(article by Patricia Mlenak for Family Circle)

How to Display Heirlooms

Quilts can be displayed for three months at a time. Then, "rest" them for four months by storing as suggested below.

To protect needlework, cover with glass or sheer net fabric. Leave space between covering and item so threads are not crushed. If you frame needlework, lace or linen, always place an acid free mat board between it and frame backing. (Acid-free products and other special products for heirlooms are available at crafts stores.)

Never display an heirloom in direct sunlight or its reflected glare, near heat or under fluorescent lights.

Never place an object on top of an heirloom, even one under glass.

Do's and Don'ts of Storing Heirlooms

Don't keep anything in an attic or basement -- it will mildew.

Do store heirlooms in a cool area that is clean, dry, dark, and well-ventilated. Relative humidity should be about 50%.

Don't wrap items in plastic, Styrofoam or anything made from wood, such as cardboard or regular tissue paper.

Do wrap things in acid-free tissue paper; washed muslin; washed cotton or cotton/poly sheets. If the heirloom had a metal part attached to it, such as a bellpull, remove the metal, if possible, before wrapping.

Do place wrapped pieces in acid-free boxes. Or, put them in a bureau drawer lined with acid-free tissues or washed cotton or muslin sheets. For more protection, coat bureau drawers with polyurethane varnish before lining with paper or sheets. If your home gets a lot of dust, line drawers with heavy polyethylene sheets, Mylar or fiberfill.

Best way to fold a quilt for storage: This method prevents soil buildup, discoloration and wear along fold lines.

Fold quilt into thirds, placing a roll of acid-free paper along and under each fold. Now fold quilt again into thirds, toward center. Place roll of crumpled acid-free tissue along and under each of these two fold lines. (You can substitute washed sheets or unbleached muslin for the acid-free paper.)

How to Clean an Heirloom

Many heirlooms over 50 years old look "dirty" because they have brownish or rust spots. But these spots are not dirt. They're the result of a natural action in the fabric, and therefore usually cannot be removed. In fact, experts say these spots enhance an article as an antique. So when should you clean your heirloom? Only if it is so dirty it can't possibly be displayed, or if you've recently gotten it dirty yourself. Note: never attempt to take out stains with Clorox or bleaches with "brighteners added."


Airing: The safest method for a quilt 50 years and older, airing should be done in the shade on a nice, breezy day. Lie quilt flat on the ground or on a table between two clean sheets. Leave out for a half day. Never hang a quilt on a clothes-line . This weakens stitches. To air a quilt indoors: Hang quilt over a chair; leave for a half day.

Vacuum-cleaning: Materials needed are a low-power, hand-held vacuum and clean brush attachment, a piece of fiberglass screen with edges taped. (A good size to work with is 24" square.) To do: Lie quilt flat on bed or other clean surface. Place screen on quilt; slowly and gently vacuum over screen. Move screen to another part of quilt; repeat vacuuming. When top of quilt is done, turn back half of quilt and vacuum bed or surface under it; repeat vacuuming on other side. Never vacuum a quilt with beads on it . This method should not be done more than once a year. Dry-Cleaning: For wool, velvet or silk quilts. Must be done by an expert cleaner who specializes in antique garments. There is no guarantee that dry-cleaning will work or that it will not damage item.

Wet-Cleaning: Like dry-cleaning, washing a quilt should be done by an expert. It is too easy to damage if you wash it at home.

Washing linen or cotton with lace edging, all-linen or all-lace items .

Remember: Always avoid wringing or scrubbing items. For a very mild cleaning for lace or linen: Soak piece in distilled water at room temperature for a half hour. This removes foreign matter and loosens dirt. If washing an all-lace item, lower item into water and take it out on a fiberglass screen with taped edges. For extremely fragile or very lightly soiled items, dissolve 1/8 of a 3.2-ounce bar of Neutrogena or a small amount of a mild laundry detergent in 1 cup of distilled water at room temperature. Add 1 ounce of this solution to a gallon of distilled water. Soak item for a half hour, making sure to rinse thoroughly afterward with distilled water.

Drying: Spread on undyed terrycloth or plain cloth towel and let dry at room temperature.

Ironing: Steam-press lace on a well-padded ironing board, placing a damp un-dyed cloth over lace first. For linen, start with iron set at cool. Continue raising heat and testing fabric on wrong side, placing a damp, undyed cloth between it and the iron. To iron embroidered linen, place it on a doubled undyed bath towel to cushion the threads so they won't tear.

Needlework: Don't wash or clean needlework because the threads can be weakened and unravel or deteriorate.

Should you Repair a Worn Heirloom ?

To conserve the value of an heirloom, experts recommend that you take it to a professional who specializes in restoring fabric antiques. He/She has the right kinds of thread, fabric, etc., and knows how to work with old, delicate fabrics.