Let’s dye jeans! Do you have a pair in a color you hate?

October 3, 2015

So… I had a pair of jeans with white-ish (not on purpose) knees… they were otherwise in great shape but the knees looked crummy and I found myself not wearing them, especially when I needed to look nicer than crummy. When it got to the point that I did not care if I ruined them, I decided to see if I could dye them back to a darker blue. I’d either improve them or trash them.

I read the instructions on the iDye packet. I read them 3, 4, 5 times. There were slightly different instructions for top loading and front loading machines. And, a stove top method to use with a big pot. The instructions seemed easy but I sure didn’t like them!

I’d chosen “navy”, a nice dark indigo color and, even though it said to just toss things in the washer, I really did not want that deep color anywhere near my washing machine! So, I thought I’d try the stove top method but soon realized that I had nothing big enough to hold a bulky pair of jeans, much less with room to stir them around and simmer them. Cross off that method completely! Unless you are a witch from Macbeth, nobody has a big cauldron to use on a stove!

So, I devised my own method. My hot tap water is really HOT… so I decided to try a big plastic bucket instead. I placed it in my bathtub, ran the hot water, mixed the ingredients (the dye packet with a cup of salt for cotton) and mixed it with my big wooden spoon. (a teakettle of boiling water could be added, too, especially if your tap water isn’t hot enough) The instructions also say to agitate the fabric constantly to get uniform color. (important) The wooden spoon promptly turned inky indigo and the bucket turned deep blue as well. I stuffed in the jeans, (gosh! they were heavy and hard to keep stirring!) when another idea hit me!

You knew something else would have to happen, didn’t you? I’d just purchased a new pair of jeans but they were orange. (you know, the only ones that were there, on that day, in that certain style, in my size, that fit and were comfortable and, hey, it was summer! and hey! the orange was really pretty!) BUT, the orange was not nearly as useful to me as a pair of nice dark blue jeans would be with autumn closing in… and I was willing to take a chance! I ran to my closet and stuffed the orange jeans into the bucket inside the bathtub with my old jeans. If the orange ones turned out ugly, then I was okay with that, I’d wear them for doing grunge-y things. If I thought one pair had been hard to stir and keep stirring, then the two pairs together was brutal, but I also hated to waste my hot water and dye concoction so I kept stirring!

VICTORY! Much more than I ever imagined. My old jeans came out looking brand new and my new orange jeans came out fine and dark and perfect. I now wear both pair a lot. My only advice would be to wash a brand new pair of jeans first to remove the sizing so that they soak up even more of the dye. (sizing, which adds finish and body, works a bit like repellent, but luckily my very hot water dissolved it on the pair that were new) But, my bucket was dyed and my bathtub was, too. (I did not like that I had to really scrub them both.) But I like my results so much that I may try the washing machine method next time I get inspired to use dye.


Painting a dress?

October 3, 2015

So, I went off to look for a dress to wear to a summer wedding. You know the drill… it had to look nice, feel nice AND be comfortable enough to dance in. (It’s even better when there are pockets but that’s an awful lot to expect!)

And, I found a dress. But, you know, there is always a complication!

The dress was white. And you know that almost anything can be worn to a wedding but not white. No other dress turned up but there was a plan simmering in the back of my mind. I thought I might paint it, then, I decided to spatter paint it because it was a really easy thing to do. I rummaged around for a bottle of very bright green ink that I’d had kicking around for years and years. I laid out the dress on an old area rug and tested it inside the hem and, loving it!!!, spattered on the ink with a brush. When I finished the front side, I hung it to dry and then spattered the reverse the next day.

the dress before and after

the dress before and after

Anybody notice any errors on my part yet?

Any alarm bells go off?

Well, remember how all instructions everywhere tell you to test a spot first? Hey! In my defense, I did thatbut I didn’t let it totally dry before I proceeded. After drying, the color turned a dark, mossy green. That was actually okay by me; the new color was beautiful, and, whew! I’d dodged a bullet, because what if it had turned a color that was ugly? However, the rug beneath the dress kept the chartreuse color after it dried. Why? The ink I used reacted with the finish on the dress. If I’d washed the dress first, it probably would not have changed.

