11 Steps to Caring for Your Photo Quilt

You have just finished this gorgeous fabric creation covered in photos of people, pets, or achievements that are very special to you or someone you love. This quilt has HOURS of your precious time and planning and creative juices stitched into it. Now, we are going to take a look at how you need to care for this precious quilt baby!

What is the best way to care for your Photo Quilt?

  • Prewash your fabrics. If your fabric has a chance of bleeding, wash the fabric with Retayne prior to cutting and piecing your quilt.
  • Protect your photo blocks as you piece and press with a cover-pressing cloth.
  • You do NOT need to prewash your Photo Quilt Blocks.
  • Use SOAK or Orvus soap to wash your quilt once completed.
  • Wash your quilt by hand or on gentle cycle in cold water in the washing machine.
  • Do not use fabric softener on your quilt.
  • Do put Shout Color Catchers in the washing machine with your quilt.
  • Air dry or gently dry on low heat until damp, and then air dry your quilt the remainder of the way.
  • Do store your quilt on a bed covered by a sheet or another quilt if you need to protect it. You can also store your quilt folded in a ventilated linen closet, refolding in different places 3-4 times a year.
  • Do not store your quilt in plastic bags, plastic boxes or cardboard.
  • Do not leave your photo quilt in the sun to dry or for display.

Below you will find more details on these basic steps and tips and tricks that will help you keep your photo quilt happy and healthy for years to come!

1. Prewash Your Fabric

You are about to embark on a journey that may be new to you or a return voyage for you, but it is always good to repeat: PREWASH YOUR FABRICS.

Guidelines for prewashing your fabrics:

  • Prewash any fabrics that have a chance of fading – to test this, you can always take a small snip of fabric, place it in water with the soap you intend to use, and watch the water for color changes.
  • If you detect any color bleeding, wash it with Retayne prior to cutting and piecing your quilt.
  • Prewash your fabric if you plan on washing this quilt and you want as little shrinkage as possible.
  • If this is an art quilt that is going to hang on the wall, you do not need to prewash your fabrics.
  • If you want your quilt to shrink and “crinkle” to accent your quilt stitching, you can make the choice to not prewash.
  • You do not need to prewash your Photo Quilt Blocks. During printing, they have endured high heat temperatures and will not shrink any more.

2. Protect Your Photo Blocks as You Piece and Press With a Cover Pressing Cloth.

Pressing Cloth: The most important thing you need to know about your Photo Quilt Blocks is to NEVER touch your iron to the photo block fabric. Always have the protection of a layer of cotton between your iron and your Photo Quilt Block.

Don’t let the iron set on the Photo Quilt Block: First, you don’t want too much “pointed” heat going toward the block. The blocks can take flat, even heat, but not digging in with the point of your iron. Second, you do not want to let your iron sit over your photo quilt blocks for sustained periods of time. The sublimation process is activated with heat over 350 degrees, pressure, and length of time. Hovering too long over any spot can reactivate the ink and cause it to gas out of the quilt block. A little of this may happen without you being able to tell anything, but it is good to have this at the back of your mind, so you can remember not to let the iron sit still on any one point. Keep it moving every 3-5 seconds.

3. You Do NOT Need to Prewash Your Photo Quilt Blocks

In the process of printing, your Photo Quilt Blocks are exposed to temperatures of 350-400 degrees for up to a minute. We print the fabric and fuse the interfacing to the fabric all at the same time. In doing so, shrinkage does happen to the fabric and interfacing, so washing will not cause any more shrinkage to your Photo Quilt Block.

4. What Soap Should You Use to Wash Your Finished Photo Quilt?

Choose a liquid detergent with a neutral pH without bleaches, optical whiteners, fabric softeners, enzymes, and fragrances.

Two brands that are recognized as safe among the quilting community are : SOAK or Orvus soap. Both are available on Amazon.

5. Can you wash a Photo Quilt?

A Photo Quilt can be washed by hand or in the washing machine. The typical recommendation for washing a Photo Quilt or any quilt is 2-4 time a year.

Just follow these steps:

  1. You have prewashed your fabrics before making the quilt. You have used the Retayn to set the colors. So you shouldn’t have to worry about the colors bleeding.
  2. ALWAYS add the Shout Color Catchers to your washing machine. They are inexpensive compared to the quilt, and you never know if a fabric might bleed a smidge or if a sneaky red sock is lingering in the washing machine, ready to ruin your happiness.
  3. The preference in the quilting community seems to be to use a machine without an agitator. The jumbo commercial washing machine at a laundromat might be the best choice if you have an agitator machine or if your machine is too small.
  4. Use the gentle cycle and cold water settings on your washing machine when washing your photo quilt.
  5. Follow the above guidelines for choosing a soap.

Handwashing a Quilt

You may not have a big enough washing machine or enough faith that your quilt will be safe in a washing machine. If that is the case, you can hand wash your quilt. Keep in mind that you will need to have the strength to lift a wet quilt out of a bathtub.

