The quilt is quilted; it is almost done. All that is left is adding the binding, right? Not so fast. I would suggest that there are a number of finishing steps yet to complete and this new series will explore each one. This week, we will discuss washing and blocking – steps that should ideally take place before the binding is applied.
While I must confess that washing quilts is a fairly new concept for me, a variety of factors prompted me to start. One, I replaced my washing machine with a new high efficiency front loading model. This dramatically reduced my apprehension about entrusting my hours of painstaking labor and my newly completed work of art to the whims of a spinning washer drum! Second, I started to incorporate extensive amounts of trapunto into my quilting using the cut-away trapunto method with water-soluble thread. Third, a decision taken in conjuction with these first two factors, I began marking my quilts with wash-out markers.
My final reason for washing my newly quilted quilts was the opportunity for blocking. Blocking is a concept I first encountered while knitting. After each section of a sweater is completed, it is dampened and then shaped into its desired dimensions while laying flat to dry. The same principles can be applied to quilts.
Extensive machine quilting and dense stippling can significantly distort the shape of a quilt. Washing a quilt before applying the binding means that it can be blocked first – measured, squared, returned to its proper shape. Here’s how.
Find a flat area large enough for the quilt. For larger quilts, I move the furniture out of the way in my living room. (It doesn’t get used all that much anyway!)
To protect the carpet or floor, lay out a large sheet of plastic or a shower curtain liner.
Cover the plastic with a clean bed sheet…
… and towels.
Before placing the quilt in the washing machine, make sure that all pins have been removed. You may want to thread baste around the outside perimeter, particularly if the quilting does not extend right out to the edges. Wash the quilt on a delicate cycle with a small amount of gentle laundry soap if desired (there are products designed specifically for washing quilts), but remember that the goal has less to do with cleaning and more to do with getting wet. If you are concerned about fabrics bleeding, you can also add a product like Woolite Dye Magnet or Shout Color Catcher. When the cycle is complete, carefully remove the quilt onto a large bed sheet taking care not to pull or stretch the wet fibers.
Lay the wet quilt onto the prepared flat surface and gently smooth it into shape. This will take some time as you work your way around the quilt, flattening and easing out any ripples. Once the quilt is flat and smooth, start taking measurements. Make sure the sides are the same length at the top, middle, and bottom. To determine if the quilt is square (not skewed and with all corners at 90-degree angles), check that both diagonal measurements are equal. If any of these measurements are off, adjust the damp quilt accordingly.
Now leave the quilt until it is completely dry, which could take a few days. I have heard that fans can be used to speed up the drying process. This important finishing step will ensure that your quilt is square, hangs straight, and will help make the next step of applying the binding more successful.