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Thread: Washing quilt top - allergies - help!

  1. #1
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    Washing quilt top - allergies - help!

    I've been quilting for years, however, I was recently diagnosed with multiple food allergies and chemical sensitivities. After removing everything and getting rid of all the chemicals in my daily routine, I'm allergy free and my sinuses are the happiest they've been in years!

    So how is that relevant? I'm working on a couple of quilts that I didn't pre-wash the fabric for because I live in an apt building and hate paying for the washer/dryer for small loads. So now I've been getting headaches and a runny nose with sneezing while I quilt, and the only thing I can link it back to are the chemicals and possible formaldehyde used in the fabric dye process. So now I'm trying to figure out how I can go about finishing piecing this quilt without misery.

    Here are my questions:
    1. Can I put a quilt top in a lingerie bag in the sink and let it soak in my gentle chemical free detergent, then hang dry it? I finished the scrappy trip along quilt from Quilt-Ville and I want to try to wash it before I baste and quilt it so I can do so allergy-free.
    2. Is it possible to do the same with fabric that is already cut up to be pieced?
    3. And finally, what about quilt blocks? I'm working on the Swoon pattern, so I have about five 24-inch blocks finished already and I'm hoping I can soak those in some detergent and hang to dry.

    Are these terrible ideas? To be completely honest, I'm willing to suck it up and keep a fan going to ventilate the room well while I finish these last few projects. Is it a borderline addiction when you're willing to suffer for your fabric?

    Thanks in advance for any help! I've learned everything about quilting from the internet and I don't know anyone who quilts, so I'm hoping someone can help me before I make a huge mistake.

  2. #2
    Super Member nhweaver's Avatar
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    I have washed quilt tops in lingerie bags in my bath tub. I can agitate it a bit and not get a wet floor. A friend of mine puts a plastic chair in her shower, puts a quilt top over it, spritzes it with a washing solution, and turns on the shower. she then turns it around the other side, and lets it take a shower. She lets it drip dry , or rolls it in beach towels, and hangs it over her shower door to dry. What ever works, use it. Chemicals are in everything these days.
    If life gives you lemons, make a margarita.

  3. #3
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    I have HAND washed pieced strips after my cat anointed them. They did fray some, even with very careful handling. Because I wash my fabrics before cutting them, I was not worried about the sizes changing.

    You can do all the things that you suggested.
    You might want to wear protective gloves while you are washing the pieces.

    What may happen:

    Sometimes nothing except the fabric gets wet, the chemicals get washed out, and it dries.

    Some of the fabrics may shrink or distort - you might have to compensate for the changed sizes - usually manageable if one is aware of the need to do so

    There are people that think one can force fabric into submission by blocking it when it's damp. I think it's in the same category as expecting a rubber band to stay stretched after one let's it go back to its unstretched size.

    I've washed little pieces in the sink - then put them in the washer on the spin cycle to get some of the excess water out - and then either hung them on a wooden drying rack or laid them on towels to dry.

    It is a bit of a bother - but so is making a quilt or wall hanging or place mat when one can go to the store and buy one already made.

    Guess it depends on how much the unwashed fabric is bothering you.

    Maybe you can take some antihistamines or something until you are finished with it?

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by nhweaver View Post
    I have washed quilt tops in lingerie bags in my bath tub. I can agitate it a bit and not get a wet floor. A friend of mine puts a plastic chair in her shower, puts a quilt top over it, spritzes it with a washing solution, and turns on the shower. she then turns it around the other side, and lets it take a shower. She lets it drip dry , or rolls it in beach towels, and hangs it over her shower door to dry. What ever works, use it. Chemicals are in everything these days.
    I like the quilt shower idea - I may use that! Thanks for the fast response!

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by bearisgray View Post
    It is a bit of a bother - but so is making a quilt or wall hanging or place mat when one can go to the store and buy one already made.
    Haha, very true.

    Thanks for the advice, I think I'm going to finish piecing the last few blocks, and then wash my quilt tops as gently as possible and hope for the best. Good point about the antihistamine - I do take Claritin each night to deal with the stuff I can't control around me. But considering I usually quilt at night around the same time my 24 hour dose is wearing off, I think I'll try taking it earlier in the afternoon/evening to see if it helps.

    And from now on, I will be pre-washing ALL my fabric.

    I appreciate the fast and helpful response!

  6. #6
    Super Member charsuewilson's Avatar
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    You could very well be allergic to the sizing in the fabrics (yarns, too). This allergy can cause red splotches to appear on your skin. I had a cousin with this allergy. She said she was covered in red splotches and so she stayed home and sewed and knitted. The more she stayed home and did that the worse the red splotches got.

    I'm trying to remember what she said she was allergic to. I'm thinking she said the sizing was Quaternium 15, but she said she was also allergic to cinnamon and nutmeg (from the bark on the tree those come from). Now you can get cinnamon and nutmeg extract. I don't know if she would have been allergic to those. The quaternium 15 is in a ton of consumer products like shampoos and detergents. I think she had to check for synonyms of quaternium 15, as well. My cousin had tests from a dermatologist.

