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make do and mend

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Your vintage fix-it tips

I asked my blog readers and Facebook circle if they had any favorite vintage stain removal or mending tips and got some great responses, all which I will be trying:

1. Ann said: Don’t say dag nab it, snag nab it!! I love this freakin thing!!! A bargain at twice the price!!

2. Lisa: I’m sure you’re already aware, but OxiClean is the best cleaning product out there. Everyone’s laundry room should stock it - whether you collect vintage or not.  [After trying nasty, toxic things, I found OxiClean could get many jobs done I am aware now Lisa. I haven’t always been!]

3. Past Pieces Vintage suggests: You know that “smell” that vintage fabric can have...stinky, musty, old? ...When soaking and/or washing these things, add baking soda (Arm and Hammer or generic brands) to your water. This helps dissipate that odor. If the soda bath doesn’t do the trick, add vinegar to the water. Vinegar is also great to add to a rinse; it cuts any soap residue and leaves the fabric naturally soft.

I love a natural fix!

4. Tia suggested: For oil stains, coat the stained area with corn starch (rub it in well) and let it set a couple of days before washing. Depending on the intensity of the stain, the corn starch may have to be re-applied.

And probably the most convenient natural solution I’ve heard came from Chadáe:

5. Kinda gross but if you get your own blood on a garment use your own spit to get it out. The enzymes in your saliva break down the blood molecules! Hydrogen Peroxide also works for blood in general.
1930s laundry day image by By H. Armstrong Roberts, from

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What is your vintage clothing fix-it tip?

I have a small chemistry lab, a hoard of vintage buttons, a collection of mending tips and suggestions...and lots of live-and-learn experience. Still, in just a few days I have learned things about saving my damaged vintage clothing from others suggestions, from searching online and from my own trial-and-error. 

Does anyone have a great vintage mending or stain-removal tip...any sort of vintage clothing or accessory fix that you would share? I have a collection going and I would love to include yours!
1940s sewing circle, from



Made do and mend: 50s skirt tear

Still gloating over my success with stains reported yesterday, I decided to tackle a favorite skirt of mine.

This is one of the few items that I was set to sell, then saw the photos I’d taken and just had to keep. This skirt, dating from the 1950s, is black acetate taffeta with a beautiful flocked pattern. There is an attached black tulle crinoline and the waistband is comfortable elastic with a black velvet surface.

Because of that waistband the skirt is uncommonly easy to wear...and vulnerable. The vulnerability is that when the elastic is stretched, the fabric to which it is stitched can tear. One fairly big tear had been mended by a previous owner.

I often like to imitate how an item was made when repairing, or even follow the lead of a previous mender. In this case I find the mend a tiny bit franken-skirt and I’m not particularly thrilled with the taffeta being sewn to the tulle on the inside. You can see the top of this mend has given out.

This is the newer rip that has developed for the same reason.

I am no expert on this type of repair, but I think it could use a little backing for security. I ironed on dark fusible interfacing with the help of a press cloth, then pick-stitched around the tear. Finally I hand sewed across the opening with moderately small stitches. 

I feel it is nicely secure and reasonably inconspicuous (many thanks to that flocked pattern). Would you have done this differently? It would be great to know the best mend in case I spring another leak. 

 I’m not sure how long this will last but I hope forever, because I love the skirt!



Make do and mend: 3-for-1

I have been running a chemistry experiment of sorts for a week.

I have three very favorite vintage white blouses (two made of cotton and one poly/cotton blend) dating from the 1940s and 50s. All three of these I wore quite often more than six years ago. Their lengthy careers ended abruptly when somehow they got into a warm wash load with bleach.

Have you seen what happens to very subtle underarms stains when they are bleached? Those subtle underarm stains turn an angry shade of yellow that refuses to be removed.

Yes, denisebrain sweats. There I said it.
However I love these three blouses so much that I kept them on the off chance I would find a new solution to their problem.

Because of my resolve to help my fix-me pile this month, I decided to give many solutions a try on these blouses. I like to start from the least toxic alternative and work my way into the nasty stuff.

First it was baking soda paste (with water). If you have unbleached fairly recent underarms stains this can work, but for me this time...nada.

Then it was a slightly diluted white vinegar soak. The blouses smelled like tossed salad and the stains didn’t budge at all.

Next I got out other non-bleach stain removers. Ammonia has been recommended to me by dry cleaners for washable sweat-stained clothing. I gave the ammonia several chances. Then I used Pit Stop, among other things.

