using old quilts every day

Marian ParsonsAntiques, Cleaning & care, Popular, Tips and Tricks35 Comments

I definitely have a thing for old textiles.  I love table linens, fabric, clothing, embroidery, quilts…you name it.  I’m always drawn to the “linen lady’s booth” in antique stores.  I like to look through the stacks to see if anything catches my eye.  I’m usually looking for blue and white, of course, nubby linen, pretty monograms, crochet trim…things that will compliment the decor of my home, but also pieces that I can use as-is or repurpose.

 Because what is the point of having stacks of linens if you don’t ever use them?

True, a stack of linens can look pretty in a cabinet, but did you know linens can get stained as much from not being used as they can from being used?  That’s a totally unscientific statement, but I have observed that they can turn yellow from starch, acquire “dust lines” at the folds, or fade in the sun.  So, use them, I say!  If I can’t actually use a piece and throw it in the washer and dryer, it’s not worth having in my house.

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So, what about quilts that are the wrong size for modern-sized beds?  

Most old quilts are twin or full-sized.  Some of them are 3/4, crib or lap quilts, but most of them are twin or full.  And most of the beds in homes nowadays are queens and kings.

I still use them on every bed in our house.  I just fold them long-ways and put them at the foot of the bed to add some color and another layer of warmth when needed.

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By folding the quilt long-ways, it can hang over the ends of a queen or king bed, so it looks like it fits, even if it’s too small.

The colorful wedding ring quilt is an antique from my husband’s grandmother.  She didn’t make it, but she had quite the collection of beautiful old quilts before she passed away.

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We also use an antique quilt at the foot of our bed and I feel like it’s being used everyday, even if it’s just “light-duty” use.

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Another way I use quilts in my house is to fold them over the backs of sofas and chairs and on our ottoman.

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They add some color to the white furniture and we do actually use them when we’re snuggling up for a movie.

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A few tips on using antique quilts every day…

  • If it’s a really delicate quilt, those are best folded over chairs that are only used occasionally.
  • If a quilt is musty, dingy or stained, put it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle with a gentle soap.  Line dry or machine dry on low.  I’m often surprised how well these old quilts hold up to a washing and how pretty they look when they are freshly laundered.
  • If you notice holes or tears that are going to be easy to snag and make larger, put a simple running stitch or whipstitch in to close the hole.  Some of my favorite linens have visible repairs.  You know it was loved if it was worth fixing.

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So, get those quilts out of the closet and enjoy their functional beauty!

using old quilts every day

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35 Comments on “using old quilts every day”

  1. Love old textiles – new ones too! Fabric adds so much interest to a space.
    Saw your leather sofa in this post, and was just curious if you’re still happy with it? Considering leather for a future purchase, and though I haven’t always been a fan of leather couches, the idea is growing on me. I really like that they are more hypo-allergenic, easier to keep clean, and don’t emit flame retardant chemicals like a lot of fabric upholstery.
    The style of yours is very pleasing to the eye, not bulky or poofy like so many. I know it’s a significant expense, so just thought I’d see if it’s one you would do again.
    Thanks in advance for your reply!

    1. I do really like it. I will say that I love the look of my white slipcovered pieces, but it’s just not practical with two young boys who are grungy from playing outside. The leather sofa is so much easier to keep clean and forgiving with spills and the grunge. It was a good purchase and I’m really happy with it.

  2. Such a beautiful reminder to use them. I have many my grandmother made and as you say…they don’t fit. Love the idea of folding them longwise across the bed. Love it!!

  3. I love quilts and a good place to find them is estate sales. I do use mine too, thanks this is a great Blog and i love your home .

  4. As a quilter, I use my quilts new and old. I have some my grandmother made by hand stitching every stitch in the quilt. I cherish the memories of her every time I use one of her quilts.

