I’ve been a quilter for 35 years, so I have a lot of them in my house. Quilts are both decorative and utilitarian objects, but the amount of work that goes into them can make people worry about how to take care of them.
When it comes to displaying, storing and cleaning them, there are things that you can do to extend the life and condition of your quilts so that they stay both beautiful and useful for years.
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What is a quilt?
Quilts are bedspreads that are made from multiple layers of fabric and batting, which is the thick inner layer that provides warmth. The outside layers of quilts are traditionally made from woven fabric, usually cotton, and generally include a solid backing piece and a patterned quilt top. The three layers are put together and then stitched through all thicknesses to create a single blanket.
Quilting has a long tradition of being a way to create useful pieces, while also giving women, who traditionally made the quilts for the home, an outlet for their creativity.
Most quilts in the past were made from worn-out clothing, or from any available fabrics, in order to prevent things from going to waste.
Now, people make quilts in many traditional patterns as well as in more modern, artistic designs. Many quilts aren’t even used as bedding, they’re hung on the wall or used as home decor.
In order to not waste old quilts, it was common for quilters to use a worn-out quilt as the batting inside a new one.
The new outer layers would revive the quilt, and the old quilt on the inside would continue to provide warmth for the family members.
While quilts used to be stitched entirely by hand, from piecing the quilt top together to doing the quilting of the layers, machine quilting has become a popular option.
Quilters maintain a lively debate about whether hand quilting or machine quilting is better, but there’s a place for both methods.
Some quilters do everything by hand and others do everything with a machine, but many incorporate both techniques in a single quilt.
Watch Artisan Shopper member Ann Walsh freehand quilt this message using machine quilting in this video:
In addition, both techniques are skills that need practice to master. I made a lot of quilts using hand stitching until I started having numbness in my fingers, and I thought that I was going to have to give up quilting entirely.
I’ve since tried quilting by using a machine, and I’m able to make quilts without struggling with the hand numbness, so there’s a reason to learn both methods!
How to display a quilt
In general, the two basic ways to display a quilt are to either hang it or lay it flat, either folded or spread out. Depending on the size of the quilt, it may be easier to keep it on a bed, or folded on a shelf with other quilts in a curated display. Smaller quilts can be hung directly on the wall so that the entire pattern is on display, or hung on a quilt rack or another type of railing.
To display quilts on walls, there are many options to use that won’t damage the quilt. The most commonly used method is to stitch a muslin sleeve to the back of the quilt, then to insert a rod or a board into the sleeve to hang the quilt.
The weight of the quilt will be supported evenly across the top and will allow the quilt to hang without stretching.
I like to use balsa wood boards to hang the quilts that have sleeves because the flat board prevents the top of the quilt from slumping or curling over.
You could also use a curtain rod or a dowel to insert into the sleeve, and extend it out of the sleeve so that you can put the rod into hooks on the wall.
Many quilt rods consist of two decorative hook hangers that are screwed into the wall so that the rod that the quilt is on will be supported.
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Another hanging option is a quilt rack that has a shelf above it. This allows you to place other decorative items on the shelf, and hang the quilt from the rack.
To see the type of quilt racks that are available on Etsy, click here
This type of rack comes in many widths to fit larger or smaller quilts, and they usually provide enough clearance from the wall so that folded quilts can be hung on them.
Sometimes people will use a wooden rung ladder that leans up against the wall to hang quilts on for display purposes.
This can make a nice focal point in a living room or bedroom, and also gives you easy access to the quilts when you want to use them on the bed. The quilt below was made by Artisan Shopper member The Best Seamstress.
You can also get quilt racks that sit on the floor to store folded quilts on.
Another option for hanging quilts involves using clips to hold the quilt in place, but you should be careful to use clips that are made from a material that won’t corrode and damage the fabric of the quilt.
Some quilt rack manufacturers make large tension clips from wood that you can use to secure the quilt and hang it with the weight distributed evenly.
Using metal clips can be fine for short periods, but metals can leave marks on the quilt if left for too long, so be sure to change that type of hanger frequently.
A halfway step between hanging and folding the quilts would be to display them on the back of a sofa, or over a stair railing or other railing that’s part of the architecture of the house.
If you have a horizontal railing at the top of a set of stairs, you can put a quilt over the railing so that it’s visible to people on the first floor.
You can change the quilt seasonally to match other decorations that you have in your home.
I have multiple quilts thrown over the back of my couch, because I actually use them! Folding them and placing them on the couch is a good way to keep them handy for when you need a lap blanket.
People tend to forget that quilts are utilitarian objects, but using them is the purpose of having them.
