Feb 1, 2011

Cleaning Your Vintage Textiles

By Susan (tparty)

Do you have a stash of linens you’ve inherited from your grandmother? Or perhaps you can’t walk by vintage tablecloths at an estate sale without your wallet flying open. No matter how you may have acquired your collection of textiles — be it lace, tablecloths, chenille bedspreads, quilts, bark cloth or fabric remnants — proper care is essential to preserve these heirlooms for generations to come.

It’s rare to find older textiles in perfect condition. Most have issues that arise from how they’ve been used and stored over the years. But don’t fret; many problem areas can be remedied with a little T.L.C.

I always keep BIZ on hand to wrestle stubborn stains out of vintage linens.

Delicate pieces, like lace or quilts, can be hand-washed in cold water with a mild cleanser like Linen Wash. Sturdy items, such as cotton tablecloths, chenille, or bark cloth, can usually go into the washing machine. Stubborn stains or yellowing can be addressed with a pre-soak in an oxygen bleach product like BIZ (my favorite) or OxiClean.

Vintage Gray Polka Dot Tablecloth Bedecked with Red Posies by linenslaceandlattes

To soak, fill a large basin with very hot water and BIZ. Most vintage cotton pieces are colorfast and can soak together, but if an item has never been washed, its colors may run, so test it first. Soak the textiles until the water turns yellow. Check if the stains have lifted. If not, drain and refill with more hot water and BIZ for additional soaking. This may take a few hours or even all day, depending on the stains. Keep changing the water when necessary. When done, remove items and gently press the water out. (Never wring!) Sturdy textiles can go in the washing machine on a delicate cold-water setting and into the dryer. More fragile pieces should be rinsed out by hand and laid flat on cotton toweling to air dry. Items can be ironed, but never use starch; its cellulose base can attract bugs.

Darling Hand Embroidered Floral Linen Cocktail Napkins Set of Four by jenscloset
If stubborn stains remain, sturdy linens can be bleached in the sun. After soaking, rinse out all traces of detergent and roll in clean towels to remove moisture. Spread outside on a sunny patch of grass until dry. Sun bleaching may be too harsh for delicate antique textiles; place these in filtered sun for 15 minutes or less.

Shabby Quilted Strips Bag by suchandsort
Alas, some stains may refuse to come out. You may simply have to accept their flaws and cherish them as a part of the textile's history. If you like to sew, these items can still be enjoyed by creating napkins, tote bags, tea towels, table runners, throw pillows, and more from their spot-free areas.

Written by Susan Borgen and reprinted with permission from Interweave Press/Studios Magazine.


Mary Bosley said...

what a helpful post, thank you!

{and if that's your kitchen sink- how cute are those striped cabinets!}


Susan from The T-Cozy said...

Thanks! That's actually my laundry/mud room. To spiff up the 1950s cabinets, about 15 years ago I painted stripes on the doors using painter's tape.

doadandstelley said...

Great article! There's another product available online called oxyboost. It's what I use. I also wouldn't use oxy products on linens with metallic threads....it eats them.

Susan from The T-Cozy said...

Thanks for the tip!

Just Because said...

Great article, useful as well.