Monday, 15 April 2013

Repair, upcycle and restore those vintage finds

The beauty of vintage and antique pieces is that they have been used and loved by other people - and the patina of age and wear enhances many items.  This is a very different way of thinking to those who collect specific pieces where condition has to be perfect such as ceramics,  figurines, glass and high value antique furniture.  But, for those who embrace the shabby chic, distressed vibe, a chip here and a crack there is not a deterrent to loving a piece.  However, there are times when a bit of care and attention will improve a piece or even turn an ugly duckling into a swan.  There are a lot of people upcycling and refreshing furniture that would otherwise end up in landfill - a great way to reuse an unloved and unlovely piece.  You don't have to be daunted if furniture painting sounds a bit hardcore - there are lots of simple and quick ways to improve your finds.  Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to refresh and restore your finds and add a few £s to the selling price.  You may even find it so enjoyable that you want to try out more crafting and restoration and learn skills such as upholstery, furniture restoration or ceramic repairs and painting.

Cleaning a grubby item is often the first step to making your vintage finds look less shabby and more chic! But beware, dirt and grime on some items adds to rather than detracts from their value.  Please do not pressure wash old garden ornaments with a lovely speckling of moss and lichen!  However, most china and glass benefits from a good wash by hand; but never put old or fragile pieces into a dishwasher as it can damage the decoration and glaze. And some glass goes cloudy if it goes through the dish washer. Just a gentle wash or soak in warm soapy water removes the dust and grime.  A soft wash cloth is ideal for tackling the nooks and crannies, unless the item is grease covered.  Caked on kitchen grease, or even nicotine, is often found on items that have been displayed in a kitchen or near an open fire and may require a soak in something stronger.  Clothes washing tablets dissolved in water soak off all kinds of muck and grime and are best used dissolved into a bowl of warm water.  Put the item to soak for an hour or so, but be aware that if the glaze is crackled water can seep into the pottery or china.  Old cheese and butter dishes often have a greasy base where over the years the natural grease has seeped into the glaze.  If a cup, bowl or jug is stained inside with old tea or coffee stains, a dilution of Steradent or Milton's Fluid left in overnight lifts off those stains.  Unfortunately, chips and cracks often come to light after a good wash - not much you can do about that.  If glass is cloudy or stained inside, try filling with water and rice and give a good shake.  This helps to remove residue. Vinegar is a good cleaning agent - a drop of vinegar in water  often lifts dirt and grease efficiently.  Old housekeeping manuals, such as Enquire Within Upon Everything , are full of old tips and hints on cleaning household goods with natural cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice, vinegar and salt.

Textiles need to be handled carefully and if they are old and fragile, I would leave their cleaning to an expert.  Stain removal from fine pieces can sometimes cause discolouration if chemically based products are used.  Gentle handwashing using a non-bio product or if a woollen item, old fashioned soapflakes, can remove a lot of spots and stains.  Again, a soak overnight in soapy water can work wonders but beware of hot water which can shrink fragile items and fix stains.  Anything of great monetary or sentimental value I would take to a specialist restorer.  Modern dry cleaning can work on some textiles, but many old fabrics are not suited to the chemical processes involved.

Old woollen blankets can be put on a wool wash on most modern machines and come out fresh and fluffy.  Try to dry on the washing line or on an airer as tumble drying is not great for woollen items - if you do tumble, try to use a cool setting unless you want felted wool.  Even old feather eiderdowns can go on a gentle wash - I tumble dry with a tennis ball to help to fluff up the stuffing after washing.  Old rag rugs and cotton mats can be soaked in the bath to remove the grime and dust build up.  Vintage clothing such as suits, skirts and dresses are sometimes lined and the lining can shrink when washed so hand washing is better.  But if the textile has a treated surface, such as glazed chintz, then washing can remove the finish.  There are a lot of specialist vintage clothes traders who might be willing to share their secrets on how to remove an annoying stain or patch.

If you buy dull looking old plastic or tortoiseshell items, a gentle buff with a soft cloth dipped in olive oil can bring up the lustre and clean off any film of dust or dirt.  Tortoiseshell benefits from the light oiling as it is a natural material that can dry out and crack.  I sometimes use olive oil on old bread boards or chopping boards, once I have given them a good scrub. Salt makes a good natural scrub to clean wood, rubbed on with half a lemon - this is a natural way of lightening wood as well.  If the stains on a bread board are very bad, try a very gentle sanding with a fine grade paper then a good oiling afterwards.  Natural materials often need replenishment with oil or beeswax.

