Doll Clothing · Restoration and Conservation

Antique Fabrics and Quilts Gone Wild – Creating a Bit of Order From Chaos

quilts galore!
Thank goodness this is a sturdy table!

My perpetual hunt for antique fabrics has been overwhelmingly successful this summer! So much so that I have had fabric and quilts stacked everywhere… Much of the fabric I use to make dresses for my reproduction Izannah Walker dolls comes from the backs of damaged and worn antique quilts.

I search for and buy the quilts, take them apart, use the backing fabric that is stable enough to sew with, then save the tops to be restored if possible (sometimes this means removing the damaged blocks, then reassembling the tops into a smaller size), or at the very least I keep the tops so that even the tiniest bits of usable fabric can be re-purposed to restore other quilts and antique clothing.

So that means that I have an on going storage nightmare! The whole quilts and tops are stored in my painting studio… I know NOT paint… but my sewing studio completely ran out of space for any more fabric!!! Antique fabric, that isn’t quilts (which includes damaged antique clothing) IS kept in my cozy little sewing studio. Everyone who sews knows that you can never have enough fabric, the only question is “where do you keep it?” 🙂

Since I could barely walk into the storage closet of the painting studio, something HAD to be done. I purchased some heavy duty chrome shelves, spent a couple of afternoons putting them together, then yesterday re-folded all of my quilts and organized them on the shelves.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not a person that spends a great deal of time cleaning… in fact cleaning is pretty low on my to do list, but… I needed my work table back, where all of the quilts have been stacked for the past couple of weeks. Now that my table is empty, I can get to work on the how-to project and accompanying magazine article that I am writing for the Christmas issue of Early American Life.

Wondering About My Choice of Shelving?

For those of you interested in conservation of antique textiles, the reason I chose the chrome shelving is because the chrome will keep the metal from rusting. Wood shelving was unsuitable because of the acid in the wood, and while you CAN paint the wood to seal in the acid, I prefer not to rely on a painted barrier. Plastic shelving is not strong enough to bear the weight of the quilts, and museum quality acid free storage boxes are impractical in this situation since I need constant, ready access to the quilts.

After I got all the quilts placed on the shelves, I covered the shelves with large dust covers to keep the quilts clean and prevent exposure to sunlight. I will periodically refold all of the quilts so that the fabric won’t wear and crumble along the fold lines.

When I need to wash quilts, I hand wash them using Orvus and cool water saved from my dehumidifier ( purchased distilled water can also be used). Then I air dry the quilts outside in a shady location, preferably flat – especially for very fragile quilts, but occasionally on the clothes line for especially sturdy ones. ❤

A clear table and one quilt to take apart to make a dress for Emmaline…
Just perfect to go with Emmaline’s petticoat and pantalettes embroidered in blue…
a second quilt, to be washed, restored and placed on the bed in the studio loft…
and a third quilt, to be mooned over, mourned, and dream of restoring…

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