Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring cleaning

To wash or not to wash. That is always the question when you have an old/vintage/heirloom quilt that is dirty. Most experts would simply tell you no - don't wash it. But some will also tell you to go ahead, clean it, but very gently. So, what's the real answer?

Well, the real answer is -- it depends! How dirty is it? Try carefully vacuuming it by putting a layer of tulle over the nozzle on your vacuum's upholstery attachment. Put a clean sheet on the floor or on a bed. Please the quilt you want to clean on top of the sheet. Slowly and gently go over the quilt with the covered nozzle barely touching the quilt. If possible, use a low suction setting (my vac doesn't have this option). Turn the quilt over and vacuum the back side. Did this help "clean" the quilt? If not, there are other options.

You can gently wash your quilt in the bathtub. This is definitely risky, and should only be attempted if the quilt is truly dirty and/or stained. But first make sure the quilt can take the cleaning. If the fabric is torn or worn, or not even there in places, don't wash it. Washing it will probably cause more damage to the fabric. If the fabric is intact, next consider the age and the colors. The age will often tell you if the colors are fast or if they will bleed. If you can, test the most inconspicuous spot you can find where a color abuts a light fabric. Lightly mist a small area with cool water. Let it sit. Did the darker color bleed onto the light color? STOP. No matter how dirty the quilt is, it is better than ending up with a tie-dyed quilt of bleeding colors. If the colors didn't bleed, there is a good chance they are fast and can be washed.

Wet cleaning a quilt taking time. Start your project early on a warm, dry day. It will take most of the morning to wash the quilt, and about 24-hours to dry it. First clean the bathtub and rinse away all residue from the cleaning agent. Line the tub with a clean white sheet. Fill the tub half full with cool/tepid water. If the quilt is really dirty you may want to add a quilt soap such as Orvus (available at most quilt shops). Some people suggest using Oxyclean as a soak but we really don't know the long-term effects of this agent so I don't recommend using it. Orvus has been proven safe for vintage fabrics but you can clean your quilt without detergents of any kind. Just soak it in plain water.

Another alternative for washing your quilt is to soak it outside on a sunny day. Follow the steps above but use a child's swimming pool lined with a sheet instead of a bathtub (unless you have an outdoor tub!) Set it in a shaded area or cover the quilt with another clean sheet.

Either way, put the quilt in the tub, on top of the sheet, in sort of an accordian fold. Make sure the water entirely covers the quilt. Then soak, soak, soak. Check the water every now and then. If it's dirty, drain and refill. Do not let the water run directly onto the quilt. Fold the quilt and sheet(s) back out of the way while filling the tub/pool. Continue soaking/draining/filling until the water is clear. At this point, the quilt is probably as clean as it is going to be.

Drain the tub or pool. Let the quilt and sheets sit until as much water as possible has drained. Now, get a partner to help with the next step. DO NOT LIFT THE QUILT ALONE! Did I state that loud enough? DO NOT WRING THE QUILT! Got that one too? With your partner at one end of the tub and you at the other, gather up the quilt in the sheet -- lifting by the sheet, not by the quilt. It's going to drip and be messy, but please resist squeezing the quilt. Let it drip, then place it in a tub or bin to carry outside. Once outside, choose a shady or part shade spot. You can dry the quilt on the lawn, but it will dry faster if you can provide airflow both on top and on the bottom. You can do this by placing a couple of clean screen doors on some sawhorses and placing the sheet/quilt layers on top of the screen doors. If you don't have a way of keeping it off the ground, unfold the wet sheet and spread it on the lawn. Very carefully unfold the wet quilt and spread it out on top of the sheet. Do not pull the sides, just gently open the quilt on top of the sheet. Now taken a second clean sheet and spread it on top of the wet quilt. This sheet protects the quilt from the elements, such as birds and other animals, tree sap, the neighbor's dog, etc. Now wait. And wait. And wait. It is going to take a while for the sheet to dry -- the warmer and drier the weather, the faster the quilt will dry, but it still isn't going to be in any hurry and neither should you. Eventually it will be dry and you will be able to pick up the quilt and enjoy its new clean beauty.

Here are a couple web sites with more information on cleaning quilts: http://www.museum.msu.edu/glqc/quiltcare.html and

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Quilting 101

My BFF came over the other day for some help with her first quilt. She had taken a beginning quilting class and had finished her quilt top and was ready to put it all together and quilt it. Her blocks were beautiful - points matched, seams were straight, she obviously had a good instructor and she is a fast learner. Unfortunately the class didn't really cover sandwiching, quilting and binding. The instructor just sort of said do this, then this, and then do this and you're done. Well, not quite. A perfectly stitched quilt, whether your first or your 51st, can be ruined by poor sandwiching and quilting.

So we spent a couple hours on putting together the sandwich, which thanks to Mary Honas (of Harper's) I had learned the right way after doing it wrong for several years. Once the layers were together and smoothed out as flat as possible we began to pin. Every 2 inches on this wall-size quilt. Why pin every 2"? Well, if you don't want puckers and pleats you're going to have to place the pins close together and because of the construction of the blocks, 2" was what was called for. Whenever I'm teaching or showing a new quilter how to do this I always stress pinning close together. I understand it seems like a bit of overload, but the end results are worth it. I always show them quilts I've made where I pinned every 12 inches thinking that was enough. The mess, especially on the back of the quilt, usually convinces them.

We ended the afternoon talking about my favorite books for beginning quilters. I have two: the Basics by Kathy Delaney (Kansas City Star Quilts; pickledish.com) and Your First Quilt Book (or it should be) by Carol Doak (That Patchwork Place). I am constantly referring back to these books to remind me how to do something, or to make sure I'm doing it "right". What are your favorite beginning quilting or how-to-quilt books? I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where does time go when we're not looking? It's been way too long since I updated this blog. But I'm back and I'm going to try to be better about writing. Happily I've found time to sew and have made a few quilts and made a jacket for myself. I haven't sewn clothing for decades but the jacket was easy and I love it. Watch for photos in the near future.

Last fall my nephew presented me with a quilt challenge. He handed me a large piece of camouflage fabric - medium weight twill -- and asked me to make a quilt for him. "As big as you can" were his instructions.

My immediate response was, "You're kidding, right? No, he wasn't kidding. But I'm happy to say I did it and actually like the resulting quilt. I used snow ball blocks and the alternating corners turned out looking like the crosshairs on a rifle scope. The quilt measures about 64" x 72".

My nephew has two German Shorthair dogs, Sooner and Rosie, that hunt with him. I just happened to have a fat quarter piece of flannel with German Shorthairs on it. So I fussy cut the dogs and put them in the corners. the corners have an extra strip where I embroidered the dog's names. That will make the quilt extra special, I hope.

With the leftover scraps I made a small (42" x 42") quilt for his grandson so they can have sort of matching quilts.

Aren't these quilts fun? I never would have thought about making a camouflage quilt if he hadn't asked me. I hope they both like them and spend lots of hours cuddled up together in their Man Quilts!