When I bought a lot of vintage/’Victorian’ clothing on eBay a few months ago, I wound up with this little guy.
A very close to threadbare, looks/smells like it was stored in a mildewy garage for the last half century, baby coat. A great project to practice my conservation skilz, all of which I’ve gleaned off the internets. I decided that if I failed horribly, I wouldn’t be ruining somebody’s heirloom (I’d still feel bad though).
I decided to wash the coat because it smelled less than fresh. It’s knitted wool and cotton, but I couldn’t think of a better way to clean it. I didn’t have any good soap that I trusted on old textiles, so I just used cool water. I figured that as long as I didn’t shrink it, I wouldn’t be doing damage, and removing some of the dirt would be beneficial.
After a ten minute soak I got what looked like weak tea out of the coat. Three rinses later, I was still getting brown water, but a slightly different shade. When I looked closer, I realized that some of the pile was coming off the coat, so I stopped.
To dry the coat, I made this cool setup out of a clean window screen and the flat tub. The coat lay on the screen which sat on top of the tub. I filled the tub with a thin layer of orange indicating desiccant beads, and set a fan to blow over the coat. I propped the coat open so air could circulate. It took over two days to dry the little guy, but it worked great. An you know what? It actually smells much better now. I didn’t think plain water would be so effective.
To get the lint and bits of junk out of the pile, I used a new soft-bristle toothbrush. I didn’t want to pull any more pile out, so I used the toothbrush sparingly.
So here’s the little kid, cleaned up! If the buttons look off-center to you, that’s because they are and your brain/eyes are not broken, congrats. After I cleaned the coat I found three cut button threads an inch to the left of the buttonholes, where a second row of false buttons once was. The coat would have appeared double-breasted originally.
There’s also this, a cut tag near the left front corner. I’m figuring it’s a tag from a garment union, but there’s no way to tell since it was cut off.
So what’s next for the little guy? I’m going to repair the place at the right cuff where the lining is falling out, and I’m going to freeze it for a month or so, to hopefully discourage anything living in it from living any longer. I’d love to add three buttons to the front, to kinda restore the original look, but I’m not sure if I have any similar buttons in my vintage button hoard. I’ll keep my eyes open.
So what do you think? Personally, I really like the coat. Somebody (I’m guessing a generation of somebodies, actually) wore this coat almost to death, then saved it for another 60-80 years because they liked it too.
Or maybe because it was so grimy that they didn’t want to get close enough to it to throw it out.