Quilt month, the most FAQ
It's quilt month over at Mr Monkeysuit , and I agreed to participate. I figured my most useful quilt talk right now is about vintage quilts. So here we go!
You've finally managed to find an old quilt at the thrift or at the flea, and you were so excited you drug it home without even giving it the sniff test. You get it home and discover it's dirty or it just plain stinks and panic starts to set in right? I mean how on earth do you clean it?
At least that seems to be the burning question on most of your minds based on my inbox. :-) Keep in mind that I am no expert, but I will tell you how I do it, having had a go around (or 50*) with old quilts.
The MOST important issue in my mind is: what is the quilt worth to you? Have you invested a lot of money? Was it made by hand with love by Grandma Betty? Do you think it might be historically important? Are you going to cry hysterically if it falls to pieces? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, I wouldn't touch the thing with a ten foot pole.
On the other hand, if it was cheap, or you cannot live with it if you don't do something to it, well then, have a go at it.
My personal standards tend to be to just live with most imperfections in old quilts. If they smell "old", but not like cat pee or something disgusting, I just air them out on the line until the smell goes away. It takes awhile. If it smells like mothballs it might take days. In that case you should be sure to air it with the backside up, so you don't fade the printed fabrics on the front.
If there are small spots that are NOT mildew, I also just live with those.
Ok, fine. But you have a real problem, a serious stink, a huge amount of dirt or worse, mildew**. What now?
We are very accustomed to our washing machines, so you might not like this answer, but I recommend washing it by hand. Most folks recommend the bathtub. That kills my back, so I use one of those plastic kiddie pools on top of a patio table so it is at waist height.
Do not be fooled into thinking you shouldn't use detergent. Detergent is made to keep dirt from redepositing on fabric, so you need something. Our everyday detergent is one of those free & clear deals, so I use that. I wouldn't use anything heavily scented or anything that is dyed blue or purple (you wouldn't want more stains). Don't put too much in there though, or you will be rinsing for days.
You are going to need to very gently agitate the quilt by hand. Be careful! When old fabric is wet it is very fragile and likely to tear. It can soak awhile if it needs it.
Time to rinse. I usually squish the quilt to one side and dump the soapy water into the yard while holding the quilt. This very well might require a second person. One to hold the quilt gently and one to tip the pool to drain it.
Add fresh water and agitate again to remove the soap. Drain the water out again. Repeat as many times as necessary to get it rinsed very well.
Time to pick it up to let it dry.
I squeeze it again against the side of the pool to get as much water as I can out without ripping it to pieces. Then slide a sheet underneath it and lift it out to lay it on the grass.
It is going to be VERY heavy, try and distribute the weight evenly to avoid tearing. Let it dry on the grass face down on the sheet, backside up to the sun.
I know, you are worried about birds. I have never had a bird poop on a quilt yet, and we have a lot of birds in the trees. Just try to find an open area of the yard if you can.
But what about big stains like the one in the picture here? Washing didn't do it. Because this is a baby quilt, I put it in my HUGE pot on the stove to keep the water warm and I gently warmed it in a pretty heavy solution of borax. (1 cup borax to one big pot of water.) After a few hours the stain was significantly lightened.
If I had been more aggressive I could have made it all the way white again, but then I risk causing more damage than it is worth it to me just to have a perfectly white back.
Borax is a good place to start for stains. I know I have raved about oxiclean before, and it does have it's place, but borax is a lot gentler and a lot less likely to cause fade, dye bleed or eat holes. If you need to, you can use borax in the kiddie swimming pool too. Try to get some warm water off the stove instead of just cold water from the hose. (Warm, not hot.)
Ok, Sarah. That is all fine and dandy, but I am WAY, WAY too lazy for all that. Then what?
You can put it in the washing machine. I have done it. But there is going to be some damage from that. It could be a small amount that you could live with, it could be a lot. It's really hard to tell until you just do it. Whatever it is, it is VERY unlikely that it will come out exactly as it went in.
I would never put one in the dryer. If it's winter it will have to wait until it gets warm outside to get clean.
Then enjoy! Keep in mind if you are using them for daily use that the more times you have to wash it, the shorter it's life will be.
* The collection is likely over 50 at this point. I picked up this baby quilt at the flea last weekend, and it certainly put me over the 50 mark. I really want to get photographs of them all, and I hope to do that this fall. Close ups of each block are on Flickr.
** Mildew is a whole 'nother beast. If you have that problem, I might be able to help, but you are better off emailing me with pictures.
Labels: vintage quilts