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Caring for Your Handmade Quilt

Recently I wrote an article introducing readers to quilting. As we move from consumerism to producing, and from convenience to making and caring for things by hand, skills like this are going to be more important than ever.

Now that you have some idea how to quilt (as with anything, practice and making a few mistakes will be the norm) understanding how to care for your quilt properly will be paramount.

For two reasons, throwing your quilt in the washer and then the dryer isn’t going to work. As we continue to embrace the off-the-grid lifestyle, the convenience and expectation of being able to just let a machine – an electric one at that – do everything for us just isn’t part of a prepper lifestyle. Part of inching closer to a self-sustaining existence means learning how to do things as our ancestors did. It isn’t always the easiest method, but we aren’t here to take the easy way out, are we?

For this reason, quilting, knitting, sewing, and cook from scratch are going to be skills that are more important to learn as we move toward an uncertain future. But unlike factory-produced clothes and bedspreads, caring for these items takes great care and patience, as did the work it took to create such beautiful pieces.

Now that you have your quilt made, knowing how to properly care for it will be the next step. After all, you want to turn this handmade thing of beauty from something useful and practical into an heirloom, which hopefully can be handed down to the next generation.

First Things First: Handling Your Quilt

Long before you should concern yourself with cleaning your quilt, you need to know how to handle it on a daily basis, which will minimize the need and frequency of cleaning it. Never eat or drink on it. As winter approaches you almost can’t wait for those nights when you can cozy up to a fire, your latest favorite book in hand, with a glass of wine (or perhaps something stronger) on the table beside you. Maybe a little snack to nibble on will complements that beverage nicely. Wrapped up in a homemade quilt goes that extra mile to keeping you warm and snuggly. Wonderful as this image sounds, to keep your quilt free of food and avoid spills (wine is so hard to get out of fabrics), switch out your quilt for something you won’t kick yourself when that stain won’t loosen up.

When handling your quilt, be sure to wash your hands beforehand. If you tend to have oily hands or you work a lot outside and can’t, no matter how hard you try, remove the dirt from underneath your fingernails, wear gloves when making your bed or moving it from one room to another. We surprise ourselves all the time to see that stain on something and wonder how the heck it got there. It’s usually transferred from our hands, which we were certain were clean.

Make sure your quilt is top dog on your bed – lay nothing on top (except perhaps a clean cotton flat sheet) and discourage your feline furball from falling in love with it. We all know how possessive cats are with everything that is yours and smells like you. We leave our scent on everything and fabric has a magnificent way of absorbing odors – both good and bad. Although you can’t always smell your faint scent, your precious purring love bug can and as she is loving your smell, she can start her little kneading number and not only is her fur everywhere, her nails, which she refuses to let you trim too often, are now snagged in the stitching. How on earth can you get mad at her as she looks at you with that sweet expression?

If your cat doesn’t listen when you tell her “off” (and what cat does?), you will need to keep her from being anywhere near it.

Another reason your quilt must be the uppermost thing on your bed is that they crease very easily. Once a crease is in there, you’ll have a heck of time removing it.

And speaking of odors, if you smoke – cigarettes or a pipe – don’t smoke in the room where you keep your quilt. You should preferably smoke outside and ensure all the doors are closed, which minimizes lingering smoke from entering the home at all. If you are a smoker, your sense of smell may not detect the odor your cigarettes or pipe left behind.

If your bed is underneath a window with blinds that stay open most of the time, you will need to remove the quilt during the hours when the sun directly hits it. Sun oxidizes fibers and can, over time, destroy the dye compounds. The easiest solution is to close your curtains or blinds. If your curtains are sheer, you’d be best served by making some that are opaque and don’t let the sunlight in. What’s more annoying than fading is fading unevenly. Half the quilt is its original colors while the other half has faded. You’ll cry to see this, trust me!

When storing your quilt, only do so in a dark place that never sees light. However, a caveat is that you don’t want to do so in a place in the house that doesn’t breathe. For that reason, an attic isn’t a good place if it doesn’t have proper ventilation. Along with breathing, temperature is crucial. Basements tend to be too damp and humid. The perfect temperature is between 65-75°F (18-24°C), with the humidity somewhere between 45 and 55%. It should go without say that quilts should not be anywhere in the home where mice and moths can get to it. Of course, if you have a cat, you probably don’t have mice. But if you have moths in the house (and who doesn’t?), it’s better to use cedar rather than moth balls. Mothball smells can permeate the quilt and they aren’t good for your health.

