Clays and materials

Kiln and question about vintage fabrics

By March 10, 2009 11 Comments

Finally my kiln is working properly again. After a long time of troubles we found out that the little pin on the lid that makes contact when the lid is closed, was a bit (1/16 of an inch) too short and stopped making contact when the kiln got really hot. I am so glad this is solved now by just making this pin a little bit longer.
I have a question about fabrics: I like to use vintage fabrics but sometimes they have a smell that doesn’t disappear even after washing it. Does anyone now how to handle this?
Thanks a lot,

Marlaine Verhelst

Author Marlaine Verhelst

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Miss Mary says:

    Vintage fabrics can have several different “smells” and you have different ways to eliminate them. The most common is a musty, moldy smell. If my fabric smells like that, I will wash it gently with SOAP, not detergent (which is very harsh on old fabric). Rinse it completely, then soak it is 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 water at least one hour. Rinse again and hang to dry. If that doesn’t get rid of the smell, then you have to risk ruining the fabric by boiling it in a stainless pot with 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water and a very little soap. Boil it at least 5 minutes, rinse and hand to dry.

    If the fabric has an oily or petrochemical smell, then the only thing you can do is hang it to air it and wash it by hand several times. I have had very little luck getting this particular smell out of fabric. I believe that it sometimes a reaction of the dye with the environment. Also old rayon can smell like this and I have no idea why.

    Regular, “old fabric smell” is usually taken care of by soaking, then hand washing the fabric (or using the “hand wash” cycle on your front loader washer – WARNING top loader washers can and will eat fabric) Again, use soap first and go to detergent if soap doesn’t clear the problem.

    If you are recycling a shirt with underarm smells, then spray full strength vinegar on the problem area. Let it set for at least one hour and wash.

    I hope that helps.

    Miss Mary

    Some fabric

  • Hi Miss Mary,
    Thank you so much for your post. By ‘soap’ I suppose you mean the old fashioned soap our grandmothers used? I certainly will going to try your tips.

  • Allegra says:

    Hello Marlaine,

    One way of getting the musty smell out of delicate fabrics is to place them in a container where you first add several cupfuls of kitty litter. then place the fabric on top. If the piece is rather larger you may want to put a layer of fabric, one of kitty litter, a layer of fabric, one of kitty litter and so on until you cover the whole thing with kitty litter. The natural carbon in the kitty litter will absorb the brunt of the smell but then you will have to wash the fabric in soap and air the material. I have done this several times with stubborn old pieces but it has worked for me. Airing the fabric is always a good first step, and once you have it clean make sure to keep a little cotton ball impregnated with lavender oil without touching the fabric but nearby. For some reason lavender oil seems to keep the musty smell at bay. Good luck, and your dolls are magical, I am so glad I found you. I am looking forward to taking the May classes. Best,


  • Hello Allegra,
    These tips about the kitty litter and the lavender oil are new to me so I certainly am going to try it out. Thanks a lot for your kind words. See you in the class.
    Warm regards,

  • michele oneil says:

    I have found the really stubborn smells especially with fur and vintage fabrics can be taken away y placing the fabric in a plastic garbage bag with a can of coffee (poke holes in the can or put dry grounds in an open bag) and tie up for a week or so. You can also clean the fabric as stated above first then lace it in the coffee bag for a few days.. Never have used the kitty litter, but will give it a try..
    As Always,

  • Marlaine says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Good to hear from you again. I am certainly going to give this a try. I never DRINK coffee anyway ;).
    Thanks a lot for your help,

  • Hi marlaine ,

    I use something called Orvus Paste to get rid of weird fabric smells an even act pee on fabrics It is available at FArm and Feed Stores and Fearmers use it to wash pigs because pigs are very tender creatures. Weavers also use it to clean the LAnolin and junk out of sheared wool before spinning . My garment sewing friends and ladies who like fanncy, delicate underwear use it to wash all that stuff .
    It is creamy and comes in a jar and is used to wash by hand or in the machine . Costs $25. here in North CARolina . I wonder if you have it or something like it in the Netherlands.

    see you soon at the conference,
    Lesley Keeble

  • Hi Lesley,

    Thanks a lot for your advice. I don’t know this product in the Netherlands, but I am often in the US.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Arrowmont,

  • sjmdev says:

    Well I am a little late on this but it has been a busy year! I always use a solution of cold water (about 3 gallons) and a half cup of BAKING SODA not baking powder. Used by our mothers and grandmothers to clean up all types of smells and other things. For example, many people put baking soda in their kitty boxes, down the drains (with vinigar sets off chemical reaction but cleans much). Baking soda is safe for your clothes (I put a half cup in my lingerie load to get rid of soaps and etc,.)
    Shirley Montague-Devine

    P.S. it is an environmentially safe solution. Read the box. It is safe.

  • Thanks a lot, Shirley. Now I have to find out what baking soda is in Dutch. Or I will take some from the US. We will keep in touch about the Los Osos class in 2011.

  • Terry Weiss says:

    First I should say I wrote the book “The Consumer’s guide to Vintage Clothing” in 1987, so have spent a lot of time trying to get vintage fabrics to behave nicely. The kitty litter in a sealed plastic bag tip is hands down the best advice given here. The main thing is having the patience to wait it out. For example, I used it for a sewing machine case (cloth on board, as it was an old one) recently and it took 4 months – however, in the end all the mold and musty odors were gone. Since washing something like this (the sewing machine case) is impossible, a dry method was the only possible solution. Second is the baking soda – although “washing soda” is well worth a try. I see that someone has also mention “Orvus” and this is the only soap you should ever use on vintage fabrics. This is what museums use for wet cleaning textiles, so museum supply companies will have it. It’s much cheaper at stores selling supplies for animal farming. It’s also used for washing cows, horses, dogs and cats. The virtue is that it will wash out completely, which almost no other soap (including so-called “delicate wash” products) will. In the U.S. we have feed and seed stores, but don’t know what they are called in the Netherlands. However, I’ll bet you’ve got them. Just ask for the product they sell for washing live stock and you’ll get it. I paid $5 for a pound of it several years ago, and still have some left. Even if it dries out and gets solid, you can just add water and it’ll come back to life. You only need a tiny bit to get a dish pan full of suds.

    When all else fails and the only alternative is to throw it out, and if you are working with cotton or linen, use hot water, Orvus, and – gulp – chlorine bleach. It will deteriorate the fabric somewhat, how much depends on the condition when you start; but a doll is not going to be moving her arms and legs, so the actual wear once it’s sewn up is minimal and the cotton and linen fabrics will last a good long time. Chlorine bleach will destroy wool and silk and weaken rayon, so try anything else on these fabrics and toss them out if nothing else works. Or, just stick the offending fabric in a plastic bag with kitty litter, tuck it away somewhere, and when you find it in a year or two, it’ll probably have taken care of itself!

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