Where did the orphaned toys go in Rudolph - The Red Nose Reindeer? To The Island of Misfit Toys! This is what I think when I happen upon vintage handknits or Holiday sweaters. I say quietly to myself: “now look at you! Filthy, worn to abuse and in dire need of a make-over.” Feeling certain I can resurrect to rehome them they are tossed in my car and taken to the studio. Like the Grinch told Cindy Lou Hoo: “Why, there’s a light that won’t light on one side – so I’m taking it back to my workshop, my dear; I’ll fix it up there and bring it back here.”
These are the various steps of restoration:
- Cleaning: Manufacturers love to ‘hide’ behind ‘Dry Clean Only’. Most fiber wants to get wet. The best way to clean them is with good old soap and water. The most soiled locations tend to be neck and cuff bands. I start with a stain remover that can be sprayed on like Resolve. Be generous with the solution and let it sit for at least 30 mins. If it’s badly stained Fels Nepal soap, some coaxing with dunking and gentle rubbing will usually move it along. If not, repeat the process. I spent a week cleaning a garment like this. Every day, soak, rub, encourage. Tedious but finally it came clean. I use the washing machine on delicate or handwash cold water with detergent. If the piece is beaded or embroidered TURN IT INSIDE OUT. I can wash up to 3 garments together successfully but never more than one beaded or embroidered piece with two other simple ones. Basically, be aware of the damage that can occur to the beaded piece by another beaded piece. A large washing bag can be used as well but still turn the piece inside out. Knits with any angora or mohair need to be washed separately to avoid shedding onto other garments Put same colors together to wash.
- Blocking: This means after it has left the washing machine it needs to dry. Lay a beach towel outside and out of the sun. Place the sweater right side out on the towel shaping it how it should be. Sometimes, if made of a heavy cotton I will put the garment into the dryer for approximately 15-20 mins. This removes the major wet. Turn right side out and follow as for blocking above.
- Repairs: After drying the garment it is scrutinized for holes, piling and other repairs. I use a steel crochet hook to pull any loose ends and french knots from the front to inside. NEVER cut fibers as this weakens the yarn. Knit weave correcting yarns that have crumbled with age. Chenille is notorious for losing its attached filaments fibers. Felts need scissor piling clean as they are magnets that other fibers attach to. Pilings can be removed via hand puling or scissor cutting. A basic razor can be used to shave the pilings off. Follow this with a lint removal brush. Resew or replace any loose beads or sequins. Replace buttons and zippers if needed. Add snaps to assist with closures. Close-in buttonholes that have stretched. Garments with ‘fuzzy’ yarns like angora or mohair need to be re-awakened with a stiff nail brush combing the hairs out. These are antique therefore adding any ‘new’ embellishments can be challenging. Try to mix the old and new together to maintain the vintage look.
- Final: Is a good steam iron press. This allows for the piece to be re-shaped a second time. If there are shoulder pads be sure to steam them back to life.