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Thread: How to clean this old quilt

  1. #1
    Senior Member DeniseP's Avatar
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    How to clean this old quilt

    My grandmother made a quilt from my grandfather's old wool pants and shirts that he wore to work in the woods. She used the parts that weren't worn out and made the heaviest, warmest patchwork quilt with them. She has been gone for 37 years and that quilt has never been cleaned. Do I take it to a dry cleaner? I'm afraid to wash it not because I think it will fall apart, but because I'm afraid I will shrink and ruin it. She had just recovered the back of it with a thick cotton blanket before she died. Any help would be appreciated!

  2. #2
    Super Member Deborahlees's Avatar
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    I would go about this very carefully......it is old....it is wool.....my first thought would be dry clean only....however....
    not all dry cleaners are created equal.....some are good, some are not.......that said I know there is a quilt soap (have forgotten the name) that I would consider.....cold water and a bath tub....remember the quilt is going to get very heavy when wet and smell... you are going to have to be carefull not to stretch or pull, but treat very gently.....have a plan on how to get wet quilt to a drying area.....and how to layout....my first thought is perhaps a garage....out of the sun.....perhaps some lumber horses and 2 x 4's to support the quilt to reduce sags and weight.....
    will be watching this thread to see what other ideas are floated out there.....
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  3. #3
    Power Poster Prism99's Avatar
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    You might want to Google how to wash wool to understand better what does and does not make wool shrink.

    Personally, I would *not* take this quilt to a dry cleaner. Do you have access to a top-loading washing machine large enough to handle this quilt? If so, here's what I would do. Fill the washing machine with cold water and a gentle detergent (Orvus paste is good and available from many quilt shops; also available at Fleet Farm and other places that sell horse shampoo). Stop the machine! Add the quilt, and gently push down on it (hand agitation) to run the soapy water through. Advance the washing machine to the spin cycle (do *NOT* allow machine agitation) and spin out the soapy water. Fill with rinse water. If the quilt is still dirty -- and it is very likely to be, after 37 years -- add some diluted Orvus and hand agitate again. Advance machine to spin cycle. Repeat this until you are satisfied all the dirt is out, then do the same process with cold rinse water several times.

    To dry, lay a large flat sheet on the grass outside in the shade. Lay the quilt on top of the sheet, gently "blocking" into its rectangular shape. Cover with another large sheet (important for keeping bird droppings off the quilt!) and anchor the edges with some rocks. You will probably need to flip the quilt at least once, possibly several times, in order to get it dried thoroughly. When it is just damp instead of soaking wet, you can block it a little more if you like. You can place fans on the quilt to speed the drying process. (And you can dry it flat inside the house instead of outside if you have a flat surface big enough.)

    Here's the thing with wool. If you look at wool fibers under the microscope, the fibers have tiny hooks. These are what cause wool to shrink and "felt". The hooks interlock when in the presence of hot water, detergent (makes the water slippery), and agitation. As long as you use cool water and do not machine agitate, the hooks will not interlock. You do not want to use a dryer because the tumbling in the presence of heat will encourage those hooks to interlock. You do not want to hang it on clotheslines because water adds a lot of weight to the quilt, and that weight puts a lot of stress on the threads holding the quilt together. Best to dry it flat.

    Your biggest problem will probably be finding a top-loading washing machine large enough to handle the bulk and weight of this quilt. Although you could do it by hand without a washing machine, the weight is going to be monstrous once all that fabric is wet (water is heavy), making it very difficult to manipulate and carry.

    Hope this helps!

  4. #4
    Power Poster Jingle's Avatar
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    All I can add is: GOOD LUCK.
    Another Phyllis
    This life is the only one you get - enjoy it before you lose it.

  5. #5
    Super Member Peckish's Avatar
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    Your grandmother made the quilt from old fabrics that had been worn and washed repeatedly (I doubt his wool pants were dry cleaned), so I'm thinking shrinkage won't be much of a problem. I'd be more concerned about washing it in a way that ensures it doesn't come apart at the seams, especially with the weight. I agree with other posters who say not to agitate it.

  6. #6
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    Would it be possible to get large window screens or screen doors - put them on saw horses - put a sheet over the screen - and dry the quilt on that?

    Don't know if it would work - just thinking out loud.

