Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986 Page: 24
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Maintenance and Display of Quilt
1. A quilt should be vacuumed
through a fiberglass screen (the
edges of which have been covered
with bias or twill tape) using a lowsuction
vacuum. The nozzle should
be held slightly above the screen so
that it does not drag across the
surface and cause the screen to
abrade the fabrics.
2. Cut a piece of cotton or polyester
twill tape long enough to
accommodate the identifying
number plus a margin or 1/4" on each
side. Using a pencil, lightly print
the number on the tape.
3. Using a medium or darker shade
of color-fast sewing thread, or a
single strand of cotton embroidery
thread, carefully stitch along the
pencil lines using a small backstitch.
by Sara Wolf Green
and Bobbi K. Studstill
With the continued interest in and
appreciation for American folk arts,
quilts have become one of the most
popular display items for museums.
As their value and importance have
increased, there has also been an increased
awareness of the need for appropriate
care and preservation to
maintain quilt collections.
Much of the care required to preserve
quilt collections could be
termed preventive conservation or
collection maintenance. One of the
most important aspects of collection
maintenance is the monitoring of objects
for signs of deterioration as well
as monitoring the display and storage
environment to control factors
which promote deterioration.
The environment and fabric deterioration:
Light, temperature, relative
humidity and air pollution (including
airborne dust and dirt) promote
the deterioration of textile materials.
Deterioration can also be caused by
insects, molds and mildew, physical
or mechanical stress, and improper
previous repairs and treatments.
Textile objects can be much more
fragile than some other museum
specimens, such as paintings or porcelain
because of their previous utilitarian
life. Many quilts from the Victorian
era, the "Crazy" quilts, also
have the added problem of "inherent
vice". These quilts have often been
constructed from silk fabrics which
were "weighted" with mineral salts
and other compounds to add stiffness
and weight. These additives have
caused the silks to weaken, embrittie,
and tear. These fabrics are also
particularly vulnerable to damage by
mechanical action (folding and handling)
and by light.
Light, including both the visible and
ultraviolet portions of the spectrum,
fade dyes and cause textile fibers to
become embrittled. Damage caused
by light is cumulative and irreversible.
Damage by light can be kept to
a minimum by carefully controlling
the amount and kind of light that
falls on a quilt, and by limiting the
amount of time the quilt is on display.
Fluorescent lights can be fitted
with shields to filter out the ultraviolet
rays (1) and light intensity can
be controlled to 5 foot-candles or
less. A lux, or foot-candle meter and
uv meter should be part of the maintenance
equipment for any collection
(2). Since filters and low light
levels will not stop the deteriorative
action of light entirely, textile displays
should be limited to between 6
weeks and 3 months (depending on
the condition of the fabrics) to minimize
Temperature can also be a factor in
textile preservation because heat accelerates
chemical reactions and pro
motes biological activity. Fluctuations
in temperature affect the level
of relative humidity. Fibers expand
and contract as the fabrics absorb
and lose moisture when relative humidity
fluctuates. This mechanical
action can be damaging in itself and
will promote further deterioration as
embedded dust and dirt abrade and
cut through fibers that are expanding
Ideal temperatures should be fairly
cool (68-72F), and relative humidity
around 50%. More important,
the temperature and relative humidity
should be kept constant, with a
fluctuation of no more than 1 or 2%
to promote the best conditions for
Good housekeeping is another important
aspect of environmental control.
The quilts and their storage
areas should be inspected regularly
for any change in the condition of
the fabrics and for signs of insect infestation.
Dust is attractive to insects
and can provide a medium upon
which certain molds will grow.
Therefore, storage areas should be
Cleaning: No aged fabric should ever
be washed in a machine using commercial
laundry agents. However,
some quilts can be safely wet-cleaned
if proper precautions are taken. Because
no two quilts are alike, it is
very difficult to make generalizations
about proper cleaning techniques.
One all-cotton quilt may be able to
be safely cleaned, and the dyes on
the next may not be fast to detergents
or water. To discover whether or not
the dyes are fast, each fabric and
color must be carefully tested. Even
if the colors appear to be fast, there is
still a question as to whether wetcleaning
may be the best treatment
for a quilt. There is an increasing
concern among conservators, that
because some of the components of
cellulose are water soluble, and because
water may contribute to the
breakdown of the cellulose itself,
wet-cleaning may pose a real danger
to aged fabrics. Before cleaning a
quilt, a conservator should evaluate
the nature of the soils and stains, the
stability of the fabrics and their pH,
and weigh the benefits of cleaning
against the hazards.
Dry-cleaning is generally not recommended
for aged textiles because the
process of cleaning involves tumbling
and agitation which may be harmful
to fragile fabrics, and the cleaning
solvents may have a drying or embrittling
effect. Since neither wet nor
dry cleaning can be recommended,
the only method which can be generally
used for removing dust and dirt
from most textile materials is vacuuming.
However, like any other form
of treatment vacuuming must be
done properly and carefully or it also
could cause damage.
SPRING 86 * HERITAGE
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986, periodical, March 1, 1986; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45441/m1/24/: accessed July 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.