Cleaning of Quilts - Vintage and Heirloom Textiles

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Your vintage and heirloom quilts are a piece of the past that you will want to preserve for generations to come.  With a little extra care, you can keep these treasures looking their best.  When displaying your quilts, be sure to avoid direct sunlight and damp conditions.  If you are hanging by clamps, take your quilt down occasionally and hang from another side.  If it is folded on display, unfold it occasionally and refold along different lines.


It's best to consider the old traditions when cleaning your heirloom quilts.  Harsh chemicals and dry cleaners are damaging to natural cotton fibers in our quilts.  For the same reasons, wash your fabrics before putting them into quilts.  The chemicals used to create that sheen on new fabric will cause the fibers to break down over time, so it is best to prewash fabric before using. 

The gentlest soap on the market is actually a soap first used to clean horses.  It's called Orvus and is now distributed to quilt stores as well to wash our quilts.  Other gentle cleaners will work as well, such as the specially manufactured quilt cleaners or organic cleaning products.

The best time of year to clean your quilts is spring or summer during a dry spell.  It's also helpful if you have an outdoor yard space available.  Traditionally, women would wait to clean their quilts until the warmer months. 

To begin, lay a large sheet lengthwise across your bathtub.  Fill your bathtub with warm water and the recommended amount of your chosen cleaner.  Lay your quilt in the tub, on top of the sheet.  Allow the quilt to soak for a period of time and gently squeeze the cleaner into the quilt.  Drain the water from the tub and refill with clean water.  Gently agitate the water and quilt and drain again,.  Repeat this process until the soap is out of the quilt and the water.

You will gently squeeze as much of the water from the quilt as you can, while being careful not to distort or break stitches.  The weight of the quilt when wet is enough to break stitches and damage the quilt.  For this reason, you will want to use the sheet that you laid under the quilt to lift it out of the tub.  Depending on the size and weight of the quilt, you may need help at this point to bring it to a location to dry.

This is when your backyard comes in handy.  Before you bring out your quilt, spread out a sheet (preferably in the shade) on the lawn.  You will bring your wet quilt, carryed in another sheet, down to the yard and spread it out flat on the dry sheet.  You will then need a third sheet to cover the quilt and keep it clean.  You will never hang a quilt to dry, as the weight would break the quilting stitches.  The process can take approximately a week of good weather, so you'll want to plan accordingly. 

The extra time and care that you take in cleaning your special quilts will reward generations to come with our quilted treasures. 

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