Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Spring Cleaning


Happy Wednesday!

Probably the last thing anyone wants to think about is spring cleaning.  Mine is underway but I'm dismayed that instead of taking two days to clean the first floor, it's taking two days to scrub down each room.  Of course there are other options 😁

But seriously, have you ever wondered how women cleaned their quilts in days gone by?  

Although there are a lot of internet articles on cleaning vintage and antique quilts today, and some articles on how laundry was done in the past (here's an interesting article), I didn't find much on specific quilt laundering.  I found more in newspapers, particularly during the early 20th century.


One thing that surprised me was how many ads for laundry shops advertised that they cleaned quilts were marketed in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century.  If you ever have cleaned a quilt by hand, you know it's a hard (and heavy) job.

One British article mentioned the use of dolly-pegs.  Now to many, a dolly-peg is a clothespin but the dolly-pegs of the 19th century allowed women to wash their clothes with a tool:

A 1901 newspaper article talked about using a washing machine, here's a 1901 version of a washing machine:

Although the article about the machine said it was easiest to send out your washing, it did give directions on how to use one of these gadgets to clean quilts:

"Heat the water until quite hot, dissolve enough washing powder in it to make strong suds, and pour it into the machine.  Put the quilt in and rub hard ten minutes, pass the quilt through the wringer, change the dirty suds for clean and wash again.  Three rinse waters will be necessary and add a little bluing.  Fast the quilt securely with clothespins."

However, many women balked at the kind of labor washing quilts created.  Quite a few household articles published questions about an easier way to clean quilts.

"Can you give directions how to clean quilts without washing?  I have some fine quilts, with blue, white, and pink piecing.  Cleaning with flour would do no good.  I once had what is called a French cleaning mixture, composed of gasoline, ammonia and soda, but have forgotten the proportions.  Can you give them?  Also could I use it to clean quilts?"  Asked Mrs. G. S. T.  in 1904.

Okay you can stop gasping about using flour and gasoline to clean quilts. 😟 Here was the answer and I found this solution in a number of newspaper articles:

"I know of nothing except the oft-recommended block magnesia, well rubbed in, that will clean them (quilts).  Leave it on for a week before beating out the powder.  It can do no harm, at any rate.  The French preparation is not familiar to me.  Can anyone give the formula?  I think, however, that a liquid would not do for your quilts."

I have no idea of how dried magnesia would react with fabric.  I do however know that magnesium is used to wash clothes, I read this online.  However, please note that water is needed:

"When magnesium pellets are mixed with water, hydrogen gas and magnesium hydroxide are created.  This reaction results in an alkaline solution of around pH 10.5.  This is the optimal pH for washing laundry, which most traditional detergents also aim to achieve."

Ammonia was also recommended in these articles.  One would add a coffee cupful of ammonia to hot water and wash the quilt in it.  I have read that ammonia is great to clean clothes but has to be diluted.  Again, I don't recommend you experiment with this technique.

In the early part of the 20th century, more and more emphasis was put on cleanliness to inhibit disease.  Quilt cleanliness was even brought up in the Michigan state senate om 1913.  This article focused on quilts used in hotels and apparently there was quite a debate about it.

In the 1930s, it was recommended to wash the quilt, rinse well, and hang it on the line for a few days until dried.  "It is very essential to beat the quilts frequently with a smooth stick or board.  This will have the effect of swelling up the waddling, and prevent it from felting.  Furthermore, the quilts should be repeatedly turned from left to right, and top to bottom to prevent streaks."

Although there were many other suggestions, perhaps my favorite was one that was published many times in the 1930s:

"There are many ways to clean quilts.  The simplest way is to hang them on the line, full length, through a drenching rain..."  It was also recommended that a garden hose could produce the same effect and that stains could be spot cleaned.

More than one article relayed that quilts could be ripped apart, washed and then reassembled.  Clearly this was an oversight from editors who didn't quilt.  A comfort can be untied and laundered but who in the heck is going to rip apart a hand quilted textile?

So before you go off to do your spring cleaning this grateful of one thing.  We have better technology and cleaning aids and all of them make our lives easier!

Have a safe and happy day!

1 comment:

  1. I loved the idea of leaving quilts out in a good rain storm. Just imagine how fresh they would have smelled after drying.