Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Care & Storage of Vintage Linens

This lovely Vintage Pink Roses Huck Towel / Table Runner can be seen at: www.bonanzle.com/booths/luv2luvantiques

Vintage linens need to be washed by hand and line dried, to prevent damage to the fibers. Do not use a washer & dryer, as the agitation of the washing machine will cause holes, and heat from the dryer will cause fiber loss and shrinkage. A front loading washer may be a possibility for sturdier linens.
Use a plastic tub to wash your linens, as metal has an oxidation process which may cause rust. (I found a clear plastic tub with handles, that fits in one of my kitchen sinks, at WalMart.) A clear plastic tub is best, as you can see if colors run, while you are soaking your vintage linens. If color starts to run, immediately rinse the cloth with cold water to remove the solution. Some old things cannot handle hot water.
One of the VTLC members suggested soaking a vintage linen in plain tepid, or lukewarm water, to loosen old dirt, soaps, and stains, that are in the fibers, before you even use a presoak, such as Biz. (There may be alot of old soap, or starch, residue left in the vintage 'cloth.) I did this and saw old soap, and alot of dirt come out! I use Biz now most of the time. It is terrific. I may soak something in a Biz, or Oxyclean solution, first...for about 30 minutes to one hour (or more), and then change the water...putting Ivory Snow, or All Detergent in (depending on the type, age, and content of the vintage linen). There is still quite a bit of the Biz on the 'cloth (as you have not rinsed it) which will continue to work. Biz can be too harsh for very delicate things. For extremely delicate, older things, use plain water presoak, rinse, and soak in Ivory Snow solution. CAUTION: The new Biz has OXY products in it!!! Oxy cleaners may damage rayon or linen blended fabrics, and even make holes in fabrics with metallic threads!
So, put cool water, with Ivory Snow Liquid Detergent, in the plastic basin. Soak your vintage linen 2 hours to 48 hours, depending on how dirty it is. You must move the item around once in a while, to make sure all areas soak properly. Ivory Snow is safe for even the older vintage cloths (30's & 40's, or earlier), embroidery, crochet, and even cloths with metallic threads (as silver & gold metallic threads in some Christmas Tablecloths.) Rinse your cloth with cool water, until the water runs clear. Leaving soap in the cloth can weaken the fibers. Never wring or twist the cloth, just squeeze gently. Then hang to dry outside on a clothes line, or lay flat on towels on a table. Hang the vintage linen part way over the line, as hanging at the corners can stretch it and leave marks. Use plastic clothes pins, as the wooden ones can leave marks.
If you would like to try to remove spots from tablecloths, you could try using "Simple Green" Household spray. After you have wet your cloth in the basin of Ivory Snow solution, you can spray the Simple Green on the spots to soak. This is not an oxygen product, so it is safer for older fabrics. Try it first on an outside area of the cloth to be safe. (Make sure you have good air filtration, as it has quite a strong odor!)
If you are washing a 50's or later tablecloth (for example) you could try soaking it in "Biz" (which quite a few vintage collectors do). I soaked two vintage white damask tablecloth and napkin sets, a print tablecloth, and an embroidered dresser scarf, in biz, with beautiful results. I have tried soaking the 50's & 60's 'cloths in Oxy Magic, with some detergent, such as Ivory Snow Liquid. I have also tried a soak with Ivory Snow Liquid and putting Oxy Clean Liquid on spots, after the cloth is wet. There are other Oxy products as well. Also, I have soaked 50's & 60's 'cloths in Woolite in cold water, sometimes spotting with "Simple Green". Remember not to use the Oxy products, or Woolite, on crochet, embroidery, metallic threads, finer, and/or older cloths, etc. These fabrics cannot take the brighteners! Never use chlorine bleach!!! It will weaken fibers, erase patterns, possibly make holes, and leave white areas. I cringe at the thought of the bleach pens that some people, selling linens on auction, suggest you use to remove stains!
Sun Crofting is using the sun's rays to naturally bleach a cloth. I have placed a vintage tablecloth, that I have soaked, on terry towels on top of a folding table outside in the sun. Some collectors place the tablecloth directly on green grass, to use the oxygen released by the grass's photosynthesis process. (I don't do that as we spray alot of bug sprays, plus we have pets.) I had great results using the table outside, suncrofting to remove extremely bad storage stains, from a Luther Travis Tablecloth. When you do this, make sure you spray cool water on the tablecloth to keep it damp. I used a clean spray bottle on fine spray and cool water. You need to constantly watch your linen in the sun. Don't forget about it...leave it out too long and it could start to fade!
I have tried ddseven spot remover on the white background of a cotton tablecloth, to remove old dye, and grease. This is a strong spot remover, so be careful! It starts to make color run, so don't put it on the colored part! And you need good ventilation! ddseven with lemon juice is great to remove rust stains. Sometimes lemon juice alone (if the rust stain is fairly recent) will work on it's own. (If there is alot of rust stain, when you remove it there may be a hole, as the fibers have been 'eaten' away!
To remove musty odors in linens, VTLC club members have suggested a soak in Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (detergent boost & household cleaner), a soak in pure baking soda and warm water (not too hot...watch for dye runs!), or vinegar in a rinse. Also, Biz will get out odors, as I had removed musty odor and alot of dirt from vintage crocheted table lace. (Another club member had the same results with vintage lace. This was the 'old' Biz before they added the oxy to it.) If you have tea stained vintage lace, Biz will cause the dye to run! I quickly rinsed my lace with cold water and it was OK.
I have used Fabri-Tac Permanent Adhesive, made by Beacon Adhesives, to close tiny pin holes on tablecloths. I bought it at WalMart. I liked it better than Fray Check, which I found runny. Fabri-Tac is more like a gel. I applied it sparingly using my fingernail and a toothpick, to close the fibers of the cloth. On a linen tablecloth, it looked like a flub in the cloth, when I was done. This has a strong odor also! You need good ventilation! If you resell a tablecloth you have tacked pin holes on, please list it in your auction, or website description. If you are not "excellent" at doing this, maybe it's best to just point out the tiny pin holes in your description.
Another "tablecloth rescue": I purchased a late 1940's? french blue and white colored water lily patterned tablecloth. It was hole free, and a heavy cotton sailcloth material. It had horrid stains, some looking like rust. I soaked it in just water, then in (the pre Oxy)Biz, then in oxyclean with Ivory Snow Liquid, then I spot removed with a paste of Oxy Magic powder placed on each stain. I went over the tablecloth about 3 times! Then it was rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed, by hand, and hung outside in the sun. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, but it's possible to change a seriously horrid looking tablecloth into a gorgeous one!
I am sharing my experiences with you. Nothing is fool proof when you are learning to clean vintage 'cloths. Even the experts have made mistakes....you take your chances. Make sure a fabric is washable by testing an inconspicuous outside corner, if possible. Some vintage fabrics with silk or rayon, may have to be drycleaned. Sometimes the drycleaners will ruin things! I had great success getting storage stains out of 50's barkcloth curtains, by soaking in Ivory Snow Liquid and spotting with "Simple Green". Hanging on the line in the sun did them good also.
To store vintage fabrics, make sure they are clean. Then wrap them is acid free white tissue paper, or washed unbleached muslin. I think the muslin is great as it won't tear. Every 3-4 months you should refold your tablecloths to prevent fiber damage. Using spray starch on fabrics creates a sugar treat for bugs, so I do not want to use it. If you use it on a tablecloth, you need to completely wash out the spray starch, before you store the tablecloth. If you're storing your items in a closet, put moth/bug repelling sachets in the closet, especially using cedar and lavender. I have a cedar lined chest that I'm using for cloths. Make sure the cloths do not touch the wood, even cedar, as it breaks down the fibers. Being near paper or cardboard hurts too. Plastic bags and containers give off gas vapors. It'll cause storage stains and even holes. I hope this has been helpful.

