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Can I renew vintage wool?

marthaq | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

I’ve just gotten a charming coat that my mother wore in the 40’s or 50’s, dark blue wool “Lewispun Tweed” from Best & Co. Only other label is the union made label. It’s more than likely 100% wool. It feels ever so slightly to be brittle, and I am wondering if there is any way to renew or refresh old wool?
I’d appreciate any advice, thanks!!!


  1. starzoe | | #1

    Have a good look at it to see if the yarn has been deteriorating. Even without little critters like moths, wool does deteriorate in time. Maybe you could take it to a drycleaners to see what they will say about it - I suspect they wouldn't guarantee a good outcome with something that old. But you never know, it might still be salvageable.

  2. katina | | #2

    You have a coat made of Harris tweed, woven on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. This tweed is not a 'soft' fabric - it wears like iron - so it's possible that your coat is still in very fine condition, and not brittle at all.  I would hang it out in the sun to air if you can; check for moth holes, etc.  Then dryclean, as Starzoe suggested. I have two Harris Tweed coats from the 50s and they are in beautiful condition.

    I can't find the magazine index on this site...? Threads had an article on Harris tweed some years ago.




    1. marthaq | | #3

      That is so good to know as I just bought a coat last year made of Harris tweed. As I hung my new (old) coat up in the closet, I did notice the new (last year) coat does have that same rough feel. I will take it to a good cleaners.
      Thanks a bunch!!!

      1. katina | | #4

        Glad to have helped. Harris tweed is the only fabric designated an art cloth - each length is assigned a number.


    2. starzoe | | #5
      1. katina | | #6

        Thanks very much Starzoe - kind of you to help the challenged!


    3. stitchagain | | #7

      I had a wool sweater that I dry cleaned years ago that lost all the softness.  At that point they said drycleaning takes out the lanolin in wool.


      You would think that one could put the lanolin back in somehow- even into a rough wool like Harris Tweed.

      1. katina | | #8

        I wash all my wool sweaters by hand - no problems. I wonder if dry cleaning leaves  a residue of chemicals in the fabric...?


        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #16

          Katina, yes dryclean solvent does get left behind on the garment.  It is called drycleaning because it uses a waterless solvent to clean the garment.  They are still washed, just not in water. 

          A wool sweater can be washed, by hand, gently, in tepid water.  The more heat or excessive cold, and manipulation while wet causes shrinking and felting.  Not good.  So treat woolens and silks similarily.  Do not wring the water out of them.  Squeeze gently, then roll in a towel and squeeze the water out.  Lay flat to dry, blocking to shape. 

          Woolen garments can be washed the same way.  They can then be pressed if needed to be reshaped.  Suits and pants can be sent to the cleaners for professional pressing.  Always wash all pieces of a suit at the same time, so they stay the same colour!  EVEN THE VEST!  (tee hee, long story) 

          A good brushing with a soft brush will remove most surface dirt from a garment, and a soft moist towel will remove a lot of food stains.  Treat spots immediately, and you will not have to clean them as often.  A good airing, and a bit of a steam, in the shower stall or with a steamer will refresh a  garment quickly.   Lavander sachets hung inside a garment will absorb body odours and will lessen the number of  actual washings needed.     Cathy

          1. katina | | #17

            Thanks, Cathy. All good advice


      2. sosewnem | | #9

        My mother hand washes all her wool hand knit sweaters and lays them flat to dry. The reason is because she has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and can't dry clean anything. However, I believe this is the product she uses:


        It has lanolin in it.

        1. sewelegant | | #11

          I have heard of this product, but do not see it locally in any store.  Do you like the scented or the unscented?  I was thinking of ordering the lavender but know that I do not like a strong perfume smell.  Unscented products sometimes have a scent of their own.  Anyway, since your mother has used it what do you think?  Have you used the scented?

      3. KharminJ | | #10

        There is an extensive thread here that was active in November-ish, about "wool soakers" (don't remember if they were knitted or crocheted) - diaper covers - and much discussion of how to clean them and re-lanolin them. I'll see if I can find it ...Yup - here it is: http://forums.taunton.com/tp-gatherings/messages?msg=9122.23
        There is some conversation about lanolin oil products - they may help soften your old wool...KharminEdited 1/5/2009 1:07 am ET by KharminJ

        Edited 1/5/2009 1:10 am ET by KharminJ

  3. Ckbklady | | #12

    You can also refresh tweed with a little steam. In the early autumn my uncle would always refresh his Harris hunting jackets by hanging them in a steamy bathroom for a half hour, then would hang them near the fire to dry out completely so they didn't go moldy (a challenge in the south of England). The coats smelled like wet dogs, but were so beautifully crafted that I loved to examine them.

