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How to Clean and Care for Handmade Quilts 
 
by Christie Halmick May 19, 2005

Cleaning Your Antique Quilt

Antique quilts need special care. Many quilters advise against dry cleaning or machine washing an heirloom piece. If your quilt is very old or worn it simply may not withstand the motion of the machine or the dry cleaning chemicals. Instead, consider airing your quilt outside on a sunny day. Or you might lightly vacuum with a nylon stocking over the end of vacuum hose in order to remove any dust on its surface. If your quilt has beading, embroidery, or appliqué, you shouldn't vacuum.

You can also hand wash the quilt following these steps. Start by checking for colorfastness. If you are determined to clean the quilt, but don't feel comfortable doing so yourself, or if your quilt is stained, you can search for a qualified quilt conservation or restoration service. Make sure this service has experience working with antique fabrics. Find out exactly how they will clean the quilt. Any cleaning done to antique fabrics could damage or destroy your quilt. Depending on the monetary and personal value of the quilt, you may decide to leave it in the state that it is in rather than risk destroying a priceless piece of work.

Cleaning Your Newly Crafted Quilt

Your newly handmade quilt can be cleaned differently than older quilts. Many newly created quilts can be gently hand- or machine-washed or even dry cleaned. If you purchased your handmade quilt from a quilt store or department store, it should come with care instructions. Read these instructions before cleaning. If you purchased your quilt at a craft fair or yard sale it may not come with care instructions. In that case, use your best judgment and consider the colorfastness test and washing instructions below.

Check Fabric for Colorfastness

Before you wash any handmade quilt, you need to check the fabric for colorfastness. That involves testing the quilt fabric to insure the fabric dyes will not run when washed. If the fabric is not colorfast, it can fade and discolor. To test for colorfastness, rub a white piece of cloth dampened with cold water over each color in your quilt. If any piece bleeds onto the white cloth, don't wash your quilt, at all. If none of the different-colored patches run when tested with cold water, try again with lukewarm water. The same rule applies. If any patch bleeds, you'll know to wash the quilt only in cold water. In general, it is best to wash your handmade quilt either in cold or lukewarm water.

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