My favorite vintage linen books are:
Collectors' Guide to Vintage Tablecloths by Pamela Glasell, a Schiffer Book
Collectors' Guide to Vintage Souvenir Tablecloths & Linens by Pamela Glasell, a Schiffer Book
Colorful Tablecloths 1930s - 1960s Threads of the Past by Yvonne Barineau & Erin Henderson
Colorful Vintage Kitchen Towels by Erin Henderson & Yvonne Barineau
Elegant Table Linens From Weil & Durrse including Wilendur with Price Guide by Michelle Hayes
FABULOUS BARKCLOTH Home Decorating Textiles from the 30s, 40s, & 50s by Loretta Smith Fehling
(I need to purchase more books, on antique lace & linens.)

Diane Mc (BlackRain4 on ebay) (www.blackrain4.etsy.com) (www.bonanzle.com/booths/luv2luvantiques)
I'm starting a website: www.Luv2LuvAntiques.com
I'm a member of www.vintagetableclothsclub.com
I'm a member of www.avcosa.ning.com and
I'm a member of www.bonanzle.ning.com

1 comment:

  1. Hello Diane, I recently bought a vintage Luther Travis tablecloth at an estate sale & at the time didn't know anything about it. I put it in the washing machine THEN I found your article that said NEVER put it in the washer so, I went & gently pulled it out and finished washing/drying by hand. (I guess in the back of my mind I knew better or I would not have tried to look up instructions on how to care for it). Thank you for your info. I will probably write an article about it soon. It is brightly colored aqua with daisies. I love it.