Quilt and Textile Storage

Even if you don't own an antique quilt there are steps you can take to ensure the preservation of newer quilts in your home.

Store your quilts (or other textile items) where they will get good, dry, air circulation. Generally, this means no plastic bags or boxes, since plastic can retain moisture and cause mildew or mold. (In real life, however, plastic can be a godsend for those of us who don't live in museum homes.)

Do not store your textiles in the attic, cellar, or garage, because temperature and humidity changes can cause rapid deterioration of fibers. Heat causes them to dry out, just like your skin, and fluctuations in temperature speed breakdown of the fibers. These areas are also more likely to have bugs or rodents who want to chew on your quilt. Keep your quilts in a stable environment, preferably one that is air conditioned or heated as necessary to maintain temperature and humidity levels.

Avoid exposure to sunlight and artificial light in the ultraviolet spectrum. This includes unfiltered fluorescent lighting. Even indirect sunlight in a bright room can cause damage to the fibers.

The ideal storage place for a quilt is on an unused bed. Lay it out flat over the mattress pad, layering the quilts if you have several. Cover with a clean sheet to prevent dust and exposure to light.

The second best method of storing a quilt is to roll it on a cardboard tube or plastic pipe. Be sure to cover the plastic or cardboard with layers of clean muslin or acid-free paper. Cover the quilt again with another sheet or more acid-free tissue.

If you must fold a quilt to store it, use crumpled acid-free tissue (available from archive and museum suppliers and now in specialty quilt shops) in the folds to prevent creasing. Creases become permanent over time and cause stressed areas. A couple of times a year take the quilt out, give it a good airing, and refold along different lines.

Put your quilts someplace cool and dark, out of contact with bugs, pets, and children. Wherever you choose, be sure the quilt is not in direct contact with unfinished wood. This includes cedar chests and closet shelving. Wood contains acids, and acids are bad for fabric. (You know what happens to old paperbacks and newspaper, they get yellow and brittle...) Layer clean muslin or acid-free tissues in the chest or on the shelf before adding your quilt, or use a special acid-free archive box for the quilt.

If you have to clean a new(er) quilt, do it before the stain sets. Blot up as much as you can and either spot-clean it by hand, or wash the whole thing if it warrants. Take care of any repairs that new quilts need -- this will minimise continued damage and might allow you to match the fabric before it vanishes from stores forever.

While newly made quilts can usually stand the washing machine, they should not be dried with a hot dryer. Only use the dryer to tumble --without heat-- and air dry a quilt. Do not hang a wet quilt from the clothesline, as that can cause the fabric to stretch and stress. Lay it flat on a sheet in a shady area of your lawn, covered with another sheet. If you have to lay the quilt indoors, you can use an electric fan to speed air circulation and drying.

Judy shared some experience on storing older quilts:

"Acid free tissue paper is not available to many people. Yes, you can order it, but at $5.00 for 25 sheets it won't go far. Here is an alternative to using crumpled tissue in the folds:

"Your local pharmacy or medical supply store should be able to sell you knit surgical stockinette tubing. It is made of cotton and comes in varying widths, rolled in long lengths.

"Here's how to use it:

"Start to fold your quilt. Measure this first fold. Cut a length of the knitted tubing a few inches longer. Stuff it with left over quilt batting and tie off or sew the two open ends. Place this stuffed "worm" in the fold. Make your second fold in the quilt. Measure it, make another "worm", place it in the fold, and continue until the quilt is folded as small as you need for storage, making "worms" for each fold. This is permanent storage protection against fold lines. It can be made as thick as you want, and does not compress, as tissue will.

"Each quilt in your collection will have it's own set of "worms", which never need to be replaced!

"I learned this technique at the quilt restoration conference in Omaha this summer, and tried it as soon as I got home. It is easy and IT WORKS.

"If this tubing is unavailable, I imagine that worn out pantyhose could be used, or some industrious quilters could make their own worms from old and out of date fabric. I'd use only cotton though. Poly or cotton batting can be used for stuffing any of the worms, but poly will stay high longer."


Josie's Dress Preservation FAQ was written with wedding gowns in mind, but much of her advice applies to storing any kind of treasured textile. Note the source for preservation kits...

Finally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers this advice for rescuing textiles from disaster-struck homes.



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