  5. I just found a quilt my grandmother made for me when I was born ~
    way back when !
    It was musty and stained ……..
    I washed it on delicate and dried it in the afternoon sun,
    turning it over every hour.
    All stains are gone and the quilt is bright ! Thanks for the lesson on
    using and loving our quilts ~ with memories !

  6. I have 20 or so passed down family quilts. We use our favorites but the rest stay in an old trunk. I know I should sell some to spread the wealth & let others enjoy but hard to let go of history sometimes.
    What is the lovely light blue paint color in the one bedroom please?

  7. Love use of old quilts. However, I never throw an antique quilt in the washer–it hastens their wear. An easy washing technique is to simply add water and gentle soap to the bathtub, line it with a sturdy sheet and then place the quilt in to soak. A little gentle hand-agitation, a few rinses and you have a cleaned quilt. While it is wet and vulnerable to damage, simply lift it by the supporting sheet to give it a bit of a wring-out and then it as flat as possible to dry. It adds many more repair-free years of enjoyment.

  8. I inherited my husband’s grandmother’s quilt…as much as I love quilts, the colors just don’t match my decor. I think the best use would just be folded in a glassed cabinet…??? Thank you!

  9. My grandmother made each of her 15 grandchildren a quilt when they graduated high school. I took mine to college and gave it to my middle daughter when SHE went to college. It was coming undone after all that use and Deb cut squares of it, finished the edges, and framed them for her two sisters and me. I have it hanging in my guest room.

    The quilt my grandmother made for my parents as a wedding gift is my buffer for things bought while shopping estate and yard sales. I see it every time I open the trunk.

    This morning I repaired a beautiful off-white crocheted spread to use for the summer. It was destined for my flea market booth but I think I’ll enjoy it for a while first.

  10. I can’t give you scientific evidence that not using old textiles and linens can ruin them but I know from experience that it can. I’ve had old linens that dry rotted……but only at the fold lines and they were in a dark, dry cupboard. I was saving them for “special” use. I never got to use them for “special” or otherwise. Makes me want to cry when I think of all the pleasure I could have gotten from seeing them on the bed every day. They were linens my Grandmama had made.

    Don’t save your pretties for some future special occasion that may never come. Use them NOW before age or an accident renders them ruined. Enjoy them NOW.

  11. Marion,
    I have a wonderful quilt collection! 60 of all hand stitched and pieced. I use them in each and every room. Over all my sofas, church pew and of course beds. They add so much warmth and beauty to a house. Thank you for featuring the humble guilt!
    Smiles, alice

  12. Hanging a just washed old quilt on a clothesline puts a lot of strain on the stitching. I put down a large piece of plastic and lay the quilt on top of that to dry, turning it over from time to time.

  13. I love old linens too….a tip for getting rid of the dingy looks or stains is to wash the piece (quilt, table cloth, etc.) and then lay them flat on green grass in the sun to dry. I read it has something to do with the chlorophyll in the grass, I don’t know but it works….give it a try!

  14. I have an old log cabin quilt made in the early 1900s by my great grand-mother from her children’s clothing. A true family treasure! And quite sturdy after all these years. Fabric was made to last back then. I am inspired to bring it out of storage and put it over a chair in the living room.

  15. I discovered my love for old textiles when I opened an old blanket chest when I was 16 and found a monogrammed homespun sheet. I asked my grandmother about the monogram and she told me that young brides often embroidered initials on their linens. I started collecting that very day! I only display some of the delicate pieces but do use most everything on a regular basis. My best find recently is an antique baby quilt in faded but otherwise perfect condition. I found it in a thrift store for less than $4. I think that is why I continue to hunt whenever I shop in thrift stores, antique stores and yard sales. Every once in a while I find a treasure!

