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A Down & Dirty Guide to Care & Cleaning

Discussion in 'Care and Cleaning 2004 By Pastperfectvintage' started by pastperfect2, Nov 14, 2004.

  1. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Welcome to a Down And Dirty Guide to Car and Cleaning. I am Hollis Jenkins-Evans. And let's get this straight right off the top. I am Not a museum conservator. Not by a long shot.

    We do have museum folk among our guild members and I do hope they will join in with suggestions and discussion. What I know about the area of textiles comes from reading, talking to people who know more than I do and study with that unforgiving teacher - Trial and Error. I did study costume history for several years a part of an MFA degree in Costume Design and Construction, and I started collecting in oh, 1979, and have been selling since 1992.

    So where to start? I would like to try a dual approach with this workshop. Most of us are dealers with stock inventory. Museum techniques really won’t work for us. But I have rarely met a seller who didn‘t have a personal collection. And there are many things we can do to protect what we have and pass it on to the next owner.

    After all, we are investing our hard to come by cash, and it behooves us to protect that investment.

    Two good rules to start with:

    Do No Harm


    When in Doubt , Don’t.

    There are hard to live up to, and I have failed the first more times than I like to remember. It’s a long and sordid tale of washing machines, attics, dye runs, and dry-cleaners. The second rule has saved me and my treasures from disaster.
  2. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    So let’ start with the point of purchase. A lot of damage happens just getting our treasures home.

    Maybe you have found things at a local shop, vintage clothing show or were lucky enopugh to be given goodies. Usually they are stuffed in a tiny grocery sack, or a dirty cardboard box, or even a huge used garbage bag and then handed to you. Delicious. If you can, try to wash your hands before you handle it all. Those nachos and cheese dishes can leave some really greasy stuff on the clothes.

    Now for the obvious : Don’t try to carry too much - if you head to the car with 15 dresses and 10 hats piled in your arms, I promise you will drop something or drag on the ground. And those velvet dresses don't look good after you have stepped on them in the gravel parking lot.

    So - be patient, be careful. Carry what you can securely. If you have a lot of dresses, lay them flat, grab all the hangers in your right hand, then slide your left under the garments and carry horizontally. You won’t drop anything, and nothing will drag on the ground. Make as many trips at it takes.
  3. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    And, please feel free to post a question or make a comment at anytime!

    So, now we have you to the car. If you car is not all that clean, or you transport pets, consider taking a clean sheet along on buying trips to lay on the back seat to protect the clothing. You can wrap this over them a well.

    Now- If there are any wire hangers - this is the time to get rid of them. They are DOOM. Not only are they terrible to hang garments on, they rust, and the damn things catch on other garments and tear them.

    Nothing quite matches the feeling you get when you have bought a mint condition lace dress, then getting home and realizing the next two hangers on either side of it are entwined in it and have put a 3" rip in the front of the dress.

    Ooooorr - the hangers have rusted , and not only do you have rust on the original garment, you have rust on the ones next to it.

    So like Joan Crawford, your mantra should be:

    No Wire Hangers!'

    I do suggest taking a garbage bag along to big sale and throwing the hangers out before I leave.

    If you have a hanging bar, take along some padded hangers, and you can get the clothing home reasonably unwrinkled. It's worth it to take soem time. I mean , really - if that Adrian suit is in good presentable shape when you buy it, why would you wad it in a bag and have to steam it all over again when you get back to your home or shop?

    If you don't have a hanging bar, lay the garments on the back seat, with as few folds as possible. I place heavy items such as coats to the bottom, lighter weights at the toward the top with satins and velvets at the top to avoid irremediable crushing.

    I do keep hats and shoes in boxes to protect them. And these can go in the trunk. My trunk was only clean enough for clothing when we drove it home from the dealer.

    Please don’t store food and drink in the back with the clothing - you never know what can happen if you have to slam on the brakes. That may sound odd, but when you go on long drives to hunt for the good stuff, you may well have a few soft drinks and snack in the car.

    If you buy in large lots, I also recommend having a garbage bag or two along and weeding out the items you aren’t keeping. PLus one for the trash - the nasty old boxes, the old wood and wire hangers, the dirty newspaper stuffing, old discolored tissue, cracked plastic garment bags, and other goodies that so often are part of the territory. There is no need to even take any of that in the house or shop. And it may well be home to insects, so all the better to get it out of the way ASAP.

    I have been known to drop off the rejects at my local thrift on the way home from the sale. And the trash bag goes right on out to the bin when I get home.
  4. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Now , you’re home.

    I don’t know about you, but it’s always dark or raining or both when I get home for a buy. Always. And I am always tired from a day on the road , or a day driving all around town.

    So if it‘s raining - wait until it quits to unload. Water spots can be the difference in a big price tag and a medium one. If it's dark and you can't see well enough to be able to tell if you dropped anything - wait until morning to unload.

    Now, take as much care getting everything into your house or shop as you did getting it to the car. Dropping satin dresses onto oily driveways or muddy grass verges is heartbreaking.

