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Quilting > Ask Margarit Archives > Late Summer 2005

Ask Margrit Late Summer 2005

Quilting Questions Answered

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Since I still have a large number of questions regarding the care and storing of quilts, I wanted to share an article written by a former student and now good friend, Judy Rhoades. I hope it answers many of your concerns regarding your very special quilts.

– Margrit Hall –

In this edition of Ask Margrit:


Quilt Care and Cleaning
by Judith M. Rhoades

Have you paid attention to Margrit Hall, Harriet Hargrave, Lyn Mann, Del Thomas, and Personal Experience? All, experts in the wonderful world of quilting, have taught me many lessons. One has taught me lessons I shall not soon forget, i.e., some reds bleed, some navy blues fade, sun damages, and detergent ruins. With those lessons in mind, what is a quilter to do to preserve the product of her passion and creativity?

Dirt, sun, and detergent harm fabric. There are precautions for safeguarding quilts from these predators. Dirt and sun are perhaps the most dangerous elements for cotton quilts, so the obvious solution is to keep quilts in a hermetically sealed, moonlit environment. However, since most quilts have utilitarian purposes, why not approach the care and cleaning of quilts more sanely?

Take time to vacuum your quilt before washing them and between washings. Using a large piece of fiberglass screen bound with tape, place the screening on top of the quilt and vacuum the quilt gently with the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner. Vacuum both sides of the quilt.

Wash your quilt in cool water, keeping the water temperature between 65˚ and 85˚F and thoroughly dissolve the cleaning agent before putting your quilt into the water. Rinse several times, removing the quilt when filling the tub, in cool water until the cleaning agent is removed from the fabric. If a film of residue remains on the fabric, add white vinegar to the rinse water. Spin as much water from the quilt as you can. Dry immediately in a warm dryer, “fluffing” the quilt every few minutes. Better yet, lay the quilt flat under circulating air until barely damp and then tumble dry to fluff and soften the fabrics. Do not allow a wet quilt to remain scrunched in a wad.

Harriet Hargrave recommends choosing a cleaning agent in which you would be willing to bathe. That eliminates laundry detergents because they can cause bleeding, fading, and rapid aging of cotton quilts. Harriet suggests Orvus Paste®, Ivory Clear dishwashing soap®, and Mountain Mist Ensure®. I am allergic to Ivory®, I have not found Ensure®; hence, I use Orvus® – a horse shampoo that cleans well, thoroughly rinses out of fabrics, and can be purchased at tack shops.

Clean quilts present a storage dilemma, because they should be stored flat, unfolded, and not stacked. They should not be stored in attics, basements, plastic bins, unlined wood drawers, a cedar chest, or with Naphthalene® moth balls. Have I just stumbled upon the reason quilters often give away what may have become the next family heirloom? If given away, you will not watch them deteriorate along the folds or form mold and mildew caused by moisture trapped inside plastic compartments, and you will not know harmful acids are attacking a quilt stored on bare wood.

Keep the quilts. Line shelves with acid-free paper which you change every year and wrap the quilts in washed cotton before putting them on the shelves. Refold the quilts frequently – air, vacuum, and refold them every six months. You could roll the quilts on large tubes padded with cotton batting and washed cotton sheeting, and then cover the quilts with washed cotton fabric before storing.

To air a stored quilt, unroll or unfold it and lay it flat on the floor or on a bed for several days. Wash the cotton wrapping. Vacuum the quilt, front and back, refold in a different direction, wrap with the clean wrapping before storing it.

Quilts on display should be rotated frequently. Avoid hanging a quilt more than three months, certainly not more than six months. Avoid hanging a quilt on an outside wall or on a wall opposite a window, because temperate and direct sunlight are quilt killers. Do not use nails, staples, or pins to hang a quilt, because rust spots may form, sagging and distortion may occur, and threads will break around the nails, staples, and pins. Instead, add a sleeve to the back of the quilt so that its weight will be distributed evenly across its width. Consider how you want to display your quilts and do it. After all, our favorite shops keep a constant, never ending supply of fabrics to make more quilts. You cannot live long enough to make all the quilts you hope to make, so you cannot live long enough to see all those you do make be worn out – but if they are, they can be replaced. Take care of your quilts to the best of your ability, but enjoy them as you go along the way.

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