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Many people are only familiar with one type of quilt: the kind Grandma made from old clothing and polyester double knit. The colors clash, the corners don’t match, and she lets her grandkids use it to make forts and to throw on the grass during picnics. But there are many other kinds of quilts and those may require a bit more care.
First decide what kind of quilt you have and how long you would like it to last. An art quilt or wall hanging may have different environmental enemies than the quilt that is used on your bed on a daily basis. The fabrics in an antique or vintage quilt are more brittle and delicate than those in a quilt made last year. And the quilt you have been hand quilting for the last five years should become a family heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation. The more valuable the quilt is to you, the more careful you will want to be when it comes time to display or store your quilt.
If you plan on hanging your quilt, give it the proper support. Do not hang it from the corners. Instead, hand sew a tube of fabric the width of your quilt to the back along the top edge, being careful that the thread does not show on the front of your quilt. (Please note, for antique quilts many experts recommend that the stitches go through all three layers so the weight of the quilt is evenly distributed.) Then, slip a dowel or café curtain rod through the sleeve and set the dowel on nails or brackets placed on either side of your quilt.
Next, choose a place for your quilt that you would be comfortable living in too. Kitchens and bathrooms are generally not the best locations for quilts. Bathrooms may be too humid, encouraging mildew. Kitchens may have strong odors when you are cooking and these smells can embed themselves in the fiber of your quilt. When possible, do not place a quilt in the same room as a smoker. If you are storing your quilt, basements and garages are usually too cold or damp while attics are typically too hot and dry. Any of these extremes can damage the fabric in you quilt.
Whether you are hanging a quilt on the wall or using it on a bed, be sure to consider the lighting. Both direct sunlight and strong artificial lighting can cause fading. My mother has a wonderful salmon colored, Drunkard’s Path quilt that was made in the 1930s. It is in beautiful condition except for one side that was apparently next to a sunny window. In that section, the salmon fabric is almost white and the cloth has disintegrated so much that the batting shows through. So, remember to keep curtains closed whenever possible. If you are displaying a quilt you made, keep a few scraps of fabric and use them for comparison when you are inspecting your quilt for fading.
It’s not hard to care for a beautiful quilt. Mostly, we just need to be aware of what we can do to protect the quilts we love.
Article originally published August 2000
© 2000, Maria Elkins