Friday, August 17, 2018

Washing a Vintage Quilt Part II

How I wish there was Smell-o-vision.
You would say, "Oh, yeah!"

It's washed and dried. Let's look at what washing did both good and bad, and then how it was done.

FYI: I snapped these photos under a shady tree today. It's so bright and sunny that it washed out the colors taken in full sun. 


  • I can put my face up to this quilt, and it smells like fabric not dirt. 
  • I've reduced the chance of introducing insects and spiders to my home.
  • I'm free to add it to my collection shelving without fear of transferring a mildewy or a dirty odor. 
  • It won't trigger an asthma attack. I have a problem with dust mites.
  • It's far more pleasant to share at an event.

Note: There was no dye transfer visible anywhere.


I can see a few areas that look stained with dirt rather than dye. (Dye tends to appear more as a bleed or run, and this is only on the high points of one area. Think of the browned areas of a pie crust.) The surface of the water tends to suspend the dirt as the quilt is left to soak, and these high points caught the dirt as they surfaced. It's best to make sure the quilt is completely submerged, but I was being frugal with my water this time. As the water drained the dirt clung to the quilt, and remained on the surface of the fabric. It could be remedied by washing only that section, blotting with a clean towel, and drying again. I will do this before storing the quilt. 

The Quilt Back Before Washing

Notice all the fold lines.

And After

Perhaps not as noticeable in the photos, the back is dramatically cleaner. This is almost a tan colored backing in natural light. Notice the fold lines have nearly disappeared as the fabric has relaxed.

Once again, the quilting pops.

So How Did I Do It?

The washing, soaking, and rinsing are all a slow process. Read Washing a Vintage Quilt Part I. When your water still shows signs of releasing dirt as above, continue to rinse. Do not overuse surfactants (soaps) of any kind as they may be difficult to remove. Dawn Blue Dishwashing Liquid and Oxiclean used in small amounts have worked well for me.

Lifting a Soaking Wet Quilt

While the quilt is still floating freely in the water, I slip a sheet under the entire quilt. This time I used a mattress protector I had handy. Now allow the tub to drain. I pressed very gently to help release more water. Pulling the mattress protector to the high end of the tub, I allowed it to drain several hours until I saw no more run off. 


Using the mattress protector to bear the weight, I lifted the quilt from the tub easily, and laid it in a laundry basket. Outside I went to a covered porch.

Under a Covered Porch
 & Out of Direct Light

I laid the mattress protector down first to protect the quilt while also acting as a way for the water to drain off. Then carefully I began straightening out the quilt to reshape it. This was a hot, August day, but even so the quilt was not drying quickly. I turned the quilt several times over the next few days by folding sections toward the center, moving the damp mattress protector out, and switching to a dry one. 

When the quilt was damp only--think typical clothes coming out of a spin cycle, I lifted it to a drying rack where it was well supported. I allowed the folds to drape down between the bars where they were supported by a lower bar. There was little stress on the fiber at this stage. I then moved it into the house where we have air conditioning, and humidity control to dry fully. 

Never, never store damp textiles! 

Some of you may wonder if I intend to fix the damaged areas of the backing and batting. No, I do not. I'm not a textile conservator, and it would not be worth the effort, in my opinion. But it is cleaner, and usable for demonstrations and examination. Also, I feel much better about getting out the dirt that might cause further deterioration. Did you know, dirt particles wear like tiny abrasives over time? 

If you have a quilt that you are considering giving a bath, carefully check for colorfastness. Check the fabrics, the backing, and also consider the thread. I've seen thread bleed in redwork, too, sadly. And it goes without saying, only wash cotton fibers, and never silks or wool. 

I hope this has helped to give you confidence in caring for your own textiles, but I assume no responsibility for your own experience. This process is from my own experience.

Come on, Doxie girls.
Let's go sew.

Linking up with~
Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Esther's WOW
Midweek Makers
Finished or Not Friday


Linda Swanekamp said...

Thank you. I learned a lot. I have a vintage top that needs to be quilted for a friend and I don't know whether to wash it before backing it or after. So it sits.

KaHolly said...

What a procedure! Fascinating, though. Thanks for taking the time to share this process. I’ve learned so much from you. I know it will be useful in the future, less daunting now that I understand the steps involved.

Izzy said...

What a difference on the backing! Thank you so much for sharing and for linking up at TGIFF! :-)

WAZOO! Quilting said...

For Linda Swanecamp...don't wash just a top! It will turn into a stringy mess. I do longarm quilting as well as quilt restoration, and when I get a dirty top to be quilted, I have to bite the bullet and quilt it first, then do the washing as suggested here. I put the binding on, too, before the washing. Good luck with the project! Do a little test of colorfastness with a Q-tip and water before doing the quilting. You may have to move it around more during the washing and rinsing phase.

Kate said...

The workmanship is gorgeous, definitely worth saving even if it isn't in pristine condition. Thanks for sharing the process.

Susan said...

Wonderful explanation of how you washed, and have ultimately preserved this quilt. Such a great idea to use a mattress protector underneath.

O'Quilts said...

Great post, and of course, stunning quilt

audrey said...

Well Hello to the gorgeous quilt! Such a beauty. So glad you were able to freshen it up a bit! One of these is on my someday bucket list.:)

Rebecca Grace said...

That quilt is AMAZING; well worth the efforts you took to clean and preserve it! I'm wondering about what could be rigged up to facilitate the air drying of the quilt, and thinking of cookie racks and window screens and such... If one washed and air dried quilts frequently enough to make it worthwhile, it would be handy to have a series of snap-together window screens with feet on the back side, so you could put them together in whatever size your quilt warranted and use them to reshape and dry your quilt instead of the mattress pads. The screen mesh would support the quilt but also allow air to circulate so it could dry faster... What do you think?

Unknown said...

This is an excellent article. Sooner or later we will need this information. We will acquire a family quilt or fall in love with one at an auction or sale. Thank you for sharing.

Sandy Panagos said...

Great article and the quilt looks wonderful. I have to say that you are very patient!

Sandy Panagos said...

I've learned a lot from you about the handling of old quilts. Thanks for explaining things so well.