So, what about that dress? This garment is made almost entirely from recycled items from the local Goodwill. The two main sources were a large pair of grey wool/lycra blend pants (nice fabric!) and a large collection of vintage embroideries (pillowcases, napkins, table runners, etc) from my grandmother. The main feature of the final garment, both decorative and constructive, is the band of embroidery patchwork. I made the dress three years ago and it looks as great today as it did when "new." I toss it in the washing machine and don't treat it especially well.
If you have a similar collection of older textiles, and have hesitated to use them in a sewing project, fear not! I use vintage embroidery and doilies as often as I can and have learned a few things about making sure they wear well in their new lives as garments or artwork. For this post, I'll focus on preparing your embroidery collection for a new life.
The second step is assessing the quality of the ground fabric. The majority of vintage embroideries you will find are on a cotton or linen ground. Linens tend to be thinner and/or with an obvious weave. Both wear quite well and are very stable, even if they look delicate. There are a lot of old pillowcases out there from the 20's-50's and these are usually made from a tightly woven, seemingly indestructible cotton. If, after washing, you find holes or worn areas, these must be mended. Usually, I baste a patch of cotton batiste to the back and then embroider some flowers or something over the top of the damage. I NEVER use fusibles. Hand stitching is the way to go just about every time. Really, don't use fusibles - they interfere with the movement of the stitching and it causes puckering.
What type of thread to use for repairs? The simple answer is whatever you feel comfortable using. I usually use a combination of Perle cotton and embroidery floss. I have a collection of both types in greyed down colors that I use for my cloth figures. I pull from my stash when I need to embroider something. I don't worry about matching colors. Both types wash well, and I've never had an incidence of colors bleeding.
If you have stains that haven't washed out of the ground fabric, the easiest option is to embroider something over the top. Old stains are pretty stable, and you are unlikely to be able to get them out. Embroider a flower or some leaves on top - Boom you're done. You could also try outlining the stain with a line or two of running stitches in a darker color. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get the optical illusion that the interior of your shape is a lighter color because it is separated from the rest of the background. If that doesn't work, add some more stitches inside. This will call attention to the stitching and usually people don't even see the stain. Amazing, but true.
OK, now you have your collection of lovely, clean embroideries. Now its time to cut them up! Next time, I'll describe my process for cutting and sewing successfully.