Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Cleaning Antique & Vintage Linens

Some old fabrics are remarkably strong and resilient and can put up with washing in a machine but some are more fragile and require gentler laundering.  Each piece needs assessing before you start.

Whites  - bed linen, tea cloths, napkins, chemise etc. 

1.  These will benefit from a long soak in cold water to begin with - overnight at least..  I use a large bucket - or a bath for large sheets.  Soaking opens up the fibres and renders later washing more effective.

2. If very discoloured - for example there may well be brown marks along the folds if they have been stored for a length of time - then I will wring them from the cold water soak and put them in a bucket of hot in which a scoop of Vanish OxiAction has been dissolved.  Again, leave overnight.
 3. Wash in a machine with Persil non-bio (or your choice of detergent) at 90 degrees.  This should only be done if you are sure the fabric is strong.  I have not yet lost or damaged an item with this method.
 4. Dry outside in the fresh air on a washing line.
 5. For further whitening hang out while still quite wet (not spun too much) on a hot sunny day or a cold frosty night.  It is remarkable the bleaching effect this has.  I don't use other bleach because it can weaken the fabric and should not be necessary.
Note: Rust stains - I use a French product called Rubigine-Anti-Rouille, it is the only really effective rust remover I have found and the results are magical.  It is freely available in French supermarkets so, if you can, buy some when in France.  It is important to follow the instructions to the letter!
Again it is vital to judge the strength and condition of the fabric and not subject it to strong treatment if it appears fragile in any way.
1..First soak in cold water
2.  I will use the Vanish stage if I think the fabric is colour-fast.  If you have a smaller piece of the same fabric, or can test a hidden part, then dab on a little solution and leave to see if the colour runs or fades. 
I once soaked a piece of vivid blue toile and was horrified when I looked in the water to see the blue colouring had completely disappeared and all that remained was a faint design on a cream background!  That has only happened once though!
Many (perhaps most) French 20th century fabrics, and some 19th century, are colourfast but some are not.  I have found that blues can be particularly fugitive.
 3.  Wash by hand in tepid water using a gentle liquid for woollens such as Stergene or Woolite
 4.  Rinse well several times in tepid water.
 5. Wrap in a towel and squeeze gently to remove as much water as possible.
 6. Dry in the open air but avoid full sun.
Heavy or Large Items - quilts, hangings etc.

I prefer not to have these dry cleaned.  The chemicals used can be quite destructive.  However, in one place I lived there was a wonderful dry cleaner - not one of the chains who just take in cleaning and are not well versed in the art.  If I took something to this dry cleaner she would assess the fabric and determine the best way to tackle the job, adjusting the chemicals used to get the best results.  Of course, having it done at all was at my risk but she never failed to come up trumps!  Unfortunately that was several house moves ago and, sadly, I have not found anyone approaching her level of expertise since.  Consequently when I am buying something I assess whether I can clean it myself - if in doubt I don't buy.
1. Prepare a bath of warm water with the recommended amount of Orvis Quilt Soap (see below).
2. Press up and down on the fabric to force the cleaning water through it
 Leave for several hours.
3. Drain the bath and press the fabric to expel as much dirty water as possible
4. Rinse several times, draining the water and pressing the fabric each time.  When the water runs clear with no suds place a clean sheet under the quilt and lift out of the bath.  It will be heavy and care should be taken to ensure no unnecessary strain is placed on it.
5.  If possible dry flat - outside on a lawn or other suitable area is ideal - using the sheet underneath.  Another sheet can be placed on top to prevent anything falling on the quilt. or risk the danger of fading if exposed to bright sunlight. Given the uncertain nature of the weather in the UK I have used a thick polythene sheet laid on the floor of a spare bedroom and arranged the sheet and quilt on top.
6.  Ensure the quilt is completely dry before folding and storing - damp will encourage mildew.
Cleaning an antique quilt is a labour of love!
Orvis Quilt Soap - I haven’t found this in a retail shop in the UK but it is readily available through quilting web sites.


Rockrobin said...

Invaluable information. Thankyou!

angebleu said...

I do hope you find it useful. There was a lot of trial and error before I was able to feel confident laundering linens and I think it is so important to preserve these lovely things of the past and not to inflict any harm on them!

vicki said...

I have just bought an old quilt from a shop in France, it is very large and appears to be made of a damask material. The shop owner told me it is an Napoleon quilt.
It is quite grubby around the edge, can you please advise on how I might go about cleaning it?
It is a beautiful pink colour.
Many thanks,

Mell Ladds said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting and helpful information <3

Ray said...

Thanks for sharing this post and helping me understand how to clean my discoloured fabrics.

angebleu said...

I hope it is useful to you Ray.