  7. #7
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    I work with a lot of wool and what I would add is this: I would use a soap that does not need to be rinsed out (but you will rinse the quilt) such as Eucalan. Orvus paste is good too but this must be rinsed very well. I would fill the bathtub with cool water and dissolve the cleaning agent in the water and then place the quilt in the tub. I would gently press the quilt into the water making sure it absorbs the water. Use a very gentle scrunching motion and then let the quilt soak. You should see some dirt lifting into the water. I would then drain the water out (leave the quilt in the tub) and refill. Always make sure to use the same temperature of water, though, as Peckish has pointed out, the old fabrics have been worn and washed many times so I don't think felting is too much of an issue but I would still be careful. When you add more water just move the quilt aside. I would do this process until the water is clean.

    Once it is clean and drained (still in the tub) I would gently roll it and squish it to get some of the water out. It will take some time because you should be gently. Do not lift the quilt. But you can roll and fold that roll up to squeeze the water out. Take a large towel or a couple of sheets and roll the quilt onto the towel to be supported and carried to where it should be layed out flat to dry. Once you are at that desitination I would have several dry towels available that I would keep putting the quilt onto and rolling them up in absorb the excess water. Finally, lay the quilt out for the final flat dry.

    It is a lot of work to wash it this way but if you don't have access to a top loading machine or front loader with a soak and spin cycle then this is, in my opinion, the best way to do it. This is how I wash cashmere and handknit sweaters. This is also how I have cleaned heirloom textiles. I have also washed a king sized quilt with a wool blanket in the middle in this manner. It would help to have someone help you with manipulating it. I definitely would not send it to a dry cleaners and I would not use a laundromat unless you are very familiar with the machines and you have washed and cleaned the machine out first.

  8. #8
    Super Member GrannieAnnie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deborahlees View Post
    I would go about this very carefully......it is old....it is wool.....my first thought would be dry clean only....however....
    not all dry cleaners are created equal.....some are good, some are not.......that said I know there is a quilt soap (have forgotten the name) that I would consider.....cold water and a bath tub....remember the quilt is going to get very heavy when wet and smell... you are going to have to be carefull not to stretch or pull, but treat very gently.....have a plan on how to get wet quilt to a drying area.....and how to layout....my first thought is perhaps a garage....out of the sun.....perhaps some lumber horses and 2 x 4's to support the quilt to reduce sags and weight.....
    will be watching this thread to see what other ideas are floated out there.....

    to add to this comment, IF you wash it in the tub, lay down a fabric piece on the bottom of the tub before you start. A good quality sheet might be enough. Then proceed. With help, you can use the sheet to move the quilt to a drying location.
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  9. #9
    Super Member GrannieAnnie's Avatar
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    IF you dry clean-----------find one of the most respected dry cleaners in your area. Go to them and ask them if they can handle a old wool quilt. An honest company will answer you honestly. And speak to the highest up member of the firm.
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  10. #10
    Junior Member Joy.lynn's Avatar
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    I have a handmade sweater made with wool. It has an intricate pattern with contrasting colors. I went to my local wool shop and they recommended using EUCALAN. The instructions read: By machine-Fill with tepid water. Add Eucalan. Stop machine. Load washables. Squeeze article gently. Soak for 30 minutes. By-pass rinse cycle. Spin water out.

    By hand-Fill basin with tepid water. Add Eucalan. Squeeze article gentlhy. Soak for 15 minutes(minimum). No need to rinse.

    It worked wonderfully well. I have since used it on several delicate articles of all different materials. The articles are clean and fresh smelling. I really like the fact that they do not have to be rinsed.

  11. #11
    Senior Member sandilee's Avatar
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    Thanks for these posts. I have 2 wool quilts in cedar chest made by DH's grandmother @1940's (if not earlier). My first thought was the cleaners. The tub sounds good for me.

  12. #12
    Power Poster Prism99's Avatar
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    Be careful of storing any kind of fabric in cedar chests. Cedar, like other woods, contains acid that slowly eats away at fabric. You really want to either line the chest with fabric or encase a quilt in a pillowcase or similar barrier that will keep it out of direct contact with the wood. Many antique quilts have been ruined from long-term storage in cedar chests.

  13. #13
    Senior Member sandilee's Avatar
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    Thanks Prism....didn't even realize that but it makes sense. I guess wrapping them in sheets would be fine.

