Washing and Mending a Vintage Quilt

Vintage quilt purchase

I recently bought a vintage quilt online, sight unseen, to use as part of my Quilt Coat Course. If you’re not a quilter, you can still make a quilt coat by using an existing quilt! I got a great deal on this quilt, but mainly because it came to me filthy dirty. Like, I didn’t want to touch it without gloves dirty. I went down a rabbit hole of how to wash this quilt and mend it, and I’m excited to share with you all today how to go about washing and mending a vintage quilt.

Washing a Vintage Quilt:

Fabric tears that need mending on a vintage quilt

There are a variety of methods out there for washing a vintage quilt. As a rule, if you’re going to put your quilt into the washing machine, be sure to mend all rips and tears first, as these will get significantly worse during the washing process. All advice given here is based on my experiences, please use your judgement.

With my quilt, I knew that I would have to mend all of the squares where the fabric had shredded away. However, since it was so dirty, I really wanted to give it a good clean before I started mending. I decided to soak it in the tub with hot water and Oxiclean. I researched different methods, one suggested was RetroClean, and when I looked at the active ingredients in RetroClean, they were extremely similar to Oxiclean. Since I was able to get Oxiclean locally, I chose to use that instead.

A vintage quilt, after washing

I put my quilt in the tub with the hot water and a large scoop of Oxiclean. You’re supposed to let the quilt soak for up to 6 hours, but 30 minutes in, the water was so incredibly filthy (and the bathroom smelled something fiece) that I thought it could use a good rinse and redo. I drained the water out of the tub, and rinsed the quilt as much as I could by aiming the showerhead at the quilt while I squeezed the water out of the quilt with my gloved hands. Take care, as the quilt will be super heavy when wet and that causes strain on the stitches and fibers. I then repeated the process – more hot water, more Oxiclean. This second time I let the quilt soak for 2 hours. Again, the water at this point was near black, so I made the decision to drain it, rinse the quilt, and add fresh water. This isn’t ideal, since Oxiclean needs time to activate, but a quilt soaking in its own filth isn’t really productive either.

The third Oxiclean soak, I left the quilt in the bath overnight. The next day, I rinsed the quilt as much as I could, squeezing out the water and agitating the quilt gently with my hands. At this point, I decided to take the quilt out and dry it. It could use more washing, but by the third soak the places that needed mending were indeed getting worse, and I decided that it was now clean enough for me to mend.

I hung the quilt out to air dry, and my plan is to take my time mending the quilt. Once it is mended, it will go through a washing machine wash to finish the cleaning process. With the Oxiclean soaks, the quilt feels clean enough for me to handle and mend.

One thing to note is that Oxiclean will fade the colors of your quilt, so use it with caution. My quilt was SO dirty, that to me, the downside of fading was worth having a quilt that I felt was clean enough to let into my home. Please use your judgment here and know that fading WILL occur.

Mending a Vintage Quilt:

The quick mend for quilts
Mending a vintage quilt

There’s three different mending methods you can employ to fix your quilt. The first I like to call the “quick mend”. It isn’t the prettiest mend, nor is it meant to be. The point is to secure the weak spots in your quilt so you can wash it, handle it, etc. For example, with my quilt, I could decide, now that it has been soaked in Oxiclean, to employ the quick mend on all the rips and tears. Then I’d be able to throw it into the wash without worry, and once fully clean, spend time mending it properly (which will take a while).

The second mend is the patch. This is when you add a new piece of fabric to your quilt to cover a hole. The point of the patch is to blend in with the existing quilt.

The third way to mend is to fix a rip in the edge of your quilt by sewing it back together. I cover all three of these mending methods in detail in the following video. Watch them in action:

Love video tutorials? Find much more on my YouTube channel!

Have tips for washing and mending a vintage quilt? Comment below!

7 thoughts on “Washing and Mending a Vintage Quilt

  1. Great info on soaking and repairing. I would like a closer look at the stitching. Hard to see from afar. Thank you!

  2. Do you know if it would hurt to machine rinse and spin? No agitation so seems like it wouldn’t stress seaming/quilting.

  3. If the patch fabric is too vibrant, it can sometimes be turned to the wrong side to look better with faded fabrics in the quilt.

  4. I have a quilt from my great grandmother. Never been washed. It is red and green tulip pattern. It has yellowed from age and cigarette smoke. How can I clean it without the red bleeding.

    1. I’m not sure – I use retayne to keep quilts from bleeding but I don’t know how that would affect the cigarette stains/smoke (if it would seal them in?)

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