Cleaning leather items such as bags, boxes and suitcases is easy.  Leather is best cleaned using a damp cloth to wipe away any grime.  Saddle soap can then be used to bring up the sheen on natural leather. Rub the saddle soap with a damp cloth and then rub into the leather.  The smell is gorgeous and the soap feeds the leather.  Once dry, the leather then can be buffed with a soft, dry cloth to bring up the shine.  It is a very relaxing and rewarding process.  If you can't find saddle soap, colourless shoe cream is good as it nourishes the leather.  Shoe polish is not a good idea in general apart from on shoes.  Shoe cream is a softer and more gentle way of cleaning up leather.  Very dry or cracked leather can be fed with linseed oil, but this could damage any linings of bags or cases so be very cautious as it will stain and mark fabric.  Use by rubbing on and letting it soak into the leather.  Old saddlery and harness often needs a serious dose of linseed oil before being cleaned up with saddle soap.  I used to soak it in a bucket of oil for a day or so to give it a good chance to absorb.  If the leather of a bag or case is coloured, look online for coloured shoe creams to polish out the scratches and marks - a huge range of colours are available. Rub in well, otherwise the colour will come off on clothing if carried against an arm or the body.  Test on a small area that is not obvious before applying to the more noticeable parts. Sturdy leather shoes and boots benefit from good old fashioned spit and polish.  The dirt is removed with a damp cloth; then a layer of shoe polish is rubbed in.  Then, the old method is to spit on the shoe and rub this in, repeating the process several times, hence "spit and polish".  This creates a glossy, perfect finish as would be sought after by servicemen cleaning their boots!  I was taught this method as a child for cleaning my riding boots and they used to gleam - it creates a hard, protective surface.  This might be too much for delicate ladies' shoes - shoe cream is the safer option.  Silk or satin shoes obviously cannot be cleaned in this way - a gentle sponging might remove marks, but it is easy to damage such fine materials.

Jewellery needs delicate handling and I would never attempt to clean anything precious.  I do drop my engagement ring into gin now and then to bring a sparkle back to the gems.  Costume jewellery made of paste and plastics should not be subjected to a gin bath!  A gentle brushing with a dry fine artist's paint brush will remove dirt and dust from crevices.  Silver, copper and brass can be cleaned with propietary products such as Silvo or Brasso -  a rewarding task if you don't mind blackened hands. A great job for a rainy evening in front of the TV.  Silver cutlery can be dipped or left to stand in a liquid silver cleaner - then gently buffed and polished for a high shine.  Beware of over polishing silver plated items - this can remove the plate and damage the piece.   Views are divided on pewter - I love it looking old and tarnished whilst others prefer a shine.  If the piece is very old, the "dirty" appearance is part of the patina and value of the piece so get advice before you set to with the polish. Similarly, with copper, the green verdigris adds a lot to a piece and removal can affect value.

Wood items can be cleaned and restored in various ways.  Small items can easily be polished up.  Scratches and dents can be filled with either a wax pencil filler product or a liquid that is rubbed into the scratched areas of wood.  These can be found in a range of wood tones to match pine, oak, mahogany and other woods.  All come with instructions and are simple to use.  Once the wood has had its marks and scratches filled in or covered, a polish with a clear beeswax brings it to a shine.  If an item is French polished, you may need to find a professional to restore the piece as this is a more specialist process applied to items such as dining tables, chairs and bureaus.

If you are restoring a larger item, you may want to strip the wood back before polishing.  When stripped pine was in fashion, wood was either dipped into a caustic tank or hand-stripped with products such as Nitromorse.  If you use these paint stripper, you must be very careful not to inhale, to let it go onto your skin or near your eyes or mouth.  It should be used outside in fresh air and away from children or pets.  The stripping process dries the wood and affects the wood glue, so once dried out you must replenish the oils in the wood and reglue loose joints.  Beeswax is the best polish - Briwax is a well known make; do not use the spray-on wax polishes used for housework.  For information about how to use polishes visit Spray can polishes create a silicon layer and do not feed the wood as well as natural beeswax.  On stripped wood, polish can be rubbed into the grain with fine grade wire wool, left to harden and then buffed.  You may need to apply several coats to give the wood a good colour.  Again, polishes can be found in many shades as well as clear wax.  At the moment, painted furniture is popular, so stripping is less in favour. However, if an item is covered in gloss paint, stripping may be necessary to prepare the piece for painting.

