Caring properly for your quilt will extend its life. Collectors and professional quilters lay their quilts flat on a cotton sheet and roll them around a long cardboard tube (Don't store your quilts in plastic, as the fabric needs to breathe). If you don't have cardboard tubing, just fold up the quilt in a cotton sheet and store in a cool dry place, keeping it out of direct sun. Refold the quilt every so often to avoid stressing the threads and to prevent permanent creases.
Contemporary, machine-stitched quilts may be sent to the dry cleaners, but antique quilts need delicate treatment. Try brushing dirt off with a soft cloth or using a vacuum cleaner with the soft brush attachment. If this doesn't work, fill a bathtub with cool water, soak the quilt for 15 minutes or so. Gently agitate the quilt, but do not wring or squeeze it. Let the water drain out, refill the tub, and drain again. Do not hang the quilt to air dry, rather lay it flat on layers of towels or sheets. Very fragile quilts should not be washed at all.
Using a quilt as a bed covering isn't the only way to go. Try these other possibilities:
** Cover a skirted table in your bedroom. Have a piece of glass cut to fit the table top to prevent soiling.
** Use a Shaker peg board, or install several antique hooks, and hang a collection of baby quilts on the wall in your guest or baby's room.
** Have an armoire? Fold and stack three or four quilts, place them inside the armoire, keeping one of the doors open so you get a peek at your collection. If you only have one quilt, fold and drape it over the door of the armoire. If your armoire is already stuffed, stack the quilt(s) on top or underneath it.
** Roll up several small quilts and place them in a basket by your reading chair. They'll add color and texture, and will be handy when you get chilly.
** Neatly fold a quilt and place it over the back of a rocking chair or overstuffed chaise lounge. Lay one lengthwise over the back of a sofa, or fold and drape it over the sofa arm.
** I found a weathered ladder at a garage sale, leaned it against the wall in my guest room and hung two of my great-grandmother's quilts from the rungs.
** Stack three or four antique leather or wicker suitcases on the floor in your family or guest room. Open the top suitcase and arrange your best quilt, with perhaps a few of your other choice linens, to look as if it is pouring out of the suitcase. If you're the tidy type, just neatly fold the quilt to fit inside the suitcase and place a small bundle of lavender on top.
** Cover your bed with a quilt, fold up a second in a contrasting color and lay it across the foot of the bed.
** Quilts make excellent over-the-bed decor in earthquake country. Simply install a quilt hanger and hang your favorite patchwork. An alternative is to position a curtain rod above the bed, purchase curtain rings with clips on them and attach the clips to your quilt. Hang your quilt like a curtain behind the bed.
** Mass-produced quilts made in China and Indonesia can be purchased for a song. I've seen double- and queen-sized quilts with glorious patterns selling for $25 to $50 at the De Anza College Flea Market (first Saturday of each month). Use these quilts as tablecloths, to add to a stack of older pieces, to cover a child's bed, or for a picnic blanket.
** Add texture and warmth to a bedroom by folding a quilt across a cedar chest, or across the top of your dresser.
** If you have tattered, torn or worn quilts, consider recycling them.
Cut up the sections that are still in good shape and use to make pillows or stuffed animals. Frame a section of the pattern and hang it on the wall (These make great gifts, too.). Make a serving tray by adding handles to a framed section. Create window valances or cafe curtains for a baby's room with odds and ends of salvaged quilts.