  14. #14
    Super Member burchquilts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deborahlees View Post
    I would go about this very carefully......it is old....it is wool.....my first thought would be dry clean only....however....
    not all dry cleaners are created equal.....some are good, some are not.......that said I know there is a quilt soap (have forgotten the name) that I would consider.....cold water and a bath tub....remember the quilt is going to get very heavy when wet and smell... you are going to have to be carefull not to stretch or pull, but treat very gently.....have a plan on how to get wet quilt to a drying area.....and how to layout....my first thought is perhaps a garage....out of the sun.....perhaps some lumber horses and 2 x 4's to support the quilt to reduce sags and weight.....
    will be watching this thread to see what other ideas are floated out there.....
    Is the soap you were thinking of Orvis (I think that's how it's spelled)? It great! But I would really be careful with this wool quilt... you don't want to end up with a teeny tiny felt quilt!
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  15. #15
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    I soak my quilt that is handquilted in the bathtub in cold water and gentle soap. After several hours I gently agitate with my hands and drain. Then rinse two times and drain again, and place it in a plastic laundry basket and squeeze as much water as I can. I let it drain in the basket and squeeze again and again then I take it out to dry away from the sun and birds. I think that you may also do this and follow the other recommendations on how to dry it. Good luck.

  16. #16
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    Grandpa's old wool pants and shirts for working in the woods shouldn't shrink if you can keep the temps the same. (My Grandpa wore his Buffalo Check shirts and we always washed them on wash day!) I would say if you use a washing machine to do so with water that is room temp and rinse in room temp. If you chance putting in a dryer, keep it on the lowest delicate temp just long enough to get any wrinkles relaxed (my experience is 5 minutes at most)then air fluff then line dry. Another option is the bath tub --- use woolite or any other soap for woolens. Keep rinsing until water is clear. Gently squeeze out in a blotting motion. Maybe roll to get as much water out as you can. Then lay out on clean sheets outside and turn frequently so the entire quilt can dry. As it approaches damp rather than wet you could hang it on a line over a sheet. Just what I have done in the past and experienced with Grandpa's shirts.
    Quote Originally Posted by DeniseP View Post
    My grandmother made a quilt from my grandfather's old wool pants and shirts that he wore to work in the woods. She used the parts that weren't worn out and made the heaviest, warmest patchwork quilt with them. She has been gone for 37 years and that quilt has never been cleaned. Do I take it to a dry cleaner? I'm afraid to wash it not because I think it will fall apart, but because I'm afraid I will shrink and ruin it. She had just recovered the back of it with a thick cotton blanket before she died. Any help would be appreciated!

  17. #17
    Super Member Daylesewblessed's Avatar
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    I have washed several old quilts in the bathtub successfully. All that I can add is that you don't need your regular workout that day -- you will get it with the quilt. Before you start, find a good knee pad and make sure that nobody in your family needs that bathtub for several hours, sometimes days.

    Good luck!

    Dayle

  18. #18
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    My grandmother was a spinner, weaver, knitter, crocheter etc. Her house was full of woollen items.

    I wash large woollen items in the bath tub as others have mentioned. I usually use a mild shampoo (wool is hair). I use warm water and add the shampoo to it before the woollen item. To help get the water through, I use a clean toilet plunger gently.

    I drain and rinse several times (until the water is clear), leaving the item in the tub the whole time.

    I do not line the tub with a sheet as it just traps the dirt and I want it to drain away. After the final rinse I let it drain for quite a while, pressing it until no more water came out. Now I roll it out of the tub onto a sheet and carry it outside. I have several old sliding door screens that I put on saw horses for drying.

    I do not worry about drying in sunlight. The sheep lived outside before they were shorn.

    I have washed rugs, curtains (yes my grandmother made them out of wool), very old crochet afghans and more this way.

  19. #19
    Super Member Neesie's Avatar
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    Just thinking outside the box, here. Would it be possible to construct a frame (outside), to support a large expanse of screening? The quilt could be placed onto the screening, then washed and rinsed, with a hose. Sponge soapy water onto it, then rinse. The water would go through the quilt and drain away. When clean, the quilt could be covered with a clean sheet and left to dry.
    Neesie


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  20. #20
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    Before I did any washing I would lay the quilt out. Get some plastic screen and put over sections of it and vaccum thru the screen. Most instructios for washing quiilts suggest this to get all the dirt possible out of it.
    You can make your own washing station by taking 2x4 and making a framework and then cover it with sheet plastic. Then add water and detergent if needed. This allows you to wash it fully flat.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tothill View Post
    I have washed rugs, curtains (yes my grandmother made them out of wool), very old crochet afghans and more this way.
    Brilliant! I live in a kind of drafty house. My windows are ok but I can still feel cold air in the winter. I think wool drapes are the perfect thing to replace the velvet ones I have now. Why, oh why didn't I think of this sooner? Thanks for the suggestion!

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