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

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.

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.