Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thrifting & Caring for Vintage Textiles

Last weekend, I purchased this pair of enchanting crewelwork fairies. Hidden under a pile of debris in a secondhand shop, they begged me to take them home and I am so glad I heeded their call. They need a little freshening up, but once that is done, they will find a welcome home in one of my children's bedrooms.

There were a few slight discolorations, but the pieces looked to be in good condition otherwise. Still, before I did anything, I consulted with a friend and former colleague, Joie Shirk-Brasington. She is a gifted seamstress and needleworker, and is very knowledgeable about the history of, as well as cleaning and caring for, vintage textiles. In response to my questions, she shared with me a series of articles that she wrote for her local museum newsletter on this very subject. I am sharing with you a slightly edited and abridged version of her articles, in the hopes that it will help you properly care for your heirloom linens and textiles.

All items need to be immediately assessed before welcoming them into your collection. The first thing to do is determine what type of fiber you are dealing with. Different fibers require different handling and care. If the textile is pre-1930's, in all probability it is a natural fiber, such as silk, cotton, linen, or wool. Rayon and man-made cellulose fibers weren't developed until the 1880s and were not manufactured commercially until the 1920s. Synthetic and man-made fibers like nylon weren't invented until the late 1930s.

Once you have determined what fiber your textile is made of, you need to carefully check the item for signs of mold, pest infestation and damage, and soiled spots.

Any textile that has an orange, red, black, or grey spot on it may have been exposed to mold spores. These stains are unfortunately permanent.

If the fabric is wool, it may carry the larvae of the clothes moth or carpet beetle. If you spot the carcasses of these bugs, or small, clean holes, then the item is contaminated. The wool must be processed to rid it of these pests. Do not purchase items with any signs of infestation, unless of course, you absolutely must have it! At the very least, inspect every item before purchasing so that you will know what course of action must be taken before adding it to your collection.

Once you have determined that there are no infestations, a gentle cleaning is in order. Always keep in mind that the least amount of intervention is best, in order to protect the old and delicate fibers of vintage textiles. Never place any vintage textile in the washing machine or dryer! Also avoid dry cleaning old woolens because this process depletes the wool of its natural lanolin, thereby making it more brittle. Rather, with wool or silk, place the item on a table and give it a light vacuuming with a screen support to avoid sucking up any frayed or fragmented areas. Make sure the suction is as light as possible.

If the fabric is linen or cotton, give the item a soak in the tub with a gentle soap and cool to lukewarm water. Dish soap or Orvus Paste will work well. Never use harsh detergents that use bleach. Give it a gentle rubbing to remove discolorations or spots, but only if the item is in stable condition. Next, rinse it two or three times to remove all soap residue. Hang to dry, supporting the article evenly and with adequate support so as to not stress any particular part of the textile. Never wring the article. If it is extremely delicate, you can lay flat to dry.

Hopefully, these tips will help you select and clean vintage textiles of all kinds. Joie has been kind to also offer up some suggestions for ongoing care and storage of vintage textiles, and I will publish those in a separate post.

As for those crewelwork fairies that I purchased--I freed them from their ugly frame prisons, carefully separated them from their cardboard backings, gave them a gentle bath to remove the glue residue and dust, and hung them evenly to dry. They look pretty amazing now. I need to find pretty  new frames for them before hanging them up in my daughter's room. She's been having a spate of bad nightmares lately, so I'm hopeful these pictures will give her many happy dreams of a woodland fairyland instead.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Updating Vintage Costume Jewelry

I finally finished up a big project at my daughter's school, so I hope to have a bit more time to devote to some little projects at home. On Friday, after the big reveal at school, I hurried home with the intention of working on something, I just didn't know what. I decided I needed some near-instant gratification, so I decided to try to make a necklace.

Over the years, I have collected a lot of nicer costume jewelry, both intact pieces and broken and mismatched odds and ends. I have worn many of the pieces as is, including this bracelet and earrings:

I wore these dress clips, which belonged to my mother, to my senior prom back in high school.

As much as I embrace a vintage look, some of my old costume jewelry looks, well, OLD and cries out to be updated with some creative restyling. A couple of years ago, a friend gave me an old jewelry box filled with costume jewelry, much from the 1960s, that had belonged to a relative who had passed away. She thought my girls might like to play with it.

Unfortunately for my children, I intercepted the generous gift and kept it all for myself! Look at some of these lovely pieces:

One of the miscellaneous bits in the box was this thick link chain, pictured below, which didn't have a clasp and I wonder if it was an eyeglass chain at one point. Or who knows? But I like it, and thought it would make a good base for a statement necklace.

I know that ribbon tie necklaces kind of already had their moment, but I still like the look and thought that if I didn't make it the focus of a new piece, I could get away with using a ribbon tie in lieu of trying to find a clasp. I tried fastening on a pearl studded locket that I got a church barn sale last year, but it was too shiny and new looking against the chain, and a little too small. Then I remembered that I had a locket that I wore as a child, it is very 1970s and the perfect size and shade of gold to match the chain.

So I fastened the new locket onto the chain, double wrapped it, and tied it closed with black grosgrain ribbon from my ribbon box. I really like the way it looks, and I love that I am able to wear something that I loved wearing when I was a kid.

I can't wait to try something a little more complicated. I have these beautiful pink vintage glass tulip clip-on earrings and I would love to update them for my spring wardrobe. Any ideas on how to restyle them?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thrifting for Kids Books

I was a bookworm of a child. I spent many a happy hour reading, and am delighted that all three of my children seem to love the printed word as much as I do. So naturally, when I am out and about in pursuit of vintage, I always have books on the radar.

