Monthly Archives: January 2014
Textile curators and dealers in antique quilts invariably say, “Don’t wash it!” A dry cleaner will probably refuse, and that’s a good thing because the fluids used would likely do serious damage. Not washing quilts may be excellent advice for museums and people who own rare and valuable specimens, but in the everyday world, quilts can come out of attics, garages, basements, car trunks, and sick beds. They can bear mysterious stains, foul odors, and suspicious animal hairs. They need more than a good shake before they can be brought home and spread over the guest room bed.
Here’s what you can do with dirty quilts that are not “museum quality.” Be forewarned that wet washing may cause the colors to fade or bleed. But frankly, I’d take a clean, slightly faded quilt over a soiled one any day.
- First check both sides of the quilt for tears or holes; repair those with a needle and cotton thread.
- Remove any rings and watches you may be wearing which could snag the fabric.
- Place the quilt in a top-loading washing machine and set the dial to large load and warm water. Add a small amount of mild detergent like Ivory Soap Flakes, Ivory Snow liquid, or Dreft, perhaps half of what you would normally use for a load that size. Do not add bleach!
- Fill the washing machine with water and stop it before it begins to agitate. With your hands, gently squish the quilt up and down in the water for several minutes. Let it soak for a few minutes and squish again.
- Turn the dial to the spin cycle and spin. Let the machine fill up with clean water for the rinse cycle. Again, do not allow the machine to agitate. Stop the machine and squish the quilt around in the clean water by hand.
- If the quilt was extremely dirty, you may wish to repeat the wash and rinse cycle, letting the quilt soak a while before rinsing.
- Run the rinse cycle a final time.
- Spread a clean sheet that is larger than the quilt on the ground outside in a shady spot away from direct sun. Handle the wet quilt carefully because the weight of the water makes the fabric very fragile . . . two people are better than one. Lay it on the sheet, pattern side down, and spread it gently to dry. Don’t even think about hanging it on a clothesline, draping it over a fence, or putting it in the dryer!
- Check every hour or so. Bring inside when thoroughly dry. Spread it over a bed for a day or two before folding to make certain it is completely dry.
- Do not fold on existing crease lines.
Washing Old Linens
“Clorox in hot water is lethal to linens,” says Erica, a woman who has dealt in antique linens and cottons for two decades. “When I was younger and didn’t know any better, I destroyed a lovely piece by putting some Clorox in very hot water as I was washing it. It turned the piece yellow. Permanently. Dealers prefer that you not wash the linens you plan to sell, even if they are stained or dirty. You might set the stain. We’d rather wash it ourselves.”
For those who plan to keep the linens you inherit and need to wash them, she recommends putting equal parts of 1) Tide with bleach in the soap powder form, 2) Biz (a non chlorine whitener), and 3) 20 Mule Team Borax in hot water and soaking stained items for one to four days. Rinse two or three times. Air dry flat, in the sun, if possible. Troublesome? Yes, tracking down those ingredients will be a minor hassle. If you don’t want to bother, take your vintage linens to an antiques show and seek out the dealers with the nicest displays. As always, get more than one estimate.
Until a few decades ago, everyone owned handkerchiefs. Ladies carried feminine lacy ones, men carried larger monogrammed ones, kids carried ones decorated with juvenile prints, like the examples at left. The invention of Kleenex in 1924 marked the beginning of the decline of the fine linen handkerchief, although they are by no means obsolete today. (Interestingly, the Kleenex tissue was invented and marketed as a makeup remover “like the movie stars use” to remove their makeup with cold cream. It wasn’t until several years later that the manufacturers realized more people were using them as disposable handkerchiefs than for makeup removal, and they changed their advertising accordingly.)
Decorative old handkerchiefs are quite collectible today. Even monogrammed ones. People buy them for brides (“something old”) or bridesmaids or to make lavender sachets or handkerchief dolls. Others press them between two pieces of Plexiglas and hang them in a window. Easy to sell on eBay or to vendors at antique shows who specialize in textiles.