Using Vintage Fabrics In Your Projects

Collecting vintage textiles is something I have been doing since I was in high school and I use them in many of my projects.  Once in a while I go through my ever-changing stash to either get inspired or to find a color match for something I am working on.  And, every so often I end up unearthing a piece that has disintegrated while in storage.  Typically I move my fabrics around enough that this does not happen too much, but it’s never fun to dig out a coveted bit only to find that it can’t be used for anything.

(Vintage Fabric Photo from KitschDesigns.com FLICKR Set, Vintage Fabrics.)

It’s important to be sure everything you store is properly cleaned first.  You will be surprised at what the contents of different spots can do over time.  For example, spills containing sugars can change the color of and even eat right through some textiles.  There are so many guides online that can be found through a simple Google search to help you learn about the type of fabric you have just brought home, that I’m not even going to attempt to list all the ways to launder here.  One day I may attempt a short tip list, but that’s for another time and another day.  ;o)

(Vintage Fabric Photo from KitschDesigns.com FLICKR Set, Vintage Fabrics.)

Since most of my projects involve creating items for use I tend to lean toward throwing everything into the washing machine on the gentle cycle with regular detergent.  Let me back up and explain why I do this.  I figure that if what I am going to make from the textile will be used regularly, than it needs to be able to withstand the washing machine at least once!  If it makes it through in one piece and any spots come out it can usually hold up to whatever else comes along.  It’s definitely a sink or swim approach, but being purposefully hard on the textile means my gift recipient or customer will be happy with the end product.

(Vintage Fabric Photo from KitschDesigns.com FLICKR Set, Vintage Fabrics.)

Although I don’t often use anything that does not withstand the laundering test I have had one exception.  Years ago, during one of my purge sessions I came across a set of cafe curtains I had used in an old rental house.  The fabric was very old, from the 1950’s and had probably lived life as a set of curtains then too.  I remembered it was already fragile when I stitched the pom-pom fringe in place for it’s first use, and as I was taking the little panels out of storage I could tell age and the more recent year spent in the sunny window had nearly burnt this fabric to a crisp.  It was paper thin and nearly breakable.  However, much of the bright colored geometric pattern still looked good.  So, I decided to take a chance and use the fabric to cover the cork of a bulletin board that I had in storage.  I had been needing a place to hang reminders and inspiration items for a long time and this seemed like the jolt of personality the board needed.  Using fusible webbing I was able to bond the fabric to the cork without creating any more tears and my new creation was a breath of bright, fresh air!

To this day, I still have this board in my crafting and sewing area and that fabric is still holding on, which is more than I can say for the red velvet trim I glued down as a border.  Oh well, I guess not all vintage finds are cut out for the long term!

I noticed the ladies over at Sewing School have a great guide on their site about using second hand fabrics.  It has some really practical information and I would definitely recommend checking it out!

Happy Stitching!

Erika

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