How To Best Preserve, Care & Protect Your Quilts Collection?

If you have an heirloom quilt that you would like to keep for future generations, there are some fundamental dos and don’ts that you will need to be aware of.

To begin, the lifespan of materials like fabrics is finite. However, with the right care, the lifespan of fabric can be significantly increased. Whether you intend to use the quilt or keep it in storage will have a significant impact on the methods of care that you select.

If you intend to store it, you should clean it first. When cleaning the quilt, especially if it is quite old, a hand-held vacuum cleaner is the best tool to use.

Keep in mind that water deteriorates the fibers of the fabric. Check for any traces of food or stains on the item. Stains are a favorite food source for insects, so it is imperative that you eliminate any that you discover.

To get rid of the stains, you should use a cleaner that is based on hydrogen, such as the widely used OxyClean products. If you cleaned the stains with a liquid spot remover, make sure the quilt is completely dry before putting it away.

Because quilts and other textiles need to be able to breathe, you should never store them in plastic bags. Plastic can also act as a moisture trap, which can lead to mildew growth on your heirloom quilts. Instead, you should fold them and wrap them in a lightweight fabric such as muslin or broadcloth white.

When you do your yearly spring cleaning (or fall cleaning), take the quilts out of storage, refold them, and then wrap each one in the outer fabric one more time before placing them back in the storage closet. This provides you with the opportunity to inspect the quilts for bugs and to refold them in a different manner in order to prevent permanent folds from forming in the quilts.

Stay away from the temptation to store them in boxes as well. Insects are drawn to the glue that is used in the production of cardboard. Even corrugated cardboard is susceptible to attack from termites. You absolutely do not want any kind of damaging insects to get into your heirloom quilt while it is being stored.

Make use of your common sense when it comes to the storage of your heirloom quilts. You shouldn’t keep them in a closet that has a high risk of developing mold or mildew. Plan to take them out, vacuum (with a hand vac) and refold them on a regular basis.

You will need to have the ability to wash and dry your heirloom quilt in the event that you intend to use it on a bed. Always use the gentlest cycle that your washing machine has to offer, and always set the dryer to the lowest setting possible. However, you should take extra precautions to ensure that your quilt is completely dry before using it so that it does not become mildewed or develop mold spots.

Displaying heirloom quilts by hanging them is not the most effective method. The act of hanging a quilt causes it to deteriorate much more quickly because it pulls on the fabrics, which in turn can cause the fibers to stretch and become damaged. Instead of hanging it on the wall, use the quilt as it was intended to be used: as a covering for your bed.

If you do decide to use your heirloom quilt as bedding, you should take extra precautions to ensure that the quilt is not exposed to direct sunlight. Your bedroom might look lovely and bright if you have a large window, but the sunlight can do terrible things to your quilt over time.

Having said that a bed is the best place to display a quilt, it is necessary to add a disclaimer about this statement. It is not recommended to put a family heirloom quilt on a child’s bed to be displayed. The most important factor is the amount of use that the quilt will get. It’s not uncommon for children to accidentally leave marks on their bedding with crayons or pencils. Stickers with an adhesive that is extremely tacky can ruin a family heirloom.

Children have a higher risk of contracting illnesses like viruses or having issues with incontinence, which means that their bedding will need to be cleaned more frequently. It’s possible that a vintage quilt won’t be able to withstand the frequency and intensity of cleaning required there.

If you have recently purchased or inherited an old wall hanging or lap quilt, you might want to consider using it as a table topper for a table that is rarely used. Never put an antique quilt on a table that gets a lot of use because it will need to be washed more often if something gets spilled on it. To reiterate, in order to avoid sun damage, do not use them on tables that are located in front of windows.

How To Protect Your Quilt?

This concept has a long and illustrious history, but it is one that continues to be relevant today.

