Friday, July 19, 2013

Caring for Vintage Lace

The crazy quilt bolster is coming along nicely, don't you think?  I've been sick with a summer cough and can't really do very much in the house or the studio, so I've had some time to sit and stitch a little.

I added beaded flowers to the vine that I made last week and then filled in with some crewel leaves.  I've left the bottom of the vine open because I'm not sure exactly what to do with it.  This way, I can made a decision without having to remove stitches.  
 While looking for these gray flowers, I discovered the ship's wheel.  It fits nicely in that piece of red, white and blue stripe, don't you agree?
 I added some ribbon work to this red piece of heavy fabric.  I was worried that it would be difficult to hand sew the ribbon into the fabric, but it's loosely woven velvet-like fabric, so it was really easy.  The textures created with the fabric and the ribbon are unbelievable.  

Then I decided to add some vintage laces to the bolster.  These are laces that belonged to my mom and grandmother.  Some are quite old and most are pieces of lace salvaged from clothing now long gone.  Both Momma and Ma-ma were great stashers and saved bits and pieces for years.  There's no telling how old some of this lace is.  

Much of it has yellowed with age and most of it has been sitting in paper or plastic bags with a multitude of other things for years and years.  As I've discovered it, I've tried to organize it so that it's easier to find and also so that I can determine what to do with so much stuff.  For the most part, I've sorted and stored everything in glass jars that decorate the studio.  

To be able to use it, I simply found a few pieces to start with and hand washed it in cold water using some Woolite fabric detergent.  A small plastic bucket does the trick: fill it to about half with cool water, add a little Woolite and gently swirl the laces around letting them soak for about ten minutes.  Give it a good rinse under cold running water, then gently squeeze the water out of the lace.  Lay the laces on a thick white towel and roll it up to press the water out.  

Keep in mind that vintage lace, like all old things, has a history.  If some of the history insists on staying with the lace, don't fight it.  Scrubbing may distort or damage the lace.  Discoloration, stains and "flaws" are the reason we love vintage. They are part of the story and should be accepted as such.  The reason for washing is not to remove the history, it's to remove the loose dirt and, sometimes, the musty smells that accompany things that have been stored, salvaged or forgotten. 

I hang the laces overnight to let them air dry, then press them with a pressing cloth and low temperatures.  Some of the laces are easily distinguishable--cotton and polyester were both very common in the 50's and 60's--but some of the laces I'm really not sure about.  I don't want to chance melting or burning them with a hot iron.

Right and wrong sides
See the loose thread right under the "k"?  When the lace is
turned over in the next photo, it's difficult to find.  
The loose thread is now under the "a" and is
barely visible when the lace is right side up.
Lace has a right side and a wrong side.  Sometimes it's difficult to tell the two apart, but if you look closely, you can see that on one side the thinnest threads or netting holding the motif together are knotted or twisted.  These threads run from motif to motif and always go to the back side of the motif, creating the wrong side of the lace.  The motif's right side is less blurred, has clean edges, and appears raised above these thin threads or netting.  

Removing thread
Because old lace is often salvaged from clothing, bits of thread and even fabric can be attached.  Gently pick at the thread to determine whether it's part of the lace or a thread left from former use.  If it's part of the lace, it's best to leave it alone and, if necessary, stitch it down when sewing the lace to it's new fabric.  

If it's thread that does not belong but is still stitched in, gently remove it by picking out with a seam ripper.  Be extra careful not to catch the lace accidentally.  There may be two threads if a sewing machine was used for the stitching: in that case, you will need to work from both sides of the lace to slowly pick out the threads.  

 If it's knotted or won't come out and you are fairly certain it is not part of the lace, snip the thread ends as short as possible and leave it in the lace rather than cause some damage.  Consider it a part of the story that can't be separated.

Although it can be sewn on a machine, I like to hand stitch vintage laces.  I can smooth, straighten and reshape the lace as necessary to get the details just right.  

Take tiny stitches following the very edge of the lace, sewing it down like one does with hand-sewn, needle turn applique.  Instead of taking time to turn the fabric edge, I take time to reshape the curves and dips in the lace.  Stitch both long edges of the lace but leave the center alone.  And, while the lace should be stitched closely to the fabric, it's important not to pull the thread so much that the lace is pinched, which can cause the lace to break and fall apart.  You will find that old lace will last much longer on new fabrics if it is not sewn on too tightly.  

Lastly, match your sewing thread to the color and type of lace that you are sewing.  Cotton thread with cotton laces, especially, to avoid extra stress on the thinner threads.  I find an off-white, such as cream or ecru, generally work well in matching colors, but for some laces that are especially yellowed, I would use a taupe.

Enjoy your vintage lace, where ever it comes from.  Remember that it needs a few little special touches if it's to last but the extra effort is well worth it when you use the lace to adorn clothing, accessories, bags, etc. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for you tutorial on how to handle vintage laces. I love the details you included (esp. on sewing) and that you wash the lace but "leave the story." That's a great way to put it when there's lots of story wanting to stay!