Dianne Stevenson – Caring for Quilts

IMG_0470_edited-1Dianne Stevenson came to our April meeting with her presentation “C.P.R. – Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration: Breathing New Life into Old Textiles.”  We learned how to care for old quilts and how to prevent damage to newer quilts.

Dianne referred to herself as “the curator of an extensive textile collection,” describing textiles as “threads bound together.”  She is a collector of antique quilts and quilt tops – and wouldn’t you love to see her collection of miniature irons?  When she began to acquire quilts, she had to learn how to look after them.

She told us that quilts can be damaged by things such as light, humidity, and the chemicals present in some older fabrics.  Colours can fade, fabric can break down, and quilts can become spotted and stained.  Old quilts may be soiled by contaminants from kerosene lanterns and woodstoves.

As a quilt restorer, Dianne has to decide if a damaged quilt can be repaired.  She talked about “wet cleaning” which should be done only by professionals, and using fusibles and tulle to repair areas.  Damaged fabric edges should be turned under, and new, carefully matched fabric used to replace the empty space.  The “chin edges” of quilts are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear, as are bindings.  A new binding should be placed over the old damaged one.  To protect the integrity of the quilt, old fabric should not be removed.

Dianne told us how to vacuum our quilts (no bristles against the fabric) and gave us detailed and valuable instructions about how to wash them.  Were you a fan of the “I Love Lucy” show way back when?  Apparently, Dianne sometimes reenacts the grape-stomping episode in her bathtub when washing a quilt!

We were given ideas for storing our quilts.

  • Linen closets are good.
  • Fold quilts in thirds and then again in thirds.
  • Rolling quilts is even better, and Dianne provided detailed instructions for how to do this in the most effective way.
  • Pillowcases work well for storing quilts; never store them in plastic bags.
  • Keep quilts from touching any unsealed wood on dowels, quilt stands, and blanket boxes.

Dianne’s lively talk illustrated how quilts can lead us to the stories of their makers and reveal something of the times in which they lived.  Lots of intriguing subjects popped up, such as tobacco silks, Mennonite cutter quilts, and the Mississippi Textile Museum, a National Historic Site in Ontario.

Dianne told us that, sometimes, when faced with a damaged quilt, it’s best to leave it alone, and enjoy it as it is.

Visit Dianne Stevenson’s website here.

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