Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thrifting Tips 4: Caring for Your Finds

You've made your wish list, you've found yourself a thrift shop, you've found some treasures - some of them might even be vintage, you've made your purchase and brought your treasures home. In my experience, most items need a little TLC before they're ready to wear - even if it's a simple washing.

1. Know your sewing limits.
    If you plan on wearing vintage it's practical to know or learn some basic sewing skills - these clothes are old and things happen, but alternately, sometimes a new piece needs altering or mending to make it just right. It's important to know what you are capable of taking care of yourself and what is beyond your limits so you don't ruin your new treasure.
    I know that I am able to sew on a button, mend a split seam, take in certain items and hem most dresses. I let my tailor take care of major alterations, such as lifting the waistline on a dress (which I do often - I'm a bit short-waisted), remove sleeves, alter a neckline or hemming a dress that has a really full skirt (getting it straight takes tools and skill I don't have). A good rule of thumb is: when in doubt, leave it to the professionals. 

2. Find a reputable tailor.
    Finding a good, talented tailor you trust can be the difference between a piece looking pretty good on you and looking spectacular. There is nothing quite like custom tailoring.
    Ask for recommendations. Check for reviews of your local tailor online.
    I always try out a new tailor with an item that I'm not heavily invested in emotionally and only needs minor work. Sometimes I test a non-vintage piece before I start bringing in my collection. Talk with the tailor. Be specific about what you want done and don't be afraid to ask who will be working on your piece - sometimes the people doing the tailoring are different than the person who is waiting on you. If you would like to speak to the person doing the actual work do it! It's your clothing and your money - you deserve to get what you want and what you paid for.
   That being said, I do listen to what my tailor recommends. They are the experts. I know how I want the garment to fit, but I don't always know the best way for that to happen. They do.
   And don't cheap out on alterations. If a dress needs major work and your tailor is recommending a cheaper alternative to save you money, don't always take it. I have done this and been unhappy with the results. In the long run I would have rather paid more for my alteration and have had it done the proper way. Have a frank discussion with your tailor about the best way to alter your item and make the decision from there. Communication and trust are key in this relationship.

3. Mending at home.
    What you will require at home to do your mending and altering will depend on your skill level. At the most basic level I would recommend the following:
  • various sized sewing needles
  • polyester or poly blend thread. Start with a few neutral colours and expand as necessary - black, white, cream, navy. When buying coloured thread bring the item you need to match to it with you so you buy the right colour. The thread should disappear when you lay it onto the fabric. 
  • a stitch ripper
  • good, sharp scissors
  • a thimble
  • a dressmakers tape measure
  • straight pins
  • a domestic sewing machine. depending on your skill level this could be optional, but it's nearly impossible to sew a straight line by hand.
    If you want to learn more about basic sewing skills or altering and mending the internet - and YouTube specifically - are great teaching tools. You could also take a class in your town/city.

1. Let your fabric be your guide.
    What your fabulous new treasure is made of will tell you know how to take care of it. As I said in yesterday's post, washing instructions were not made mandatory until the 1970s, so unless you covet clothes from the 70's onward you'll have to know what your piece is made of by feel to know how to care for it.
    Silk, wool, taffeta, rayon, crepe, bark cloth, velvet and velveteen, satin, cashmere, angora, leather, suede and anything heavily beaded or sequinned should be dry cleaned (this is not an all inclusive list, I'm sure I've missed a few here). When in doubt as your dry cleaner.
    Furs should be taken to a specialty cleaner.
    Most cottons (be wary of colour bleeding in patterned fabrics), polyester (including vintage polys like dacron, but also including poly made georgettes, chiffons and satins), poly-cotton blends, linen, flannel, twill, nylon, denim, broadcloth and 100% acrylic are all machine washable (again, this is not an exhaustive list).
    The Vintage Fashion Guild has a great A-Z fabric resource

2. Find a reputable dry cleaner.
    Find a good dry cleaner. I cannot stress this enough. They can make or break your vintage. Literally.
    Just like when looking for a tailor, ask around for recommendations. Ask your local vintage shop where they get their dry cleaning done.
    I would recommend doing your mending and altering before you dry clean. If something has loose beads, buttons or split seams it can be damaged further through the dry cleaning process if these things aren't taken care of beforehand.
    After you've found someone with a good rep call them and ask if they specialize in delicate fabrics and vintage items. If no, keep moving. Trust your instincts - if they sound hesitant, but insist on being able to handle the cleaning and you don't feel right about it don't give them your business. You will regret it if they wreck your piece. If they do specialize in dry cleaning vintage take something in (I would recommend it be something without beading - see more on that in the next paragraph) and ask to speak to the person doing the dry cleaning if they are available. Politely let the cleaners know about your piece and tell them how important it is to you.
    Just like with your tailor, once you've found someone you trust develop a good relationship with them. 
    A note about vintage beaded and sequinned items: some vintage beads and sequins will not survive modern dry cleaning methods. They melt or disintegrate. If you are wary of your piece being ruined by cleaning you can liberally spray your piece with vodka (more on that later) to take any smell out and have your dry cleaner professionally steam your garment. This will make it look like new again. If appropriate, dress shields will help you from staining and stinking up your item if it is delicate.

