Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pattern Cleaning & Repair, Part 1

Part 1 - Archival Cleaning Methods

One thing is for certain, all of us who collect, sew with, or sell vintage patterns... we all come across a lot of sewing patterns in really crummy condition.  Dirty, torn, smashed into envelopes... it's all part of the deal when you get into vintage sewing. 

Many times, you'd be tempted to give up on that poor-condition pattern, but don't lose hope!  Many patterns can be repaired and restored to nearly as good as new... you just have to know what products and procedures to use.

This can be an expensive process, but when you are giving life to a treasure, you'll find it's worth it.

So, today I present Part One of a series on pattern cleaning, restoration, and preservation.

A collection of archival supplies.
You should make a nice, clean area to do your pattern cleaning and repair.  A table with a cutting mat is my preference, but you could use almost any flat surface, just make sure it's clean.

Probably one of the most common things you find on patterns is writing.  If the writing is in pencil, you can use a good 'ol Magic Rub Eraser.  These are gentle on paper if you don't rub too hard, and should remove pencil cleanly with no problems.  Be sure to brush away the eraser crumbs with a nice big drafting brush or clean, soft, paintbrush.

A simple product, but so helpful, it's worthy of framing!
Many times however, you need more than just an eraser.  Sometimes, those patterns are really dirty.  What then can be done?  That's when you bring out the big guns. 

Magic in a jar, trust me.

First on the list is Absorene paper cleaner.  This wonderful product has been around for over 100 years!  Maybe some of you will remember it from cleaning wallpaper, maybe in your childhood?  It smells a lot like Play-Doh and is pretty and pink.  It's also one of the most economical and safe ways to clean a vintage pattern!

You can just ball it up and rub it right on the pattern.

This pattern may not look very dirty, but just grab a healthy hunk of that Absorene and see what happens.  Be sure to rub in -one direction- if you can.

Look at all that dirt!  This is totally non-abrasive and will not rub through or damage the paper.  What it WILL do is take off dirt that maybe you can't even see.  It will really brighten up a dingy envelope. 

 Again, brush away any crumbs with a soft brush of some type.  You can re-knead the crumbs back into the Absorene too, but it will eventually decrease in size with use.  A little jar of it goes a LONG way too.  It will also help absorb smoke and other musty odors.  (Though kitty litter works better.. but that's another article.)

Sometimes though, patterns are EVEN DIRTIER.  For those really dirty patterns, I recommend a product called Groom Stick... the official paper cleaner of HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN.

Groom Stick Packaging.

If you have a pattern with visible dirt or grime, Groom Stick is the way to go.  This stuff is amazing!  It is also useful for getting dirt and oils off your hands before working with delicate items.

Groom Stick out of the package.

To use it, break off a small piece and knead it with your hands.  (There are more detailed instructions with the actual product.)  Roll it into a ball or cigar shape and gently rub on the paper.

Groom Stick on a skewer.

You can also put some on a skewer or chopstick for more delicate touch.  It's totally non-abrasive, and can be re-used almost indefinitely.  Just keep kneading the dirt back into the groom stick!  Use it until it gets too dirty or sticky to continue to be gentle on your paper.

I don't have any examples right now of using it on a pattern, because at the moment I didn't have any patterns dirty enough to use it on!  (Lucky me?)  But trust me, if you see visible dirt or grime, this stuff is a MIRACLE WORKER.  It is gentle on the most fragile of paper, and if you work a lot with historic paper, I really can't recommend it enough.

So, where do you purchase these wonderful products?  Personally I suggest two different websites:

Gaylord Archival Supplies

Hollinger Metal Edge

You might be able to get them on other websites as well.  The sites above can assist you with many paper-cleaning issues.

Well, that's all for now!  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll try to help the best I can.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll give some tips on repairing torn patterns the archival way!

Also, be sure to visit all the wonderful shops of the Pattern Patter Team!


  1. This is a wonderful, eye-opener for me. I have always left patterns which I will list as-found but I will definitely practice your cleaning tips on those patterns I just can't bear to part with. Thank you!

  2. Just as soon as I post this I am going shopping for supplies, thank you for the information and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  3. This was a great post with lots of good information. Can't wait to try these out on some of my grungy patterns.

  4. A million years ago :O) when I was a kid, I would help my mother repair damaged or old books she would bring home from the library where she worked. I had completely forgotten about Absorene. Thanks for the memories! We used it to cleaned cloth and leather bound books, as well as the page edges. Love all the great advice! Can't wait for the next installment!

  5. Oh I'm going to be doing some shopping tonight! I have never heard of these products or processes and can't wait to try them! Thank you for sharing this very interesting information!!

  6. So much great information ! I can see our standard of patterns going way up !
    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing information !

  7. This is great information for all paper items! Thank you so much. :)

  8. I had never heard of these products! Great information! Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Great info, especially on what products are available and how well they work.

  10. So informative! Thank you for sharing these products and uses. I had never heard of either of them.

  11. Thank you! The museum professional in me loves this article! :)

  12. Fantastic! I had never heard of either of those products. Thank you!

  13. Thank you everyone, I really can't recommend them highly enough, you will be amazed by what they can do.