Friday, August 17, 2012

Wash Day - Long Story, better grab a drink!

In 1989, I read an ad in the local paper advertising quilt tops for sale.  I made the call.  The seller agreed to meet me off a country road between her town and mine.

I remember this encounter vividly because of the circumstances of why the woman was selling her family quilts; there were medical bills to be paid.  There was only one problem.  These quilt tops smelled.

Smelled - well, reeked is more appropriate.  I was drawn into the the family plight and came home with one very odoriferous, and off kilter top.

For several months I tried everything to get the odor to leave the fibers.  I sealed the top in a container with coffee, it stayed in a ceder chest, hung on the line, I even went as far as having it make friends with moth balls, because moth ball odor was kinder to my nose than whatever permeated the threads of the top.

Finally, I said, "&*(& it."

I layered it with cotton batting and muslin for the backing.  I took it to the machine and stipple quilted the begeezers out of it.  (Yes, begeezers is a word in our household.)  I felt it was going to need as much quilting as possible to hold it together for what I was planning next.

Then,  THEN....   I put it in the washing machine with Lestoil.  PRESTO!  She came out clean - as though she wasn't the ugly duckling going into this adventure.

At the time, I couldn't get a double pink reproduction fabric for the binding, so I took a pink calico and tea dyed it to give it a little patina.

She has served us well.  She is a cuddle quilt and has been in service for an additional 23 years!  The fabrics date around 1890.  She was ready for worm chow at 100 and at 123 she is soft, loved and very comforting.

The blocks are set together like a rail fence, but the blocks themselves were string pieced with scraps.  I loved the chrome orange when I first saw the top, maybe that is what pulled at my heart strings.

Machine quilting was considered taboo by the local quilt group (of which I was a member).  Remember, this was the 80's and these quilters also had big hair, big glasses, and padded shoulders - whether they needed it or not.  I wasn't going to rock their boat!  I just kept machine quilting.  It has definitely served the purpose of keeping this quilt top together.

Reproduction fabrics were just starting to make it big when I was so desperately looking for double pink. 

So why am I telling you this lengthy story??

I was back at the washing machine today with a quilt.  This is one that I acquired at a garage sale.  It looked like it had spent a few decades in the garage - which was sad.

I don't use the wash cycle when I put my quilts in the washing machine.  I use it for soaking and when I wash, I manipulate it by hand.   I'd rather manipulate a quilt standing over a washing machine rather than breaking my back bending over the bath tub.  The YELLOW is how the water was turning as soon as it entered the washer.  I let it soak for over an hour.

When I drained the water....  this is the greasy grime on the sides of the washer tub.  I carefully took out the quilt and had to clean out the washer.  I'm not sure if this was residual oil from seeds in the batting, or grime from how it was stored....but it was grime!

I washed the quilt in gentle shampoo.  The water looks so much better and the quilt is starting to perk up!

Here she is.  :)  She was a dirty thing, but now a sweetheart of a quilt.  Sure, there are some stained areas, but it is so pretty with a great diagonal quilting pattern in the zig-zag layout.  Simple patterns are sometimes the most effective.  The quilt is made of feed sacks and some woven plaids.  I would put a 1940s date on it.  
 So how did I know this quilt was going to be a great one to take home?  I could tell immediately from the binding that there wasn't any wear.  It was made and stored (a big poorly) but a minimally used piece.

A salt bag from the same sale.

Since we live in a big salt producing area (Syracuse is known as the Salt City), I was surprised to find a salt bag from Ohio.  Salt is also mined from Cayuga Lake, about 30 miles from Syracuse.
Here is the disclaimer - not all quilts should be washed.  Only you and your textile historian can determine if the use of soap and water will shorten the lifespan of the quilt.  I use a very gentle shampoo for washing my quilts, but desperate and smelly quilts find Lestoil in the soaking water.  Be sure to follow directions offered by competent sources on quilt cleaning.  The least abrasive method is to vacuum a quilt if it is in need of cleaning.

However, don't be mislead that every quilt is historically significant and so important it can't be cleaned.  Provenance, workmanship, rarity, and innovative design is key.   Grannie's quilt should be loved and enjoyed and used... it's just when Grannie is Lucretia Mott that I would lock the spigot and call the Smithsonian.


  1. Looks like you had a good day! I love that you saved that quilt (and helped out that family).

  2. I have a Chippewa Salt bag, but it is 25 lbs. and a different motif. I think yours is older.

  3. Pretty quilt, mom! It looks nice with the wall colors of your room xoxo