Since there are many different types of bags and combinations of materials, care must be
used to insure good results in cleaning and restoration.
Leather – The same methods as described for shoes can be used. If absolutely necessary to
use dye, be sure to buff the bag thoroughly and use Lexol afterward. Test on a rag to be
certain nothing will rub off on your good clothes.
Cloth – Includes cotton crochet, linen, and other washable fabrics. Follow instructions given in
article on Care of Antique Garments for washing and sunning if white. If colored but faded,
the bag may be re-tinted or if badly stained dyed a darker color. Dyeing can be tricky, and
the color may turn out too bright, so remove from the dye a little before you think it’s the
right shade. Bags of silk (either crochet or fabric) should be cleaned in cleaning fluid such as
Varsol, again as described in Garments article.
Beaded – All types (solid beads and designs on fabrics) may be cleaned in Varsol. The silver
frames on most of these may be shined using any good silver polish, or the treated dry
cloth type is good where there may be danger of getting water or polish on a non-washable
fabric. If some of the dangly bead trim is gone off the bottom of one of these purses, the
only cure is to remove all of them and re-string, redistributing them evenly. If the purse has
a rounded bottom, you may be able to stitch the uppermost ones to fill in the gaps, if not
too many are missing. Some of these beads are too small for even a beading needle
(heaven only knows how they were strung in the first place) – if yours are, stiffen the tip of
the thread with nail polish, and use this as a needle.
Since authentic hats are so difficult to find, those you do have deserve the very best of care.
You will find a stockpile of authentic ribbons, flowers, feathers, etc. invaluable, since so
many old hats seem to have been stripped of their trimmings, or the trims are crushed
beyond repair. For absolute authenticity, use only silk, velvet, or cotton trims, never rayon or
nylon. If the hat is totally devoid of trim, study old magazines of the appropriate period for
Most velvet and velour-type hats seem to be made over a buckram base, and if these are
crushed out of shape, they can often be helped by steaming from above and pushing gently
underneath, holding in the proper shape until cool. Dust and lint may be removed by gentle
use of a soft clothes brush. Steaming also helps revive any crushed spots in the velvet –
brush against flattened area gently with a toothbrush while still damp.
Lingerie hats must be completely dismantled in order to be sure the frame does not rust
when it is washed, and ruin the covering. This is quite a job, and if it will be some time
before the hat will be reconstructed, a sketch should be made, with measurements, so that
you can be sure everything goes back on correctly.
Straw hats may be cleaned by using a wet toothbrush, getting down into all the little cracks.
If the straw is of more than one color, be careful not to get it too wet, and only work on one
color at a time, to avoid running the colors together.
Those of washable fabrics may be laundered either by removing the cover from the frame
(risky, it could shrink), or by leaving it on and placing strips of plastic between the ribs and
fabric, to prevent rusting on the material. Mix a solution of liquid detergent and warm water,
adding a little Biz if the parasol is white and fairly soiled. Take outside (don’t try this on a
windy day), open, and wash gently with a brush, giving careful attention to any spots and
those outer folds. Let soak a little while, then rinse well with the hose. Let dry in the sun, re-
wetting occasionally if very yellow. For the final drying, prop in a semi-open, slightly
stretched position, as if allowed to dry fully stretched, it will have an unnatural shape when
closed. Silk or other non-washable fabrics may be cleaned with Varsol.
They are one item that cannot easily be reproduced, changed, or made more comfortable,
so it is really in one’s own best interests to take the best possible care of those that fit.
Recently, an article stated that neatsfoot oil eventually rots leather, in addition to the
impossibility of ever getting the leather to shine again after it’s use. The very best product
(please forgive the plug) is Lexol, available at many leather shops and shoe repair shops. It
should be used as directed on the bottle. It’s also excellent to use on any other leather,
such as car seats, although you may ha e to hide the bottle once your husband discovers
how great it is! Use it at least once a year on each pair of shoes, soles and all, to keep
them soft and supple, applying more often if shoes are worn fairly frequently. Since the
"quick shine" types of polishes are too drying for use on old leathers, be sure to use only
natural types. Dyes are also hard on leather, and most will crack where the shoe flexes, so if
at all possible, try to leave the shoes their natural color. Shoes should be stuffed with tissue
paper, placed in a plastic bag or cardboard box, and stored in a cool, dark place. A good
shoe repairman can fix soles when needed, and put taps on the toe points to prevent
One of the most frequent complaints heard when an old dress, blouse, or other white cotton
or linen garment is found is, "But it’s so yellow and dirty-looking!" Well, after fifty or sixty
years of lying forgotten in the musty confines of a trunk in someone’s attic, it’s no wonder.
Fortunately, whitening of such items is not really such a problem, and offers an interesting
challenge that gives a real sense of accomplishment when one sees the dramatic change
from dingy brown to sparkling white. After some twenty years of experimentation, the
following methods have been found most satisfactory.
