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Entries in laundry (23)


Airing the Dirty Linen

Quite a while ago I wrote a story about the stinky shoes (coincidentally, also red and shiny – see previous post). Now, unexpectedly, I find myself writing a story about the stinky skirt. This one above. It’s so cute with its polka-dots and denim-look pleats that it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

I bought it on Etsy. I admired it for a long time, until I finally ceased resisting its allure and clicked ‘add to basket’. Then I waited for Australia Post to deliver it to me. When I eagerly ripped open the package and the skirt tumbled out, an over-powering stench reached my nostrils.

I wasn’t too worried at first. I thought, “Never mind, a good wash will take care of that evil smell.” No. The vintage 80s skirt is made of rayon and acetate and must be dry-cleaned only. Bother. I didn’t know if dry-cleaning would have any effect, so before I went to the expense, I decided to air the skirt.

When I eagerly ripped open the package … an over-powering stench reached my nostrils.

After a day of hanging in the shade, the skirt smelled just as bad as before. I couldn’t decide quite what was the origin of the odour. Damp? Mothballs? Lengthy storage? Dead body? I left the skirt out on the line, periodically rescuing it from the intermittent pre-Christmas rain. (It actually got a little wet during Christmas Day’s thunderstorms – I’d left it hanging by an open window. Fortunately the rayon content was not such that the skirt shrivelled.)

On about the fourth day I took the drastic step of hanging it out in the glare of the full sun, although I took the precaution of turning it inside out to prevent fading. In fact, it was a week before the smell dissipated. But huzzah! I can wear it now!

Serendipitously, I discovered what caused the stench. On Boxing Day I was sorting out bags of my own old clothes I had stored in the garage. Most of them were fine, but from one bag emanated the same smell that was in the skirt. When I got to the bottom of it, I found water had seeped into it, and some of the items at the bottom were literally growing mouldy. Ugh! All the clothes in the bag were impregnated with the unpleasant smell, but fortunately that was remedied with a regular wash cycle.

On to the next sartorial adventure!


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!


A Good Yarn

A patch that just passes muster … from a distance. Don’t look at it up close!

Needlework used to be thought a fit occupation for a young lady to keep her occupied during those moments when she was not busy trying to captivate an eligible bachelor.

Nowadays few young ladies are fit for mending, let alone sewing. I remember once purchasing a skirt from an expensive designer boutique that had a loose button at the waistband. As I said I would take it as is, rather than wait to have the store mend it, the salesgirl gave me a needle and thread to take home! Obviously I didn’t look the sort to own a mending kit.

This hole is about an inch in diameter! Sob!Darning however is not something I was ever taught in textiles at school. Who has the time or inclination these days to darn holey garments?

I never did, until my favourite cashmere cardigan developed an enormous hole in the elbow – I don’t know how, but I suspect that old proverb, ‘a stitch in time prevents nine’ applied here.

This time I was determined to rescue my cardigan from charity shop doom, and purchased some Italian merino yarn. Researching darning online somewhat sketchily (I looked at a few diagrams), I learned that I should recreate the weave, and set to with gusto. I read afterwards that some darners unravel their yarn to get a finer thread and a more subtle result, but that would have unravelled my sanity I think.

Okay, look at it up close. Sure to make a professional darner shudder, but I got the weave happening, and it's less tawdry than a hole.I did without the wooden darning egg and started with the two tiny holes in each underarm as practice. By the time I was ready to tackle the giant hole, I felt more confident. It was fiddly work, and my eyes were sore from squinting, but I think I acquitted myself not too badly for a beginner! Fortunately the colour of the new yarn matches the cardigan so well it’s less noticeable.

I’ll be darned if I don’t wear my badge of honour with pride!

Click here and visit Colette Patterns for some vintage instructions on darning. (And such a cute illustration on the cover!)


Fashion Rescue Remedy

There comes a time in every fashionista’s life when she has to make a speedy decision in order to save a garment’s life. Like, for example, once I walked home from work on tippy-toes, for fear the loosened heel of a favourite shoe would snap off. Happily I made it home: heel intact, instep sore.

Last weekend I handwashed a mountain of wool garments. I separated them properly into colours, and threw a mound into the water. As I watched them sink in, I suddenly realised a little mohair scarf was in dire danger. A length of loosely knitted fine mohair and wool, the scarf is sculpted into little bobbles of ‘negative-space’ at each end. In dismay, I watched them collapse in the water, deflating like balloons.

But – as in any emergency – I knew it was important to stay calm and not to panic. As my hands gently swirled the woollen garments through the eucalyptus-scented water, my mind was busy formulating a plan to deal with this unforeseen catastrophe.

In dismay, I watched them collapse in the water, deflating like balloons.

Fortunately I have had experience in felting wool, and reasoned I should be able to re-form the bobbles through a similar method, with the aid of moulds and the application of heat. But what should I use for the mould? Something round. Marbles would be too small. (Besides, I didn’t have any to hand.) Cedar balls? No, they were impregnated with oil.

Monster scarf: balls of tissue are fastened with elastic hair bands.I eventually decided on balls of tissue paper. But I knew they would need to be held in place, so that the wool could dry naturally and set in place again.

I rolled up my little tissue paper balls and found a box of those miniature snag-free hair elastics*. There were many bobbles, and it was a tedious job. I grew bored.

There were many bobbles, and it was a tedious job. I grew bored.

But, if you’re going to repair something, it’s best to do it properly (a stitch in time saves nine etc), so I persevered. When I was done, I put the scarf in the microwave. Two minutes should do it, I thought. When the oven beeped, I opened the door and was not only treated to a complimentary mini facial, but the invigorating odour of freshly heated wool. I lifted out the soggy mass (it looked like a bit of roadkill) and took it to the clothes airer, spreading it out lovingly (and hopefully). Then I left it to dry.

A couple of days later, (I wanted to be sure it was really, really dry) I began to undo the elastics. That moment of breathless anticipation was akin to when you first take the curlers out of your hair (will the curls hold, or will I be unringlety within half an hour?)… But HA–LE–LU–JAH! It worked!

Never underestimate the power of creative thinking when it comes to rescuing or repairing ruined garments.

*Rubbish! They are as snag-free as those supposedly tangle-free headphone cords – that aren’t tangle-free at all. 


Sew Necessary

Put your hand up if you like mending. Anyone? Anyone at all? … I thought not. Neither do I.

It is one of those pesky little chores that I put off for as long as possible. It’s not that I don’t know how to sew on a missing button – it’s more the fact this little chore always seems to consume an inordinate amount of time, what with hauling out the sewing box; threading needles; hunting for the missing button that I had put in a very safe place… so safe I can’t find it again.

However tedious it is though, it must be done. There is nothing more slovenly than gadding about in disreputable garments. Which means said garments are pulled off the hanger only to be immediately returned to them, unworn, when I realise I have not re-attached that belt loop, or replaced that button.

There is nothing more slovenly than gadding about in disreputable garments.

So, sew. My sewing box is actually a vintage tin, which I find more aesthetically appealing that one of those sewing boxes upholstered in tapestry fabric available from haberdashers. I have sorted out its contents into clear plastic bags so I can locate the required notion with minimum fuss. I also have a mini sewing kit for my bag – coincidentally a vintage-style tin that has become battered through the years.

Once upon a time I even knew how to operate a sewing machine. Back in high school I studied textiles in grade 7. None of our projects were particularly ambitious, but I still have one of the items I made from scraps scrounged from my older sister Blossom: a pencil case with the word ‘love’ spelled out on it.

One day I shall actually take that sewing machine mum bought me a couple of years ago out of storage and learn how to use it.