All Things Andrea

All Things Andrea

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Washing Antique Quilts

Before I tucked this 1940's-era quilt away, I thought it made sense to wash it - I had used it on my bed as a teenager, and was pretty sure it hadn't been laundered in years, probably because it was worn and my mother hesitated to cause any more deterioration.  I've been wanting to launder it for quite a while, but was nervous.  However, a dirty, smelly quilt isn't exactly a pleasant thing.  So, I read up on the process and took the plunge. 

Before I attempted to wash it, I hand basted tulle over several of the frayed blocks to protect them from any more damage; I'll remove the tulle once the quilt is dry.

What soap should I use?   I chose Orvus Quilt Soap, frequently recommended because it's gentle and doesn't contain phosphates or optical brighteners.  Interestingly enough, you can buy the very same product for a much cheaper price at the local farm supply store - it's used for washing horses or pets!  :)  However, they only sell it in a huge container, and since it only takes a tablespoon per load, it's worth paying the higher price for a smaller bottle from the quilt shop or fabric store.  Most experts recommend washing an antique quilt in the bathtub, but I decided it would be just as safe if I washed it on the gentle cycle in my washing machine, as long as I made sure the machine agitated it only briefly.  I washed it twice, with 2 rinses the first time and 3 rinses the second washing.  A wet quilt is extremely fragile, so it's important to lift it out of the water very carefully;  I put a sheet underneath it and lifted it out.  Then, I spread it out flat on a sheet on the lawn to dry.  (Never hang a wet quilt.)  I thought today would be a good day since it was cloudy (an old quilt shouldn't be exposed to direct sunlight), but that wasn't the case - it was too damp and the quilt didn't dry before an afternoon shower came through.  In fact, it didn't dry much at all!  I scooped it up; it's now spread out on the floor in my basement with the dehumidifier running on high - not the ideal method! 

I  also washed a c. 1800's whole-cloth quilt (not a pieced quilt - simply plain muslin fabric that nicely showcases the quilting design).  It has a very thin batting, so I thought it would dry quickly, but that wasn't the case either.  It's currently spread out on the floor in my basement as well!

I just inspected the quilts - they dried quickly indoors, and the 1940's quilt survived laundering nicely.  Yea!  A few blocks may have frayed a bit more, but it was worth it - it smells fresh and clean and no longer looks so dingy.  Besides, I love the look of a worn quilt.  One plus of a having a quilt fall apart - you get to see what kind of batting was used.  I was surprised - I thought it would have been more of a nappy flannel fabric instead of something so coarsely woven.


After the quilt was completely dry, I did hand stitch a few repairs - just enough to keep some of the blocks from getting any worse.  Only certain fabrics are worn - my guess is that they may have been older scraps, or it could be related to the dye that was used.  It's now happily tucked away - this time I neatly folded it and put it on a closet shelf where I can easily view it from time to time; I wanted to protect it from dirt and sunlight, but also wanted to be able to visit it.

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