Sunday, May 21, 2006

Storing Your Antique Quilts

When they were made 100 years ago, no one ever thought a quilt was meant to last for a hundred years of use. Still, there are many 100 year old quilts in existence today, often stored by collectors who don’t have enough room to display them all.

If you have an early quilt, here are some tips to store them properly:

  • Quilts need a stable environment - that means no extreme temperatures or humidity. Forget leaving your quilt in attics, basements, garages and similar locations - vintage quilts need to be in the same kind of comfortable environment that humans enjoy, meaning not too hot, not too cold, not damp.
  • Don’t use plastic bags for quilt storage - if moisture gets inside, stains and permanent damage may occur. Antique fabrics need to breathe. And please don’t use rubber bands to secure a rolled up quilt - they will scrunch the vintage fabric and can cause damage.
  • A simple way to store and protect your vintage quilt is to roll it in a clean white cotton sheet that allows air transfer. Acid-free tissue paper is another alternative.
  • Never store quilts on a bare wood shelf or in a wood dresser drawer. Cedar chests are also a poor choice. The tannins and acids in the bare wood can transfer to your antique quilt (and other vintage textiles too), with staining and fiber damage possible. Over time, tannins and acids can also transfer through cotton sheets. Varnished wood shelves or drawers are usually not a problem.
  • Folding quilts causes stress on antique fibers. Fold lines generally cannot be repaired. The best option is to roll a quilt for storage; if you can’t roll it, then remember to re-fold it every few months to prevent permanent crease lines, fade, and fiber damage.
  • Some collectors “store” their quilts by displaying them flat on a bed. Nothing wrong with this method, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines: The best place is in a spare bedroom, where the quilt can be seen but not used daily. Make sure that no direct sunlight shines on your antique quilt. Sun fade is not reversible - prevention is the only method to prevent damage. If you have cats or dogs, close the bedroom door and limit access to your antique quilts. Quilts will eventually deteriorate from pets sleeping on them. Store your quilts in a location where mice can’t get to them. Mice love to make nests from those old cotton batts in quilts.
  • Hanging an antique quilt on a wall is okay for storage, and you’ll have the pleasure of seeing a beautiful antique fiber art. A quilt must be evenly supported across it’s entire width when being hung.
  • Do not use nails, staples, tacks, pushpins, clips or any similar type of item to attach your quilt to the wall!!
  • There are specialty wall rods which can be attached to a wall, similar to a curtain rod, and are specifically designed for draping a quilt evenly and safely. Be sure they are not raw wood (see above), and that they have a finish which prevents contact with bare wood.
  • You can also use a metal curtain rod to drape your quilt, as long as you are in a no-moisture area that would cause rust on the metal rod.
  • Another solution in hanging an antique quilt is to hand sew a 3-4" strip of cotton fabric - referred to as a sleeve - across the back of the quilt along the top, then thread a varnished wood dowel through this casing so you can hang the dowel from curtain rod brackets. Be sure to hang the quilt high enough on the wall so it doesn’t touch the floor, where pets can reach the quilt.

There's also a good website where you can learn a bit more about quilt hanging, and you can order a wood quilt hanger. Click here for Marie Miller's (Dorset, Vermont) website on quilt hanging tips, or to order her wood quilt hanger.
Remember when hanging your quilt to keep it out of direct sunlight!

This “hanging storage” method is a great way for collectors to rotate their quilts, enjoy them as art, and evenly distribute their weight so fibers won’t stretch, stitching won’t be pulled, and the possibility of fold lines are decreased. If you change your hanging quilt display every few months, it allows you to rotate your quilts, check for signs of insect and mouse damage, and also allows you the opportunity to re-fold the ones not being displayed on a regular basis.

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