Sunday, August 28, 2016

To Pre- Wash or Not to Pre-Wash?

That is the question.
Whether you bring home  a few fat quarters or a big bag of new fabrics, you have a decision to make before you take that fabric to your sewing room.

You have just two choices:

1. Leave it in the laundry room until you have time to pre-wash and dry it all. (Then to the ironing board to press, fold and store in whatever system you have developed that enables some possibility of finding it again.)


 2. Skip all but the last step. Bring it straight to your sewing area, put it away and use it as needed.

We can all see why #2 is the choice for many quilters. But. I am not one of them.  I pre-wash everything.

Technically, I should say pre-soak since I don't use soap. I use cold water and a big pure white plastic bowl from the $1 store. (A white dish washing tub will work, too.)
This allows me to see any dye creeping out into the water. Sometimes it is immediate. If so I drain and refill with cold water.
(Investigate the product Retayne if something keeps bleeding and re-think using the piece in your project)

Even if nothing shows up at first, leave it there for maybe 20 minutes. Most fabrics hold excess dye. It can come out now, or after the first time water hits it. After spending months or years making a quilt for yourself or for a gift that is a risk you take.

The photos you see are of high quality batik scraps given to me by friends contributing to a quilt I'm making. All told me the fabric was not pre-washed so I grouped the scraps by color and these photos are typical of the results.

There are varying opinions on this issue. Some say blues and reds may bleed (see the gold/yellow above). Others say today's fabrics really don't "bleed much". Not true.

If you make bed quilts and want them to be used as such, they will be washed at some point. To me, it makes sense to minimize the possibility of ruining a quilt the first time it's washed.
Wall hangings may be an exception as they are rarely washed but it makes sense to be consistent.  If you have not previously pre-washed and believe you should start, you can usually tell pre-washed pieces by the somewhat frayed edges. When in doubt, just soak the questionable fabric before using to be sure. Then from now on, pre-wash any new fabrics you acquire.
Besides the risk of dye bleeding, other benefits of pre-washing include shrinking the fabric and removing sizing chemicals.

There is no guarantee that pre-washing will prevent all bleeding. The first time or two I wash a quilt I am cautious. I used cool water and mild detergent. I toss in several dye catcher sheets and examine the quilt when it comes out of the washer. I use medium heat in the dryer and watch it carefully. I find the quicker it dries the less chance of darker colors seeping into the light areas.
For me, part of the pleasure of textiles is handling and admiring them so I relax and enjoy the process and I sleep well knowing that I've done what I can to minimize 'bleeding' later.

To read a past post about my quilt washing experience with details about my process click here.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Born Again - The Journey of a Cherished Quilt

My wedding quilt
Made by Aunt Agnes
     Sometime last fall I tackled the storage room in our lower level. “Something has to be done about all this stuff,” I moaned in despair, not for the first time. But for some reason I was in the mood and who knew how long it would last.
In one very large moving box I found blankets and several quilts made by my Aunt Agnes. One had been mine when I was a young girl. I'll tell you about that one later. 
     The others were in her favorite design, the log cabin. She made them entirely with available scraps, in about the 1960’s. She had to make do with lights that were not all very light and darks that were not always so dark. The photo of my wedding quilt is a good example. (click here for the wedding quilt story)

The overall design, therefore, is more casual than those 'perfect' ones that had plenty of fabrics to give the best contrast. . . like this one:

My collection
c. 1890

 Or these two - enough fabric to create truly striking textiles.

Now this quilt maker had the idea but something happened. Either she had an artistic inspiration or she was ready to be done with cutting strips!

So. . .  back to my salvage project.
     All of this quilts in this box had seen heavy use and were badly worn but one in particular was worn within an inch of its life. To me, throwing away a quilt is akin to heresy; especially one made by my aunt, but the fact is, quilts have a life as do all textiles and storage  areas have finite space. Quilts that are made to be used, as the majority were, are going to wear out. Repeated washing, handling, bodily oils, spills, stains, accidents - there just comes a time, and that time comes even more quickly when some the fabrics in it have already served for some years - perhaps as a dress, blouse, apron or curtains.
    I studied this beat up quilt trying to find at least a few adjoining blocks that were not a complete loss. I wanted so badly to salvage at least part of it. That would make me feel better about what I had to do with the rest of it.
     I was able to isolate nine blocks, set three by three, that were less disintegrated than others.  “This could be a baby quilt or a lap quilt for someone, couldn’t it?” I asked myself

     I picked up  my dressmaking shears and -GULP - cut around those nine blocks through all layers leaving a generous edge.
    As I began the repairs, I found more that needed to be patched than I thought. I cut out the approximate shape to cover each worn log, folded back the edges and zig-zagged (that's right) a patch over the worn out piece through all layers. My mother had previously attempted to do this by hand in a few places. I remember her asking me for some fabrics strips.
Finally, I felt I had taken care of the worst of it. I basted it onto a new backing to hide the unsightly mending stitches and freshen it up. The original quilt was hand quilted in the ditch. Now it was four layers. 

     It sat in a pile for several months. I surely was not interested in hand quilting it or taking the time and thread to machine quilt it. My enthusiasm for the project waned. 
     Fast forward to last week when I got motivated to move some things OUT of my pile of UFO's.  My word for this year is EXPERIMENT and with half the year gone I had to admit that I had not been very experimental. 
      I remembered reading something that I wanted to try sometime; tying a quilt with your sewing machine – and yarn. This would be an experiment and a quick finish! I spent some time looking for the notebook in which I saved that article to no avail. Then remembered that I was living in the 21st century and Googled it. I quickly found several videos of machine ‘tying’. None used the yarn technique but I remembered the general idea.

Here is the cut down quilt at the machine, pin basted and ready to go

What to use for yarn?

Years ago I had taken apart an old hand knit sweater of thick blue wool yarn. I cut segments of about 1”, and used a wide zigzag to secure them to the quilt.

Here is the original yellow quilt back showing the hand quilting. You see the wrong side of the new blue and white backing. I've applied a few ties.  

I did not cut the thread - just moved on to the next yarn tie

     I love how wool yarn ties “ball up” when washed so after completing that process and applying, by machine, an acceptable binding, the reborn quilt was ready for the wash. I discovered by pre-soaking that it was quite dirty. Who knows when it had last been washed. Then I tossed it in the washing machine with soap and agitation followed by the dryer, on hot.

Success! The hoped for results. 
Before and after washing


36" square

     By now you may be thinking, is she NUTS?  I’ve asked myself that question more than once. But I have to tell you, I feel good about doing this. Remember, this is not "restoration". This is not a museum quality piece. This is repair. Good old mending. It's what woman over hundreds of years have done to extend the life of clothing, quilts and other textiles. That's all it is -  but this little quilt is going to Goodwill and who knows where from there? I believe someone will find a use for it. Maybe it will end up overseas helping someone in a disaster area. Maybe it will warm the knees and heart of a wheelchair patient at the care facility down the road. I don’t know. But I believe and  I take comfort in knowing that a part of Agnes’s quilt, and thus Agnes, lives on, ready to serve; ready for new adventures.