Protect the ends of the quilt by setting aside an additional piece of the lining material that is large enough to wrap around the quilt for a depth of six inches on each side of the end. Alternatively, you could attach a piece of calico, cheesecloth, or some other material that is appropriate over each end up to a depot that is five or six inches long. You can either hand-tack this in place or secure it with feather stitches.

This protective strip can be peeled off, washed, and replaced whenever it becomes soiled, while the quilt itself will not need to be washed for a considerable amount of time. Because the lower end of these strips is tacked under the mattress and the upper end is covered by the pillows (or turned back under the top sheep if the bed is partly opened), the appearance of the quilt is not compromised when these strips are used.

Adapted from Adelaide Hechtlinger’s book “American Quilts, Quilting, and Patchwork,” published in 1974

Why do I need a label? 

How frequently do you receive a quilt as a gift or buy one for yourself, and how frequently do you wonder who made the quilt? It’s possible that the quilt was made by an elderly relative, and by the time you took an interest in it, there was no one left to ask about how it was made. It is possible to lose track of a quilt’s history if the quilts are not properly labeled.

Now that you possess such a beautiful quilt, the story of where it came from begins with you. You can use a scrap of muslin to create a label for your product. When signing your labels, you should always use a Pigma pen to avoid any mistakes. This is an archival pen, so it won’t have any negative effect on your quilts. You can also make use of a wide variety of new products that will assist you in making full use of both your computer and your creative abilities.

My recommendation is that you include as much information as you can about the quilt, including its name, the person who made it, the person who quilted it, the year it was made if you know it, and so on. Be sure to note the fact that a quilt has been handed down from one generation to the next on the label, and leave some space on the label for the names of subsequent owners of the quilt.

Keep in mind that your quilt will not be complete until the label has been sewn on.

Do I need to wear white gloves to touch my antique quilt?

It is not necessary to put on white gloves before touching your own quilts; however, it is wise to take some precautions when handling your quilts to prevent them from becoming soiled. White gloves are not required. Here are some fundamental pointers:

Before handling textiles, one should wash their hands, remove any sharp jewelry, and pull back long hair.

Around the textiles, you should not eat, smoke, or drink.

Always store quilts on surfaces that are clean and dry. Do not place textiles directly on, in, or next to cardboard, unsealed wood, or acidic paper that is not rag-based.

How To Remove Marks From Your Quilt Top?

Here is a collection of tips for removing marks from quilt tops:

  • Remove pencil marks with Baby Wet Ones, Spray ‘n Wash
  • Baby shampoo and cold water
  • Orvus quilt soap and warm water
  • Formula 409
  • Fels-Naptha Soap
  • Saturate a cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub it on the quilt; or 3 ounces of water, 1 ounce of rubbing alcohol, and 3 drops of Ivory dish detergent
  • Remove fat chalk marks with plain cold water, dabbing with a clean sponge
  • Use a clean art gum eraser — available at an office supply store
  • Remove ink with hair spray

My quilt has smoke and/or water damage – what do I do?

There are three different degrees of wear and tear that can be inflicted on textiles by smoke. To begin, there is particulate matter that is produced as a direct result of the burning process. This includes the smoke, soot, and ashes. The acidity level of the fabrics becomes dangerously high, and this causes the quilts to become soiled as well. Second, the water that is used to put out the fires frequently makes the already dirty quilt even more so. Last but not least, there is a high risk of contamination from other sources, including additional ashes caused by the movement of objects and mud brought in by people passing through the area.

What is the first thing to do?

The best course of action is to promptly wrap the damaged quilt in plastic and place it in a freezer for an extended period of time. Do not let the quilt dry out; instead, keep it wet (you can do this in the bathtub if you don’t have access to a larger freezer) until you can find one.

The following thing to do is get in touch with a Textile Conservator. You can get a listing of local conservators by contacting the American Institute of Conservators (AIC). After that, this specialist will be able to determine the appropriate course of action for your quilt. It could be washed on a flat screen, put in an ozone chamber, or given the wet and dry cleaning treatment.

More information is available through AIC at

1717 K Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006
202-452-9328 (fax)

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