However, I had an even bigger problem that I did not know about until after I was at the wedding!

Here is what happened. While sitting and waiting for the ceremony to start, my hand looked a little green to me… and then I discovered that the white chair on which I was sitting turned green. The ink was rubbing off! Onto me, onto my skin, onto any and everything! I’d never read the label on my ink bottle which said “Limited lightfastness.” Again, good news… not much rubbed off and, because everyone was either more concerned about what they were wearing and how they looked or, they were captivated by the beautiful wedding and it soon got dark… it really wasn’t a fiasco. I was humbled, though. Why had I not READ the label????

Even more happened… a few days after the wedding, I decided to launder the dress. The tag said I could but I would have done it any way! I’d danced in it, enjoyed it and soaked it with perspiration. I machine washed it in cold water with a little bit of normal detergent… and when it emerged from the washer it was again nearly completely white. (There were faint drifts of green that no one would notice.)

But, after all this, I am getting a second chance to re-spatter my dress and I have colorfast ink this time.

Scary Things I Tried with Laundry and How They Turned OUT

October 3, 2015

1. washing down pillows and a down jacket. 2. Washing sneakers.

You have heard that some things (down pillows, down jackets, sneakers) can be washed but only with great care… I have always heard that, too, but was too worried to try. However, I finally reached the point where I did not care if I ruined them and decided to tackle some of these things. I washed the sneakers first and they came out okay, whiter but after using them in the dryer, they did seem to shrink a size; the second pair I washed were fine but a third pair did not retain their toe shape. They were a more mesh type fabric. I urge caution, especially if you have favorites. Wash in cold water and dry on very low heat.

I love down pillows but when they flattened and did not seem “fresh”, I wanted a change. I did machine wash them, using hot water, mild detergent and then I ran them through an entire second cycle with just water to make sure the soap had been rinsed out. They came out of my centrifuge-type washer smashed together in brick-like form.

I knew that, in order to re-fluff the down, they needed to be dried for a very long time and they needed to have something in the dryer with them that would bump the down apart. Hence, I used my sneakers and also a set of plastic dryer balls. )I also know that tennis balls should work but I didn’t have any.) I did the same thing with my down jacket. Why I was attracted to a WHITE jacket for winter is inexplicable but both the jacket and the down pillows turned out quite well. I did not and would not wash them together.

The secrets are: lots of rinsing, LOW heat for a long time period, and something to knock apart the down as it is drying. Not too scary, not too bad!

More white snow blanketing everything… so I clean.

February 2, 2015

The opportunity to be “stuck” inside today during a snowstorm presented itself. Though I considered spending the day eating bonbons on the couch, as I and all the women I know would normally do, instead I headed to the basement to tackle eons of grime and mess. That was only a slight exaggeration because it looks like eons of grime and mess. My biggest thought was that there is hardly anything that is not improved by scrubbing with some soap, water and “elbow grease”.  A little vacuuming and a lot of scrubbing works wonders.

Snowstorm, Nor’easter, what about if we lose power?

January 26, 2015

Here in the northeast we are gearing up for a frightful storm that may keep us housebound for a few days (at best) or may even cause power outages.

While listening to a local talk radio show today, I really had to smile. They were discussing movies, tv shows and books that you could catch up on if you were stuck at home. What a lovely concept! But I can’t imagine any of my female friends who are not fantasizing about getting some extra cleaning and organizing done if they and their families are housebound! (electricity or not!)

Can’t you imagine? A wheedling and coaxing mom says, “C’mon kiddos, let’s just clean out this and this and this and after that we can toast marshmallows in the fireplace!” (or collapse!)

More recent Q and As on Laundering Vintage Textiles

December 3, 2013

Questions and answers from my last week’s emails.

