Part 2: Vintage Quilt Blog Series - WASH, FOLD & STORE
How to Wash, Fold and Store an Antique Quilt
This is the second installment of a three part series about vintage quilts. Last week, I talked about how to repair a vintage quilt. I shared about patches, how to attach a new binding/backing, how to repair a hole in a quilt and I linked to lots of really great resources! This week, I want to cover something that can be a little bit of a mystery, and that's how to care for your quilt. This includes things like storage, washing, folding and using. But first, check out the first blog post if you missed it!
LIGNIN - The Troublemaker
I had previously thought that you want to wash your older quilts the least amount possible because the water can put a strain on the delicate fibers. However, a kind follower shared about something called lignin (don don donnnnnnnnn). If you've ever noticed how older newspapers turn yellow or how older quilts do the same....it's all thanks to an acid that is caused by the oxidation of lignin. This is a component found in most plant materials, and while cotton contains very little lignin, it can transfer to the quilt from other sources. This can be from things like a cedar chest, cardboard box, paper, etc. (Ekkk!) So this lignin acid eats away at fibers within the quilt, which causes them to become brittle. Water helps dissolve this acid and helps to wash it away. Even if you don't have reason to believe that your quilt has been exposed to lignin, wet-washing your quilt can help rehydrate the fibers, which makes them less fragile. Fun fact: "Old Glory," the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner is taken down from display and wet washed occasionally. Interesting, right?? This gives me confidence that I should be washing my older quilts, even though it can feel scary!
How to Wash an Antique Quilt
This is something SO important to talk about. Older quilts, especially hand-stitched ones need to be treated with a lot of gentleness and care. Here are some things to consider:
- Lay down a sheet in the bath tub or large plastic bin and drape the edges over the sides. Use this as a sling later on in the process to lift the quilt out of the water.
- Use cool or lukewarm water in a bath tub or large plastic bin to soak your quilt. Warm/hot water can cause dyes to bleed within the quilt and it can also put more strain on the fibers.
- Use a mild soap/detergent such as PalmOlive or Quilter's Rule Quilt Soap. Gently pat the quilt to work the water through for a few minutes and let it soak for about 30 minutes. Check on it frequently to make sure there isn't any bleeding. Note: if you live in an area with hard water, you'll want to avoid using soap with your older quilt. Soap binds the minerals in the water with the textile fibers, which will discolor the quilt over time. If this is the case, use detergent like PalmOlive that doesn't have other additives.
- Drain the water, add fresh water and gently massage to rinse.
- Do not wring the quilt, and try not to lift the quilt while it's wet. Drain the water and use the sheet to help lift the quilt out of the tub. Recruit a helper if you need to. The weight of the water can make the quilt very heavy, which can put strain on the fabrics and seams, so supporting the quilt as much as you can will help keep everything intact.
- Let the quilt air dry by laying it flat. Doing this outside in the sun can speed up the process and help air out the quilt. Use a drop-cloth or a flat sheet if you want to lay the quilt on the grass to dry, or lay the quilt across outdoor furniture, which as much of the weight of the quilt supported as possible.
NOTE: If you have a quilt that is more delicate and/or you are concerned about fabrics bleeding, lay the quilt out in the sun for several hours instead of washing it. This is the next best option and will help get rid of any smells that the quilt may have. You can also spray some water on the quilt while it's sunbathing, which can help the quilt freshen up a bit and rehydrate those fibers..
I haven't given this quilt a full "bath" yet, mostly because it's HUGE and bulky, but also because I don't want to cause any harm to this handwritten label. I trust that my grandmother used a permanent pen to create the quilt label, but I would never forgive myself if I accidentally washed it off! When I do build up the nerve to give it it's first cleaning (which should probably be soon), I'll leave this corner out of the water, just to be safe.
How to Fold an Antique Quilt
Generally, you don't want a quilt to be folded a certain way for a long period of time. Try to unfold and refold your quilt in a new way to help prevent damage to the fabrics and batting along the fold lines. I try to remember to do this every month or two. Also, fold the quilt the *least* amount of times possible. Folding a quilt diagonally can help relieve the strain along the grain of the fabrics.
How to Store an Antique Quilt
Most of the quilts that my grandmother made are in pretty good condition. There are a few tiny holes here and there, but over all, they are very much still useable. That being said, I do want to try to preserve them as long as I can. I keep many of her quilts out on display so that I can see them and touch them every so often, but I also have a few of her quilts stored in a closet. If you have to put some quilts in storage, there are a few things that you'll need to keep in mind.
- The best method for storage of an older quilt is to lay it flat on a bed. This evenly distributes the weight of the quilt so that there aren't any pressure points in the fabrics or seams. Ideally, the bed should be away from windows and out of reach from pets or children.
- The next best option is a long acid-free tube. Rolling a quilt is the best way to prevent permanent folds and keep the fibers as intact as possible.
- As a rule of thumb, you'll want to keep the quilt out of direct sunlight to help prevent fading and UV damage to fabric and threads.
- It's best to store quilts at a comfortable living temperature, so a basement or an attic may not be the best place.
- Make sure that your quilt isn't stored with any untreated wood or paper. These materials have acids in them, which can damage fabric over time. Also make sure that quilts are not stored with jewelry or photographs. Acid-free boxes such as the ones seen here work best.
- Place acid-free tissue paper around the quilt and in the folds.
- Avoid storing quilts in plastic bins. Since quilts are a textile, often made with cotton, they need to breathe. Plastic can also release a chemical over time and this isn't good for your quilt.
That's it! That's all that I have for you. I've researched this topic quite a few times over the last several years. Properly caring for my grandmother's quilts are high priority for me! Making sure that her quilts are stored safely means that my family can enjoy them for as long as possible! Do you have any care/storage tips for older quilts? Let me know in the comments!