    Now here's the hard part - don't throw everything over chair or table and decide to face it later. The time to get this new purchase hung up and temporarily stowed is now. You want to get it doen before the pets get to give it the once over, or it gets thoroughly crushed.

    If you are a seller, I suggest you have staging area, even a tempoaray one, with an empty rack and clean table that you can unload onto. Have your padded and skirt hangers nearby and hang everything up as soon a you come in.

    I lay out all the hats, shoes and acessories separately at this point. If I am going to be away for awhile, I stow all these in clear plastic tubs until I can get back to them.

    I do shut my cat out of the staging room until I have it all safely stowed.

    He's a cat. He is curious. He just has to inspect all that new smelly stuff and since fur and feathers are just dead animals to him, you can imagine the destruction he is capable of.

    If you are a private collector, it's still a good idea to have a clean area you can unload to and then get these hung up. If you use a bedroom, you may want to put a sheet down on the bed first - I am always amazed at some of the stuff that is left on the table after I hang it all up. And it will catch any beads that may fall off.

    Now there are some exceptions to the hang it up right away rule:

    Anything with signs of fabric stress at the shoulders

    Beaded dresses

    Delicate garments, such as old chiffon or silk taffetas. These often end up with the hanger sticking right through the sleeves.

    Children's garments that are too small to fit over adult hangers

    Garments with a lot of weight that strain the shoulder.

    A few more thoughts - don't stack the hats on top of each other - that's a great way to break feathers and beat down crowns. And be careful of shoes- scuffs can happen in storage almost as well as in wear.

    So we have you and your treasures home now, ready to face tomorrow’s ever so much more glamorous and exciting topic:

    Sorting and Cleaning!
  5. Hi Hollis

    Thanks so much for this!

    Feel free to answer these questions later in the workshop if it makes more sense to do so..

    I know this is not a workshop on "what to look for" (well, at least not what the item is)..., but can you give us just a few tips when we are still at that auction before we get swept up in the moment and see something we love...

    Obviously, we won't be able to go over it with a magnifying glass at that point...but are there any "common mistakes" or "biggest traps" that people make as far as picking up a nonrepairable/noncleanable item that can be inconspicuously identified or identified very quickly. (maybe thinking that they can?)
  6. hallreis

    hallreis Registered Guest

    First, a question on plastic. My husband thinks it's okay to store vintage garments in plastic garment bags that are special because they are blue (impregnated with...something or other) and have perforations to let the item inside breathe. What do you think?

    Second, question on when to dry clean. After every wear? Or only if you really think it needs it?
  7. schoolsgirl

    schoolsgirl Registered Guest

    Thank you so much Hollis!

    Looking forward to the rest of this incredibly useful subject!
  8. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Oh yes - and it's a common problem . We see a fabulous dress and the adrenalin gets going and well, it's all over but the shouting.

    And it's particularily a problem for clothing.

    So many shops, show rooms an dolther places where old textile shang out are so dark and poorly lit that it is almost impossible to really see what we are getting into.

    So here's some presale inspection tips:

    Take your time. If it's one of those sales where it's a feeding frenzy, just grab everything you are posssibly interested it, then retire to a quiet spot and inspect. If you weed it out, you can put it back.

    If you can, take the garment over to a window and check it in daylight.
    (I have taken a flashlight to predawn sales).

    Check the armpits in daylight - pit stains are No No. Check both armpits - I bought a suit once that was perfect on the side I looked at, and stained on the other. How she did it I will never know.

    If there is a skirt hanging under a top or jacket, take it off the hanger and really look at all of it.

    Always check the back of skirt - this seems to be where most of the staining happens.

    Hold the garment up to the light one layer at a time - this works anywhere. And will really let you know if there are any holes. This is especially important for woolens. If its full skirt, lay it out as flat as you can to check for spots or holes that might be hidden in folds.
  9. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Hallreis - most museum conservators really are death on plastic bags.

    It isn't just the air circulation problem, it's also that some plastics emit harmful fumes over time. If you want to bag your items, a muslin or cloth bag that has been washed to remove the sizing will keep the dust and light off the textile, which is what you are really trying to accomplish.

    As to drycleaning - we will get more in depth on that tomorow , but I do think most people over clean. It is a harsh process that is detrimental to the fibers.

    Whenever possible, wear a washable underlayer - a blouse, camisole or slip under your vintage piece. This wil absorb the body oils. Or invest in a few pairs of pin in, washable dress shields. They come in various colors and styles, even for sleeveless garments.
  10. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    And another thing to remove from your new purchases.

    Any colored tissue paper. Heaven forbid your bag or purchase gets wet. Colored tissue will bleed dye all over it.
  11. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Hollis this is excellent! Looking forward to more tips!

    Thank you for doing this workshop.

  12. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Other problems to avoid are shattered silk garments. Check along the creases of pleats or folds. If these seem weak, or are starting to split, then leave that dress at the sale. If there are lots of pinholes, it signals weakness as well.

