When White is Not White

White is an interesting color.  I guess, it’s technically not a color at all.  It’s supposed to be the absence of color, right?  Well, not all whites are really white and not all whites stay white either.

I have been avoiding the color white for a long time.  My experience with white is that it stains really easily.  It doesn’t stay white for long.  Things spill or lint is attracted to it.  I didn’t even have a white wedding dress.  I went for the very fashionable, ecru, or natural silk color for my wedding dress.

When I started having kids, white became even further down on the list of colors to buy.  We had lots of those white onesies for the babes–you know, those one piece t-shirty things with the snaps on the bottom that all babies wear.  You know what happens to them after babies spit up and drool on them?  They turn not white.  Even if you bleach them.

But, you know, my kids are older now.  They don’t spit up (much) anymore and they don’t drool.  Plus, white does look Really Clean.  So, when I saw the quilt on the cover of this book, I loved it.

I loved the bright colored crosses on the white background.  I thought it looked fresh and fun and I decided to make it.   With the white background.

I bought a lot of white fabric and started buying red and black fabric.  I wanted all different colored crosses–no repeats.  I started sewing.

It was going really well.  It was fun making each block.  I made ten and was really happy with how it was coming along.

Then, something strange started to happen.  The more I looked at the white, the more it did not look white.  At first, I thought it was the lighting (always blame the lighting).  The lighting in the sewing room is yellowish.  Then, I thought maybe it was the color of the walls in the room–they are green.  I thought maybe together with the light, the walls were casting some kind of yellow glow onto my pristinely white fabric.

I took the fabric to the window, to the natural light, which always tells the truth, and what I saw really freaked me out.  My white fabric was splotchy.  It was bright white in some areas and decidedly yellowish in other areas.  I mentioned it to the husband and he said I should take it outside to look at it.  So, I did.

Can you tell?  It was a sunny day.  Very bright light.  It was really hard to tell while I was squinting.  I did what all people do when they are faced with something disturbing.  I kept sewing.

Maybe it was just shadows, I thought.  Or maybe, all the black and red was making the white look not white.  But, denial can only be relied upon for so long.  After I’d made 31 blocks, I faced the music.

Somehow, my white fabric had yellowed.  You know, how white stuff yellows over time.  Only, it didn’t do it uniformly, but in a splotchy kind of way, so that’s there’s still some bright white patches shining through.  I have no idea how this could have happened. The husband says it is barely noticeable and he’s right, but it just kept bugging me.

After gnashing my teeth a little, I decided to cut my losses.  I had 31 blocks instead of the 77 I originally planned.  That would be enough to make a smaller, lap-sized quilt.

Maybe the white will go back to being white after I finish the quilt and wash it again.  Does anyone have any ideas on how to do this?  How do you keep your whites white?

Posted on August 23, 2011, in Quilting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I don’t know how to keep them white-but I did just wash Christopher’s quilt (white with colored designs) on a longer wash cycle (new washing machine) which was around 70-80 minutes, and I was pleased with the outcome. The white looked cleaner and brighter, not dingy. So, try washing longer? I can’t remember if I washed on cold or warm, though.

  2. I tend to avoid white for both my quilting and my clothing. I don’t generally spill my food when I’m eating … unless I’m wearing white. So other than the odd white linen shirt (and how can you go wrong with those) I stay away from white.

    For my quilting I generally use bone or beige-toned neutrals. To me the seem a little less harsh than the pure whites. Having said that, I admire other peoples quilts that use white, and I think your top looks lovely.

    If I were in the situation you describe I would try soaking the quilt top in some of that oxygen bleach that comes in powdered form. I haven’t yet ruined anything by soaking it in that stuff, unlike the chlorine bleach which can be damaging if you don’t mix it right.

    Good luck!

  3. Your quilt looks beautiful from here! My mom’s sure-fire method for whitening whites is to wash (it wouldn’t hurt to add 1 C of vinegar to your load) and hang in the sun. As it’s drying use a spray bottle with water to moisten the less-than-perfectly-white areas–the water magnifies the sun, naturally bleaching the white fabric. In theory. And in her practice at least. Good luck!

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