In May I had the delight to move my online cottage industry vintage fabric shop from my cottage (actually, from my Newtown neighborhood Staunton, Virginia house) to a showroom in a gorgeous 1890s building in Staunton’s downtown shopping district.
Just as soon as I’ve gotten that completely organized I’ll blog about the new space and what it means for you.
For now, suffice it to say that moving everything in and sorting all the fabrics made me look again on all the vintage fabric I’ve curated and see anew how each piece was chosen with love and passion.
The variety is a big part of the fun. A 1940s lush tropical barkcloth. A 1950s Scalamandré upholstery fabric. A 1960s kitschy floral linen. A 1970s Marcia Brady-style polyester. Pieces from the traditional chintz revival of the 1980s. All of these fabrics — and 1,000s more — were chosen for their unique or beautiful or compelling or interesting qualities so that I could bring them to you, my dear customers.
As I was standing in my new showroom this week and musing over this love I got inspired to share my top five reasons for collecting and selling antique and vintage fabrics. Since I know how many of you also suffer from the delightful malady of fabric addiction, I hope you’ll enjoy!
The Reader’s Digest version is:
- Personal Stories
- One-of-a-Kind Finds
But read on as I dig into the details…
With my complete devotion to Creation Care, environmentalism, and sustainability you’d think I’d make this the #1 reason to use 20-year-old and older fabrics instead of some fresh off of Spoonflower’s unsustainable presses, or newly introduced to the showrooms of the great fabric houses.
But I know that it’s still a hard sell in our culture to lift re-use practices to the center of our values system. There’s so many forces arrayed against the understanding that our precious human lives are imperiled by our rapacious stripping of earth’s bounty, which is exactly what’s customary in manufacturing all but the “slow fabrics,” that is those grown organically, by hand, with minimal processing, and then handwoven, and handsewn.
From cheap fossil fuels and their corporate pushers to the insidious practices of Mad Men-like advertising to issues of status and fast fashion and more, there’s little shared understanding of — and even less commitment to — the imperative to collectively slow down consumption and then re-think and re-do everything we’ve gotten used to since industrialization.
Sadly, “endless growth” retains its iron grip as the largely unquestioned paradigm of our time. Meanwhile, a salvage economy, which can provide all sorts of economic growth and balance along with other benefits, remains a quaint notion to those indifferent to systems thinking about our world.
In spite of all this opposition, again and again I raise my voice to champion the ideals of at least a partial salvage economy, including, in my case, the arena of vintage or deadstock fabrics.
When we source the trillions plus yards of unused fabrics and textiles to re-envision and re-use them in new projects, we’re practicing, in my view, a sacred act that celebrates existing abundance. With vintage fabrics, we’re not asking a single new thing out of soil, fossil fuels, chemicals, water, trees and other plant matter. And we’re intentionally sending a no-new demand signal to the industrial economy.
Is this a pitiful drop in the bucket that’s so naïve that we’d be laughed out of the best cocktail parties? Perhaps. But even Martha Stewart, though many of her new home, office, and craft products have been built by the industrial economy, still reserves a huge share of her publications and presentations to valuing and re-using beautiful goods from the past. And I bet she’s at some pretty swanky cocktail parties!
I will never stop imagining and advocating for a culture where we value and care about our world even as we necessarily use its resources to fashion our shared lives. And to that end, there’s no single more sustainable fabric choice for any project you ever do than re-using the baked in energy and resources of vintage and antique fabrics (again, except the slowest of slow fiber). It is the #1 undisputed greenest choice of all in using fabric and textiles today.
And I could mic drop with that. But let’s look at four other great reasons to use vintage fabrics.
A close cousin to sustainability, preservation has the added connection to history.
What are these fabrics? Why were they fashionable at this time or that? What were their designers and manufacturers trying to do in making certain pieces? And why do we want or need to preserve them?
Fabrics and textiles are rife with references to the past, as well as signals of their time. Some of the fabrics in my available collection were reproduced as “document pieces” to capture a remnant of wallpaper or fabric found at an ancient or antique site or discovered remaining on a piece of furniture or clothing.
Fabric Houses like Greeff, Scalamandré, Brunschwig & Fils and more intentionally sought to get these down — and sometimes riffed on the designs in new ways — so that we might retain that connection to historic design sensibilities and be inspired by the beauty and inventiveness of the past.
Vintage fabrics by their very nature capture those snapshots in time. They can be grand examples, like the Chinoiseries and floral Indiennes of the 18th century. But they can be everyday examples like early Soviet-era textiles that focused on the inherent nobility of the worker or the space-age longings and atomic fears found in American fabrics of the 1940s-early 1960s.
We get to draw on and connect to history, to the ancestors and all who came before us, when we choose vintage fabrics. I love that!
#3: Individual Stories
The scope of historic preservation gets intimate when we look at individual stories connected to fabrics.
In just the two years that I’ve had Lady Virginia Vintage, numerous customers have shared the story of a piece of fabric they bought from my shop. They’ve included:
- Repairing a tattered baby blanket from the 1970s with its exact fabric found in my shop.