    With mens suits, check the crotch area. I don't want to gross anyone out, but if the trousers aren't clean there, leave them. Also check all pants pocket edges for fraying and wear.

    You also want to check hems to see if they have been let down ar taken up. Or even cut off.

    I also check the interior seams to see if the garment has been taken or let out. Check satins and velvets especially as needle marks don't come out of these.

    Now that doesn't mean don't buy it, just know what you are getting and pay accordingly.

    Check glass and mother of pearl buttons for chips.

    Check buttonholes - these often show fraying and wear and are not easy to repair.
  13. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Another common probem is dye that has faded unevenly.
    This is especially common with crepe dresses of the 30s and 40s, and particularily a problem with blue and purple dyes. And frequently greens and browns. If the color is uneven, leave it.

    Redying is a pain and is usually unsuccesfful. And even if it works, you have to sell it as an overdyed garment, which lessens the value considerably.

    The other dye fade that you can catch is at the shoulder line. This is from clothing hanging in closets or storage while exposed to light. Sometimes it isn't obvious until you take the garment off the hanger and look at the shoulder area flat. Again - leave it.

    Mold and mildew are something to look out for. Now if the garment can safely be cleaned, these may come out. We will get into what can be cleaned tomorrow.
  14. Vintagetrend

    Vintagetrend Registered Guest

    I have found on beaded vintage items that at times the beads are actually metal and leave rust marks..
    Is there any cleaning method for delicate silk with rust spots and what are your thoughts on felt pen on rust spots?
    I saw a vintage dealer doing this once and wonder how it effects the integrity of delicate fabrics...

    THANKS this is fun!

  15. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    I have removed rust from cotton and linen, but must admit I have never tried it on delicate silk. Rust does weaken the fibers and I suspect anything strong enough to remove the rust will probably put a hole in the silk.

    And since the beads are metal and the source of the rust, getting the area wet is a bad idea.

    So this one falls under the Do No Harm rule. Now if the piece is one for my collection - I would live with the marks or take it to a professional conservator for an opinion.

    If it is piece I want to sell - I would describe it and let it go.

    As to markers- well there are fabric makers, and I must admit I have considered them. But color matching is a difficulty, and you may well end up with a worse flaw than you started with. A spot that is the wrong color and has ring around it.

    And you are doing something permanent to the fabric. So I would restrict their use to anything that falls into the - "it's so bad I am going to have to throw it out and I have nothing to lose" category.
  16. elsewhere

    elsewhere Guest

    I'm not sure when I'll have time to check back... but I have a fabulous twinset by Halston.. it's done in a very festive Christmas-y Emerald green metallic Lurex knit.
    The downside is that it has a very faint spot on the top... like someone dribbled their glass of holiday merlot.

    It's hard to see.. but certainly there! I'd love to actually SELL this set, but I have no reputable dry cleaners in the area.


    Oh.. and I did test a small bit on the inside of the sweater, under the pocket where it wouldn't be visible if the test failed... I used Zout and then patted it down with a damp cloth.
    No dice. Can't go that route. That whole (small) area is now a wee bit darker than the rest of the top. Not sure if it was the Zout or the water...

    Am I stuck having to find a dry cleaners or holding onto it for another couple years?

    Thanks in advance!

  17. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Well, it sound like washing is out. Although, what you can do is take a wet Q-tip and spot somewhere inconspicuos. Then dab it with a white cloth or paper towel. If the dye comes off, you know it was the water. If not, it was the Zout.

    But the odds are that the Lurex doesn't want to get wet. Those metallic fibers don't generally like water. So it looks like a hunt for a drycleaner is in your future.
  18. bigchief

    bigchief Alumni

    Hollis - No questions at the moment - just wanted to tell you what a pleasure this is to read, and so informative too!


  19. dibs2002

    dibs2002 Registered Guest

    Ok, is it ok to store my vintage in my cedar closet? That's where mine is so I hope the answer is yes :)

    I have another Q too. I got oil & vinegar on a silk blouse. It's not a vintage blouse so I'm not too worried about it being delicate, and it is a broadcloth type of weave so it's pretty sturdy. Is it ok to wash it in the washer? Can I iron it? And how would you treat it if it WAS vintage silk and presumably more delicate?

  20. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Well, thank you Carolyn.

    Debs - cedar is good at repelling some insects. But it is wood and it is acid. So if you want to use it, I would line it completely with an old, light colored heavily washed sheet or two, then place the garments in that so the fabric never touches the wood.
    As to your silk blouse- Check it for colorfastness - I will cover this in the next installment. I would hand wash in cold water and lay flat to dry. You may need to pretreat the spot with a commerical cleaner geared toward oil - I believe Carbona makes one. Just follow their directions, then hand wash.

    You don't need to go into all the precautions you would with a vintage textile, but silk really will hold up better in the long run if it isn't machine agitated and put in the dryer. Now the thing is - the blouse may shrink a bit and it may loose some of the surface texture. That's the risk you take.

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