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Collecting Mania: Caring For Quilts & Linen

Updated on May 29, 2010

Quilts

Quilts are one of America's greatest folk arts, combining self-expression and artistry with the practical need to keep warm. But quilts, of course, are textiles, and textiles age and mellow. Minimal care will help you maximize the life of yours.

  • Start by giving your quilt a thorough once-over. Look for early signs of problems or deterioration. Moisture, dirt, dust, and bacteria all contribute to the aging process but are controllable if caught early.
  • Follow manufacturer's laundering instructions for new quilts, but antiques require special care. Frequent washings are not recommended. Experts say laundering stretches, distorts, and weakens the fabric which can lead to permanent damage. Dry cleaning is also not advised. The process can be too harsh.

  • Depending on the design, the safest cleaning method may be vacuuming, especially for dyed fabrics or decorative quilts with glazed finishes. First, inspect the material for weak points. Protect those areas and reinforce any tears, if necessary. Then hold vacuum away from fabric and use a gentle suction. Avoid this method for quilts with beading or embroidery.
  • Fabrics must be completely colorfast if you choose wet cleaning. Ideally, you should wash a quilt by hand in a basin large enough to minimize the number of folds. Use a mild soap solution and never bleach. Rinse thoroughly so no traces of detergent remain. Blot with clean towels. Never squeeze or machine-dry.
  • Store quilts away from the elements, and avoid extremes in temperature, dryness, and humidity. The best way is to wrap them in muslin or fresh white sheets. If storing for long periods of time, take the quilt out a few times a year and refold to avoid permanent crease marks. Another technique is to roll the quilt around a large cardboard cylinder covered first in the muslin.

Follow these simple guidelines, and your quilt will be ready to warm, nestle, and comfort another generation.

Linens

Fine linens can provide a lifetime of enjoyment and still wind up in inheritance condition. Here's how:

Make it a habit to launder linens immediately after use. Once stains set, they may be impossible to remove. Use a gentle detergent, and rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of soap residue. For especially delicate or fringed linens, place in a pillowcase before washing.

Whether machine- or line-drying, do so only until the item is still slightly damp. When the fabric dries completely, it temporarily loses its natural moisture and becomes brittle. Iron while damp, but avoid using steam heat and starch. Steam can bring out "invisible" stains, and starch can decay the fabric and attract uninvited visitors.

Handkerchiefs, napkins, and tablecloths have a tendency to yellow with age. For white linens, soak in a solution of water and a non-chlorine bleach. Drying outside in the sun will help bleach and brighten up whites naturally.

Always make sure linens are cleaned before storing. Soiled linens encourage mildew. Never store in plastic bags - the fibers need to breathe. Also, avoid direct contact with wood because fumes can hasten yellowing and certain wood finishes will streak the fabric. Instead, wrap linens in acid-free tissue between use and store in a well-ventilated, dry area. It's the best way to ensure that your linens, however old, will never look tired.

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