How To Care For Vintage Fabric

Collecting Fabrics
Why Do We Collect Vintage Fabric?
There are a number of reasons we collect old fabric and here is just a list of some of them:

Costuming of all types
Dating and Appraising
Home Decorating
Museum And Other Institutional Displays
Restoration And Repair
Sewing Clothes
Textile History
No Particular Reason, Just Can’t Help It

What Is The Value of Vintage Fabrics?
We even have specialized collections of fabric we collect such as aprons, collars, accessories, doilies, domestic linens, feed sacks, hankies, hats, purses, shoes, military clothes, needlework, notions, parlor pillows, quilts and more.Unlike so many other collectibles, such as dolls, glassware, china, furniture, Avon and others, fabrics do not normally have a value guide or books to support the price and values of various fabrics. It is a tough market to work in and especially to do price and value on. What I have put together is some of the names of fabrics out there and their dates and some of the things we can look at in determining cost and value.

Cotton And Linen (Pre 1880s)
Some of these fabrics from this period you may still find available are:
Homespun Types
Voile Gauzes

You may still find some yardage out there, as well as cut up remnants, clothing, bedding, and household items. Quilters are always in demand for this fabric and time era. However, you need to make sure that you buy from a reputable seller, dealer who can possibly authenticate the fabric for you. Some of the concerns with this fabric is fade and aging. You will most likely be dealing with fabrics that are not colorfast as well. If your planning on buying this for an intended use or project, be sure that you purchase pieces that are not so damaged or worn from aging that you can use it.

Cotton And Linen (Pre 1880s)
Some of these fabrics from this period you may still find available are:
Conversation Prints
Fine Plains
Quilters Shirting’s

Some things to watch for are dyes for this time period are not colorfast. Be sure to verify that the Gingham is authentic, Gingham is woven and the imitations are printed plaid or check and found mostly on muslin or percales. Make sure that you watch and verify that the fabrics you are buying are what they say they are. For example know that you are buying linen and not cotton if that is your intention. Feel the flocked dots on dotted Swiss for this time era. The paste or composition appear in the early 1900s and the plastic and painted cam in the 1940s and later dates.

Cotton And Linen (1920-1939)
List of the most common fabrics during this time era include:
Staple Cottons
Feed sacks
Selvage Stampings
Whimsical And Novelty prints

One thing to check in feed sacks is look for large stitches or large stitch holes on the open sacks to verify its authenticity. This is a period where sold colors are in demand so look for signs of dyeing. Most of the time the seams will be the same color as the sack if it were dyed by other than the original manufacture. Feed sacks are in a special category of their own, so do follow up on your research on the fabric content before buying these.Oilcloth texture is slightly grainier or less slick than plastic and vinyl imitations. Plastic and vinyl imitations may show signs of cracking or splitting also.

Indian head, Cloth of Gold and E and W Quadriga Cloth are brand names to look for during this period, which are often found in the selvage. If there is no selvage markings be sure to get written verification from the seller of the fabric.Quadriga is needle sized and under a magnifier or linen tester you can revel micro holes.

Cotton And Linen (1940-1959)
Most common fabrics during this period include:
Flocked Patterns
Iridescent Chambray
Metallic Prints
Moygashel Linen
Novelty Piques
Thematic Prints

During this time period the dyes are more stabilized, colorfast and wash fast. Bark cloth was very popular during this time. Be sure to know the differences between simulated and genuine bark cloth. Bark cloth is textured, simulated has a smooth surface. Take a close look at Bark cloth for any textures with large striations or all over tiny pebbly or blistered grains to resemble bark. This is a period when both cotton and cotton/rayon blends were made. Many fabrics were all Rayon blends during this time as well. Fiberglas was introduced in fabrics in late 1950s. Be aware of cottons which are actually blended with rayon, Dacron or other early synthetics. Do the burn test if needed to determine fiber and weave of fabric. Butcher Linen is not the same as “Butcher’s Linen” Butcher Linen is a Rayon/Cotton blend that looks like linen. The fabric is unstable, stretches lengthwise and shrinks width wise. Not the real deal.

Nylon And Dacron (1940-1959)
This is again important to get verification from the seller before purchasing this fabric. What your considering is purchasing “first generation” synthetics”. You can also do the burn test on these for fabric identification. Sheer poly’s are often mistaken for nylon. Early nylon will fray very easily and the yellowed whites are difficult to restore. You will find that most of the vintage nylons you see during this time period are found in dotted Swiss kitchen curtains and children confirmation dresses.

Rayon (Mid 1920s-1959)
This is a good time to understand your various Crepe types. Vintage rayon’s were termed flat, moss, pebble, and ruff with each crepe more textured. You can usually feel this by rubbing your fingers over the fabric. Many of the Rayon’s during this time were washable, but may have had to be dry cleaned also. The washables usually needed to be ironed while wet as most frayed easily.

Silk (Any Era)
There is not a huge selection of silks available out there anymore during the 1930s to 1950s. Some of the most desired are:

All Silk Velvet
Iridescent Taffetas
Designer Prints
Kimono Silk

Make sure that you get written authentication from the seller that you are buying silk and not Rayon, or other blends. You can also do a burn test for this fabric ID check too.

Wool Any Era
Wool is often difficult to protect from damage and odor. Most often sought after include:
Harris Tweed
Mousseline De Laine
Home Spuns

The most important thing to check for this fabric is condition. Be sure to check for pest damage and moth holes. Mustiness or other strong odors can often be difficult to remove. Be sure that you are not buying a blend of cotton silk or linen fiber combos as the real wool.

Thread Count
When we talk about testing for thread count it is usually referred to Percale and Muslin fabrics. There is a distinct difference between thread count and yarn count. Thread count refers to the number of wrap and filling yarns in a square inch of fabric. Yarn count measures the degree of fineness of the yarn.The closer in count of warp and filling yarns, the more balance the fabric will be but that does not mean it is a better fabric. Some weaves like broadcloth require more warp yarns as part of its construction design. Other times the filling or wrap can be of poor yarn quality. You would have to consider both yarn quality and thread count in determining the suitability of fabrics.To test a fabric strength, hold fabric with both hands and press down and apart with thumbs close together and parallel. Weak yarns will split, low count will cause threads to slide or spread apart a good rule to remember is high count fabric with poor balance will give better wear than a low count fabric with a good balance.

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