It’s so heartbreaking to find vintage, hand embroidered linens at the thrift store. So much care and love went into them. Women who took so much time to personalize their homes by creating pillows, towels, pillow cases, dresser scarfs, blankets, you name it. Then years later because they’ve been stored improperly family members don’t see the beauty anymore just the yuck.
Some pieces are beyond help and are in fact rotted. You can tell by tugging on the cloth. Rotted linens will come apart with no effort. Sadly you’re too late for those.
For the ones that don’t come apart you can actually bring the beauty back to those pieces. Let me show you how.
I picked up this gorgeous hand embroidered piece for $7. The pink and gray stitching is to die for! The fabric had a couple rust stains and the linen actually looked ecru, but I suspect it’s white. It looks white in the photo but trust me in person it was ecru.
I tugged (don’t tell the shop owner – they frown on that) and it stayed together. I knew I could clean it.
Here’s a close up of the little rusty spot and of course the beautiful pink edging. I know it doesn’t look bad. I took the photo outside and the sun made everything look lighter but trust me that stain is noticeable and that pink edge is so sweet.
So, what do you to get it clean?
Biz & Cascade together they are like magic. It’s not new and to some people it won’t be news. If you search Pinterest you will find a bunch of posts about Biz and Cascade. Some use oxyclean too but all I’ve ever used are these two in equal parts. Please NEVER use chlorine bleach on vintage linens.
If I’m cleaning a small piece like a handkerchief, I use 1/4 cup of each and a quart of water. For this cloth which is small I used a half a gallon water and 1/2 a cup of each. If I have a large table cloth I use a gallon of water and 1 full cup of each.
Here’s what you do:
Fill an appropriate sized container with hot water. As hot as you can get from the tap. Do not boil water you could damage the fabric. I used a jumbo ball jar because I like to be able to put a lid on it but a bucket or a bowl will work just fine.
Since this is a half gallon container I use 1/2 cup of biz and a half a cup of cascade. I closed the lid and rocked the jar back and forth until everything was mixed up well. Sorry about the background of the photos. It was too nice of a day to be in the house so I worked on the deck. 🙂
Then I slowly put the cloth in. Slowly because the water needs to soak into the fabric as you introduce the cloth or your jar will overflow. I’ve gotten good at judging how much cloth I can fit into one of these jars but if you try the jumbo jar you might find you have too much fabric and it won’t fit in the jar.
See it fit! Almost immediately the water turned yellow which tells me that the ecru color was not the original color. Now just let it soak. There’s no magic number as to how long to soak something. each piece can be different depending on how bad the staining is. I start with overnight. The next day I rinse the piece and press the water out (do not twist or wring out the fabric – again you can damage the cloth). If you still see stains, start again. Let it soak another 24 hours.
I have to tell you, this is like magic! I’ve managed to recover pieces I thought were beyond help. I even bought a matching ecru set of damask napkins that were beautiful but one had a vague stain from a dinner past, so I decided to soak just the one. the next day when I rinse the napkin it was snow white. I soak the whole set and was amazed at how gorgeous they were.
Yes, I know there is a specialty cleaner on the market for restoring vintage linens but this is so much less expensive and it works. My choice is no judgement on your if you love the vintage linen cleaner. If it works and you’re happy with it then that’s awesome! We can save these beloved linens together. Someone took such care to create these pieces let’s make sure the love continues.
Check back to see how it turns out!