For the Love of Quilts
By J. E. Davidson
Antique quilts add fascinating country charm to a home, but antique fabrics can be very delicate and easily damaged. Display your antique quilts in ways that protect them from further damage and wear so you can pass these treasures on to future generations.
When choosing a place to display your quilt, check to see that the spot is not flooded with much natural or artificial light, which can cause irreversible fading. Rooms with low lighting, low humidity, and no temperature extremes are the best choice.
The best way to display a quilt is to drape it over a bed, since the mattress will support the weight of the quilt and avoid stress on the seams and fabric. When used as an everyday bed cover, however, quilts can become worn by frequent handling and washing—not to mention the damage that can be quickly created by children, dogs, and cats.
Display your antique quilt on an unused bed in a guest room where kids and pets are not allowed to play. You may want to cover the quilt with a light sheet or everyday bedspread to keep dust from settling on it when you aren’t showing it off.
If you don’t have an unused bed, show off your antique quilt by hanging it over the back of an upholstered chair or on a quilt rack. Fold the quilt carefully (with acid-free paper inside the folds if possible) and refold it along different lines every few months to prevent permanent creases.
Quilts also make beautiful wall hangings, but only hang quilts that are in good condition, and never use tacks, nails or staples to attach them to the wall. The weight can pull and cause tears.
One method of hanging a quilt is to create a casing (rod pocket) on the back side and hang it on a rod. Make a casing from a piece of muslin that is about 8" wide and the same length as the top edge of the quilt. Double the muslin over and sew the long edges together to make a casing about 4" wide.
Place the casing at the top edge of the quilt, and sew it to the quilt along both sides of the casing. Use stitches about a quarter inch apart to secure the casing to the back of the quilt, and every inch or so take your stitch through all the layers of the quilt to give it some support.
Slip a sturdy rod through the casing to hang the quilt. Large wooden dowel rods will work, but should be coated with polyurethane first (natural wood can release fabric-destroying chemicals). Attach the rod to the wall by tying a heavy cord to both ends to create a hanger, or by attaching curtain rod brackets to the wall at either end of the rod.
Another method, often used by museums, is to attach the quilt to the wall using velcro. You will need a velcro strip 2" wide and as long as the top edge of the quilt.
Fasten the hook side of the velcro to a wooden plank coated with polyurethane, then fasten the plank to the wall in the spot you want to display your quilt. Sew the loop side of the velcro to a piece of muslin 3" wide. Fold the edge of the muslin under, then sew it to the top edge of the quilt.
Use the same technique as the casing method; take stitches every quarter inch through the back of the quilt, then through all three layers every inch or so. Stick the velcro together, and you have a beautiful wall display!
Use your imagination to discover other ways to display your antique quilts. Don’t hide these beautiful works of folk art in a closet or drawer where they will never be enjoyed! Stack a pile of colorful folded quilts in an old armoire or cupboard, or let them spill out of an old trunk (place a muslin sheet between the wood and quilts unless the wood has been painted or coated with polyurethane). Cut good sections out of badly damaged quilts (that have no historic value) to make table runners, framed quilt collages, or doll quilts.
If you have more than one quilt, it is a good idea to rotate them for display. Displaying your antique quilts for only a few months of the year will help prevent further damage and fading, and preserve them for posterity.
Roll quilts in acid-free paper and store them in an acid-free box when they aren’t on display. Keep the box in a cool, dry place away from heat.