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Step Away From the Mangle

Vintage Vogue Pattern girls from A Dress A Day

Yesterday I attended a fashion workshop at Circa, a wonderful vintage boutique in Fitzroy, and learned how to identify vintage fabrics using the burn test and how to launder them. I used to call myself the queen of stain-removal, but there were plenty of things I didn’t know.

Washing is the worst thing you can inflict on vintage clothes, Nicole Jenkins of Circa told us. Silk, for example, will not stop at shrinking once the first time you wash it – every time you wash it, it will shrink a little more. (So I’m not putting on weight – that’s the good news!) Rayon crepe is the worst offender. It will shrink a lot if wet: something that started life as a size AU14 will shrink to a size AU10, so always dry-clean. Most – in particular 1950s or older – vintage silk garments should be dry-cleaned too.

Check out the cute wooden dolly pegs in this 1920s photo; image from Things Your Grandmother KnewWe heard an amusing anecdote about the Melbourne Cup in 1932. Apparently, many women were wearing rayon crepe dresses, and when it poured with rain (as it often does during Spring Racing Carnival), all their dresses shrank. (This was long before Jean Shrimpton’s time.)

Cotton and linen can stand a lot more rough stuff, especially lingerie and shirts, which would have been made for constant wear and regular washing. And of course we no longer use copper cauldrons, wringers and mangles, so hand-washing these more sturdy items will not ruin them (if they’ve lasted this long…). Still, it is always better to dry garments flat and in the shade to prevent fading from the sun.

Washboard and mangle; image from Just B Cuz (Flickr)

Wool is a much more sturdy fibre, and as most marks will brush off. Anything tailored should be dry-cleaned, although knits can be hand-washed, especially before storing away over summer. Moths will go straight for dirty spots in clothes, looking for protein to munch on. I use wooden balls impregnated with cedar oil to keep moths away, rather than the stinky regular mothballs. I make sure to keep them well away from the garments, however. Lavender is a delightful alternative.

Moths will go straight for dirty spots in clothes, looking for protein
to munch on.

Laundry trivia

  • Vintage dyes are quite unstable, especially red, and prints, but Dylon’s run remover can help seemingly ruined garments.
  • Don’t use a eucalyptus-based cleaner for elasticised items, as the oil will degrade it; use another product for your lingerie.
  • 1940s shoulder pads can be full of all sorts of scraps – sawdust, soiled bandages (yes, really – shudder).
  • Freezing is very good for silk: hand-wash, roll in towel to remove excess water, freeze, then iron.
  • In an emergency, makeup smudges can be carefully spot-cleaned using makeup wipes (although launder asap, in case of bleach spots appearing later on); otherwise do not spot-clean.
  • Spray vodka onto stains and remove body odour.
  • To clean vintage fur, put the item in a pillowcase with a cup of bran and shake. The bran will pick up the dirt.
  • Iron velvet inside out so pile goes into pile, rather than flattening out.

I love this article at Fashion Era if you’re looking for more detail on how to launder your precious vintage garments. Nicole’s blog at Circa is also full of interesting articles about very unexpected problems, accompanied by full colour photos. Happy laundering!

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Reader Comments (2)

And after cleaning your fur, you can have a lovely cup of bran cereal! (Cough, cough!)

November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael Hk

Yummy! So thrifty too, just like our grandmothers, making do during the wars.

November 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterPrincess

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