Have you ever stored something away, forgotten about it, then when you found it again been surprised by the kind of damage that had transpired while you thought it was merely tucked away in a closet or cupboard? I think this has unintentionally happened to many of us. It may be that we think we’ll be getting the item out again to use relatively soon. But more often I suspect that we just lack knowledge of the appropriate way to store the item or we don’t think it is really necessary to use special boxes or paper that would ensure safe-keeping.
Fabric is an organic material that naturally deteriorates with age. While this process can’t be stopped completely, it can be slowed down. Here are a few simple guidelines:
- The washing machine is not your friend. Over-laundering is a common issue with quilts. Of course it shouldn’t be stored dirty, but a quilt should be laundered as infrequently as possible. Stains can be spot-cleaned.
- When you do wash a quilt, use a front-loading machine or at least a non-agitating top loader. The combination of water and agitation wears down fibers. If the quilt is made of specialty fabric(s) it may require hand-washing.
- Some people may recommend that you hang the quilt to dry but I advise against it as it can stretch when wet and result in distortion. Dry on low, and remove when slightly damp. Finish drying flat, on a bed, or even on a clean sheet spread on the grass in the shade,
- Sunlight is also not your quilt’s friend. Avoid direct sunlight by closing shades or placing quilts and wall-hangings in areas that do not receive direct sunlight.
- USE IT! This may be one of the most important points. Why store it away and “save” it? Most quilts are not so valuable that they are investments for the future; they are works of love and works of art to be enjoyed. Face it, your heirs may not like what you cherish and that item may end up at the thrift store someday. Wouldn’t it be sad it it was never used and appreciated? I have a quilt my grandmother made, probably in the 1930s or 40s and it is still in relatively good shape in spite of more than 40 years of active use.
- When storing your quilt or other fabric items, invest in some good acid-free boxes. Gently fold items and place in a clean white pillow-case or wrap in a clean white sheet then place in the box. Store the box in an area that is free of mold, critters, humidity, and does not experience extreme temperature changes. Check the item from time to time (I’ll admit I do this pretty infrequently, as in every few years in some cases) and refold so that items do not get worn in one area from a permanent crease. Do not use plastic bags or bins for long-term storage. These give off toxins that over time can hasten the deterioration of your fabric items.
- There are mixed reviews regarding storage in a cedar chest. Any wood has some oil residue that can stain fabric over time so it would be best to use a sheet or other wrapping for any long-term storage. I haven’t had problems, but I don’t use my chest for quilts or older linens and I recommend against it. Never use moth balls!
- Repair tears promptly, even if it means stitching a different fabric over a rip or tear that cannot be repaired without being visible. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself check with a fabric store or quilting guild in your area for recommendations for someone who is skilled in such work.
- Photograph your items and document what you know about the piece. Keep this in a safe place, too, ideally a copy with the item (but not pinned directly onto the item) and a second copy in another location. Years from now someone may be interested in the item and there may be no one around who remembers how it came into being
Except in some very sad cases, even items that have been stored improperly for years can benefit from proper storage going forward. And upcycling or repurposing can be another solution to items that are lingering in storage (good or bad) but that are not so useable or lovable in their current state.