Caring for Vintage Textiles

I love vintage textiles. From childhood I have always been drawn to textiles. In fact, my daughter does not like to go with me to a fabric store because according to her I “stay too long.” She once told me, “Mom, I don’t know what happens to you, but when we go into a fabric shop, you go into a trance”.

There are many different types of textiles, and if you are unsure as to what type of fabric your linen is made from, there are many sites on the web with information to help assist you in identifying the material. The following is a list of general helpful hints for cleaning:

  • When dealing with old textiles it is important to be gentle and patient. Don't try to rush the process. Start by soaking the item in a mixture of Biz (an all fabric non-chlorine bleach) and a gentle detergent, such as Orvus or Ivory. For especially tough stains you may want to try soaking the item in only Biz first. Keep in mind this may take several days for the stains to completely soak out.
  • Avoid bleach and products containing bleach. They can do more harm than good because bleach can destroy and weaken fibers. And be sure to rinse, rinse, and rinse again. I do use a washer, set to the gentle cycle, to wring the water out.
  • When drying linens, it is best to dry them out in the sun, even during the long, cold, winter months. I live between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York, which is very cold, so I feel if I can hang my linens out in the winter, almost everyone should be able to do so. The sun acts as natural bleach, removing even some stubborn stains. And, of course, nothing beats the crisp, clean smell of linens that have been hanging outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
  • Avoid using a dryer, especially if there are still stains or spots left on your linen. The heat from the dryer will further set the stains and weaken delicate fibers. When it comes time to iron, it is best that your linens be slightly damp. I usually iron in the morning, when the dew is still on the linens from an overnight stay outside. I check to see if the sun did its job the day before, and if all the stains are gone, the linens are ironed. If there are still stains, they will stay on the line for another day.
  • Do not starch items that will be stored away. Starch attracts little bugs, which can eat away fibers, damaging your linens. Store linens in a dark place, and never in direct sun. Linens should also not come in contact with wood. I either roll up my linens or hang them on a padded hanger to prevent creasing.  

Karen Nappo

Design Connection

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