In case you missed the beginning, I've been writing a series on caring for vintage, including washing, stain and odor removal. This time it's about getting out the wrinkles.
The vintage care advice I've been posting is coming soon to my book, so I'd love your feedback if you think I've forgotten something.
Let it all hang out
Start by hanging up your freshly washed clothing to avoid as many wrinkles as possible. Stuck on repeat: Never use wire hangers. They put a lot of strain on the shoulders of your garment and can even rip through delicate fabric, especially when it is wet. Then there is the potential rust… Knits and more delicate items are best dried flat to prevent stretching and other damage.
For vintage woven cottons and linens, an iron is going to create the crispest detail and smoothest finish. Your iron will have heat settings for various types of fabric, but don’t just set and go. Always start a little below the temperature you think you might need and see if it is sufficient. Do a little test on the inside of your fabric in an inconspicuous spot and make sure you aren’t seeing any press shine or melting. As a matter of fact, you might be better off doing all your ironing on the reverse of the vintage garment to protect the surface from any shine. I recommend using a press cloth for most of your iron-able pieces. Some people have an entire wardrobe of different fabric press cloths for protecting various materials while they iron; a basic press cloth is usually a piece of washed cotton muslin.
Things to never iron: Velvet, leather, vinyl, fur, faux fur, buttons, sequins, braid and other trims, the surface of iron-on transfers, embroidery, feathers. If the fabric is embossed or crepe-textured, you will flatten its texture with an iron. Go easy on seams, because the heat of the iron combined with the pressure over a seam can create press shine even if most of the fabric is tolerating the heat well.
Full steam ahead
I love my steamer. It is truly the number one most important vintage fashion-care investment I have ever made, and I get sad when I think about the years I spent without one. I do believe I would marry my steamer if it asked me.
OK, so I exaggerate…but not excessively. I have found that a steamer is the best thing for all wool and rayon items that you need to de-wrinkle at home. It doesn't cause any shine, and it fluffs up wool—in fact, it makes wool a bit springier and more lively. Instead of flattening fibers like an iron, steamers relax fibers.
A typical steamer consists of some sort of refillable water vessel that is heated to boiling, a hose that directs steam from the boiling water, and a wand for running over (or under) your garment’s surface.
It is usable on almost any fabric, and has only hurt one thing in my experience: Vinyl. I had a coat with faux leather trim, and the outer layer of the faux stuff literally peeled off in the steam. It probably wasn't going to make it anyway, but that did it in. Otherwise, it has a perfect record: No scorching, no press shine, no shrinkage, no melting.
As to how to use the steamer, start by letting it get thoroughly going. Some models tend to drip on the fabric if they are not warmed up and steaming like mad. Hang your garment near the steamer; some steamers even have racks for hanging your clothes. You can either steam on the surface or reach up and inside the garment, letting the weight of the garment help hold the fabric taut. You sweep the wand over the fabric, holding the wand right against the fabric. If you want to steam something like flowers on a hat, you can experiment with shaping it in the steam from the wand. You can also shape a hat veil, brim, or crown.
You can find hand-held travel steamers, but for regular home use, I would recommend a compact, personal model such as those made by Jiffy Steamer, the company that invented this most useful household appliance in 1940.
One caution: Until you get the hang of using a steamer, it’s quite easy to get a steam burn, or, depending upon the steamer, a burn from the wand or hose. You might want to test (quickly touch) to see which parts of the steamer get hot. Definitely steaming inside a garment is more likely to get you a steam burn than steaming on the outside. It takes a little practice to get used to, just as does an iron.
Next time: Storing Vintage