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Vintage pillows include one from a ca. 1910 embroidery kit (right). Photo by William Wright.

Caring for Vintage Textiles

by Patricia Poore on October 25, 2011

in Textiles

ABOVE: Vintage pillows include one from a ca. 1910 embroidery kit (right). Photo by William Wright

Here’s advice straight from the experts, specific to the cleaning, care and conservation of pillows and covers (and related textiles)…followed by carpets.

Care and Conservation of Vintage Pillows

Textiles, by their nature, are fragile. If not properly cared for, they do not survive. Sunlight will destroy the fibers of nearly any fabric; no pillow should be left in the sun. Best stored flat, textiles should be separated by cotton cloth so that dyes cannot transfer from one piece of fabric to another. If you have to fold them, it’s preferable that you refold the fabric along new lines once or twice a year to avoid permanent creases. Never use plastic storage containers, as the plastic over time will release chemicals harmful to the fabric. Dresser drawers and trunks are among the best places for storage.

Cleaning pillows should be done carefully, as many dyes were not colorfast and will run. Ann Wallace, who specializes in both vintage and new pillows, recommends testing a small area of a pillow with a moist Q-Tip for color stability. If colors do not run, then careful hand washing in cold water with Ivory or Woolite (never regular detergent) is the best way to clean an old pillow casing.

Vintage and new together: the ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Checkerberry’ designs are new from Arts & Crafts Period Textiles, lotus blossom and yellow medallion designs are old. Photo by William Wright.

Vintage and new together: the ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Checkerberry’ designs are new from Arts & Crafts Period Textiles, lotus blossom and yellow medallion designs are old. Photo by William Wright.

If the fabric is yellowed, try using a solution of two tablespoons of lemon juice diluted in a small tub of water to gently bleach the fabric.

Carbona (dabbed on with a cotton swab) rescued a pillow stained by red dye that had run from the berries in the design.

Carbona (dabbed on with a cotton swab) rescued a pillow stained by red dye that had run from the berries in the design.

Stains may be removed with a carbonated cleaner such as Chem Dry Stain Extinguisher, Zout, or Carbona. Roll the pillow or casing in a towel to dry, changing the towel as the moisture is soaked up; hanging encourages colors to run.

Never use starch on a period textile, even though it was popular during the Arts & Crafts period, as starch attracts silverfish and moths.

Iron the fabric upside-down between towels or clean, white cloth. Never press hard on stitches, for if there is moisture remaining in the threads the ironing can drive loose dye into other parts of the fabric. Dry cleaning is not recommended, as harsh chemicals can dissolve stencils and cause dyes to run and stain.

• • • •
Vintage Navajo and Southwestern textiles, including rugs, add immeasurably to the interior of a 1908 house in Ojai, Calif. Photo by William Wright.

Vintage Navajo and Southwestern textiles, including rugs, add immeasurably to the interior of a 1908 house in Ojai, Calif. Photo by William Wright.

Carpet Conservation
Top Tips of the Trade

Seattle-based Ferdod Haghighi specializes in fine antique carpets and also produces a line of his own contemporary designs, hand-woven in Tibet. Ferdod emphasizes the importance of caring for your carpets.

New Arts & Crafts wool carpets are, like vintage ones, naturally stain resistant. This is from Persian Carpet.

New Arts & Crafts wool carpets are, like vintage ones, naturally stain resistant. This is from Persian Carpet.

  1. Always wet a carpet before cleaning, and test a small corner first for fugitive dyes. Try mixing one part Woolite with four parts water for an effective yet mild cleaning agent. Let the water soak in, then clean gently with a soft toothbrush. Remove the detergent with clean water and pat dry—never rub!
  2. Rug pads are essential to prevent uneven wear and to keep a carpet in place.
  3. Rotate your carpets regularly and try to put fragile sections underneath furniture.
  4. Use base cups under the legs of furniture to prevent carpet wear and damage.
  5. Air your rugs periodically outside in the sunshine; the sun will warm up the wool, making it more pliable and giving it a healthy sheen. Shake or beat the rugs lightly with a broom handle to dislodge dirt trapped behind the pile and foundation.
  6. Regular vacuuming is a must to avoid moths and other bugs. If you can, vacuum the back first as the vibrations will cause the dirt particles to come to the surface, then turn the carpet right side up and vacuum the front. You’ll be surprised how crisp and clean the colors become. Avoid vacuuming fringe.
  7. Don’t let fraying fringe go unchecked, as damage will progress. Take the carpet to an expert to block the damage and repair it as needed.
  8. Avoid mildew by not placing plants on rugs, and never store them in a damp basement.
  9. Moths and other insects in a small rug can be killed by placing the rug in a freezer for several days.

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