    • First, make sure your tub or sink is clean.
    • Second, fill up the tub or sink with cold water and a quilting detergent. See the above information about quilt soaps.
    • Third, submerge your photo quilt in the water and make sure that the entire quilt is underwater.
    • Fourth, gently swish the photo quilt around for about 10 minutes and then drain the water.
    • Fifth, refill the sink with clean cold water.
    • Sixth, into the clean water, add 1/2 cup vinegar to remove any soap remaining on the quilt. Vinegar is also a natural softener and will brighten the colors!
    • Last, repeat the rinse process until there are no more soapy bubbles!

    6. Should I use fabric softener on a quilt?

    Do not use fabric softener when you wash your photo quilt or any quilt.

    Fabric softeners are discouraged in the quilting community. Chemicals in the softeners can break down the fibers and reduce the life of the quilt.

    7. Make Sure to Put Shout Color Catchers in With Your Photo Quilt When Washing.

    No matter how careful we are, there can always be a little color bleeding. It is best to throw 2-3 Color Catcher sheets in with your quilt.

    I will share this story as an example. My daughter has a bad habit of starting laundry and leaving it in the washing machine. So this fatal day was no different. My husband comes along and pours a whole bottle of washing machine cleaner into the washing machine and proceeds to run it at the hottest temperature, not knowing her clothes were in the machine. Three hours later, he finally finished trying to save her clothes by rinsing and rinsing them in the sink.

    Fortunately, this is not a “Death of a Quilt” story, but I think it does demonstrate that if a stray sock were left stuck to the side of the washer and you put your quilt in with a red sock because you didn’t know it was in there, it could spell disaster! A Color Catcher could save the day!

    8. Can You Dry a Photo Quilt?

    Photo Quilts can be dried in the dryer. With that said, just because something can be dried doesn’t mean that you always SHOULD dry it. Clothing, quilts, and handmade fabric crafts can all be washed, but we all know and expect that some fading and disintegration will occur over time. Seams can start fraying, stitching can start letting loose, and colors lose their vibrancy.

    This sample of a Photo Quilt Block has been washed and dried five times.

    The best way to dry your photo quilt is the same way that you would dry all your other quilts. After washing, lay them flat to dry on a surface that is covered with towels. The towels will help absorb some of the dampness from the quilt. You can also dry your quilt slightly and then lay it flat to dry on towels.

    9. How should I store my Photo Quilt?

    The best way to store a photo quilt is flat on a bed covered by a sheet if it needs protection from kids or pets. You can also fold your quilt and store it in a ventilated linen closet. If you have a cotton pillowcase it will fit in, that would be perfect for storing your quilt inside of it. You can also get in the habit of making a coordinating fabric bag in which to store your photo quilts. This is perfect for gift-giving!

    Once a quarter, take your quilt out of the linen closed and let it air out. Then, refold the quilt in a different way to prevent permanent creases in the quilt. Fold the quilt so that the quilt top is to the inside. These tips will keep your quilt beautiful for many years to come!

    10. Do Not Store Your Photo Quilt in Plastic or Cardboard.

    When storing your photo quilt, it is best not to store it in a plastic bag, plastic box, or cardboard box.

    First, plastic storage boxes don’t breathe. So you could introduce bad smells or plastic smells into your quilt. Second, cardboard boxes draw bugs and mice, and we certainly don’t want any of that around our quilts. If you’ve ever been through a mouse war, you know what I mean!

    11. Do Not Leave a Photo Quilt in Direct Sunlight.

    You should never leave a photo quilt or any quilt in direct sunlight. I will say that summer sunlight can be especially damaging to your photo quilt. If you wash a photo quilt, do NOT lay it in direct sunlight to dry. Getting your photo blocks really hot can cause the inks to gas out of your fabrics and fade. Remember sublimation ink starts turning to gas at 350-400 degrees, so be conscious of where you leave it lay.

    The Photo Quilts that I have made have brought so much joy to myself and my family. It took 2 years after my oldest daughter graduated from high school to make her photo quilt. It turned out gorgeous. My youngest daughter, who typically couldn’t care less about my crafty stuff, actually started guilting me about 6 months after she graduated about her not having a graduation quilt! I was shocked! Luckily, I told her I had two years to get it done or her sister would be jealous! LOL! Turns out that procrastination paid off in the end!

    Here is a picture of my youngest daughter’s high school graduation quilt. She is very simple and no frills, so this fits the bill! I also made a little pillow to match! The quilting has her name, clubs, and year of graduation stitched into the quilt. I used my Brother Luminaire to quilt this quilt for my daughter.

    You can find this pattern in my shop!

    May your stitches and photos continue to tell tales

    of love and laughter, and keep your memories alive!


    Lori McCroskey is the principal creator of PhotoQuiltBlocksBlog.com, a website dedicated to quilts, projects, and gifts created with photos printed on fabric. She also has a business PhotoQuiltBlocks.com where you can have her print your photos on fabric for you! Inspired by her love for sewing, scrapbooking, and family, Lori has a passion for capturing memories in useable gifts, quilts, and crafts that get your photos off your phone, out of the album, freed from a frame, and into memorable keepsakes that your friends and family will treasure. Learn more about Lori here!

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