the task. I have multiple parallel clotheslines I can lay a quilt over—but I need to clean the plastic-coated lines first. Using a protective sheet on top is a good idea.

But company is coming and you don’t have time to lay the extra quilts outside for the day. So try this if the quilt is colorfast: Wet two or three colorfast hand towels and throw them and the quilt in the dryer on a low heat setting, or even just on air. If the quilt gets too damp, remove the towels. If you are fond of the smell of dryer sheets, add one, or sachets.

Moist, low heat in the dryer also helps take out fold marks and removes pet hair, allowing you to put off washing for a little longer.