Washing vintage fabrics
I came across a good article about cleaning an old quilt. Sara Bogle, Fulton County (KY) Family and Consumer Sciences agent, advises that old quilts can be cleaned by vacuuming. Wrap the nozzle of the vaccuum in fiberglass window screen to prevent the quilt fabric being sucked into the nozzle.
Bogle says that wet cleaning can damage old fabrics, but if you decide to chance it, vacuum the quilt first on both sides. The next steps:
Place the quilt completely flat, using a fiberglass screen for support. Mix a detergent solution (not soap) of 1/2 ounce liquid detergent to each gallon of water. Distilled, filtered or deionized water at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended, especially for the final rinse.
Submerge the quilt for no more than one hour. Use a sponge, moving it away from the center of the quilt to the outer edges. Rinse at least four times or until there is no remaining detergent. Litmus paper can be used to test the rinse water. A seven on the pH scale indicates all detergent is removed.
Stretch the quilt on a flat surface and shape it to the original size. Don’t ring [sic] out the water; press gently. Do not iron the quilt.
Quoted from: "Old Quilts Need Special Care", The Ledger Independent, Maysville, KY, by Debra B. Cotterill, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Mason County, Tuesday, January 24, 2006 8:58 PM EST
I appreciate good information like this from the Extension Service. This hand washing technique could be applied to any heirloom fabric.