    :) Mary

    1. marthaq | | #13

      Thank you, that will be simple enough to try....

      1. Ckbklady | | #14

        Welll, sorta simple. Did I mention that you must also be smoking a pipe, be brushing off muddy rubber boots and be fending off the affections of at least three beagles?


        :) Mary

        1. marthaq | | #15

          The rain and mud fits perfectly - I am in Western Oregon! It'll have to be 2 boys and 2 cats vying to get pet!!!!

  4. fabricmaven | | #18

    I've noticed that you posted your question in early Dec. and it is now January. I hope I'm not too late to chime in.  I would suggest that you find a dry cleaner who no longer uses percethelyene (sp?) Dry cleaners are famous for using old or dirty drycleaning fluid on dark colors and it will definitely effect the way your garments feel when supposedly cleaned by them. If the plastic bag is left on after the cleaning the outgassing will definitely harm your garment. I bought a sixties style wool coat from a thrift store that had some stains on the front. It was only ten dollars and decided that I would risk an attempt at trying to remove them myself.  I filled my clean bathtub with water that was the same temperature as me. Less than 100 degrees not cold. I added  some shampoo because it cleans a natural fiber - hair- and let it soak for a few minutes. I did not agitate or move the fabric around. The water was very dirty so I repeated the first step and drained the water again. For the rinse I started filling the tub with slightly warm water and added a quarter size dollop of hair conditioner under the faucet as the tub filled. I left the coat to soak for a few minutes then let the water drain out. I put the coat on a hanger and let it air dry for  a few days. When it was completely dry the only thing that changed was the acetate lining it was more limp but didn't shrink. The wool shell was soft, a little less stiff, but I wear it and I think it looks great.

    1. marthaq | | #19

      What fantastic advice. Lucky I have so many things to do, and coats to wear, that I haven't cleaned it yet. In the back of my mind I know that dry cleaning does fibers no good...I think I will give your method a try. How clever to use conditioner.
      Now I just need to clean the tub!

    2. marthaq | | #20

      i did a test with a bottom corner of the coat, perhaps 8", dipping and soaking it in lukewarm water (no soap) for awhile, blotting dry and hanging up. It didn't seem to change size/shape nor did the lining or interfacing. So I think I'll give it a shot like you did, in the tub. The corner I tried is softer, that seems to be the only difference.
      Thanks again!

      1. starzoe | | #21

        Have you considered using a product like Dryel? It is a method of "dry cleaning" in your own drier, works very well to refresh fabrics.

        1. marthaq | | #22

          I have never tried that method. The coat is long and quite bulky, do they make a big bag for that? Have you cleaned any woven wool with Dryel?

          1. starzoe | | #23

            There is a huge bag and three jackets can be done at once, so a coat would not be a problem. Yes, I have used this a lot. Spot cleaners come with the package but usually I use the Dryel to refresh my winter wool pants and jackets, anything heavily soiled I send to the cleaners.There are other similar products on the market as well....local grocery store should have them. Safeway does.

          2. frygga | | #24

            Dry cleaning using the usual chemicals (perc) or even some of the newer claimed-nontoxic solvents that are still petroleum solvents-----this is an extremely toxic process that leaves carcinogenic chemicals on the fabrics that enter the body of the wearer of the clothing. I won't go into the research, as the evidence is overwhelming that it is extremely bad for your health.For some years there have been articles in the media claiming a new 'wet cleaning' revolution but I looked everywhere in my area and no one was really doing it. However, there are two new places I want to try here in the San Francisco Bay Area. One is in Union City and uses a 'carbon dioxide vapor' process, no fragrances (thank you!); the other is on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland and uses a soap foam, also supposedly no fragrances. I will be taking some test items in to each. I have a load of wool jackets and coats saved up that I can't wear until I find a nontoxic cleaning process.Otherwise, however, I wash almost all other wools, silks, etc. I have a front-loading washer with a super-gentle cycle, and I put cashmere and all other wool sweaters into a net bag and use that cycle. Before the front loader I handwashed them. It's fine. Same for silk stuff. Only old, non-colorfast silk items aren't washable this way.

          3. marthaq | | #25

            I called around and found a local cleaner that uses the carbon dioxide cleaner. Apparently this new dry cleaning process only uses water, sand (which they say doesn't touch the fabric, as I was worried about abrasion) and CO2. I had the coat cleaned and I must say that I am happy with the results. The tag came unstitched in 2 corners but I can fix that. There was a button missing and they were surprised when I asked them NOT to replace it. I can sew it myself!!!!
            I was too chicken to wash the coat in the tub as one person suggested. I certainly do that with sweaters etc, but this is pretty bulky and I didn't want the hassle. Plus it would have taken forever to dry here in rainy Oregon.

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