Old quilts are a treasure. To see the beautiful fabrics, patterns and handwork is a gift. Unfortunately, not everyone sees quilts as the work of art that they are. Too many times I have found, and been told about quilts that were relegated to a trunk, or even more heartbreakingly, stacked up in a box in a store room and left to rot. Left in those circumstances, quilts can absorb moisture, which leads to mildew and rotting of the fabric. Most people would just toss these items in a dumpster. Not me. Depending on how much damage has been done, there are actually ways of cleaning and repairing quilts in this condition.
This will be a two-part column, as cleaning quilts requires several steps and a great amount of patience. If it just seems like too much to deal with, remember this – great works of art are well worth the extra effort. Without patience, we may never have been able to enjoy some of the works of the great masters, like Picasso, Renoit, or da Vinci.
First: Never wash an old quilt in the washing machine. The agitation may cause the cotton batting to bunch up, and never lay flat again. Hang the quilt outside on the line. A sunny day is best, but it is also preferable to have the quilt in at least some shade. Too much sun can bleach out the colors. Spread it out over at least two of the wires, three or four if the quilt is big enough. This allows plenty of air circulation, which dries the dampness and removes most of the odors. This step takes several days.
Once the quilt feels dry to the touch and smells a bit better, loosely fold the quilt up and put it in a box that has a tightly fitting lid. In a mesh bag, add about one to two cups of Kitty Litter. Tie up the bag, and give it a gentle shake or two to dislodge any dust. Place a wash cloth or other small piece of fabric on top of the quilt, then place the litter bag on top of the cloth. Place the lid on the box and secure. Allow to sit for a day or two. The litter will pull out any remaining moisture, and neutralize odors. After a day or two, repeat this process, only use baking soda instead of litter. The baking soda will remove any lingering odor.
Stay Tuned for the next steps!