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
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
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??