How do I Care for Heirloom Quilts?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In order to care for heirloom quilts, it is important to protect them from elements such as sun, excessive humidity, various kinds of pressure, strain that can damage their fibers and, of course, dirt. Because heirloom quilts are made of fabric, they are not especially good at standing the test of time. If one follows a few steps to care for heirloom quilts, however, their life span can be significantly extended. These steps include taking care with the way a quilt is displayed, how it is cared for during cleanings, and how it is stored.

It is important to protect heirloom quilts from light damage.
It is important to protect heirloom quilts from light damage.

One of the most important steps in caring for heirloom quilts is protecting them from light damage. Sun and even artificial light can cause the colors in heirloom quilts to fade. The way in which the colors fade and the speed at which they will lose their vibrancy depends on the type of fabrics and dyes used to make the quilts. Some quilts are made with dyes that are quite colorfast while others will fade rather quickly. No matter what kind of fabric and dye heirloom quilts are made from, they should always be displayed in areas in which they are protected from direct sunlight and bright artificial lights.

It is important to be very careful when cleaning heirloom quilts. Many people who are knowledgeable about quilts and quilting advise heirloom quilt owners against cleaning their quilts with water. Dry cleaning is also to be avoided as the chemicals involved in the process can damage the fabric. One of the best ways to clean heirloom quilts is to vacuum them using very gentle methods. Some people place a small screen on top of the quilt and vacuum the fabric through the screen, moving it from area to area during the cleaning process.

When storing heirloom quilts, do not place them in plastic bags or plastic tubs. It is important that the fabric is allowed to breathe. Also, do not store the quilts at the bottom of a large trunk or tall pile of bed linens. Putting this sort of pressure on the quilts can cause them to strain along their folds, which can weaken the fabric and even cause it to rip. Instead, place heirloom quilts closer to the top of a trunk or pile and make sure that, each time they are stored, they are folded in a different pattern so that creases and tears do not appear.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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