on Storing and Caring for Your Quilt
Have you ever wondered whether
or not your should wash your Great Grandmother's silk and velvet quilt?
Does that antique quilt you've stored in the attic worry you? Have you
ever wanted to display your quilt on the wall in your living room? Caring
for and displaying old textiles can be difficult and expensive, but following
a few simple rules and guidelines can add years to the lives of your antique
textiles. Here are a few of the practices which can help:
Handling Your Quilt
1. Wash hands frequently or wear cotton gloves. Remove sharp jewelry and
tie back long hair before handling textiles.
2. Do not smoke, eat or drink around textiles.
3. Use only pencils for taking notes or for sketching quilts.
4. Do not place any objects such as tools, light fixtures, books and other
personal items on quilts or quilt storage units.
5. Keep quilts on clean, dry surfaces. Do not place textiles directly
on, in or next to cardboard, unsealed wood or non-rag (acidic) paper.
1. Store textiles in a dark, dry place. Attics should be avoided because
generally they have poor ventilation and basements are poor because they
are usually too humid. Note: ideal temperature is 65-75°F and ideal
relative humidity is 45-55%.
2. KEEP QUILTS OUT OF DIRECT SUNLIGHT. The ultraviolet rays in daylight
and fluorescent light break down fabric dyes and speed up the oxidation
of fibers. Brown and black dyes, silks and other delicate fabrics are
particularly sensitive to light.
3. Keep textiles away from insects, mice and other vermin. (Do not use
moth crystals when there is insect infestation -- they are hazardous to
4. Quilts can be stored folded in acid-free boxes or storage units or
rolled around cardboard tubing. If you choose the rolled method of storage,
it's best to purchase acid-free cardboard tubes from an archival supply
vendor (see attached list). If an acid-free tube is not used, cover the
tube with a protective barrier layer of tin foil, then muslin or acid
free tissue. If quilts are stored folded, folds should be padded with
acid-free tissue paper in the folds.
5. If space is at a premium or
if your quilts contain thick stuffed work or embellishments, the folded
method of storage is preferable.
6. Don't stack too many folded quilts on top of each other or else the
weight of all of the quilts will create creases that are hard to get out.
For the same reason, unfold and refold your quilts every 3-6 months to
avoid severe creasing.
7. Acid-free boxes or papers are usually best for storing quilts, but
if unavailable, quilts can be wrapped in clean cotton sheets or washed,
8. Plastics should generally NOT
BE USED for storage. They contain harmful vapors which contribute to the
deterioration of the fabrics. Plastics which are particularly harmful:
dry cleaner's bags, heavy duty garbage bags, garment bags and Styrofoam.
9. Wooden storage containers should be sealed with a protective coating
of polyurethane varnish, then lined with unbleached, washed muslin or
acid-free paper. Metal containers should also be lined with this muslin
10. Newspapers and cardboard boxes are NOT OKAY because they are full
of harmful decaying agents -- just remember how your newspaper looks after
being out in the sun for only a few minutes. Think of what contact with
your quilt can mean!
Part of maintaining good care of your quilt involves keeping with it any
information you have (such as maker's name, date, pattern name, MQP#,
etc.). This information could be typed onto either a piece of washed cotton
or acid-free paper, then loosely basted onto the quilt.
There are two accepted ways of cleaning your quilt, but generally speaking
only one should be used: vacuuming. Lay the quilt out on a large, clean
surface. (If the quilt is very delicate first place a fiberglass or nylon
screen over it.) Then gently pass a low-suction, handheld vacuum with
small brush attachment over the quilt.
Washing (the wet-cleaning method) a quilt can be done but only with great
caution. It is not recommended unless done by a qualified textile conservator.
DON'T WASH YOUR QUILT if it contains any of the following: inked signatures,
a dye that appears unstable, fabrics that are seriously deteriorated,
the use of glazed or silk fabrics, the use of woolen yarns with questionable
dyes or if it has never been washed. Remember that textile fibers are
much more fragile when wet.
If however, you have determined that it is desirable to attempt washing
your quilt, first test wash a small section to make sure that the dyes
are stable and won't run. Once you have decided that it is safe to wash
your quilt, keep in mind the following suggestions:
- Use a very mild detergent such
as Ivory Liquid or Orvus (sold at quilt shops as Quilt Soap) in a solution
of 1/2 ounce of detergent to 1 gallon of distilled, filtered or softened
- Use a container large enough to accommodate the entire quilt at one time (some people recommend using the bathtub).
- Do not agitate the quilt in the water.
- Rinse by pressing down on the quilt with the palm of your hand or with a cellulose sponge.
- Remove excess water by pressing gently with clean white toweling or mattress padding.
- Lift quilt with a towel sling or with both arms so that the weight
is evenly distributed. DO NOT lift by one edge or corner.