Storing Your Quilt

Despite your inclination to want to store your quilt in another room for protection, you are actually better off storing it on a bed. If this happens to be the room your feline wrecking machine – oops, I mean love bug – likes to sleep, just place a cotton sheet atop the quilt and make sure you watch those claws of hers!

But if you don’t have this option and want to remove it from your bed, there are suggestions you can follow for proper storage.

To store your quilt and have it looking as good the day you remove it as the day you placed it in storage, rolling it is best. Some people like to fold them, but then you do run the risk of creasing it. If you do fold it, make sure it’s loosely folded and that whatever you are putting it in is larger than the quilt, so it’s not pressing on the quilt, thus causing creases. Place non-acidic tissue paper at the folds so as to further protect those vulnerable areas from creasing.

Some people (my late grandmother, for example) would fold it in a couple of large cotton flat sheets and then would fold it like an accordion. Using sheets like this can also work when rolling your quilt prior to storage.

Once a quilt is rolled, it can be placed in a king-sized pillowcase to protect it from dust and dirt. If you are storing more than one quilt, never stack one on top of another. You may as well just sit on them because by stacking them, you will get creases in them.

Never forget your quilt is stored away. Every six months (and more frequently is fine), remove your quilt from wherever it’s stored and roll or fold in the opposite direction.

Removing Your Quilt From Storage

When it’s time to remove your quilt from storage, either to refold and re-store it or to use again for the next winter, you will want to allow it to air out first. The best way to lay your quilt out for airing is to lay a sheet over the bed and place the quilt on top. However, if you feel it’s a little musty and want to take it outside, lay a sheet down on whatever surface you are going to lay the quilt on top of. Make certain the surface is flat and won’t crease it. For this reason, you never want to lay it on a table that is smaller than the quilt or dangling between two chairs, and you never want to hang it on the laundry line. Apart from ensuring you’ll end up with a misshapen quilt, uneven exposure to the sun is guaranteed.

Washing Your Quilt

You can wash your quilt, but to keep it looking its best, you really don’t want to wash it any more frequently than once every five years. I realize this doesn’t sit well with the clean freaks and germaphobes among us, but it’s really best for your quilt. By handling it properly, you really shouldn’t need to wash it any more frequently.

Use a very mild soap—not one with detergent in it. Most commercial dish soap and laundry soap have detergents in them. Sulfate-free (detergent-free) shampoo is great. And assuming that baby shampoo doesn’t have sulfates is a bad mistake to make. Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo, for example, has three different types of detergent in it.

To actually wash your quilt, your best bet is to lay it flat and saturate a cloth in your soap/shampoo and use the now-damp cloth in a circular motion. Take it section-by-section, rubbing gently and re-soaking the cloth as necessary. Never use anything sharp – even your nails—on your quilt. If you find a stubborn stain, just keep rubbing it gently until it’s out. A little solution of salt and lemon can help. Never dunk your quilt in anything. You guarantee that it won’t ever be the same shape every again.

To dry your quilt, lay out a sheet in a low-traffic area and place the quilt on top of it. Turn it over a couple of times to ensure evenness in drying. Given the number of layers in your quilt, it may take a day or two, depending on how humid your climate is. Make sure it’s completely dry.

You may also use a lint roller on it as needed – for cat hair and loose pieces of dirt. I do know people who use those hand-held vacuums on them. I have never done this; I am too nervous. I wouldn’t if you have embroidered embellishments into your quilt. If you have any doubts about vacuuming it, then follow your gut. Just do your best to keep it free of lint, dust, and dirt and wash it as directed above. You can, of course, spot treat it, but again, only with a detergent-free shampoo or soap.

Give Your Quilt the TLC it Needs

As with everything, your quilt’s care will work its way into your daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual routines. Initially it might seem like an awful lot of work to care for it. But when you think of it, for something that is made by hand, something that took weeks or months of love sewn into every square, doesn’t it deserve every ounce of energy to care for it?

And who knows? If you care for it properly and teach your children and grandchildren to respect it the same way, yours too may one day wind up in a museum.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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