QUESTION: I have about 89 sets/groups of things I bought at an auction over the weekend; and yes, I will enjoy trying to identify them all myself, but I might not mind taking a “short cut.” Some are in a Marghab box, some are in their original “Grand Maison De Blanc” boxes, and a few I have identified as Marghab. Can I send you photos?

without looking, I can tell you that more than half (maybe even 75%) of the things you bought will turn out to be normal, lovely items but nothing really special. I don’t want to discourage you but one of the only ways to really know about something is to look at a lot of it. In my experience, I may have found a special piece out of every 30 boxes that I looked through.

Also Important: Just because something was stored in a marghab box does not mean it is actually marghab. and, just because it looks like a marghab pattern does not mean that it really is: there are all sorts of imitations and copies out there. also… Marghab is a brand. it isn’t particularly rare or valuable unless you have a really rare pattern. and a full set of it to boot… (like a set of 12 placemats, 12 napkins and a runner in the deer pattern; now, that would be desirable)

QUESTION: I bought so many antique things and they are filthy and now I am overwhelmed and can’t cope!

I am an opinionated person and I am very free handing out my opinions… so my first opinion is for you to stop feeling inundated immediately. (yes, I know that’s hard.) and realize that you do not have to decide what to do with them right away.

what usually happens is that the great stuff gets dealt with first and in your haste to deal with it, it gets sold, given away or ruined or something because the thought of it sitting there dirty made you crazy.

a year later when you think back to what slipped through your hands in your haste to make back your money or to launder them all together (because they are sitting around dirty) or whatever your own particular brand of mindfulness is… you will discover that you are sorry that you made decisions in haste.

QUESTION: can help me or lead me in the right direction to get information on a lace coverlet that has been in my mother’s cedar chest since the 1930-40’s. I would love to learn more about it and its value. I’ve attached some pictures. It is in perfect condition, too. Amazing. The person who handled my mother’s estate sale told me to keep it, wrap it in brown paper and put it back in the cedar chest as it could be worth some money. So, that is where it has been for years.

The bedspread looks lovely.
Like many antiques it would have peaked in value about 10 years ago but textiles in particular, are not valuable at the moment. You can look on eBay at the completed listings for lace bedspreads and you will see what recent sales have yielded.

So I would suggest you either use it and enjoy it yourself, donate it to charity, or have a tag sale with it.

One last thing, do not keep it in brown paper. Store it folded in a clean cotton pillowcase instead.

I have a very large Irish Damask Linen and Lace tablecloth. Problem: 9 feet wide by 26 feet long.

The sad news is that such a large size is a problem today. Most homes can’t use things that large. They are hard to handle, hard to launder, hard to iron. It’s beautiful, though! Why not try to sell it on eBay? That way, someone who is looking for a large vintage cloth may discover it.

… wondering if you had any ideas how I can clean “time” stains from one of those decorative pillow cases? The one I am talking of is white “silky” material and says US Navy Sweetheart. My dad got it for my mother when he was in the service in the mid forties I think. It has always just been stored and I just came across it again after being thru straight line winds at my home and then the tornado of 3/2/12 at my daughters. ; ( Anyway, if you are around and have a minute to answer I would appreciate it, as I also have a crocheted apron with ribbon trim that my grandmother made for me when I was 6 years old. I

I can’t believe what your items have lived through! The US Navy silky stuff is something I’d live with and leave alone, unless you are prepared to destroy it. (Take a photo for a keepsake)

The crochet should hold up to anything but be prepared to lose the ribbons, depending on what they are made of. They may either be fine, bleed all over or completely disintegrate.
Oh! clip a bit of the end of the ribbon and test it first. have fun.

The napkins were shrunk

February 22, 2013

Recent query

After Christmas dinner the white antique placemats and napkins were mistakenly put into the dryer and they reduced to about 2/3 the original size. Are these ruined or might you know of a way I can re-size them? They are white without any lace or other trims to interfere with the sizing…just a single narrow row of open stitch trim around the border.


