Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cleaning two vey old quilts

My grandmother and her aunt were couture dressmakers in New Orleans from the 1910's to maybe the early 1960's. I still remember the ladies coming the South Liberty Street and getting fitted by Mimi.

I have two quilts that I think Mimi (Wilhelmina Pottharst Rowley- my great aunt) put together from the scrap leavings of her dress salon. I thought they were under my studio desk during the flood.  We had 31 inches in the house so I was pretty sure they had been in the floodwater.  But now I am thinking they were probably not submersed but definitely wet.

I decided today I was going to clean them.  I figured they were already destined for the landfill, so whatever I did to them was lagniappe anyway.

I obtained some Oxy and filled *Suzette's* big 6 foot tub with cool water.  I draped the first quilt into the water.  Immediately the water turned startlingly dark......

Well, I didn't expect that, sweetheart!  Probably not such a good development.

At first I thought it was the sediment from the flood water. The water had been muddy brown and caustic. And that may have been some of the water that came out of the quilt. But I soon realized it was the blues and the red dyes from the woolen materials on the front of the Quilt.

I rinsed the Quilt four more times and I let it soak in the water for about three minutes between each rinse. But I was afraid to let it sit in there for very long because of the  intensity of the dies. The dye color going into the water never lessened.

I am really glad I chose to do this one first because the second one, the taffeta, silk and velvet one,   the color came out as brownish or tan. Much like the color of the floodwater that day.   I think it was more the colors of the reds and oranges and browns of the materials. 

After agitating the woolens Quilt lightly with my hands, I decided it needed to go outside to dry.   But the question was how to get it outside. I decided that a Bed Bath and Beyond bag would perfect to help me haul it through the house. But there must've been a hole in the bottom of the bag because I dragged dye colored water all through the house. Luckily I have tile in all of my rooms now.

And a mop.

For the second quilt I decided a garbage bag was the best way to move it. I laid the quilts out in the backyard on the grass. I debated where to put the quilts to dry.

I wanted them to be in the sun but I wanted it to be not on cement and I really didn't want it to be in the front yard because I didn't want anybody to steal them. Yet I didn't want the multi-talented McGee to be hauling them around the yard.  So I ended up putting them in my neighbor's yard flat on the grass.  The GOOD neighbor.

Then I had to tackle the Postage Twine quilt.  My grandfather worked for the Post Office on the mail route between New Orleans and Houston (where he had a woman on the side by the way).  He would bring my grandmother the twine from the packages.  Remember when we tied packages with the twine?  She crocheted them into this fabulous and very very heavy quilt.

Which was heavier when it was very very wet!

The whole process took me about three hours. And I had a problem kneeling by the side of my tub with my knee replacement knee.  That's a whole new level of pain!

The side of the new 6 foot tub is higher than the old regular tub. My stool was lost in the flood so I tried three or four different things before decided that nothing really was going to work.

I ended up kneeling on the "good" knee, which popped that little vertebrae in my lower  back out of position.

They dried in the afternoon, but I decided to leave them there overnight.  If it rains, well, fresh water is just another bath.

How did they come out?

Some better than others.........I will show you photos tomorrow.


  1. For the bleeding quilt have you seen Vicki welsh's save my bleeding quilt article?

    I have memories of the mailman giving me twine. My mother always wondered where it came from. She said I ran around with a little ball of it. It must have been lost in the move.

    Hope the quilts came out no worse for wear.

  2. They all look like they fared pretty well. Like you said, how much worst could you make them? I can't imagine how your knees felt. I was on mine yesterday when I was chiseling the hinge mortis for doors and it did not feel good and I have two good knees!


I love to hear from friends! Thanks for leaving a message!