If your piece of furniture is already painted and the paint is old and original, perhaps distressed or chipped, then it may well be best to leave it as it is.  People pay good money for this shabby chic look - and there is a great charm in these old, chipped and faded pieces.   If the painting is not attractive - for example a bright gloss paint in a horrible colour - then sripping or sanding down and painting over is a good way of improving something.  There are a number of options.  If you like a traditional finish, Farrow & Ball  Dulux and Crown have heritage paint ranges.  For a successful finish, it is important to have a clean, well prepared surface.  So, cleaning with sugar soap to remove grease and dirt, light sanding and making any repairs are important steps prior to painting.  Removing old nails or tacks, gluing back together loose joints, sanding down rough splintered panels will help to create a good finish.  If repairs are beyond your skills, then try to find a local handyman or joiner who can do them for you but remember this will add cost to your item.  If using traditional emulusion or eggshell paint, you will need to prime, undercoat and then topcoat your item.  For a good finish, you may need two coats of your paint.  Remove handles so that you can paint underneath rather than painting over the handle and then having to clean it off.  This is a time-consuming process but worth the effort.  You may decide to give your finished item a coat of clear wax to protect the paint - a good way of protecting the paint from chips and scratches.  An old, tired piece can be totally transformed by a stylish paint job.

If all this sounds too labour intensive, the new chalk paints popularised by Annie Sloan are your answer.  Very little preparation is needed, just a clean surface is fine.  Chalk paint goes on easily and dries quickly, with a slightly streaky finish.  Depending on your desired effect, you may add another coat or even a different top coat.  You can then either wax for a good finish, or do a bit of clever distressing with sand paper to get the aged look.  There are several books on paint techniques, many workshops and classes and numerous tutorials online to follow.   This is the easy way of upgrading furniture if you like a quick result. Other chalk based paint ranges include Autentico with a superb range of colours.

A word of caution about painting furniture.  If you have a really good piece of antique furniture, or something with inlay, marquetry or decoration do get expert advice before painting.  You could be destroying the value of the item - personally, I would only paint items that were mass produced or modern pieces from high street or chain stores.

I have discovered a fantastic new product which can be used for updating items with very little effort.  The product is called Plasti-kote and comes in many colours, finishes and suitable for indoor or outside furniture and garden ornaments etc.  I have sprayed a wicker chair, a small shelf, a cupboard with great results - a much faster way of covering a fiddly item.  The products come in a lot of bright colours and can be bought on Amazon or via a DIY store.  Fun to use and a funky result.

Books and paper items are often marked - pencil marks, crayons or the dreaded felt pen often mar the illustrations or pages in old books.  Felt pen is pretty much irreversible, but pencil marks can be removed gently.  Using an artist's soft rubber or even a piece of white doughy bread kneaded into a ball, you can gently rub the marks away.  Be very careful - if you rub too hard you will take off the paper's surface or even rub through.  Go gently.  There are products available for removing biro and ink marks from paper; I have not used these and would not suggest using them on old books or papers.  Old inscriptions and personalised dedications can often add value.  Consult a specialist book seller or conservationist if you are unsure about how to treat damage. A hardback book with a broken spine can be rebound, but this can be costly but worth considering if the book is very valuable.  If the book is too far gone, but has pretty prints or plates, it is known as a "breaker".  Whilst I would not advocate breaking a book up for its plates if in good condition, if the book is in poor shape and beyond repair, using the plates is a good idea.  These can be removed carefully, mounted and even framed for attractive prints.  Nowadays, the unused pages are used by crafters for decoupage projects or for making paper roses or ornaments.  Bookish have turned books into all kinds of items from bunting to brooches.

With the vogue for craft and upcycling, even broken items can be re-purposed.  Broken china pieces can be used for mosaics on small items of furniture or walls.  Textile scraps can be used for decoupage, patchwork, lavender bags, make up purses, laptop covers and many more items.  Bunting is often made from old textiles and looks very effective.  Old maps, prints, magazines and printed ephemera can used for decoupage and lining old suitcases, crates or shelves.  Individual cups and saucers can be re-purposed as holders for candles - candle making equipment is available on line. The list of projects is endless and craft courses abound to teach basic and advanced crafting skills.

If you fancy something more ambitious, upholstery classes can teach you how to renovate chairs and sofas with your own choice of fabric and trimmings.  Start off with a small project, as it can take a long time to upholster an armchair.  China restoration courses teach the art of repairing chips, cracks or even gluing together broken items - a very handy skill to have if you love buying up lots of china at auctions or boot sales.

It can be very satisfying bringing back to life an old and neglected treasure.  However, if in doubt about the value of the piece, please check it out before you start any work.  I have often seen lovely things ruined by amateur restoration.  

1 comment:

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