Check entire article for places requiring mending, as washing may sometimes aggravate the
tears or weak spots. Mend neatly, reinforcing weak places with additional material if
necessary. A recent innovation, at least for me, is a product called Stitch Witchery, available
at most fabric stores – it is a bonding agent that looks like a thick cobweb, not an iron-on
material, and must be used between two layers of fabric – an ideal situation for the antique
clothes mender! On very delicate, sheer old materials, a thin fabric is the best choice for the
"back-up" material. Somewhat heavier cloth may be used on heavier clothing, but generally
to avoid undue stiffness, do not use anything too heavy. One of the best things I have
found to use under very thin materials are the ordinary nylon headscarves so popular now –
they can be had in a wide variety of colors, and are the sheerest fabric without holes, such
as tulle has, that I have located. It may be desirable when using these scarves with Stitch
Witchery, to press for a shorter period of time, to prevent bleed-though of the bonding
material. Otherwise, just use as the Stitch Witchery directions indicate. If you have not used
Stitch Witchery before, it may be helpful to practice a little with a scrap piece of torn cloth,
similar to what you wish to mend. It is generally best to use old fabrics to mend in places
that the fabric will show, or in replacing trim or other portions that are beyond repair, to
avoid the "new" look. A used clothing store is usually an excellent source for such materials.
Wash gently by hand using a good mild liquid detergent – I find Palmolive to be the best.
Change the soapy water at least twice, and let soak if extremely soiled. Rinse thoroughly
numerous times, to remove all traces of soap. Do not wring, just gently squeeze the water
out. Be very careful at all times in handling the wet garment, as wet material is particularly
weak and the weight of the water is very hard on the fabric. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look too
Spread on the grass in the sun (the hotter and sunnier the day, the better). Keep wetting
and turning the article over, exposing all surfaces to the sun. Sometimes, if the spots are
particularly stubborn, this sunning process must be repeated for a number of days until the
article is satisfactorily whitened. Bleach (chlorine type) is very hard on old fabrics and should
never be used until all other methods have been tried. The newer sodium perborate bleach,
Clorox 2, and such products as Axion, Biz, and Spray ‘n Wash may be used with caution,
according to package directions, if the sun treatment fails, which happens only rarely. Of
course, never use any of these methods on anything colored without trying on a hidden
portion first, as the old dyes were none to stable.
For rust spots on white washables, try using lemon juice and salt sprinkled on the spots and
place in the sun. If this fails, the spots may be made less noticeable by dampening them
and rubbing with chalk after ironing.
After whitening, once again wash and rinse thoroughly. Garment may be rolled in several dry
towels to absorb excess moisture. Dry garment, but do not hang up – a sling may be rigged
between two clotheslines, using a sheet, and the garment laid on this to dry, thus preventing
strain on the wet fabric.
Cleaning of non-washable fabrics at home is not much more difficult than doing the
washable ones, and is much to be preferred over taking to the cleaners, either professional
or do-it-yourself, due to the rough handling received at these places.
Varsol, a cleaning fluid produced by Exxon, is excellent for any type of dry cleaning, and
may be purchased at some of their service stations or at a local distributor. Be sure to get
enough to completely immerse the garment without crowding. If afraid the garment might
fade, dip an unobtrusive corner or hidden portion as a test. Non-washable fabrics trimmed
with cottons or other washables will look much fresher if the trim is removed and laundered,
since dry cleaning will not clean very soiled or yellowed washable fabrics anywhere nearly as
well as washing.
Clean light-colored garments first, darkest last. Fluid may be saved and used again if dirt is
allowed to settle and clean portion is returned to can. Work must be done out of doors and
away from any type of flame, using plastic gloves to protect the hands. Rubber gloves will
swell if they are in the fluid for any length of time. A plastic or porcelain basin may be used.
Check garment for spots and put a safety pin in each one so they may be located after the
garment is wet.
Immerse the article, squeezing the fluid through the fabric gently, keeping in mind wet
fabrics are weak. Let soak a while, then gently squish and rub the placed marked by the
safety pins, removing each pin as you go.
Squeeze fluid from article and hang in the shade to drip dry – do this over concrete, as it will
kill the grass. Heavy skirts and weaker fabrics may be hung over several hangers to keep
the strain off the material as much as possible. Heavy drippings may be caught in the event
it is desired to save the fluid for another time. Several days are usually required for the odor
of the cleaning fluid to subside after the garment is dry.
Press with a steam iron on the wrong side, or use a press cloth.
If unsure about cleaning an article trimmed with beads or sequins (some were made with
non-cleanable coating) try to locate a sequin, etc., that won’t be missed, snip off and drop in
a small amount of the cleaning fluid to test. If the coating comes off, you’ll just have to
wear it dirty or take off the trim!