Quilters and quilt-owners – I welcome your feedback and input on this post. This is not my area of expertise, I only know what has worked for me over the years. Your thoughts and comments will be greatly appreciated!
What is the best way to care for quilts (cleaning and preserving)?
I received this question from a reader:
I have a dear friend who has been generous enough to give me several of her beautiful quilts as gifts over time. I actively use them in my home — on beds or couches as I Iove showing them off. I also have a 6 y.o. boy who I love almost as much as the quilts and who is, typically, all boy, and sometimes sickness or accidents do happen. I want to take special care of these cherished gifts (both the quilts and the boy) but do occasionally need to wash the quilts (the boy I can handle). Can you advise as to how best to care for quilts so as to best preserve them as well as ensure they stay clean?
No worries, the reader was most likely joking about loving her son nearly as much as the quilts, ha! (I do know this to be true as the reader is also a dear friend of mine, and is a very wonderful Mom. Also it is possible the quilts she is referring to are ones I have made her and her son over the years!)
Care & Cleaning of Quilts
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I would greatly welcome any additional thoughts on this subject.
First, here is a website, Stitch This!, with lovely general instructions on washing quilts: How to wash a quilt: dust, dirt, spills, worse.
Now, I am going to break my thoughts on care and cleaning of quilts it into three sections: 1) Utility Quilts; 2) Decorative Wall Quilts; and 3) Antique Quilts.
1) UTILITY QUILTS
I consider “utility quilts” the quilts made to cover beds or laps (bed or lap size quilts). These quilts are meant to be used and since they are meant to be washed.
The quilts I have made for laps or for beds, have pre-washed fabric, meaning I washed the fabric used to make the quilt before it became a quilt and it should be pre-shrunk. Some times I also lauder a completed quilt before I give it as a gift.
Newly quilted completely quilts are lovely but I love the look of a freshly laundered new quilt and the softness it adds to the quilt.
I have many utility quilts around the house and I wash them as follows: alone in the washing machine, regular wash/normal cycle, cold water, using whatever detergent I have on hand (I use one of those eco brands). Then I dry the quilt on medium high heat regular dying cycle.
The quilts in the photo above is about 9 years old and I have washed it at least 10 times over the years. I usually drape it over the sofa so it does not get that dirty. Most of my utility quilts I launder at least 1 – 4 times per year.
If I get a stain on a quilt, I pre-treat it by rubbing some detergent into it and letting it sit. So far in the approximately 18 years I have been quilting, I have not had a stain in a quilt I could not remove.
I think a utility quilt could hold up to once a month laundering. I think the more you launder it, just like clothing, the more over time it will wear out, just the fact of cotton fabric. But utility quilts are meant to be used and loved! (See my post Love Wears it Out…)
Now we do treat with special care some of our utility quilts especially with having dogs. I made a T-shirt quilt for Terry the Quilting Husband with 49 of his t-shirts for a special birthday event a couple years ago. It is a very warm and cozy quilt with flannel shirt fabric backing. When I put it on the bed, I do cover it with a light blanket as one of our dogs like to do the “spin around and scratch the surface” until he settles into a spot, and I did not want him scratching at the t-shirts.
If you search on the web you will see advice to use special laundry detergent and gentle wash when washing quilts. This would work also, but I have always washed the utility quilts I have made the same as I wash most my clothes.
2) DECORATIVE WALL QUILTS/WALL HANGINGS
Unless the person who made it tells you otherwise, I would only professional dry clean wall hangings or decorative/art quilts. Especially if they are made with materials other than cotton. For example, I would never launder the recycled silk art quilts I have made.
Even if the wall hanging is cotton and it might be safe to lauder, keep in mind that once you launder it, you may change the texture and the look of the piece. The maker may not have pre-washed the fabric if they were using it for a decorative wall hanging type of quilt.
Instead of dry cleaning wall hangings, I have just shaken out the dust on a wall hanging in my backyard and let it sit in the fresh air and sun for a short period of time (do not leave quilts out in the sun for long period the colors can fade) to freshen it up.
3) ANTIQUE QUILTS
If I needed to wash an antique or heirloom quilt, the first thing I would do is find someone with expertise on what to do. Luckily I have a quilting colleague who is an expert in the cleaning and preservation of antique quilts.
If you do not have a friend who is an expert/resource on cleaning antique quilts, then researching on the internet is your second best option.
The Michigan State University Museum has a nice article on Cleaning Antique Quilts. Interestingly in this online article they recommend only vacuuming antique quilts. If you do insist on washing the quilt, they provide some general instructions on safely washing an old quilt.
Antique quilts make me anxious so I have no photos to share (as I do not know own one). To be honest I prefer either quilts I can launder at will or art quilts/wall hanging that just stay on the wall.
Perhaps your eyes were rolling right out of your head as you read this post. Or maybe your head was nodding in agreement with my sage advice as you read this post.
Either way, now is time for you to help my reader out (and me if I am giving bad advice) and share your thoughts in the Comment section below on the best way to clean and care for quilts! Thank you!