Cleaning Your Antique Quilt
Vintage quilts require special care during cleaning. Do not dry clean or machine wash an heirloom piece. Dry cleaning chemicals can permanently harm old fabrics and the agitation action of a washing machine can cause fibers to shred. Begin by airing your quilt outside on a sunny day to restore freshness. To remove dust, vacuum with a nylon stocking over the end of vacuum hose and hold the hose slightly above the top of the quilt. If the quilt has beading, embroidery or appliqué, do not vacuum. You could damage the work.
You can hand wash the quilt but don't feel comfortable doing it yourself search for a qualified quilt conservation or restoration service. Ask how they will clean the quilt and their level of experience. Any cleaning done to antique fabrics could damage or destroy your quilt. Based on the monetary and personal value of the quilt, you may decide to leave it as is rather than risk destroying a priceless piece of work.
Hand Washing Heirloom Quilts
If you feel that you quilt must be washed, begin by checking the fabric for colorfastness. Testing is simple, wet a piece of white cloth with cold water and gently rub it over each different color or fabric in your quilt. If there is any color transfer to the white cloth, don’t wash your quilt at all. Washing will result in discoloration and fading. If you have hard water or iron bacteria in your water source, you should use distilled water for washing your quilt. You don’t want to risk having minerals stain your fabric.
To hand-wash, fill a deep, laundry sink or bathtub with cold water. Be certain that the sink or tub is very clean and has no residue from cleaning agents that could cause damage to the quilt. Use a liquid detergent that is gentle and free of dyes and perfumes. A liquid detergent will disperse in the water and leave less residue on the fabric. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the water to both brighten colors and soften the quilt.
Place your quilt in the water, being certain that the entire quilt gets wet. Gently move your quilt around in the water. Allow the quilt to remain in the water for about 10 minutes. Next, drain the wash water and fill the tub again with fresh water. Repeat draining and refilling the tub until the water and quilt are soap free – clear water and no suds.
Drying the Quilt
Proper drying is key to keeping your quilt at its best. Wet quilts must be handled gently. Pulling can break seams and cause damage. The quilt will be heavy and should be dried flat. To lift the quilt from the tub, use a white sheet to create a sling. Allow the excess water to drain than place the quilt on a bed of heavy towels. Cover with more towels and roll up to absorb water. Move the quilt to another bed of dry towels, spread out flat and allow to dry. Placing a fan in the room will help to speed the process. If you have space, place a sheet on the grass outside and spread out the quilt. Cover the quilt with another clean sheet and allow to dry. Never suspend a wet quilt from a clothesline. This causes too much stress on seams and cause tearing and can displace batting.
How Often Should A Quilt be Cleaned?
For any quilt, less washing is best. For a new quilt that you use on your bed everyday, washing once per year should be sufficient unless you have animals that sleep on the bed or your quilt attracts stain makers. Antique or heirloom quilts should be cleaned less often. Between cleanings, the quilts should be aired outside or placed in the dryer on the air only – no heat - cycle to freshen.
How to Store A Quilt?
If you plan to store your freshly laundered quilt, be certain it is completely dry. Allow an extra 24 to 48 hours for drying before storing. One of the best ways to store a quilt is on an extra bed. Keeping the quilt flat will eliminate creases and wear on folds. Simple cover the quilt with a clean sheet or bedspread.
If flat is not an option, store the quilt in a cotton or muslin bag or in an acid-free box. Do not store in the attic or basement where moisture and temperature levels will fluctuate. Before you fold the quilt, use acid-free tissue paper as padding to prevent sharp creases. You can also roll your quilt around an acid-free tube and slip it in a cotton bag.
If you are storing your quilt in a wooden box or dresser, wrap it in the acid-free tissue to avoid contact with the wood. Oils and acids in the wood can cause spotting and damage. Once a year, bring your quilt out of storage to air and to check for damage. Refolding will also prevent permanent creases and damage.
Every so often, allow your quilt to air outside out of direct sunlight. Refold your quilt once a month or so to prevent permanent creases. If your quilt is washable, do so only in cold water with gentle soap or hair shampoo. To dry your quilt, lay it flat over a white towel on a flat surface. Never hang your quilt to dry or put it in a dryer. Proper care of your beautiful quilt will insure it will last for generations to come.
Basic Quilt Repair
Before you clean your vintage quilt, you'll need to repair any rips or tears in the fabric. Spread the quilt out on a bed or on top of a sheet on the floor and examine carefully for any worn patches, tears or stains.
If you are a good seamstress, repair the quilt yourself by using small stitches and thread and fabric that match the design and colors of your quilt. There are sources of vintage or period-specific fabrics to patch your quilt or reproduction vintage fabrics can be used replace damaged areas.
If you are don’t feel qualified to do the repairs, find a reputable quilt repair service or restoration service. They can restore your quilt or tell you if your quilt is damaged beyond repair and should be enjoyed as is.