- Lay flat to dry on a clean non-porous surface.
NOTE: Historic textiles should NEVER BE PRESSED with a hot iron.
Dry cleaning is NOT RECOMMENDED because the dry cleaning method involves rough agitation of the quilt inside the dry cleaning machine and the dry cleaning solvents may harm some fabrics.
Displaying Your Quilt
One of the most logical places to display your quilt is on your bed, but even there it is wise to take a few precautions. Make sure that the quilt is not in direct sunlight, is away from sources of heat and water, and will not be accessible to pets.
If you want to hang your quilt, there are several accepted safe methods,
three of which are described below:
1. Sleeve Method: Sew a 4"
wide unbleached muslin sleeve along the whole width of the top edge of
the quilt. Use stitches which go through all three layers of the quilt.
Insert a 3/4 inch or 1 inch wooden dowel (sealed with polyurethane varnish)
throughout the sleeve and hang the dowel on the wall or from the ceiling.
2. Velcro Method: Attach a 2" wide strip of the hook side of Velcro
tape onto a wooden board which is slightly shorter than the width of the
quilt. Then machine stitch the remaining portion of Velcro tape onto a
3" wide washed cotton strip. This strip is in turn sewn onto the
quilt using stitches that go through all three layers of the quilt. The
Velcro/cotton strip is then attached to the Velcro strip fastened to the
3. Mounting Method: The most protective way is to mount the quilt on a
fabric-covered wooden framework. First stretch a piece of washed cotton
cloth to a sealed wooden framework (similar to a support for an artist's
canvas). Both the cloth and the framework should be larger than the quilt
itself. Secure the cotton cloth to the back of the frame with rust-free
staples. Then attach the quilt to the cotton cloth by hand-sewing in zigzag
patterns which run parallel to each other throughout the body of the quilt.
A piece of Plexiglass could be used to cover the quilt as long as the
Plexiglass does not rest against the quilt surface. The Plexiglass and
frame should not be airtight. Ventilation in the frame system will prevent
mold and mildew from forming.
NEVER hang a quilt in direct sunlight.
NEVER hang a quilt with clip-on metal curtain hangers. The weight of the
quilt gradually creates small tears where it is clipped.
NEVER hang a quilt by directly tacking or nailing it to the wall.
Quilts that are hung should be
rested periodically, because of the stress that occurs over extended lengths
Quilts that are hung in the open
should be periodically vacuumed to keep dust from damaging the fibers.
American Quilter's Society, Proctecting
Your Quilts: A Guide for Quilt Owners, Paducah, KY: American Quilter's
Gunn, Virginia, "The Care
and Conservation of Quilts," American Quilt Study Group Technical
Guide, American Quilt Study Grou, NB, 1988.
Mailand, Harold, F., Consideration
for the Care of Textiles and Costumes: A Handbook for the Non-Specialist,
Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1980. An inexpensive basic guide to the cleaning,
storage and exhibition of historic textiles, it is available from the
Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1200 West 38th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana
Orlofsky, Patsy, "The Collector's Guide for the Care of Quilts in
the Home." The Quilt Digest 2, San Francisco: Kiracofe and
Kile, 1984, pp. 58-69.
Puentes, Nancy O'Bryant, First
Aid for Family Quilts, Moon Over the Mountain Publishing Co., Wheatridge,
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
The Henry Ford-preservation services
The following list has been compiled
as an aid in locating supplies and does not constitute an endorsement
of either particular companies or their products.
Serious Quilt Care
Light Impressions Corporation
P.O. Box 787
Brea, CA 92822-0787
100 North Road
McElhattan, PA 17748-0280
New York, NY 10012
(also carries lining materials & crepeline)
University Products, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01040
Rising Paper Company
Housationic, MA 01236
Process Materials Corporation
301 Veterans Boulevard
Rutherford, NJ 07070
Conservation Materials Ltd.
Doug and Dorothy Adams
340 Freeport Boulevar
Sparks, NV 89431
The Hollinger Corporation
9401 Northeast Drive
Fredricksburg, VA 22408
6340 Bandini Blvd.
Commerce, CA 90040
The Preservation Station
P.O. Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
40 Eisenhower Drive
Paramus, NJ 07652
Museum Services Corporation
1107 East Cliff Road
Burnsville, MN 55337-1514
P.O. Box 48
West Chesterfield, MA 01084
* Fiberglass Screening and Polyurethane Varnish - any local hardware store
* Cardboard Tubing for Roll Storage Method - carpet suppliers
The above information was compiled
in 1987 by Marsha MacDowell and Lynne Swanson of the Michigan State University
Museum. It was updated by Mary Worrall, Beth Donaldson, and Lynne Swanson
in 2003. For more information on quilt care go to our links