Saturday, February 20, 2016
It is a beautiful day here in Chicago. 50 degrees and Sunny. There is a slight breeze and things even smell fresh. It's the kind of day that reminds me why I want to live here, braving Chicago winters. It's also the kind of day that gets my spring cleaning juices flowing. This morning, I had such an urge to clean that I attacked my studio, starting with the area under my sewing table where I store finished quilts (I have two 4' x 6' tables pushed together for sewing so it is pretty wide.) I didn't get very far, however, because the moment I started pulling out the quilts, I noticed paint - PAINT! - in a big blob on the top quilt. And it was dried. As I have mentioned before, my basement/studio is a shared space. My girls are down there regularly, and anything even remotely 'crafty' happens there because we can leave everything out while we work (not like when we work on the kitchen table) and it's easy to clean up down there. Lately, we've been doing some painting projects, and my soon-to-be four year old loves to sneak down there and experiment. She's pretty sneaky....and she's pretty fast. She can do some major damage in a short amount of time :).
So I am thinking that somehow, she took some paint under the table (which, for your information, also doubles as a fort, office, doll house and restaurant, depending on the day.) and got it on my quilt. I was crestfallen - and convinced the sample was ruined forever. I rushed the quilt over to my laundry sink (as if an extra minute would make a difference) and started scrubbing. And.....after the lightest application of laundry soap, the paint came out! Phew! Crisis averted. I threw the quilt in the washing machine, and went on my merry way.
You know how something that happens in the morning can steer your actions for the rest of the day? That's exactly what happened to me this morning. Washing one quilt inspired me to freshen up all of the others. When not out on trunk shows, my quilts are stored, in the dark, some in large suitcases and some in storage bins. They never get dirty, but sometimes, to me anyway, they smell stale from being packed up. I am super sensitive to smells....they are very important to me. Let me reword that...it is very important to me that things smell....nice. So here's how I launder quilts, whether they have been packed up, or freshly quilted and bound:
I put them in the wash with 'tap cold' water (yes, this happens to be a setting on my machine.) I DO NOT use detergent. Detergents are not good for the fabrics and can speed up or trigger the fading process. A good resource on this subject is the book From Fiber to Fabric by Harriet Hargrave (C&T, 1997). There is a lot of information in here about washing your fabrics and the chemistry involved. Even the temperature of your water and the chlorine it may be treated with can affect your fabrics. If you need to use something soap-like, you can use Orvus soap paste, or, I have even had Ivory dish liquid (the clear kind) suggested as a good alternative. I have never tried either of these so I can't speak to their performance. If I put anything at all in the washer with my quilts, it's a splash of plain white vinegar. This freshens them up perfectly. But honestly, I often wash them without any soap or vinegar. I have found that even on the quilts my family uses (these are the ones that get 'dirty'...the edges especially where they are in contact frequently with skin oils) it usually isn't necessary to use a soap. The wash cycle and vinegar seem to do the trick. I should also mention that I have a front load washing machine, so I do not need to worry about agitating. Growing up, my mother would fill the machine, let a quilt soak, swish it around by hand, and then drain the machine. Most of the quilts she was washing were hand-quilted, however, and they needed to be treated a little differently.
After the wash cycle, I throw my quilts in the dryer on low until they are just short of dry. Sometimes, I throw in a lavender laundry sachet (like the kind from Trader Joe's) . Then I lay them on a bed or over my long arm to finish the process. I started drying my quilts so that they would shrink up - I absolutely love this look and I think laundered quilts are so much more cozy to wrap yourself in!
That all having been said, I have never made a quilt for anything other than to be used. Even Blue Underground samples find their way into loving homes when they are no longer needed for trunk shows. The very idea of being able to make usable art is one of the things the attracts me to quilting. So, it would never occur to me to make a quilt that couldn't or shouldn't be washed. If you are making a wall quilt, or maybe a hand-appliqued heirloom, you may want to adjust your washing process accordingly.