Posts Tagged ‘caring for vintage linens’

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!


thoughts on mangles, old and new

June 6, 2012

QUESTION: do you have thoughts on the Miele linen presses if the linens are older or antique? Embassies use them but I don’t know…
Hmmmn, I do have thoughts on mangles in general and on the Miele rotary ironer, too. I had never actually ironed one thing in my entire life until antique linens caught my interest. For the past eleven years, a 1950s vintage mangle iron has been my constant companion. I use extreme caution with it as it is a rather basic rotary ironing machine. No bells, no whistles, no automatic shut off. When I turn it off, I check twice to be sure that I have actually turned it off. When my fingers once got too close to the heat, I learned pretty fast how hot HOt HOT! that machine could get! But I made peace with it and I learned to use it. My biggest worry now is that it will break and I will be all alone without it.

With that concern in mind, I recently (just coincidentally) asked a friend if I could visit her with a damp sheet to test the Miele mangle that she got as a gift a few years back. I’d never seen it in action. The Miele was fine. (but, sadly, not better than fine)

While using it, I inquired if it got any hotter? My friend replied that she, too, often wished that it did, but, no, it did not get any hotter than what I was experiencing on its maximum heat setting. Since heat is the single most important aspect of ironing, that was a huge drawback. And, yes, I did let it heat up for a while before I stated using it. (Because I think that modern hand irons don’t get very hot, either, I had anticipated that the Miele might not as well. I was hoping to be proven wrong.) Next, I asked if I could pause or stop the roller in order to let a monogram or a particularly damp section of cloth get a little extra heat; again the answer was no.

Because I am used to ironing on my own mangle iron and have developed techniques for using the sides of the roller and placing items “just so” on the roller, I was frustrated by the lack of control I had over the Miele. I was very frustrated that I could not pause it with a knee pedal to let a section of cloth stay in place on the heat. It didn’t seem intuitive with large large items such as king-sized sheets. Again, it was fine. but not stellar, especially for the price.

My vintage mangle is going strong after 60 years of use. I change the oil myself once a year. (although I do keep an eye on it more frequently) It is heavy and the 25″ metal roller exerts a lot of pressure on the fabric, also contributing to a wonderfully ironed outcome. But old mangles were not created equally, either. Mine is an “Ironrite” brand and it has open ends on both sides, making it easy to iron large items. The heating element is also at the bottom and the heat rises to the roller, which is heavy and heats evenly and holds the heat. I have seen other people’s vintage mangles in use and none of them have had any of the features that make the Ironrite work so well. There are plenty of the old ones out there, too. Repeat: none have the features that make the Ironrite ones so utterly useful. (someone, please tell Miele!)

So, if someone offers you an old mangle ironer for free that is not an Ironrite, it will be better for you than not having one. But if you are thinking about investing in one, I would recommend an old Ironrite. Nothing beats them.

However, the Miele is constructed so that, along with not really being able to place my fabric where I wanted to, I also couldn’t burn my fingers.

ingredients assembled? go!

May 9, 2008

The last ingredient you need is your common sense… and everything you may have gleaned about doing laundry from your experience. The rules always apply: wash like items together. whites with whites, colors with colors, darks with darks, delicates with delicates, heavy items with heavy items… see the pattern?

Start with whites, the least scary, most reliable category. I fill my tub with the hottest water I can get and sometimes add teakettles of boiling water, too. You can use your bathtub, your sink, a bucket or whatever you have on hand. I add the product called “Restoration,” mix it so it dissolves and start adding my items. I usually do not even unfold things; I want them to stay as flat as possible, without air pockets, so that the water permeates all the layers/fibers equally. I swish everything around like a washing machine agitator, only gentler. If the items are not submerged well, the detergent won’t penetrate the fibers equally and you end up with an uneven, mottled appearance.

Here is my favorite part. Go away and let it soak for a few hours.
(or overnight, although the oxygenated reaction ends after about six hours.) It is my favorite task because I know the stuff is working and I can go off and do something else. freedom, sort of… as I will swish it around when I go in to check it periodically.

