Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hunting Down and Caring for Vintage Textiles

"Button, button. Who's got the button?"

Did you play this game as a child? I did. I also passed many hours sifting through my mother's, grandmother's, and even great-grandmother's button tins. Mind you, most were not new. They had previously lives on garments worn years, and maybe the century before my hands touched them. Many were nicked and scarred, but still had usefulness left in them, so they were removed in the hope they could be reused. 

To me, this is a deeply romantic thought that notions and textiles come with a story, yet they are unable to tell it. I feel a need right now to hunt and gather them, but I can't state exactly what it is I intend to do with them. Maybe they will let me know by letting just the right idea come to me. We shall see.

Feed Sacks

It's worth stating that 'feed sack material' was actually what they once shipped grains and mixtures intended for livestock or human use. You may have also heard them call 'flour sacks' as some people around here do. Some were printed with the type of feed they contained like the chick starter above, but others had colorful prints. Quilt History is a good page to read about them.

Finding a whole stack of washed and pressed feed sacks was heart stopping. I gobbled them up! 

I hope you can see there is quite a variation in the colors even though all are white. For my purpose, that's not an issue, but should you want to whiten them for any reason, do not use bleach. Old fabrics are already delicate for a number of reasons, and bleach is a chemical that you cannot entirely wash out. You must use Thiourea Dioxide available as Spectralite or Thiox to stop the reaction, and vinegar will not work. I soak mine in a weak solution of Oxyclean, which does an excellent job of whitening and removing any odors, and machine wash on delicate. 

Reasonably priced scraps are still available at quilt shows, swaps, and by word of mouth. I started asking every quilter I knew if she knew someone who might have any. It took nearly a year of hot pursuit, but I did find enough to build a nice stash of my own a bit at a time.

How to Wash Vintage Scraps

I asked the person I purchased these from the best way to wash them. Her method was using a top loading washing machine. Fill it up, add your liquid dish soap--I use Dawn blue as it's similar to Synthrapol used to wash out loose dye, and then add the fabric. Agitate only a tiny bit. She said she moves the fabric up and down by hand gently, and allows it to soak in between. Inspect the fabric, and rinse and spin when you're satisfied. She pops hers into a low heat dryer.

Not feed sack, but old and I Loved it!

My adapted method: My old top loader is used for work and barn clothes making it unsuitable. My everyday washer is a 15 year old front loader that allows me to select water temperatures for separate wash and rinse cycles.  I used a warm cycle on delicate, a low spin, and then tumbled in a dryer on casual or delicate. I was very pleased how they turned out, and it sure does beat hand washing all those bits.

I was delighted in how little they frayed!

Warning: I will caution you about washing scraps only to say they can get sucked down your washer's drain valve, and it's a mess to clean out a clog. If your washer is prone to this, use a lingerie bag, or even recycle a potato or onion bag. Remove the scraps from the sack before drying. Do not put a plastic sack into your dryer.

It's so good to back, and thank you all for the well wishes with my computer problems. Loose hardware was the problem, but it seems to be fixed thanks to a computer savvy son.

Come on, Doxie girls.
Let's go sew.


Tu-Na Quilts said...

How can you tell if it's just some older fabric or an actual fabric used as a feedsack? I've seen old fabrics but have never bought because I didn't know what I was buying.

Debra said...

Pretty vintage fabrics! Your button box made me smile as it looks like my mom's, which I still have. My mother taught me how to hand sew, and probably just wanted to keep me occupied, by having me sew buttons from her button box onto scraps of fabric. :-)

Jayne said...

This was a trip down memory lane! We use to play 'button, button' all the time with my mom and grandma! I loved sorting through the little green metal tin full of buttons from every where and every thing! I can't imagine a child would go for good clean fun of 'button, button' these days!

helenjean@midgetgemquilts said...

I don't know that game ? But , I did spend many happy hours playing with button jars . Today's children miss out ! Good hint about a lingerie bag for washing scraps

Sarah Craig said...

I adore vintage buttons and fabrics - and squeal with delight when we get some in donations or when I find them at yard sales! I don't know why - there's just something about those beautiful old bits!

Kate said...

You've got some gorgeous vintage fabrics.