Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cleaning Vintage Quilts

Every now and then I get a question on how to wash an antique or vintage quilt.  It makes people nervous, but I'm glad for that, because I would rather that the caretakers of these precious textiles think twice before tossing in them in washing machine with no thought whatsoever!

Below is some basic info about what has worked for me.  Of course, there is lots more detailed info on line, so be sure to see what other info you can find.

First of all, a few tips of what NOT to do:
  • Do NOT dry clean!  Vintage textiles are way too fragile for the harsh chemicals used in dry cleaning.
  • Do NOT use fabric softener or dryer sheets!  I just about croaked when a customer dropped off a quilt for repair that had been machine washed and dried with fabric softener and dryer sheets.  :(  They leave a nasty residue on these fabrics (and on our clothes as well!).

That being said, you CAN wash an older quilt in your washing machine if you follow the tips below.  It's really difficult to get a quilt clean and rinsed completely when washing by hand in the bathtub, so it's fine to use your machine as long as you take care when doing so.

  • First of all, be sure to mend any open seams or tears before washing.  Otherwise, these areas will only get worse when washed.
  • Use a gentle detergent.  Many quilt experts swear by Ovus Paste.  Most quilt shops carry it, or you can purchase it at your local farm supply store because, believe it or not, it's also used for washing horses!  I personally would avoid Woolite and laundry detergents designed for babies because they really aren't that safe or gentle.  More recently, I have been using Norwex's laundry detergent with good results; it doesn't contain fillers and it rinses out easily, which eases my concerns.
  • Wash in the machine with cold water on gentle cycle.  The most important thing is to take care when removing it from the machine.  A wet quilt is heavy, and wet fibers are fragile.  I usually take a sheet and place it under the quilt while it's still in the machine before removing it.  Then, remove from the machine by holding onto the sheet, not the quilt.  That way, there is no stress on the weak fibers.
  • Then, I carefully lay it flat to dry, squaring it up if possible.  Never hang a quilt to dry.  You can dry it outside with a a sheet underneath, but I'm always concerned about bug or bird dirt.  If you have enough space indoors, lay it flat and allow it to dry.  A fan or dehumidifier is helpful in speeding up the drying process.

Click here to read another post I had written on the same subject a number of years ago.  In this post I gave tips on protecting fraying fabrics or patches.

These recommendations are for quilts made out of cotton fabrics.  If your quilt is made of satin or other non-washable fabrics, do not attempt to wash it!   Dry cleaning isn't a good option either, so some people put a nylon stocking over their vacuum cleaner nozzle and remove dust and loose dirt by carefully vacuuming it.

Click here for more detailed info about this subject.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Denise's Lovely Liberties

I just delivered this lovely commissioned quilt to a customer this evening!  

I took a few pictures of it at Masonic Villages the other evening, 

and then a few more today at Dickinson College in Carlisle where we met up for delivery.

It was a great experience - my first opportunity to work with some lovely Liberty Tana Lawn fabric, direct from London.

My friend Denise's brother Bryan lives in London and asked me to make a quilt for Denise out of Liberty's Tana Lawn since he knows how much she loves their fabrics.  He shopped for the fabric at the iconic Liberty department store right in London. We selected this Union Jack pattern to commorate Denise's numerous trips to England.

 Of course, anyone who knows anything about Liberty's Tana Lawns knows that is one extravagant gift!!

Since I had to part with the quilt (boo hoo!), I wanted to make sure I took plenty of pictures.
Bryan was a good sport about being my quilt holder even though he had no idea what being a quilt would holder entail - ha ha!

 He's the perfect height for such adventures!
I told him he's lucky he doesn't live nearby; otherwise, I would be nabbing him on a regular basis to help me out.  :)

Photo Credit:  Amy Smart

The original inspiration for this quilt came from Amy Smart's blog post almost five years ago.  I have looked at this amazing quilt of hers more times than I can remember!  I just love the fabric combination and colors.

I ended up using this pattern.  You can purchase it here or here.
While it does result in some fabric waste, the block construction is a lot of fun.

Photo credit:  Holly Lesue

Craftsy also has a free pattern for a Union Jack block that you can then turn into a quilt like this fabulous one made by Holly Lesue (Maker Valley on Instagram).

I was nervous about getting started on the project because the fabric is oh so expensive, and oh so fine.  But, it was very easy to work with.  Even so, below are some tips that you may find to be helpful.

Tips for working with Tana Lawn

First of all, lawn is a super fine, woven cotton fabric made out of fine, high count yarns.  Lawn gets its name from "Laon", a city in France that was known for its production of lawn fabric.  Liberty's Tana Lawn is call Tana because the founder, Arthur Liberty found the ultrafine long-staple cotton fiber that could be woven into fine lawn growing around Lake Tana in East Africa, hence the name.

Lawn is fabulous for garment construction because its tight weave doesn't fray or wrinkle, and results in wonderfully drapey dresses and blouses.  Quilters love using it because it produces an equally luscious drapey quilt.

If you have the opportunity to work with lawn, go for it!

  • Be sure to use a small needle such as a 70/10 or 80/12 Universal or Topstitch needle.  The topstitch needle will allow you to use a small needle without causing your thread to shred.  I found an 80/12 needle worked best.
  • A fine thread is key as well.  I used Aurifil 50 wt for piecing and machine quilting.
  • For both piecing and machine quilting, be sure to use a straight stitch throat plate if you have one, as the delicate fabric tends to pull down into the wider hole on a zig zag throat plate.
  • I used steam, but some quilters prefer to use a dry iron so fabric doesn't get distorted when pressing.
  • A thin, light-weight batting is ideal so that you don't lose the wonderful drape of the fabric.  I used 100 % Cotton Quilter's Dream in their thinnest Request loft.
  • Since the lawn is a little more slippery than traditional quilting cottons, when layering your backing, batting and quilt top, be sure to pin baste no more than a fist width's apart (try saying that ten times in a row quickly!).
  • And, when machine quilting, keep in mind you may need to loosen your tension.

Take the plunge when you get an opportunity!

Such loveliness....

You can read more about working with lawn here and here.