The water immediately bubbles like a witch’s cauldron. And, depending on how dirty the linens are, begins to turn dark. When I launder antique items that have been stored badly and reek, the water can turn as dark as strong black coffee.

Gather together your stuff… and go!

May 8, 2008

If you think you are ready to tackle the laundry… Make your list and gather (or buy) the items you will need. Nothing brings you to a stop faster than not having the right thing on hand.


RESTORATION, a product from engleside products, lancaster, PA, 800-553-2637

or substitute oxyclean


a gallon of plain white vinegar (for rinsing)


whink brand liquid rust remover


laundry detergent (whatever you have on hand)


chlorine bleach (OPTIONAL, use only as a last resort)

That’s not so long a list!

Laundry is Rocket Science? I think not! The 1st three steps…

April 26, 2008

Because of the number of emails that I get on this subject through my antique linens website, I know that laundering and caring for antique and vintage linens and textiles consumes many of us. Because I did not have time to answer each and every question, I added a “tips on laundering antique linens” page to my site. ( But, daily, my mind is on the ever-growing list things that I have learned through more than a decade’s worth of washing things to sell.

First off, when did we get so scared of laundry!? From ancient times (or today, in ancient places) when rocks and the riverside were the method… to laundresses, hiring space on a laundry barge on the Seine River in Paris in the 19th and early 20th century, to the invention of soap flakes, scrub boards, laundry powders, chlorine bleach and modern laundry detergents, surfactants, softeners and scents, laundry was a yearly, monthly, weekly or daily chore. As more chemical products are invented along with washing machines and dryers, I wonder if we feel more removed from our washing than in days gone by?

Courage, my friends! Laundering and storing vintage Christening dresses, antique linen sheets, lace collars and cuffs and anything else is not rocket science! So, gather your heirlooms and your inner strength (I know it’s there!) and follow along as I help demystify the process for you!

In some ways, it’s easier than ever before because we have a wide range of products at our fingertips. In some ways, it’s harder because we have become limited by our washers and dryers and can’t get outside of those boxes. Let’s go!

RULE #1. Use what you have
a. common sense.
b. whatever resources you have at your house. (if you don’t have a bathtub in which to soak linens, substitute whatever you do have, a bucket, a sink, a plastic storage container, look around.)

RULE #2. Breathe.
a. Don’t begin anything when you are rushed. Especially if it is your first try.

RULE #3. Do not do anything to jeopardize your piece.
a. If you are truly worried, first soak in vinegar water and rinse it in plain water to remove chemical residues from prior washings that might interact with whatever you are about to try.

more to come…

Crazy for Antique Linens

April 24, 2008

Ok, call me crazy, obsessed or addicted… and you would be right. I am wild over old things in general and antique linens/ textiles in particular. I am new to blogging but when I am laundering and ironing the linens in my collection and the linens I sell, constant patter runs through my brain as I think of things I’d love to tell anyone (everyone) about using splendid old things!

My interest in collecting antiques (living, breathing, sleeping antiques) rolled into the decision to become an antiques dealer. I figured “If I enjoy these beautiful old items so much, maybe someone else out there shares my interest, too.” And, Voilá! (not quite that instantaneous, but I am a pretty determined individual and whatever interests me, I jump into wholeheartedly!)

As my little hobby business took off, no one has been more surprised than I. Linens are stacked everywhere and they have taken invaded my life and my house! Customers become friends, other dealers become friends, the techies become friends, strangers become friends… and the web has linked us together in ways not fathomable just a mere few years ago.

Living amongst antiques gives me an appreciation for times gone by when everything one owned was made by someone’s hand. The idea of something being precious enough to hold onto, use, maybe repair and pass on is fascinating. Other ands have touched and enjoyed these things! After they pass through my hands, other hands will continue to enjoy them, too. It’s a nice thought.

my life is way too hectic to start blogging… hmmn, so is everyone else’s!