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Caring For An Antique Quilt


Heirlooms are a very important part of the joy of family history. An antique object, particularly one involving handicrafts, that has come down through the generations is something that should be treasured and looked after to ensure that it remains in optimum condition for future generations. Not only is an antique quilt something to treasure, but it can also teach us a lot about how handicrafts have developed and evolved over the years. If you have something precious like this in your collection, it’s very important to know how to look after and care for it properly. Here’s how to do just that.

Antique quilts

Hundreds of years ago, quilts served a great purpose. These were the days before centrally heated houses and the advent of electricity or even coal. Therefore they were made with the intention of keeping people warm and comfortable. The tradition of quilting can be traced back to ancient Egypt when people began to stitch together three layers of fabric. The top two would be used to seal in a thicker medium of fabric used to help keep people warm. During the violent middle ages, quilting was sometimes used to pad out armor for soldiers and noble men going into battle!

However, it was in the eighteenth century that quilting became more or less what we know today, with women making intricately designed bedding that was not only functional but beautiful to look at too.

This replica of a "Civil War" quilt is made from soft flannel fabrics in cream, navy, and cranberry prints.

Caring for an antique quilt

If you’re lucky enough to possess a very old quilt that has been handed down to you through the family, there are certain things you can do to prevent any further deterioration of the material and keep it looking spick and span.

Keep them clean and dry: Quilts need to be kept on clean, dry surfaces and preferably on their own, away from other textiles, cardboard and acidic papers. Wherever possible they should also be kept away from wood too, though this might prove difficult to do.

Clean hands: Hands should be spotlessly clean and grease free before handling an antique quilt. If possible, wear clean cotton gloves, but if you can’t do that, simply make sure you remove all jewelry and that hair is tied back. Also, don’t eat or prepare food near it to avoid splashing or damaging the fabric further.

Store your quilt properly: A quilt of this nature should be stored somewhere cool, dark and dry. An attic or garage is not suitable because the temperature and humidity are too variable. Ideally, the temperature in the place it is stored should be no higher or lower than sixty five to seventy five degrees Fahrenheit. Do not store it in direct sunlight, as the rays from the sun can fade and damage the delicate fibers. If storing in a box, make sure the cardboard is acid free, try to avoid storing it in anything plastic.

Label the quilt: Once it is stored, label it correctly, if you have the right information to hand. Details such as who made it, the year it was made and the year it was put into storage are all useful for future reference.

Repairing an antique quilt

Sometimes, damage can occur to quilts that are very old. It may have happened many years previously and just been left, or may have happened because of past careless storage. There are ways in which the material can be repaired without too much hassle.

To clean an antique quilt: Experts believe that there really is only one way to clean a precious item like this and that is to very carefully and delicately vacuum it. The quilt should be placed flat out on a clean, dry surface and gone over as carefully as possible with a hand held vacuum cleaner that only has a very low suction and also a HEPA-Filter. Sometimes, washing is the only way, but this must be done with caution. Only use the mildest of detergents and test patch a very small area of quilt before the whole thing is cleaned to make sure the fabric dyes will not run. If possible, immerse the whole thing in lukewarm water in a bath and gently rinse it. Never be tempted to either put it in the washing machine or dry clean it. Remove as much moisture from it as you can by gently pressing on it, then leave out on a clean, dry, non porous surface to dry.

To mend an antique quilt: If the fabric of the quilt has rips or tears then it is possible to mend it yourself. Choose a reputable fabric store that may have discount offers on materials that you need for reasonably priced repairs. You will need to find material that matches the original as closely as possible. Always, wherever possible try and sew by hand with needle and thread rather than machining. Appliqué techniques can be used to sew on new patches of material. In some cases it may also be possible to carry out repairs by sewing over a very fine mesh or gauzy material to protect certain areas from further damage. Light colored chiffon would be a suitable alternative to more expensive repair materials. 

In many ways, looking after and repairing an antique quilt can be just as much fun as making it yourself. The care and time it takes can be absorbing and interesting and reveal so much about the techniques that went into making it. Have fun! 


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