Books are a great thing to thrift, especially children's books. Nearly every thrift, flea market, rummage sale, or tag sale has stacks of them available, and I can almost always find something that I can add to our home library for a quarter or two. Libraries are another excellent source of secondhand books. Some libraries have dedicated used bookshops that raise money for the organization; others have regular sales of books. I was surprised to learn that these library book sales often include beautiful vintage books, at very reasonable prices.

Over the years, I have collected hundreds of children's books, both vintage and newer titles.  I particularly love looking for beautiful editions of the classic children's literature that I adored so much as a child. These are wonderful books to give as gifts to the very special children in your life, especially if you add a little note telling them how you enjoyed the same book as a child. And yes, I realize that not every child would appreciate an old, used book for a present, but I consider myself very fortunate that I know many who would. Or at least they are very good at pretending!

Here are a few of the sweet, classic books that I have found recently:

You just can't go wrong with Winnie-the-Pooh! But modern day children may not know that A.A. Milne wrote hundreds of witty little poems and stories besides the ever popular Pooh tales. These two volumes were in nearly pristine condition, with all the charming original illustrations. I still remember my mother teaching me the words to the  poem "The End" when I was six years old:
When I was One, I had just begun.
When I was Two, I was nearly new.
When I was Three, I was hardly Me.
When I was Four, I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever. 
This 1940 edition of Mother Goose, with illustrations by the well-known American illustrator Pelagie Doane is simply stunning!

 The condition of the outside of the book is not perfect, and one page is torn, but look at these enchanting illustrations:

One of my absolute favorite book series from my childhood is the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. The books detail the adventures of a poor Jewish family of five daughters in early 20th century New York City. While I am not Jewish and grew up in the Midwest, I do have three sisters and no brothers, so I really connected to these wonderful stories. I can't count the number of times I read and re-read these books! I loved them so much that one of my children is named for one of the characters. And now my oldest daughter is old enough to enjoy them. I was thrilled to find this hardback of the first installment in the series:

My other daughter received her name from another favorite book character--Rose Campbell from Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins. I found this beautiful edition of the book at a library sale and gave it to my daughter for her last birthday. She treasures it!

And here is one that may not be considered a "classic," but it made a huge impression on me as a child and I highly recommend picking it up if you ever come across it at a sale. It has an empowering and inspiring message for young kids, if they can look past the scary Snortsnoot.

These are just a few favorites from my collection. If you frequent thrifts but usually bypass the book section for fear of finding only old, smelly, uninteresting books, I urge you to take a look. You just might find a few gems. Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Crazy Eights...or just plain crazy?

Things have been a little slow on the thrift front this week. I'm all tied up working on a big project for my daughter's school. But never fear, I have some big plans for later this month that I am sure will not disappoint. In the meantime, I will share with you my meager finds from last week.

One of my sisters was here for a little surprise visit last week, and I took the opportunity to introduce her to my blog. She must have been inspired, because she happily agreed to go thrifting with me on Friday. Unfortunately, our schedule only permitted one stop, and we didn't exactly clean up.

I found a couple of things for my girls that while useful, are not too exciting, so I didn't photograph them. I did find a brand new child's weaving loom with all its accessories, which I did find exciting, but still didn't photograph. I did document this find from the 25 cent bin:

I picked it up because I thought it was dollhouse furniture, and well, you might as well know that of course, I collect that, too. It turned out to be a vintage AVON bottle. The cute little blue pitcher on the washstand is the bottle top. For a quarter, I thought it would be cute in the dollhouse even if it is not worth anything, so I picked it up. Back at home, my super sleuthing self discovered that it originally held Charisma foaming bath oil and dates to 1973. Definitely worth more than a quarter, but not so much more that I won't let my kids play with it.

In other news, I was picking up the other day and found this on the bureau in my bedroom.

I thought I was losing my mind, I had no idea where it had come from. I was genuinely panicked for a moment, thinking that this thrifting disease of mine must surely have gotten out of control if I could no longer remember--not even recognize!--what I had seemingly just purchased. That is one step away from being featured on HOARDERS. Thankfully, a quick text to my husband confirmed what I was hoping against hope was true...that somehow he was responsible for bringing that into my house. He apparently picked it up while visiting his parents recently. Once reassured that I was not headed to the funny farm (just yet), I was disappointed to see that this set of card games is not, in fact, vintage, but a reproduction. But if anyone finds the original version, please let me know! I love me some Crazy Eights and Old Maid.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

I didn't intend to thrift today (isn't that what I always say?), but my husband and I took the girls to the American Girl store to meet the new doll of the year, and it just happened to be around the corner from my new favorite haunt. So after a trip to doll paradise and a stop at my husband's restaurant choice for lunch, it was my turn to be indulged and I was given the green light, albeit with a 15 minute time limit. But fifteen minutes is better than nothing, and I found a couple of treasures to make it worth my while. What better way to start off the new year?

First, I found these writing practice cards for my middle child, who loves to emulate her big sister and do homework each evening. These should keep her busy for awhile. Plus, they wipe clean so she can use and re-use and then pass them on to my son.

I am overjoyed at my next find--two partially used rolls of vintage wallpaper! 

It may not look like much, but only the beginning of each roll is ripped up and the pattern is so delightful. Here are a few close-ups:

Aren't they pretty?

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you find 2013 to be full of joy and surprises. And lots of thrifting goodness, of course!

one of my favorite postcards from my large collection