PitStop (now called Raise) is, for many cases of recent sweat stains, very effective on washable clothing. However, I’m truly disturbed that the ingredients are not listed on the bottle. Thanks to an page by Mary Marlowe Leverette, I know that the active ingredients are:

- sodium hydroxide, also known as lye or caustic soda
- cocamidopropyl betine, a synthetic surfactant derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine
- EDTA or Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, a polyamino carboxylic acid

Rubber gloves, open doors, a breathing mask and multiple attempts later...nothing. It didn’t even begin to budge these old bleach-set stains.

Finally in desperation I searched online using terms like “stubborn,” “old,” “bleach-set,” “impossible,” “horrendous”... OK, so I exaggerate slightly. I found The Art of Manliness blog on the subject. With the writer’s six year-old yellowed stains he had no success with ammonia but he had great success with a less toxic solution: OxiClean.

So into the OxiClean went my blouses. In two full days I saw maybe some letting up. In the meantime, I could at least breathe around the soaking solution, so I let the blouses stay in the solution for five days. After five days...100% success! The blouses are cleaner than the’ve ever been and those bleach-set sweat stains finally packed up and went home.

I could practically cry for joy to get these favorite blouses back! It is true that the more epic the effort the better it feels to achieve the goal. I feel pretty good!

Do you have any fabulous stain removal tricks? Come on, I just told you one of mine! 


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Make do and mend: Patchwork purse edition

For me beige has never been a great option. I love color and the more the better. I love Elmer of children’s book fame.

When, years ago, I found an unused 1970s vinyl patchwork bag I was smitten. It went with everything and nothing...It was Elmer! 

And boy, have I ever logged mileage with this purse. It is still in pretty sturdy condition, except for the straps that I’m afraid may give out. Also, the bag desperately needs cleaning.

I cut off the sad straps and found an alternate. Meet my clean-up crew, Mr. Metal and Ms. Meltonion. 

I probably would use a finer silver cleaner for the real stuff, but for generic metal coating, Mr. Metal is really good. Meltonian is especially useful for cleaning and conditioning real leather, but also works great on vinyl.  

Now, recognize this? 

It’s a late 60s or early 70s metal chain belt of course. I probably have six or seven of these at any time. This one seemed particularly sturdy. After cleaning the metal and the vinyl, all that was left was to string the belt through the square metal loops and open up one chain link to attach an end. I left the coin on the end. I like it. 

And now I can not wait to carry my patchwork Elmer bag again tomorrow!!

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Make do and mend: Old friend edition

It is now day six of my 12-Day challenge to clean or mend 12 items from my own wardrobe. Because for my business I fix a lot of clothing issues, I never get to my own. Or I never used to...but now I’m almost in a habit!

Today I come to a 1970s knit top that has been at the bottom of my mending pile for quite some time. It is nothing fancy and it appears to have been worn quite a lot before it came to me. It was someone’s old friend. It is hard not to love that row of buttons down the front.

I found the top at an estate sale some time ago. I was gathering up vintage clothing when I saw some photos on a bureau and realized that I was in the house of a friend of mine who had passed away a year before. I didn’t know this was the family home in which she grew up and I didn’t recognize the clothing, but when I inquired I found out that this was my friend’s very closet as a teenager.

Of course I had to keep this top. Not only does it have a delightful row of white buttons down its front but it was an old friend...of an old friend.

The top is black nylon knit and it had two not-so-tiny holes on the side front. The hem was stitched with that undependable 1970s plastic thread. One pull and it is out of there, so although only a stretch of hem was missing, I decided to resew the whole thing by hand. Because of the stretch knit I kept the stitches loose enough for give.

 The top is washable but tends to get lots of wrinkles, as you can see.

I sewed the holes up with basically the same technique I use for all knits (here is a tutorial from Lady Ott). The smooth fabric shows a mend but once I had steamed the top (smoothing out the fabric’s wrinkles was easy with a steamer) they weren’t conspicuous.

 Now it’s ready to go again.



Make do and mend: Broken zipper edition

I have this 1960s pale aqua blue cocktail dress made of elegant silk and wool alaskine. Somehow the metal zipper lost a tooth and became derailed. It’s a sight I hate to see!

Actually, fixing a derailed metal zipper is almost always possible but it can be a bit tedious, so it’s not my favorite repair. While looking at others’ techniques online I found a great idea for just this issue. I used to try to slip the zipper pull back on at the point of the missing tooth. This sometimes took some patience.
Then I found a tutorial calling for snipping a tiny slit below the last tooth. If you have a missing tooth right near the bottom of the zipper this is a huge time saver. The zipper pull was back on track in seconds! Then I just had to whipstitch over the bottom of the zipper a tiny bit above the missing tooth/slit. I also stitched over the very bottom of the zipper as inconspicuously as I could so there would be no gap.

Now here’s a sight I love to see:

Cocktails anyone?
Aqua pearl cocktail from
Thanks to Kyliie’s Thread for the idea!



