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Friday, October 21, 2016

I've learned some hard lessons by trying to use my own methods for cleaning soiled older quilts. Thank heaven that I haven't yet ruined a newer quilt that I made. My children bring their graduation quilts to me to clean for them because they worry about damaging them.

One old quilt top I got about 40 years ago had many lives as a tree skirt, a table cloth and as a quilt mounted on stretcher bars to hang on my office wall. It had some brown spots so I dabbed bleach on the spot which pretty much took care of the problem. That is, until later when the spots became holes. I didn't know then what I know now (Jeesh, how many times have I said that in my life?). Bleach is destructive to fabric and never goes away. There are also cautions about using enzymatic cleaners that can also cause the fabric to develop holes.

I have had luck using an oxygen activated cleaner like Oxyclean. I use about a quarter cup in about 5 gallons of water. This is a very weak solution of the cleaner. I soak the top or quilt for a short time, maybe 15 minutes, and then I dump the bucket into my stationary tub (lined with old towels) and run cool water over the fabric, swishing it gently. I drain the water as I go, then leave the quilt sit on the towels as the water seeps out (maybe 30 minutes). The towels at the bottom of the tub help when lifting the quilt. I lift the towels, not the quilt, in an effort to put as little stress on the quilt fibers as possible. I then dump the quilt on a fresh set of towels and use more towels to blot up as much of the water as possible. When the quilt is finally light enough to lift unaided (without the towels), I move it to a place where I can spread it out flat to let it dry. In good weather, it's on my lawn in the shade. In cold or otherwise inclement weather, it's on my living room floor on top of layers of towels (yes, I have a huge supply) and a clean white sheet. I try to turn the quilt several times a day, flipping it gently and spreading it as flat as possible. I've had quilts dry in hours on the lawn on a warm breezy day. I've also had a quilt take a week on the floor even though I replaced the damp towels, so it's not always a time efficient process.

Because unquilted tops are lighter and easier to handle, it's tempting to think of using the washing machine. I have not done this. I guess that I've ruined enough clothes and bedding to be wary even though we have a high capacity washing machine. The extra time it takes to hand wash is very much worth it.

The results of my washing method are brighter, dirt free quilts, ready to be repaired or restored. Some times a very smelly quilt can be freshened considerably by this method. I do look over any quilt that I am considering for a wash for fabric content and any other weird things, like pins or long loose threads. Sometimes I sew a larger seam closed because I'm worried that the washing process will dislodge batting or threads that will end up tangled.

That's my washing protocol but I can't always wash. Next time I'll share other cleaning methods I've tried.

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