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Caring For Your Quilts

How to keep your quilts looking great!

Patchwork QuiltQuilts are precious items, often lovingly passed down to the next generation. In years past, quilting wasn't just a hobby. Large families and low wages meant that mothers had to make quilts from scratch in order to keep the family warm in the winter. Millions of quilts were hand-crafted from any and all available materials.

Old clothing (blue jeans, overalls, shirts, jackets, etc) was cut up into small squares and stitched together resulting in one-of-a-kind patchwork quilts that were beautiful and functional. Many of these wonderful quilts still exist as cherished family heirlooms.

My mother worked in sales for many years. She lived out of a suitcase as she traveled all over the country, but that didn't prevent her from handcrafting some of the most beautiful needlepoint and cross-stitch pieces that I've ever seen.

When Mom retired, she quickly covered up the walls of her home with her striking works of art and kept the local craft shops in business. After she had given her favorite items to her children and filled every white space in her home, she decided to start making quilts by cross-stitching or needlepointing squares that would be sewn together by the town's quilting expert.

I was lucky enough to receive one of these amazing quilts. But because my children were small (and messy), I didn't want to leave it laying on a bed where it would likely get smeared with peanut butter and jelly or marked up with crayons or a permanent marker. So I folded my quilt up and put it in my closet inside a plastic bag that a bedspread had come in.

Well, the next time Mom came to visit, she went searching for that quilt. I assured her that it was securely packed away  where it would stay safe from the kids and other harmful things. Boy, was I wrong! That day Mom taught me the do's and don'ts of properly storing quilts.

First, the don'ts:

  • Never store quilts in plastic of any kind, even if your bedspread came in it. They're simply not the same.
  • Don't store them in hot or humid locales. If the ambient temperature feels comfortable to you, then it's okay for your quilt also. But if the air in your town stays muggy you shouldn't store a quilt! Leave it out where it can breathe.
  • Don't store quilts in garages, basements, or attics. They make attractive bedding for rodents and insects which will gleefully destroy them.
Now, the do's:
  • Store your quilt in a sheet or pillowcase. You can also roll it onto a muslin-covered tube.
  • Place a large piece of fabric between the sheet or pillowcase and your quilt to protect it from the harmful acids in the wood particles.
  • Every six months, when the humidity is low and the wind is blowing, allow your quilts to air out outside, but keep them out of direct sunlight.
  • Refold your quilts every 90 days to prevent leaving a permanent crease in them. To help eliminate fold lines, crumple up some acid-free tissue paper and place it in the creases.
If you display or actually use your quilts (and isn't that why we make them in the first place?), You should follow these guidelines to help your quilts last longer and retain their beauty:
  • Don't place your quilts in direct sunlight or the colors will fade and the fabric will age prematurely.
  • If you notice any rips or tears, repair them right away. This will help lengthen the life of your quilt.
  • Clean up any spills immediately. Washable quilts should be washed in cold water only. Quilts like mine, with the delicate cross-stitching fabric and thread, should be dry cleaned by an expert.
  • Before you wash your quilt, test the fabric to see if the colors might run. Use cold water on a white towel to test each color.
  • Never place quilts in your dryer or hang them on a
    clothesline. Instead, lay them flat between two sheets on your lawn in the shade.
Quilts are wonderful heirlooms that you can hand down to your children who can then do the same. This patchwork "chain of love" will provide each succeeding generation with the beauty and nostalgia that you now enjoy from your quilts. Just make sure you pass along instructions for caring for quilts as well!

Joyce Moseley Pierce is a freelance writer and the owner of Emerson Publications.

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