Make do and mend: Earth Day edition

It is day four of my 12-day mend/fix/clean challenge. Today I’m very glad to keep an item going, because on Earth Day I am especially interested in making do with what I have.

I found an early 1970s suit in a thrift store in 1999, the year I began my vintage clothing business. I saw that it had no buttons on its jacket but I immediately loved it, took it home, found some white buttons to sew on and have worn it all the time since.

Yes it’s double knit polyester, yes it’s loud. On Earth Day about six years ago a music colleague of mine asked me if I would like to join in the local Procession of the Species wearing the outfit. Apparently I looked to him a bit like a wild critter of some sort. I took that as a big compliment.

This outfit was originally sewn with that nasty clear plastic thread that was used in the 1970s. I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled a little bit of that thread only to have the entire hem fall out of a skirt...this one included. I long ago re-sewed the hem. Now the casing at the waistband has come partly unstitched and the elastic is shot.

The elastic has stood up pretty well considering it dates from about 1973, but... 

I don’t have a fancy sewing machine. It has two stitches: Forward and backward. Still, I adore my sewing machine, a vintage Singer Featherweight that belonged to my mother. I restitched the casing and pulled elastic through (my waist size + about 1" in length), sewed the elastic ends together and sealed up the opening. 

Now I have my crazy wonderful suit back in time for Earth Day:

I’ll bet most of you know how to do this, or could easily do this when needed, and it is a very handy skill for vintage clothing appreciators. There are a number of simple tutorials for the technique online, such as this one.

Save your vintage clothing ...and Happy Earth Day!



Make do and mend: Day 3

Right now I have several chemistry experiments going on with stains in my favorite clothing...I will report back when I found out which, if any, are successful.

In the meantime I took on the relatively simple job of re-glueing a satin flower on a shoe for my Day 3 project.

These are not just any shoes but my very favorite shoes, and I’m a shoe addict. Made by Walter Steiger in the 1970s, they have ballet slipper-like squared toes and wrapped ankles. The platforms and heels are just perfect to me, both in style and comfort. I could wear these all day every day if they weren’t so dear to me. I wear them only occasionally with the hope they will last forever.

I have a drawerful of glues and a tendency to read every label before I decide which one to use. I think I will stop reading the fine print in great detail now that I know there is a Design Sponge article which includes types of adhesives, a chart of appropriate glues for various tasks, how to glue properly, and even a natural glue recipe. When it comes to glueing fabric, make sure you use one that is appropriate to the cleaning of the item (dry clean only or washable). In this case, the shoes will not be cleaned other than dusting. I used Soba Premium Craft and Fabric Glue.

Mission accomplished, they are ready to step out again!



Make do and mend: Easter edition

It is Day 2 of my challenge to mend or clean 12 of my own wardrobe’s items in 12 days. It is also Easter, so I contemplated which of my mending items would look spiffy to wear on Easter Sunday.

I decided the obvious choice was a wonderful late 1930s jacket that has been out of commission for a few years. It is labeled Haddad. If the clothing I find with this label is any indication, the store was a very fashionable place to shop in Spokane. A number of older women have told me how much they loved the place.

This jacket is made of a light, spring-y black wool crepe with bright pink wool jersey lining the front edges and collar. The jacket even has a matching pink jersey dicky. It has little semi-pockets with twisted wool detail around their edges.

The problem has been the covered buttons. Made using the same light wool jersey, these had worn through to the point of being unusable.

This is where my one hoarding instinct has come in handy: I collect vintage buttons, and most especially sets of vintage buttons. Many button collectors are after a single perfect vintage button, but my eyes are always open for a set that can replace those that are missing on my vintage clothing finds.

My white button stash
In my black button stash I have a couple of great old buttons in plastic and four faceted black glass buttons. I need five for my jacket. I have cards of vintage buttons in black but these just don’t seem sufficiently interesting for this stellar jacket.

I eventually came across this set, probably of roughly the same era as the jacket. I would prefer a button with a shank, but I love the beaded-look detail.

If I’ve learned anything from mending my vintage clothing finds, it is to try to imitate what is already there. These buttons were sewn with substantial thread shanks, and without any of their sewing thread showing on the back of the placket, because that pink lining was made to show and you wouldn’t want black threads interfering.

I used to think that sewing a button was just a matter of running six stitches through the button, but had to rethink my button sewing technique when I saw how many vintage buttons were sewn with thread shanks.

There is an easy and clear tutorial about sewing a button the right way, with a thread shank, over on the Chronicle Books blog.

Just one case of gnarled-up thread and one needle poke later, I had myself a newly restored jacket. See how nicely these buttons complement the pocket detail?

 And it’s ready just in time for my Easter promenade...Happy Easter everyone!