I love a good hunt for supplies. The search for vintage wools can be challenging but can also yield incredibly unique finds.
Where to look
Flea markets, antique shows, and antique shops are my go-to when looking for vintage textiles to use in my work. Estate sales and auctions can yield some great finds as well. If you want to look for vintage clothes to use (see tips below under “What to buy”) you can hunt through your local thrift stores. Increasingly I find interesting vintage items on Etsy—it’s not just for modern crafts! You can try other online sources like E-bay to see what unique fabric items people are selling.
What to buy
If you are looking for wool, then wool blankets are some of the best vintage finds. Look for good weights (some are too thick to be used for appliqué). I personally love a good vintage army blanket to overdye for my projects. Vintage clothes can often provide wool, too, but useable pieces can be difficult to find. Look for 100% wool in clothes, and try to buy pieces that don’t have a lot of seams. You want to get as large a piece of wool as possible. Skirts are usually the best, but sometimes you can find other pieces that will work. Also watch out for garments that have iron-on interfacing. This can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to get off.
Then there are other kinds of vintage fabrics you can use with your applique projects. Look for old, worn out coverlets to add some pattern to backgrounds. I like to find old linen and linsey woolsey (linen and wool blend: see brown and blue striped fabric below) for backgrounds as well. You can also find a good variety of vintage cottons as well in many styles and colors. They have a different look from modern cottons and add a unique flair to any sewing project. Look for old quilts, tablecloths, linen napkins, handkerchiefs and more. The possibilities are endless!
I tend to buy pieces that are not valuable. Try to be respectful of items that are still in good condition. Most of my purchases are “cutters”: pieces with holes in them, tears, or stains. Look for pieces that need a new purpose.
How to buy
We asked Jackie Cessna, who collects and sells vintage textiles under the name Jackieland Vintage, for her advice on buying antique textiles.
"Buy any goodies you find that are suitable and affordable, when you find them! Do not wait until you have been commissioned to do a special project, then waste valuable time hunting for the right antique textile. Good textiles are becoming harder to find, so it helps to have a ready stockpile. Look for sturdy quilts, bedspreads, fabric, and tablecloths, with irreparable holes, stains, and deterioration. Usually they can be had for a reduced price and repurposed to enjoy for several years to come. Don't feel too badly about cutting textiles that are destined to become the dog's bedding. Lastly, buy what you love, even if you pay a bit more.”
Sometimes I buy antique textiles just to have them on display. They continually inspire my work!
How to treat and store
Once you have found your vintage textiles, you need to treat them. Sometimes they come smelling like mothballs, or have been in a dirty box, or just haven’t been cleaned in a looooong time. You have a couple options when it comes to treating them for storage and use. If your items seem pretty sturdy and not fragile, then wash them! Most of the vintage wool and linsey woolsey I buy gets washed and overdyed. For more fragile items, like a worn coverlet or light cottons, you can bag them up in a heavy freezer bag and put them in the deep freezer for 2 weeks. This will kill any bugs and often smells. For mothball smells or anything strong, hang out your fabric in the dead of winter. The colder the better! Just make sure it doesn’t snow on your fabric. Extreme cold will kill the mothball smell.
So get out there and start hunting! It’s a rewarding process, and can add a unique look to your next project.
To follow Jackie and learn more about her business, visit https://www.facebook.com/jackielandvintage/ or http://www.picturetrail.com/jackieland.