Vintage Fabrics —How to Care for Old Textiles
Antique Tablecloth - Appliqued Embroidered Windmill
Decorate With Vintage Fabric
The use of vintage fabrics can add interest to any home. Whether your decorating style is quirky, eclectic, classic, traditional, bohemian, minimalist, or organic; antique textiles lend a note of individuality and create a feeling of warmth.
Vintage fabrics transcend fashion trends and incorporate history into the home design. Antique table linens, curtains, lace, cushions, and quilts, when used properly, create an ambiance by giving a room a unique quality. As interior decorators add an authentic note to a room with architectural salvage, you can display vintage fabrics and antique textiles to personalize your home decorating style.
Below see how to clean and store vintage fabrics and antique textiles.
When deciding how to use vintage textiles, take a good look at the materials you have on hand. A complete piece should not be cut down or destroyed. Antique textiles are valuable both economically and historically and should be left intact to ensure their value.
However, damaged fabrics can be recycled for new uses. The quintessential use of recycled fabric is, of course, a patchwork quilt. If you have vintage fabric remnants, damaged sections of old clothing, slip covers, or whatever, you can cut them up to create your own piece of patchwork.
Patchwork style does not have to be a large, bed sized quilt but lends itself to a variety of uses. Small pieces of left over material can be pieced together to make pillow covers, pillow cases, table runners, chair cushions, storage bags, baby blankets, or a cozy throw for a cold winter night.
- You can cut down old curtains and slip covers or stitch together old tea towels to create cafe curtains for the kitchen.
- Make small curtains to hang in front of open shelves or under a sink.
- Recycle small pieces of vintage fabric to use as a tablecloth for a small table.
- Small pieces of antique fabric, or a vintage handkerchief are great for making sachets.
- Bolster covers - cut 2 long strips slightly longer than the bolster pillow and sew, adding circular pieces at each end.
- Decorative pillows look beautiful when made with old fabric or fabric pieces.
- Wall hanging - you can display old fabric by draping over a rod, or framing a small piece, or a collection of old handkerchiefs.
I inherited the beautiful antique sampler pictured above from my grandmother. After some research, I decided that the piece, over 200 years old, would best be in the hands of a collector, someone who understood proper care and who would really appreciate its historical significance.
A Vintage Fabric Collection
Perhaps you have vintage fabrics that you have inherited from family members. In the old days, a young women came into marriage with a well stocked trousseau. From a tender age, young girls learned the domestic skills of needlework, creating beautiful hand made and hand embellished textiles like table cloths, napkins, pillow cases, quilts, etc.
Such handmade textiles were high quality and durable so many of these fine antique textiles are in good condition today. Beautifully crafted textiles were often saved for special occasions. They lasted a long time and have been passed down through families as treasured heirlooms.
If you do not already own old fabrics, you can find them at antique shops, flea markets, yard sales, estate sales, on websites, and at auction. High quality textiles, valuable due to their age and condition, are sold at high end auction houses. Such museum quality textiles should not be used for functional purposes, but should be displayed and stored according to recommendations by experts.
Living With Antique Textiles and Vintage Fabrics
Old textiles add interest to many of today's decorating styles. Just don't overdo it to create a fussy look. Your home may end up looking like an antique store.
- Mix and match patterns in a similar color range - for instance, if you use reds you can mix stripes, florals, toile, and old plaids in shades of red.
- Old textiles create warmth in a room full of new furniture, or a room with a minimalist style.
- Plain colored walls make the best backdrop for using a variety of patterns and prints.
- Use warm colors or bold prints in a room with white walls to create a cozy environment.
- Bring out the vintage fabrics at special times of the year. Reds; red and green, or green and white add an old time feel to your Christmas decorating scheme.
- A few cushions or pillows made of vintage fabrics give an outdoor party and old fashioned look.
- Use patriotic colors (red, white, and blue) for Memorial Day or Independence Day gatherings.