- Honoring a family member who was a 20th century fabric designer.
- Launching a mask line during covid with fabrics that expressed a certain ethereal beauty.
- Restoring a camper’s curtains with the original upholstery fabric using fabric from my shop.
- Sourcing Stroheim and Romann fabrics, the go-to brand of a deceased relative, to update her inherited lake house.
- Making a reproduction 1930s era skirt with a border print piece.
- Eden Saalsaa launching an entirely upcycled vintage fabric pillow line — Olden Vintage — to begin her California-based business.
- And so many more…
As I wrote in my review of the book The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, we’re all drawn to fabrics and textiles. We all have memories associated with them. We wear them, sleep under them, decorate with them, have aversions and preferences related to their feel, styles, and associations.
Vintage fabric designs, weaves, and textures all arouse our memories for fond things, places, people, and times. It’s built into the…fabric of the pieces! There’s a richness in there that speaks to the human heart.
Even if your quest isn’t about finding a replacement fabric for one you long to repair, there’s still a host of stories, feelings, nostalgia, and longing sparked by every vintage and antique piece out there.
We always do all the research we can on any given fabric or textile at Lady Virginia Vintage. That gives you a story to tell when you’re attracted to a piece and buy it for your project. It’s so rewarding when someone compliments your bespoke clothing or re-covered chairs for you to be able to talk a little bit about where the fabric came from, its era and even makers, and how the period works with your project!
#2: One-of-A-Kind Style
Some of us can only be happy when we’re on-trend, steeped in the up-to-the-minute styles of the times. Of course, that’s also the curse of fast fashion in clothing and interiors, and its horrific impact on climate, pollution, and waste that I talked about above.
And that’s just not for me.
Others of us either want totally unique finds, our own personal expression, or to interpret trends with our own twists. Vintage fabrics allow us to do all of this and more.
Now I’m not saying that no one will ever have the same vintage fabric as you. But the odds sure are lower with vintage than when scooping up whatever is being churned out by the huge-scale fabric houses or shown in the fabric shops today.
To me there’s nothing more exciting than when we can source very old vintage fabric in so many yards that you could re-cover a couch or make floor length curtains, like with this amazing handprinted 1950s Brunschwig and Fils “French Gladiola” yardage I recently sourced, or this stunning 1960s David and Dash abstract modern linen called “Agate” that we acquired in 19 yards! With that much yardage, they make projects for the ages come to life.
But even smaller pieces, like our well documented collection of vintage fabric samples from top 20th century designers allow you to make smaller projects, like some great pillows, a Roman shade, portions of a quilt, a message board and more without having to go through gatekeepers in the “to the trade” hierarchy. These 30- 40- 50-year and older pieces are also highly unlikely to be found in anyone else’s decor. The odds are just against it.
That means with vintage fabric you really can stand apart in your personal expression and be the design maven of your dreams!
# 1: Quality and Value
Like so many things in our world, the quality of fabric in the age of fast fashion, fast interiors, and fast production has declined dramatically. Cranking textiles out at breakneck speed to meet forced and seasonal trends driven more by forced economic growth than true style has led to a decline in quality across fiber, weave, inks, and printing techniques.
There’s a belief that clothing will be worn only seven times before it’s chucked out, and that few will bother with restoring an old couch or chairs when they can just hit Pottery Barn up every half decade or so for the latest cheap furniture that looks so must-have.
Buying top quality new fabrics for clothing and interiors is possible, and it is expensive. Slow fiber, fabric, and clothing could re-employ huge numbers of workers while stepping more lightly on the earth. Yet for now, this fabric is so rare that it’s out of reach for most consumers.
Couture fabric for body and home also remains hugely expensive and comes with eco-degradation.
The best-cared-for, researched, and presented vintage fabrics aren’t cheap either. But typically they do cost less than new yardage from top-of-the-line brands while retaining the quality found in earlier eras of threads and yarns, hand weaving, luxurious hand printing, better inks, tighter weaves, and better hands — or the feel — of the fabric.
I choose all the fabrics for Lady Virginia Vintage from a love of their unique features and designs. Just as passionately, I’m drawn to their higher quality fiber, that Je ne sais quoi of the past where it’s evident that this was just made better. Properly bringing that to market isn’t cheap, but an investment in these fabrics is worth it across so many fronts.
I love knowing that my pieces have that richness of materials and techniques that made them this long lasting in the first place, and ensure their use for many years to come. (Okay, the 197os polyesters not as much, but you gotta love those crazy Partridge Family-era designs!)
I Love Vintage Fabrics!
There they are — my top reasons for loving vintage fabrics. It’s what gets me excited for each new day of sourcing, researching, writing about, and sending off my personally curated collection of these amazing finds for your projects.
Why do you love vintage fabrics? I’d love to hear your comments below!
In the meantime, if you see a fabric you love, be sure to snap it up before it’s gone. Most of our selection is out of print, and over 95% of our finds are one-of-a-kind on the market right now. When they’re gone they’re gone!
— Lady Virginia (Lindsay Curren), Lady Virginia Vintage