  16. Thank you so much for featuring quilts – I like you love old textiles and have amassed quite a collection of quilts, linens, antique needlework samplers I could go on and on. I do have a few tips that might be helpful for the older quilts 1800’s to about 1930. The fabrics are usually not colorfast so they will run. Always test the fabric first. For really old quilts best way to wash is to put them in a tub with a mild detergent I use Linen Wash and it does come in a Lavender scent. To agitate I use an old yard stick and rinse. I recommend repeating until the water is clear. I am always amazed by how dark the water is the first time from years of dust collection. Once the water is is clear I use an old collapsible quilt rack and hang them to dry. If the weather is nice outside for the fresh air to dry. If you have a lot of quilts rotate them for display purposes – they were meant to be used. Those not in the display rotation rolling them instead of folding minimizes the lines that will form over time this is where the sun damage will appear if in a display case and dirt/dust will collect. Also if one needs repair – try to find fabric from the same period to repair the quilt. Newer fabric and old fabric do not mix well the chemicals used as part of the process for new fabrics can actually do more damage to an older quilt.

    My true love are antique schoolgirl samplers these should never be washed they are usually stitched with either silks or wool both of which do not do well with water. I have numerous in my collection since I am a needlework designer with a focus on antique needlework samplers and originals. They also have high collector value and historical value to them. A few years ago a huge personal collection was auctioned off at Sotheby’s – highest price realized for one of the samplers was over $1M.

    Hopefully some of these tips are helpful – I could go on and on!!

  17. Wonderful! I love old linens especially hand worked with embroidery or lace. I really struggle to find modem ways to use these as most people no longer use doilies or dresser scarves. Would love to see more ideas on this.

  18. Yes, indeed, my mother was quite the collector of quilts. She loved them, their warmth as reflected in the loving busy hands that made them. She obtained most of them from Pennsylvania and had some of them custom made.

  19. If one isn’t interested in passing down old linens, a few other ways to use them would be: use smaller “doilies” as elbow patches on a jean jacket; as appliques on jeans; over “patch holes” on other old pieces, such as quilts; or, in between pieces of glass as coasters. One could also make pillow covers out of old linens, or a cute summer top, or stitch some together for a table runner or breezy curtains or a valance, or a basket liner. If the trend isn’t over yet, maybe attach some old pieces to the tops of your boot socks to peek over the tops of your boots. Some pieces look beautiful on the wall, behind a framed piece of glass. For raggedy pieces that look ready to trash, cut off the best parts and glue them on a book cover, lamp shade, picture frame, the lid of a storage box, etc.

  20. I just inherited from my mom a wedding ring quilt that her grandmother made for her mom….I put it at over 100 years old, looks just like yours ~ priceless! Sure a bummer I missed your Lucketts this year. I will never forget meeting you there when I was visiting my granddaughter in VA ~ I came from Gig Harbor, WA remember and I stalked you all day. I bought my first piece of ironstone from you….still enjoy stalking you from 2,000 miles away 🙂

  21. A subject near and dear to my heart. I have several old quilts, and a few that are only about 25 years old. But, the heart of my quilts is the first quilt my grandmother pieced when she was a young teenager, putting things in her hope chest. She was born in 1876, so I estimate it’s between 138 – 142 years old. I do not use this quilt, but keep it folded in a wooden basket my grandfather (her husband) made for her to take pies in to church socials. She was a great pie maker too!

    Once a week, I take it out and let it lay across the bed for several hours before I fold it a different way to stay for the next week. I have laid it out in the yard (but under a tree, don’t want it faded more than it is) to just air out. I cannot imagine washing it, terrified it would fall apart.

    It is one of the things I’m most happy and proud to have in my home.

  22. I have a collection of old quilts, mostly light greens and pastels. When I saw the pic of one draped over a sofa, a lightbulb went off! I have leather sofas that we can’t seem to part with but I’ve tried to lighten the room up with light green walls and accents, Mercury glass and white. I pulled out a couple of my antique green patterned quilts to tuck in the back of the sofas this morning, just what I needed! Thanks so much for the inspiration! Love reading your blog.

  23. I know you’re busy but if you have time I am wondering where you purchased your tan leather couch pictured in this post. I have been on a long hunt to find one that color and style in vein ! Thank you!
    Heather Romney

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