    Bottom line, yes, you probably are allergic to something from/in the fabric. My cousin is no longer living, so I can't ask what she had to do to remove the sizing from the fabric. She had a washing machine, so she wouldn't have been limited to handwashing. I would wear gloves while washing. For long term, you might want to invest in an apartment sized washer and dryer. Even the scented dryer sheets that the previous person used in the laundromat could set off your allergies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by charsuewilson View Post
    You could very well be allergic to the sizing in the fabrics (yarns, too). This allergy can cause red splotches to appear on your skin. I had a cousin with this allergy. She said she was covered in red splotches and so she stayed home and sewed and knitted. The more she stayed home and did that the worse the red splotches got.

    I'm trying to remember what she said she was allergic to. I'm thinking she said the sizing was Quaternium 15, but she said she was also allergic to cinnamon and nutmeg (from the bark on the tree those come from). Now you can get cinnamon and nutmeg extract. I don't know if she would have been allergic to those. The quaternium 15 is in a ton of consumer products like shampoos and detergents. I think she had to check for synonyms of quaternium 15, as well. My cousin had tests from a dermatologist.

    Bottom line, yes, you probably are allergic to something from/in the fabric. My cousin is no longer living, so I can't ask what she had to do to remove the sizing from the fabric. She had a washing machine, so she wouldn't have been limited to handwashing. I would wear gloves while washing. For long term, you might want to invest in an apartment sized washer and dryer. Even the scented dryer sheets that the previous person used in the laundromat could set off your allergies.
    Thanks for the advice!! And sorry about your cousin I'm sensitive to fragrance, sodium laurel sulfates, chemicals in food like high fructose corn syrup and dyes, and formaldehyde gives me a headache. I don't get a skin reaction but instead have the same reaction someone would get to pollen or ragweed and eventually developed asthma a couple years ago in my early 20's.

    I will definitely do a some research on quaternium 15 just because I also crochet and never really considered the dye used in yarn. I wish we could get a washer/dryer but we don't have the hookups and probably won't live in our apartment for more than another year. In unit washer/dryers are rare in the boston area for a 1 bedroom in our price range, but hopefully in another year we'll have a little more flexibility with rent.

    I think I'm going to try finishing the quilt tops then washing them as gentle as possible with some gloves on, and hopefully I can finish quilting them without a headache. Pre-washing should cut down on my symptoms because I never have a problem with finished quilts that I've washed and dried. And I figure I can slowly start building a stash of organic cotton fabrics as they go on sale.

    I can live without conventional shampoo and perfume, but I can't live without quilting.

  8. #8
    Super Member DOTTYMO's Avatar
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    Would a mask and loves help just to finish without the washing. It would prevent you breathing in as you quilt. Finish all then wash . If you have no mask a padded bra would work as well.
    Finished is better than a UFO

  9. #9
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    I go through the allergy irritation myself. I don't know what you use to launder with but I get the Arm and Hammer Dye and Fragrance free laundry soap for the material. If you're going to use the bathtub/shower method add some vinegar or a 1/4 cup of ammonia. DO NOT USE A COLORSAFE BLEACH! I would agitate for a couple minutes, then let it soak some more about another 20 minutes depending on how strong the dye or fragrance is. Then like nhweaver stated put them over a chair or wire shelving and turn the shower on. Don't be afraid to use rubber gloves. Rinse couple times. Good luck. I always pre wash my material though.

  10. #10
    Super Member charsuewilson's Avatar
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    I had allergy/chemical sensitivity problems in 1986 when we moved into a new house with new blue carpet. I was thinking it was the carpet dye (I thought maybe the blue dye was somewhat unusual). About 5-10 years later, it was discovered that the glues used in carpets (even the ones not glued to the floor) caused major problems in some people.

    Then in 1990, I developed asthma when the office building I was in was rehabbed while it was occupied. The problem was most likely dust and mold being thrown around the air. I could no longer stand to be anywhere near anyone smoking, or wearing most fragrances (floral perfumes, right guard deodorant, and more recently Axe spray are particularly bad). Gasoline fumes can cause an asthmatic reaction. The asthma medications don't help much. I've always been allergic to Dial soap and Tide detergent, all detergents with fabric softener included, and the fabric softening dryer sheets; the reaction is itching all over. At times I've been in rooms with particleboard furniture, and it's awful. Even our newer office with supposedly low emission particleboard and carpet was particularly bad for the first few months.

    So, you learn the things that set off your allergies or asthma, and avoid them as best you can. I have to avoid anything that says "New Improved Fresh Scent." or anything like that.

  11. #11
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    sounds like you should add formaldehydes to your list of allergies. its in the carpet, fabrics, particleboard, etc. I was asked to try a brand-new classroom once. I walked in and walked out. informed the principal that unless he wanted me to go home and still get paid, I could not teach in that room. even after a year of in and out kids, the whole building was too bad for me to use. americans with disabilities act considers working in those conditions to be a bad thing, they pay you to go home because you cannot work in those conditions. it is not your fault. I do not think they can let you go, either.... it would have to be a joint decision.

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