Caring For Your Heritage Quilts

Every vintage quilt has its own set of problems/challenges but there are some guidelines that apply for most old quilts to extend their life.

DON’T wash or dry clean them. It’s very tempting to want to clean your old quilt but old fibers are frail and can easily disintegrate. Never wash or dry clean quilts made with silk or velvet. Instead:

  • DO gently vacuum the quilt to remove dust and surface dirt. Set your vacuum to low power, use the upholstery attachment, and put a piece of netting or mosquito screen between the attachment and the quilt to reduce stress on the fibers.

DON’T try to repair a quilt using a sewing machine. Instead:

  • DO hand stitch weak and open seams. If adding patches, try to match the color as closely as possible but accept that you won’t exactly match missing fabric.

DON’T display them in direct sunlight or under florescent light. Old dyes are very sensitive and can fade in strong light. Instead:

  • DO display your quilts in indirect light away from windows or florescent lights.

DON’T store them in a) cardboard boxes unless the boxes are of archival quality, 2) plastic boxes of any kind, 3) in direct contact with wood such as a drawer or inside a hope chest. Instead:

  • DO store your quilts wrapped in an old sheet or pillowcase to keep dust off.

DON’T store quilts in basements, garages, sheds, storage lockers, or attics. Old fabrics don’t fare well in damp or hot places. Instead:

  • DO store your quilts in a climate-controlled space like a bedroom or living room. Ideally, store your quilts on an unused bed covered by a sheet until you want to display them.

DON’T fold up your quilts and put them in a stack. Instead:

  • DO fold your quilts with as few folds as possible and refold them several times a year to prevent permanent creases.

DON’T let bugs, moths, or rodents snack on your quilts. If your quilt has been infested:

  • DO vacuum your quilt (see above) to remove as many bugs or droppings as possible and place your quilt in a Ziploc plastic bag further sealed with duct tape. Put it your freezer for 10-14 days to kill any remaining pest and let it thaw at room temperature in the bag to prevent condensation. Once completely thawed, vacuum again to remove any dead pests.

DON’T spray old quilts with fabric sprays to remove musty odors. Instead:

  • DO air them out by placing them outdoors flat on the ground in shade with a sheet underneath to keep dirt off. Bring them inside at night. Repeat the airings until the musty odor has been neutralized.

Lastly, DO record as much information you know about who made it, when it was made and where it came from, and keep this information with the quilt so future generations know its history.