I have two ideas but they may or may not work to your satisfaction. This is what I would try in the order that I would do them.


This first idea you have probably tried… re-wet them and stretch them as you iron with the very hottest iron possible. Or, send out to a commercial laundry where they can iron them on a mangle roller iron.


Treat each item as a piece of watercolor paper in the way watercolorists do to stretch and retain shape. You must first purchase the kind of board they use. (I do not remember the word but it was something from the hardware store that we bought when I took a watercolor class in college. Now, they sell watercolor boards but you need something strong, absorbent, lightweight clean and cheap! that will not lose its shape.)

Dampen the items and gently stretch it to a larger size on the board, pinning each corner and along the sides to hold it in place. As it dries, it gets stretched.

not all things can be brought back to what they once were. If you can’t bear to see them in this condition, recycle them into dust cloths.

Problem laundering a linen table cloth

February 22, 2013

Recent query:

I have an antique linen table cloth.  There is a brownish fold line the length of the cloth and when I soaked it in Linen Wash  over night the fold line still remained. 
I also find that the blue embroidery transfer pattern shows through in places….I see this a lot in antique linens at shows.  No one talks about how to deal with this problem.
How can I get rid of the brownish fold line and what can I do to get the blue transfer color from showing through?
My thoughts and the actions I would take in order to delve further into the problem:
1. Try laundering the cloth a second time, using a little laundry detergent or preferably, an oxygenated cleaner such as “restoration” or “oxyclean.”
2. If cloth is white, use a bleach pen along the dark line. Wet cloth first and monitor it continually.
3. You may have to accept that the line is permanent. It could be from antique mildew which most likely won’t come out. Or, it could be weaker and thinner from being folded and stored in the same way for long periods.
4. Just because it is vintage does not mean that it will last forever.
The stamped blue pattern is another matter.
Most linen people think the pattern stamp is not a flaw. I consider it to be a sign that an item saw little use and therefore little laundering.  The patterns were the guides for the embroiderers. The ink would fade with repeated washing. However, if the item was not used / washed much during its early history, it may not be possible to now remove the stamped pattern. The inks have also aged over time and the chemical composition of the ink may have changed and it may have become more or less permanent.
You could try color remover or bleach but these chemicals may also affect the fabric.
It is preferable to soak something for a longer time period with a little tiny bit of bleach than for a short time in a heavy concentration of bleach.

Vogue says “wash your stuff!”

September 21, 2012

An article in this month’s Vogue states that many people are washing their designer clothing in WATER! even when the labels instruct to “dry clean only.” This does not surprise me since I am an (almost) fearless proponent of good old fashioned soap and water and I am not a fan of dry cleaning chemicals.

Actually, the article’s theme is more toward urging us to buy expensive and savvy new high tech electronic washing machines. But I think my low tech savvy brain works nearly as well. Just add water!

Damask Pattern Names

July 9, 2012

Today’s conversation in the form of questions and answers:

Q: Would you be able to tell me the pattern, possible age and manufacturer of a damask tablecloth if I sent pictures?

A: Unfortunately not. Although we can guess the age. But there were reputedly 800 damask weaving companies, each weaving 800 discrete patterns in Ireland alone in the 19th century. If the tablecloth has no tag and no name woven into it, the manufacturer can’t be identified. There is no database of makers or patterns anywhere.

Q: I was trying to find out if I had found a really fine tablecloth or an inexpensive one.  I’ve seen ads for cloths that go in the hundreds of dollars. I’d at least like to identify the pattern if tablecloths have patterns the way that depression glass does.

A: Damask patterns don’t have known standardized names. Sometimes an unused piece comes with a label or tags attached that include a pattern number and a company name and a pattern name but even this information doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone anymore. I now understand your question better when you told me that depression glass has names. But damask isn’t like that. The names have been lost to history.

Nowadays, I name them after whatever the pattern looks like: Rose, Polka Dot, Striped and sometimes I just make up names so that I can jog my memory with a name that is a visual cue.