Fragile old fabrics can be restored

November 07, 1990|By Donna Larcen | Donna Larcen,The Hartford Courant

GROTON, Conn. Evelyn Siefert Kennedy winces when she shows the audience the wrinkled crazy quilt.

"This is a good example of what not to do with your vintage fabrics," she says. "Somebody took the wrong advice and washed this quilt. It's ruined."

The browns bled into the pinks; the material puckered. The value is zilch.

Kennedy, who runs a fabric restoration and preservation business in this suburb of New London, Conn.,, lectures often to amateur collectors on how to handle with older fabric pieces.

"There are two ways to approach vintage clothes and fabrics: conservation and preservation," she says. "Conservators say stop the damage; put it in a hermetically controlled room. Restorers look at a piece and decide how to bring it back to the original state."

Although repairs can alter the fabric, Kennedy says that she favors the restoration approach unless the fabric is an unusual one destined for a museum.

On items such as wedding dresses that are very old, Kennedy may replace old lace with new, sew in new linings for reinforcement or alter the size or length.

"You have to decide what you want to do with these pieces," she says. "You can take an heirloom piece that's been in the family and have a granddaughter or niece wear it to her wedding. That really can mean a lot."

She also encourages families to take out and wear the pieces at special occasions, to get some enjoyment out of them.

Kennedy recommends using cloth-covered hangers to protect clothes because both wire and wooden hangers can stain garments, she says. She recommends protecting clothes from light and dust by cutting a hole in an old pillow case, putting it over the hanger first and then hanging the garment. Then cover the garment in another case or old sheet, she says.

Old linens that have developed a yellowish patina of age can be restored by a thorough washing she says, and she also warns her audience that despite a popular idea that blue tissue paper is good for wrapping clothes, it is not recommended.

Acid-free paper is best, she says, because unlike blue tissue paper, its color won't rub off on the clothes.

Kennedy also shares some washing techniques. She said that )) she uses distilled war to ensures that there are no mineral deposits, and a fiberglass screen to support large pieces when she hand-washes them. "It helps you lift the piece without damaging the fabric," she says.

She recommends that once you determine that a vintage fabric is washable, you follow this procedure:

Soak the fabric in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain. You may need to soak again if the water is dirty.

Then soak it again in a mixture of 4 tablespoons of baking soda per quart of water. The baking soda breaks down the pollutants in the stain. It is excellent for getting rid of mud or ink. You may need to repeat this process.

If you need to remove grease, use Murphy's Oil Soap.

If you need to remove rust, use Whink, a commercial soap. A paste of lemon juice and salt will also remove rust.

If you need to do general washing, use Woolite.

Do not use bleach. If you must whiten the fabric, use a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide mixed with cold water in a 50-50 ratio. Do not use bleach with metal or metallic fabrics.

Do not put precious pieces in a washing machine or dryer.

Wrap the washed piece in a towel to blot-dry it. Then lay it out flat on a towel and let it air-dry.

If you are in doubt about a vintage piece and how to take care of it, check with a museum.

Other sources of information are: the Textile Conservation Workshop, Main Street, South Salem, N.Y. 10590, or the Textile Conservation Center, 800 Massachusetts Ave., North Andover, Mass. 01845.

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