- Weddings. Vintage fabrics give you the 'something old.' A small cushion for the ring bearer can be easily made from an old satin remnant.
- Don't use too many different 1970s prints. Overdoing the bright colors and geometric patterns will create a jarring look.
To cover pillows or cushions, sew a flap so that you can remove the fabric for laundering. Or, you can finish the pillow off with old buttons, ribbons, or make ties.
Use vintage edging on reproductions of vintage fabrics on pillows to add an authentic look.
Washing Vintage Fabric
If you need to clean a very old piece, it may be best to take it to a restoration or antique textile expert. You can find advise by calling your local museum or contacting a museum that features an antique textile collection.
- Do not wash old fabrics in a machine or put them in the dryer
- Gentle hand washing is best for old fabrics
- Avoid harsh chemicals, detergents, and bleach when laundering antique or vintage textiles
- Use soap flakes or gentle cleaners like Dreft or Woolite.
- Stained table linens can often be cleaned by just soaking in cold water.
- Squeeze lemon juice onto a stain and set the fabric out in the sun to remove stains on white linens. Do not place printed fabrics in the sun; they may fade.
- After washing, place the fabric between 2 towels. Gently roll and squeeze. Do not wring.
- Dry flat
- If you must iron old fabric, use a pressing cloth between the iron and the vintage textile.
OxiClean on Old Textiles
When an old textile is very soiled or stained, sometimes the milder cleaners just won't do. On the right is an old quilt that I had hanging on a back room wall. It had not been cleaned for over 20 years and had been exposed to cigarette smoke.
I decided to try a bit of OxiClean and look at the difference. If you want to clean old fabric with OxiClean, here is what to do:
- Determine the kind of fabric you have. Do not use OxiClean on wool, silk, acetate, older rayons, or tailored garments of the past.
- Dissolve the OxiClean in warm water in a tub
- Add tepid water
- Add the fabric and fill to cover
- Allow to soak for 30 minutes
- Gently swish the fabric in the water
- Rinse with cool water
- Do not twist or wring, but gently squeeze out water
- Dry flat
You can see the result on the picture below. What a difference!
Storage of Vintage Textiles
When not in use, store antique fabrics carefully, Never keep them in the basement where humidity can cause mildew
- Store old textiles in a dark place that is not subject to temperature extremes (like an attic crawlspace)
- Roll, do not fold old fabric. Folding puts wears and strain on the fibers and may weaken them
- Store old dresses or blouses by hanging on a padded hanger or rolling in acid free tissue
- Wrap delicate fabrics in acid free tissue paper, roll, and store
- Or wrap in unbleached muslin. You can create a sling of muslin if you want to keep an old piece of material in a cardboard box or wooden drawer. (See film below)
- Do not allow antique textiles to come into contact with wood. If storing vintage fabrics in a cedar chest, or press closet, line shelves with paper or wrap fabric in acid free tissue paper.
- Do not store in plastic bags or boxes. Old textiles will last longer with some air circulation
- Storing old fabrics in a cardboard box is okay if you wrap fabric in acid free tissue or muslin, or if the box is made of acid free cardboard
- Add a dried lavender sachet (you can make a lavender sachet from an old scrap of fabric). Lavender is a natural insect repellent. Plus it will make your antique textiles smell great! Besides, that's how they stored fabrics in the old days!
- Inspect and repair before cleaning
- Do not dry clean or machine wash - both the machine and dry cleaning chemicals can damage old fibers
- Air out
- Vacuum - tie a thin cloth over the vacuum hose attachment and pass lightly over the quilt without allowing the vacuum to come into contact with the quilt
- If you must wash, check for color fasedness by moistening a white cloth and rubbing over each section. If color transfers onto the white cloth, do not launder
- Do not wash in hard water as it could cause mineral stains
- Hand wash in cold water, in a bathtub with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and Woolite or Dreft. Move around gently. Drain, rinse, repeat until water is clear
- Place wet quilt on a large, white sheet outside. Turn frequently to dry evenly.