My mother is an avid quilt rescuer — and I say rescuer (and not collector) on purpose. She is not looking for pristine show quality quilts. She wants the ones that have been forgotten in a attic, loved to pieces, or are being thrown over furniture in a moving van. She has developed a fantastic method to clean these old dirty quilts and I asked her to write this post and share it with everyone.
LollyBaba’s Old Quilt Cleaning Method
After retiring I needed something to fill my days other than going to the senior center and playing cards all day. I come from a long line of quilters, however my hand sewing skills are not great. When I hand quilted the first time my mother said “those are not quilting stitches, those are basting stitches.” She was correct, my stitches were entirely too long for a quilt. However, I still wanted a way to connect with the generations of quilting women in my family.
I woke in the middle of the night with the thought that perhaps I could upcycle old quilts. This dream/thought opened a wonderful door to my creativity. I began searching for old worn out quilts to give new life.
You can see some of my moms creations in her ETSY store, LollyBaba Quilts and Things. I personally love the market bags and stockings. She gives new life to things that might have just been disregarded as “too old” and worn out.
Many of the quilts I bring home are well used and have often been stored in an attic, barn, or basement. They have years (sometimes decades) of dust, dirt, and often smoke from wood burning fireplaces. Before I can begin working on a project, I must clean the quilt because no one wants something dirty and smelly. I know from my Mother and Grandmothers that a quilt is NEVER to be run through a washer or dryer.
Quilts must be hand washed.
Through trial and error, I came up with a very good cleaning method. Cleaning takes effort — however the outcome is very worth the work.
The LollyBaba Method
- A deep laundry tub, sink, bathtub, or special deep bucket
- Oxydol Detergent Liquid (difficult to find, I usually purchase mine at Dollar Tree)
- Clorox II Liquid (NEVER use regular Clorox because it will strip the colors)
- White vinegar (will help set the colors)
Begin filling the laundry tub with tepid (room temperature) water. This is very important, do NOT use warm/hot water as these can make colors run.
Add to running water:
Stop the water when tub is about 1/4 full and start adding the quilt to the water. Begin pressing the quilt into the water. After the quilt is in the tub, continue running tepid water until the quilt is fully immersed.
Start ‘working’ the quilt by gently pressing down and releasing. DO NOT pull up on the fabric or you could end up with more tatters/rips than when you started. ‘Working’ the quilt will push the water/detergent through the fabric and begin the cleaning processes.
Work the quilt for a few minutes (as best you can). Then push the quilt under water and let soak for about 2 hours. You will be amazed at how much dirt comes out of the quilt!
Often a quilt I work on can have such brown water, that I cannot even see that there is quilt in the water!
Drain the dirty water and rinse. Watch the water as you rinse, if there is still brown water coming from the quilt, you need to repeat the washing (including more ‘working’) and rinsing. Keep repeating the process until the water runs clear.
The dirtiest quilt I have ever worked on took 10 washings. I began with a quilt that was so dirty/dusty that most of the quilt color looked like shades of brown. As I went through the cleaning process I almost had tears when, after the 4th washing, colors began emerging. When I finished cleaning the quilt was a beautiful antique white with lovely colors.
Always test bright colors, especially reds, for color fastness. No matter how old the fabric, some fabrics can bleed. To test color fastness, wet an approximately 3 inch square of the color to be tested. Rub the fabric with a piece of clean white 100 % cotton fabric. Check the white fabric for signs of color. If any color transferred to the clean white fabric, the quilt is not color fast and could bleed on other colors.
Important Note About Stains: I never, never, never treat stains, NEVER!! Trying to spot clean coffee or blood will just create a spot of different colored fabric than the rest of the quilt. Usually at least some of the coffee stains will come out. Blood rarely comes out as this stain needed treated when it happened. Any stain removers I have found are too harsh for an old quilt. Just consider a stain part of the quilt’s life and history. We all get wrinkles and age spots, why should a greatly loved quilt be any different?
For small tears in a quilt that I want to keep using as a quilt, I love to use my Singer Confidence Quilter. The machine has great stitches to add a patch and an extra long base to help support the weight while I sew.
Do you have any well loved quilts that could use some extra attention? Share some before and after pictures with us if you try this cleaning method!