Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Care for Vintage Chenille Bedspreads

Double peacock chenille bedspread in brown
I love chenille bedspreads and I could probably write a book on them.  I sell a few in my Etsy shop and want to pass along a few words of advice to those who are new to the wonderful world of chenille.  
Love these colors!
If you buy your spread from me, it will be clean and ready for use, but if get your spread from an estate or other situation where it is dirty or smelly (ew!), you might want to give it a good cleaning.  In case you are new to chenille, I thought I'd pass along a few tips:

Before you start

First, take a good look at the ground cloth of the spread.  Most use a heavy cotton sheeting as the ground (some are on a gauzier cotton, or a satin), but countless washings over the decades sometimes leave the fabric very thin--and thin equals weak, which means you have to use extreme care in the cleaning process.   Similarly, even tiny pin holes in the fabric can become big tears if the spread is handled in the wrong way.  Best to be aware of any and all condition issues before you begin.
The small hole you see at the lower left could become a big problem when washing.

I soak spreads before washing them.  This helps get rid of any stains and general dinginess.  I fill a big tub with hot, hot water and a double dose of Oxi-Clean or other such deep cleaner (Biz is great, too).  Stir the Oxi into the water to dissolve it as much as possible. Dissolving the Oxi-Clean is especially important with colored spreads, because it can bleach tiny white spots into the ground cloth if you are not careful. Push the spread into the water.

Gently squish the water through the spread.  If you are using your bathtub, you might have the space to gently stir the whole thing, but be careful.  Wet textiles are extremely heavy and if you tug on them, you run the risk of tearing the fabric. 
Spread with both cut and uncut chenille--the light green yarns are still looped, the white have been cut to create a soft pile.
Soak it.  I will generally let the spread sit at least until the water cools, or even overnight.  I’ve never done any damage to a cotton by letting it soak for a good long time.   I’ll push the spread back down into the water just to make sure it stays wet. 

The water might turn brown and smelly (again, eww, this is often from cigarette smoke), in which case you might want to dump the water out of the tub and start again with fresh water and Oxi. 

Once you’ve soaked to your heart’s content, drain the water and gently squish out as much of the Oxi water as possible.  Again, take care not to manhandle your soggy spread.  Now you’re ready to give it a good wash.

**A special word about rust spots--similar to the rust on your car, these orange-y brown spots on fabrics can be ruinous to your old textiles and will burn right through the fibers.   Scrubbing at rust spots can easily lead to holes.  Proceed with extreme caution.

General Care

Chenille bedspreads are all cotton, and can be laundered pretty much the same way your other cotton items are. I generally use a detergent that specifies that it prevents colors from fading (I like Woolite Extra Dark Care for colors), just to give a bit of added protection.  Using warm water in the gentle cycle of your washing machine is a good idea, and preferably use a machine without an agitator at the center.

As I said, chenilles are very heavy when wet, so take care to handle gently when removing yours from the washing machine. Try to support the whole spread (really get your arms under the whole thing) instead of picking it up from one corner and tugging it out of the machine--you don't want to tear it!  Sadly, I know this from personal experience.  Once I tore a lovely handmade chenille by not paying attention and yanking on a corner to get it out of the washer.  Very sad.
Though I seldom use it otherwise, chenilles really benefit from using a liquid fabric softener (like Downy) in the wash. Dryer sheets don't seem to work as well (and they have nasty chemicals in them). Super soft results.

Line drying is better for the planet, and the original care instructions on some chenilles specify 'hang evenly on a line to dry...just shake briskly once or twice while drying to fluff the tufting.' The dryer, though, will give fast and fluffy results! 

Original Cabin Crafts paper tag with care instructions
But...over time, repeated trips through the washer and dryer will thin your spread, much the way it works on a pair of jeans. It's a little horrifying to see the amount of fluff in the lint trap after drying a chenille bedspread! I keep my chenilles and other bedspreads in rotation so I don't end up washing the same one over and over.

You can also put a dry chenille into the dryer for 10-15 minutes to freshen it up, without running it through the wash.
Cabin Crafts spread, this is the one with the original tag seen above
Most cotton textiles are best kept in a cool, dry, dark place.  Light is a foe to all textiles.

Don’t store your spread in a plastic bag or bin.  Textiles need to breathe.

Every time you store your vintage spread, fold it a different way.  If you fold it in half along the length, then half way along the width every time, that center point where the two folds meet can start to show wear.  Mix it up and fold it into thirds, or don’t fold it exactly in half so that the crease is in a different place every time. 

If I were craftier, I would make big storage bags out of unbleached muslin for each of my spreads--with a drawstring and a tag to identify it.  This will keep the light and dust off of them.  But I am not so crafty, so on the shelf the linen closet will suffice! 

Hope this is useful!  If you have any other questions about chenilles, feel free to be in touch with me.   Enjoy.

You can see more chenilles in my post on all-white summer spreads here.
Brown chenille bedspread with loopy circles

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Breakfast Nook -- Before and After

I’ll be posting a few of these quick before-and-afters of spaces in my new house--a 1920s Tudor-meets-Jeffersonian-colonial revival.  I’m proceeding slowly with changes, the first of which is removing wallpaper and painting, just to get a blank canvas to work with.  Forgive the crappy quality of the 'before' images--it was February and it was snowy and dark, so my camera kicked into a high ISO and made everything very grainy... 