3. Cleaning at home.
    Over the years I've become a bit of a whiz at stain removal. I would recommend the following items in your laundry stock to tackle most stains:
  • Borax
  • Sunlight Soap Bars
  • Oxyclean
  • some sort of spot remover - I like this Resolve All-Stains product right now
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • bleach
  • white vinegar
  • a delicate laundry detergent for hand wash only items like Zero
  • regular laundry detergent for machine washing after spot removal - I like liquid because it doesn't leave a white residue on black clothing.
    My most used products are Oxyclean and Sunlight Soap bars. I often soak dingy looking clothes in warm water and Oxy before washing them. Oxyclean is also great for localized spot treatment. I wet the stain, rub a little Sunlight Soap in and then make a paste with the Oxy, gently apply it to the area I want to treat and let it sit for an hour or more, then wash as usual.
    There are a million sites online dedicated to spot removal tips. This one is pretty good. And I like this one as well. I also like this article about removing unknown stains - very helpful with second hand clothing.
    Bad smells - like mothballs, or B.O. - can also be a hazard of second hand clothing. Get yourself a bottle of cheap vodka and a spray bottle with a mist setting. A liberal vodka spray inside and outside of a garment and left hung to dry will eliminate bad smells in clothing. Check out this old post of mine for more information about how to successfully remove bad smells.
    When you can wash something in the machine - I wash most of my vintage cotton day dresses in my washing machine - make sure all of the buttons are done up and the zippers are zipped. Check pockets for stray items - you don't want anything banging around in the washing machine that might wreck your clothes. Also, get yourself a couple mesh laundry bags to wash delicate items in your washing machine. 

1. Clothing
    Proper storage will extend the life of your clothes. Most modern and many vintage clothes can simply be hung on a hanger in the closet. I would recommend a velour covered or plastic hanger over a wire one if you can afford to switch yours over. Wire hangers are very hard on clothes.   
    Also, do not store your clothes in plastic dry cleaning bags. Most fabrics are organic and need to breath. Plastic bags suffocate them and can cause damage and disscolouration.
    Light can damage clothing, so whenever possible, keep your clothes out of direct sunlight.
    Sweaters should be folded. Hanging sweaters can make them stretch out of shape.
    Heavily beaded items should be stored flat if possible or folded mininally. They are often too heavy to be hung up for long periods of time.
    Use padded hangers for items with delicate shoulders - like a chiffon or silk dress. This will help distribute the weight of the garment and keep the fabric from tearing.
    Leathers and furs, when not in season, should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place and never in plastic. Dry cleaning and plastic garment bags can pull the top later of hair out of a fur and damage it irreparably. If you need a garment bag for your furs I would recommend a 100% cotton bag.
    Antique clothes (anything 80 years old or older) and delicate items (a silk dress, for example) should be stored in acid free tissue and in an acid free box. Acid free boxes and tissue can be bought online.
    If you are worried about moths and bugs when storing clothes, but don't want to use mothballs there are many natural, non-toxic alternatives. Try cedar chips, or make a lavender sachet. Check Google for other alternatives.

2. Accessories
    Where possible, structured hats should be stored in an appropriately sized hat box, but any box with a lid would suffice in a pinch. Stuff soft hats with paper towel or tissue to keep their shape while in storage.     
    A felt lined box with many compartments is an excellent way to store and organize jewellery. Necklaces should be stored separate from one another or hung up to avoid tangling - which can cause damage.
    Belts and scarves can be stored hung up, or in a bin or basket.
    Purses should not be stored hung from the handle. This can put stress where the strap meets the body of the bag and cause breakage. They are better stored stuffed with paper towel or tissue and propped upright in a bin with a lid to keep dust and light out.
    The key to successful accessory storage is organization. Accessories can multiply and pile up. You want to develop a good system so you can find what you need quickly and easily to complete your outfit.

Now that we've cleaned, mended and stored everything we can get on the the best part - wearing it! Tomorrow I will tell you what I know about wearing vintage.

Check out the rest of this series:


1 comment:

  1. Another flat out fantastic, thorough, extremely useful set of tips, dear Lisa. You are, bar none, a thrifting expert par excellence!

    ♥ Jessica


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