How to Care for a Hand Made Quilt

 Mary Ellen Cummings

A question that is often asked concerns the care of a hand-made quilt. There is no one type of care, in my estimation, as there is no one type of quilt. Unfortunately, most of the people ask me this question after they have "cleaned" a quilt and are dismayed at the results.

Antique quilts and very old quilt tops require special care—in storage and cleaning. I will address these in another column.

At this time, let us start with the easiest quilt to clean—the work or utility quilt that is made primarily for use as a bedcover. This quilt may be pieced and quilted by machine. It is probably a pattern with few cut pieces or a crazy quilt made of cotton fabric. The key words here are "machine" pieced and quilted of a uniform with cotton fabric

I have found that this type of quilt can be safely laundered in a washing machine, but should be washed in a mild detergent such as Woolite. A quilt paste is also available, sold at fabric stores and through quilting supply catalogs. It is sold under the name of Orvus. Oddly enough, I have read that the shampoo for horses can also be used.

Use warm or cool water, gentle or delicate cycle. Fill washer; add detergent and agitate one minute, then add the quilt. Agitate no more than five minutes—or jostle with the hands. Put washer on spin cycle until time for the rinse fill up. Shut off the machine and gently move the quilt from the sides of the washer tub.

Reset the rinse, using same temperature water and procedure as in washing. Do not use bleach or fabric softeners Remember that pulling or tugging on the quilt may break stitches. Remove from washing machine gently.

I then hang my utility quilt on an umbrella type outdoor line, using two parallel lines and many clip type clothes pins. Do not drape over lines.

I have never used a dryer for my quilts, but people who do should use a delicate cycle. The large drum dryers in laundromats are ideal. Do not forget a wet quilt is heavy and threads can be easily broken.

The second type of quilt may also be machine pieced but hand quilted with single strand quilting thread. Some are quilted with 100% cotton thread. Both types of thread are easier to break and rip than machine locked stitches. This quilt can be washing machine laundered, but requires even more gentle handling.

Do not wash quilts every time you change sheets if you want them to last indefinitely. Tossing a quilt in a dryer on air will freshen the quilt and remove unwanted dust and lint. Using a damp terry cloth towel with a little fabric softener gives quilts a clean smell.

Some quilt care specialists recommend soaking and squeezing a quilt in the bathtub to wash it. I do not like this method because, as I said, a wet quilt is heavy, even after a washer spin cycle. Imagine how wet and heavy it is after a bath in the tub.

With this method you must spread the wet, and squeezed (not wrung) quilt on a white cotton sheet spread on the lawn grass. Then cover with another white sheet and leave until dry.

What if you don’t have a lawn? What if you do and the neighbor mows his grass or washes his car? What if a flock of birds fly over?? 

Read other Quilting articles by Mary Ellen Cummings