You can also put a quilt over the back of a chair that’s not used very often, or the arm of a loveseat or sofa as a decorative element.
When it comes to displaying quilts flat and spread out, the easiest way is to put them on a bed so that they don’t develop folds.
You can also put them on other furniture, like a entryway table, or on the back or a bench in a foyer.
I have a vintage crazy quilt on the top of my piano, and even though it’s pretty beat up, it looks nice and gives some warmth to the room.
The most obvious way to display quilts is to put them on beds. That will show the full pattern, and you can swap them out to show off different quilts at different times.
This is also good if you have kids, because they can spread the quilt out over their messy sheets if they’re bad at making the bed! These are some of the beds in my house, and they all have quilts on them.
Remember that this is a REAL LIFE example of quilt use, so there’s no time to pretend that my house is straight out of a magazine! 🙂
Another way to show off your quilts is to display them folded and stacked on a shelf or in a cabinet. If you do this, make sure to take them out and refold them occasionally to prevent the formation of permanent creases.
How to store quilts
To store quilts, avoid placing them in plastic bags or boxes, because that inhibits air flow around the fabric and can cause the fabric to deteriorate. The best way to store a quilt for any length of time is to spread it out flat on a bed so that its weight is evenly distributed and folds are voided. To store a quilt that’s folded, make sure to re-fold it frequently in a different way so that the quilt doesn’t develop creases.
It’s very important to clean quilts before storing them for long periods of time. If they’re stored when they’re dirty, the oils and moisture from touching your skin can affect the fabric and cause musty odors when the quilt is removed from storage.
This can happen even when they are washed before storage, so be aware that you may want to clean your quilts after removing them from storage and before using them.
You can also roll quilts to avoid forming creases in them. Using a pool noodle or a cardboard roll from upholstery fabric (ask at the fabric store to see if they have any that you can have) will allow you to store them standing up in a corner of the room or a closet.
Store quilts away from sunlight, which can fade the fabric. Also avoid putting quilts in a humid area, like a basement or attic, because the moisture can damage the fabric and cause mildew, which is difficult to remove.
Store all bedding in a climate-controlled area to avoid problems with moisture. Allowing air to circulate around the quilt is the best way to prevent damage to the fabric, so spreading them out on a bed is the best option, if that’s available.
How to clean quilts
To clean a quilt, use a mild detergent in the washing machine on the gentle cycle, and dry in the dryer on low heat. If the quilt is vintage or fragile, you should hand-wash it and hang it to dry, or only dry it partially on low heat, in order to avoid stressing the fabric. Many people suggest hanging quilts outside to dry, but you should only do that on hot and dry days in order to avoid exposing the quilt to sunlight for extended periods of time.
When I started quilting, I was extremely nervous about all of the cleaning advice that’s out there. It seemed like you have to hand wash every quilt every time, or you would be risking terrible damage to them.
However, I find that using the gentle cycle (or the bulky item cycle, depending on your washing machine), works just fine, and doesn’t damage the quilt.
I also put my quilts in the dryer with no problems, but for the quilts that are hand quilted I don’t dry them 100%. I remove them and finish air-drying them so that they don’t get bone-dry in the dryer.
The danger of using a machine is that they can stress the fabric, and the heat from the dryer can shrink the quilt if it’s made from 100% cotton, or if it has cotton batting inside.
Most quilting fabrics are washed and dried before making the quilt to avoid shrinkage after the quilt is made.
You can never be certain of that, though, so removing the quilt from the dryer and letting it finish drying in the air can reduce shrinking.
I’ll also say that I can hear the shrieking of enraged quilters in my mind, as I imagine them reading the advice to put a quilt in the dryer.
But the truth is that a quilt should be used, and it should be kept clean, and most people aren’t going to hand wash their quilts if they think that’s the only option.
In my opinion it’s better to use the washing machine and dryer if the alternative is to never clean your quilts!
In fact, I asked Ann Walsh of Ann Walsh Quilting about putting quilts in the washing machine, and she said “All my quilts are sold pre-laundered so people don’t have to be scared of doing just that, and they come with a tag that tells buyers they can throw them in the washer and dryer with no problem.” So don’t be afraid of washing your quilts, it’s better to keep them clean!
The method that you choose to clean your quilts will depend on whether you think of a quilt as a precious family heirloom (and some are), or a quilt that’s meant to be used and enjoyed.
Whichever method you choose, you should clean your quilts at least once a year if you use them as bedding, or more frequently if they have spills on them.
To see the quilts and other home decor items in the Artisan Shopper directory, click here
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