Wednesday, September 18, 2013

an act of bravery

I don't wash antique textiles often, but Mom told me all about it, and Mom really knows best when it comes to washing linens. She used to wash the textiles for the Moorestown Historical Society in New Jersey, and knows as much about washing linens as anyone. I trust her advice, but still, washing such an old textile is always an act of bravery. It's something I don't recommend doing often, and I proceed with great caution.

The process started with a test, soaking a small corner of the spread in some warm water. It seemed to be working, so I decided to go for it and soak the whole spread in the tub. It soaked all night, and responded well. The stains are lighter, and much of the discoloration has disappeared. There are still a couple stubborn stains that didn't come out - one just below the eagle's tail and the other on the trunk of the palm tree. I may work on those a little more, but they are lighter, so I'm satisfied for now.

before (lit from reverse) - stain at the lower left of eagle's tail
after - the stain has lightened considerably
before (lit from reverse) - staining on trunk and leaves
after- one spot left - it'll take some more time and patience, but I'll get it out
After rinsing- five rinses total, I gently pressed out the water using my hands, and carefully spread it out on a large plastic table space set up in my loft. There are four tables pushed together, covered with absorbent white towels and a white sheet, and the area gets a lot of light from the skylight above. I had originally thought of drying it outside in the sun, but the tables are cleaner and more controlled. I won't have to worry about pine needles or bird droppings, or whatever the light breeze might blow in. It should be dry within the next 24 hours.


  1. Bravery for sure! You did not mention what color the water was during this process.... did it take five rinses for the water to run "clear"? Did you use anything besides water - like soap? Did you have a sheet at the bottom or under the item? so that when you lifted you were not putting any undue weight on the fibers.... Good points for inside drying... ready for the next chapter on this one.

  2. It's looking great. I'd be interested to know what your mom recommends for the soaking solution to remove stains.

  3. I wondered about the date of this textile? I found a reference/ photo dated 1830 with a similar eagle in the archives of the New England Quilt Musuem, via Google books.
    [sorry, the link is very long]

    I have had excellent results in color restoration and stain removal with the product called Restoration. It is not an oxygen bleach. However I would not use it on a textile of the age of your spread...the slight stains remaining are not a detraction.


  4. I am happy you think you had good luck with sodium perborate. When I used it, it was a disaster!

    Stains permanently alter the fibers or so I was told in a conservation class. It is best not to actively scrub them. In an old textile, that can result in holes. Nothing and no one gets through life without showing wear and tear.

    Congrats on the "find."

    1. It worked well, but you can bet I read your tips from the CD before doing anything. A lot of what you said, especially the part about not actively scrubbing, was in line with Mom's advice. The solution was much more dilute than some of the others I'd read about, so that could be a reason why it wasn't as successful when you tried it. Some recipes called for six times the amount I used.