An unexpected lesson from our Royal Baby Shower Benefit was learning how to care for heirloom baby clothes and other fine linens. Using heirloom bonnets and garments was not part of our original plan for decorating my home for the Benefit, but serendipity and Pinterest intervened.
In my family’s time-honored tradition, when we cannot bear to part with sentimental items but no longer have a use for them, we give them to the next generation to store in the attic. My mother passed down a box of old baby garments to me. Mind you, I received these garments after my children were of age to wear them, so naturally they have been sitting in a disintegrating cardboard box on a shelf in my guest room.
One day while scouting Pinterest for inspiration for this shower, I spotted a photo with a garland of baby clothes strung from fireplace mantel. Catching my fancy, I pinned it to our Royal Baby Shower board. Later I went to the guest room closet looking for a dress and spied the decrepit box. As I pulled it out, the contents took on a whole new meaning.
That was one week before the Benefit, and all of the garments were yellowed and stained. Nevertheless I had a bee in my (baby) bonnet and set forth to recondition the vintage items. Of course our timetable for pulling the shower together had not included spot-stain removal and sun-bleaching family heirlooms, so I was behind the curve with a tall order ahead. Kicking myself for not taking “before” pictures, what you see below are the “afters”. The befores were not fit for public display at all.
Stain and Wrinkle Removal
The only tools you will need to whiten and brighten your yellowed and stained garments are• Bright sunshine • Gentle laundry detergent like Dreft or Ivory Snow • Hydrogen Peroxide • Baking Soda • Octagon bar soap • Clothes line or drying rack
First, launder your items on the most gentle cycle in cold water. For extra protection, wash them in mesh laundry bags. Follow directions on the detergent box for quantity of powder to use. When cycle is complete, remove from washer and hang to dry outside in bright sun all day. Do not treat any stains yet.
After one day in the sun, inspect for stains. If you find stains, spot treat them with a mixture of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water. Test on a hidden spot if at all possible before hand, especially if the garment is very old. Use a cotton ball to apply the liquid to the stain. Pour baking soda on the spot and, using a gentle toothbrush or washcloth, gently rub the soda into the stain and let sit for a few minutes. Then, hold the stain under running cold water. The stain should be minimized. After one spot treatment, hang outside in the sun, all day again. This works well on very yellowed spots. Darker spots may require more treatments. Above all, err on the side of gentleness.
In usual posse fashion, a few of you having offered your tried-and-true method or product for caring for heirloom items. bYg writes about a product called Linen Wash, which is available locally at Williams and Sherrill and Blythe,
Maybe I just love it because my mother swore by it . . . but it has worked for me on restoring old linens, as well as just dealing with those post-Thanksgiving gravy and wine stains!
For mildew, kKk says only bright sunshine will bleach out those stubborn spots. I have a few icky wash cloths to put to that test.
Lastly, I was telling kMg and Alison about my heirloom garment rehab process and mentioned that I was finally ironing the items. I brought out the little white Feltman Brothers dress and asked, “how in the world do you get these itty bitty sleeves so nice and puffy with the iron?” kMg promptly replied, “back in the day we had a small gadget called a puffer. We misted water on the sleeve, then inserted the puffer and it blew out the sleeve perfectly.” Hmmmm, I got to thinking. I bet a blow dryer could do the same thing!
Purchasing Heirloom-quality Baby Clothes
If you are looking to start a collection of heirloom-quality baby clothes, we have discovered a vendor of hand-made items at the St. Stephen’s Farmers Market. Lucinda Taylor of The Classic Baby
makes her own fresh designs of hand-smocked baby clothes. How I wish I had owned more than a few of these adorable frocks when my children were coming along!
Making your own heirlooms
My grandmother, taught at the knee of her mother, was an expert seamstress and needle crafter. As I was restoring several of their precious handmade items before the Shower Benefit, the fine craftsmanship continually astounded me.
If you are inspired to make your own heirlooms for several generations to enjoy, why not take classes? Chadwick on Grove Avenue in RVA provides instruction and supplies for the fine art of heirloom sewing. Although I have yet to dip my big toe into such intricate work, I do have enough sewing experience to appreciate the depth and breadth of Chadwick’s offerings: it’s a candy store for the afficionado of fabric, notions and patterns.
The Royal Baby Shower is over, my heirloom baby clothes are restored, and now it’s time
Just one more benefit of hosting a Royal Baby Shower.
June 10, 2013