Here is a view of the little breakfast nook in my kitchen.  A very cute space, it would be great for kids.  You know how old silver diners are scaled really small?  That’s what this is like.  You can see it was covered in wallpaper that wasn’t horrible (could have been much worse), just not quite to my taste. 

And here is the nook with the wallpaper and ugly curtain gone.  The light gray paint is Benjamin Moore’s Silver Chain, with Benjamin Moore Super White on the trim and cabinets.  That’s a Vera Neumann tablecloth and tray on the table, with day lilies in a little milk glass footed dish.  I didn’t realize you couldn’t really use them as cut flowers, so they died very quickly!  The countertops are the cheapest possible white laminate and I like the checkerboard floor (though it is off-white and black and impossible to keep clean!).

Even though I took down wallpaper from this space, I’m contemplating putting some back up, a very cool floral paper from the 1970s that I got on eBay.  I only have one triple roll, though, and I’m not sure if it will be enough.  Stay tuned.  

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vintage Kitchen Towels -- Wilendur, Vera Neumann - Collectible, Colorful and Eco Friendly

Colorful Vera Neumann linen towel from the 1970s
I’ve always had a thing for fun kitchen towels.  You always use them, so why not have nice ones?  I’m partial to pretty floral patterns printed on linen or cotton and from the 1940s through the ‘70s.  And in today’s eco-minded world, these vintage towels are a great way to avoid the waste of one-time-use paper towels. 
Seashell linen towel by The Ryans
Fun swirly design on linen  by Parisian Prints
If you believe sources like Wikipedia (big grain of salt here, please), tea towel is the English term and Americans just call it a plain old dish towel.  The purpose of this piece of fabric was to dry dishes--linen is absorbent and leaves little lint.  Cotton was used as it became more readily available later in the 19th century.

Printed cotton towel, probably from the 1940s
In the 1930s and '40s you often see towels that were cut from lengths of fabric printed with this use in mind.  So there will often be a border on each end and then a hemmed end on each side where the fabric was cut.  This leads to non-standard sizes and slight wonkiness, but in a pleasantly homemade way.
Wilendur printed cotton dish towel, 1950s
Big textile manufacturers made dish towels, too, including Wilendur and others.  Wilendur (they later became Wilendure) is better known for their tablecloths, but the same heavyweight cotton fabric was used for towels.  (And a PS on Wilendur--am I the only doofus who took a while to figure out that Wilendur is one of those cutesy, retro names?  Their products are long lasting, they 'will endure', get it? I thought it was Swiss name like Winterthur or something!)
This color combination is lovely!
Linen towels became a collectible souvenir in the 1950s and ‘60s.  These were often more decorative than functional and were sometimes used as wall hangings.  Tea towels were like souvenir spoons--you picked one up where ever you traveled. When I was in graduate school at UVA, I worked part time in the gift shop at Monticello where ladies of a certain age always asked for the Monticello tea towel for their collections. 
Calendar towels were especially popular in the 1960s and '70s, this linen one from 1968 by Vera
I'm kind of a rag hag and, no surprise, I have lots of vintage towels.  I used to just keep them stacked up in a cupboard to keep them nice, but really, that's just silly.   I tend to use my prettiest ones for lighter use like just drying off my hands and then towels with ok patterns or a few holes or stains for heavier duty stuff like wiping up spills or dusting. Because I really use them, I tend not to be as interested in the embroidered variety of towel, even if they are a good size (smaller embroidered towels I consider guest towels, those fancy things you never want to sully when you visit someone's house).
Some of my printed cotton towels from the 1940s and 50s
When you‘re shopping for for vintage kitchen towels you’ll find a huge range of price points. Price will depend on color, condition and general desirability of the pattern and maker. 
Vera linen towels in two colorways
Nice towels from the 1940’s and 50’s are getting harder to find in good condition.  I feel like I used to find them for just a couple dollars and now I don’t even see them!  Retro floral designs in reds and blues can be especially charming.  Heading into the ‘60s, you start to see groupings of kitchen items, stagecoaches (huh?), and Pennsylvania Dutch designs.  Humorous and risque towels are fun to find from any era--because a little risque humor always comes to mind when you are drying dishes in the kitchen! 
Risque printed cotton towel, probably from the 1930's or '40s
Do note the tails and horns...
Towels designed by Vera Neumann in the ‘60s and 70‘s are commanding high prices these days--I’ve seen a single towel go for more than $80!  More often, Vera towels can be found in the $20 to $40 dollar range for her fantastic images of flowers, vegetables or bold graphics, all in bright colors and in good condition.  Still, if Vera is your thing, you can definitely find towels for less than $10, you just have to dig a little harder and maybe compromise a bit on condition. 
Two linen towels by Vera Neumann
If you can live with a little bit of wear and a few stains, you can pick up some great towels for less than $5.  That’s generally a lot less than a new towel would cost and you are re-using an existing towel, thereby saving the planet and doing good for one and all.  What could be better?
Novelty linen towel, 1960s
You can find kitchen towels and other linens in my shop here.  I always have a few!

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg