Antique Quilt Care

antique care cleaning handmade how to care for quilts quilt quilts textiles tips vintage

"A quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul."

Have you inherited or purchased any old, vintage, or antique handmade quilts?  Lucky you!!  Quilts are a true work of art.  But, as many know, old quilts are prone to being dirty, dusty, stained, torn and tattered, requiring some cleaning – but you must take extra-loving care to prevent further damage to these fragile pieces.


Even with the age of antique and vintage textiles, they are often more rugged and durable than you expect.  Older textiles are generally colorfast (due to previous washings).  The seamstress who created the pieces fully intended for them to be passed down to future generations.


Even though family heirloom quilts are often stored in cedar chests and trunks for safe-keeping, they still can regularly “storage-stains” or “age-spots” which are in no way related to whether quilts were put away clean or not-so-clean.  Do not fret; there are some options to help with these problems.



Please note: I do not guarantee any method you may choose to try, and I advise you to proceed with caution at your own risk


The “safest” (and I use that term guardedly) way to clean an old quilt is in the bathtub.  Although cumbersome, it lessens the tension on the fibers and prevents excessing movement while wet.


Using a drop cloth or large light-colored sheet, fold it into a fan shape (back and forth accordion pleat style) and place it in the bottom of a dry tub.  Place one quilt on top of the drop cloth or sheet.  Run cold water into the tub enough to cover the quilt and let it soak for a few minutes, gently working the water through the fibers with care.


If you prefer some type of cleaner, be extra watchful.  Use an extra-gentle, chemical-free detergent (such as baby shampoo, “free” simple soaps with no additives or harsh chemicals or scents).  You can also use white vinegar (following specific steps to prevent damage) after the detergent step.   Please do not think that more is better.  In this case, the least amount you can use, the better.  For reference, a small cap full to a full tub of water.


There are also cleaners specifically for fragile linens and quilts.  They are Restoration Fabric Restorer or All American Quilt Wash, and I have used them both with good results.  Please read all the directions thoroughly before using either of these products. 


After you have allowed your quilt to soak for 10-15 minutes, drain all the water out of the tub and refill with cold water again.  Do not wring or twist the fabric.  Depending on the degree of grime, you may have to drain and fill several times until the water appears clear.  On the second-to-final fill, you can add a splash to a cup (depending on the amount of water in the tub) of white vinegar and allow to soak for 10-20 minutes.  Lastly, drain and fill with cold water to neutralize the vinegar.


After the final drain, now comes the hardest part.  Please, no wringing or twisting.  This is a 2-3-person job.  Lift the quilt up as flat as possible and allow as much water to drip out into the tub as you can.  A wet quilt is a heavy thing so, be prepared.   


An alternate drying method is a good ole-fashioned clothesline.  Do not hang by one edge with clothespins but drape the quilt over the line so that it hangs down equally on both sides.  This prevents undo stress on the fibers and allows for air circulation. 


In the event you find it necessary to attempt cleaning during the Winter months, you can hang the quilt over the shower rod and lay towels down to catch the excess water dripping as it dries.  It will take much longer to dry inside, so be prepared to wait.


A dryer is a no-no, in my opinion.  Putting fragile textiles in a dryer can cause unnecessary damage.  Also, a dryer will set in wrinkles and create an ironing nightmare.


Ironing is recommended.  You will want to iron until the fabrics are completely dry, through and through.   Use a dry iron - no steam.  If there is any embroidery, raised stitching or appliques on the front of the quilt, iron it on the back to prevent damage to the detailing.  After ironing, drape the quilt over a bed, a drying rack, a sofa or any other surface to allow it to cool and completely dry.  Once it is dry and cool, place it on your bed and enjoy!


If you are storing, there are some important steps to follow to reduce chance of further damages.  Store your quilts separately and store them cleaned, un-ironed (ironing before storing will cause creases, wrinkles and, even, cracking) and loosely rolled in acid-free tissues.


Never, ever, EVER store quilts or any antique/vintage linens in plastic.  Also, do not store in such a way that the quilts can touch any wood.  The acids in the wood will leach out causing staining.  Make sure to store in a controlled space - no fluctuations of extreme heat or cold - so, no garages, attics, outbuildings, storage units or utility sheds.


Although it may seem like a lot of work, quilts are a beautiful addition to any home and well worth the effort.



 2020 © Celtic Acres Farm LLC d/b/a Our Painted Farmhouse


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