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Working With Vintage Fabric

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

The Featured Writer of July: Rose Pettijohn


If you would like to see our future Featured Writers, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter here.


There are so many benefits to working with vintage fabrics. You are giving new life to an older fabric and keeping it out of a landfill. There is also a nostalgic factor to working with pre loved prints that makes them extra special. Using them is good for your wallet too, as you can frequently find them for less than new fabrics. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help you get the most out of older fabrics.


My top four places for finding vintage fabrics are thrift shops, estate sales, Etsy and eBay. I prefer in person finds best. Sometimes with online sources it can be hard to tell the true condition of a fabric. In thrift stores you want to look in the housewares and bedding sections. At estate sales, closets and sewing rooms are my go to spots to dig. Bed sheets are one of the best things to look for and you get the most material for your money with those. I always check for pilling ( those little lint beads), bad stains and fiber content. Some light stains may wash out, but pilling is not worth the hassle.


For fiber content I prefer sheets that are tagged as a 50/50 blend of polyester and cotton. they are strong and wrinkle resistant. Many people think they are 100 percent cotton because they are so soft. These were marketed under different names like Wondercale, Percale and Supercal. Sometimes I find sheets that are older and 100 percent cotton muslin. These are soft cottons that are nice to work with, but the prints on them tend to fade faster. Sometimes I find vintage fabrics like linens or corduroy, but for quilting I prefer cotton or the poly cotton blend.


Pre loved fabric can come with a myriad of stains and smells. I want to treat those and make sure the fabric will hold up in a quilt, so everything gets washed like I would wash a quilt. If it is a fabric with a raw edge you can use a zig-zag stitch or serger to prevent fraying. Everything goes in the washing machine with warm water and then dryer like a regular load would. I prefer an unscented hypoallergenic detergent. If a quilt is going to be gifted or sold, I don’t want to set anyones allergies off. Instead of fabric softener, I use white vinegar. You can add about a cup. It helps break down old detergent build up and smells. If the fabric you are using has a waxy feel, yellow or gray color, I recommend a good soak with a product called Retro Clean. It works wonders on those vintage fabrics.

Prep Work

Many vintage fabrics are still like new because someone has just been holding onto them all these years. Others have been used for a long time and might be a little thinner. An iron on woven stabilizer like Pellon SF101 is perfect for giving those vintage fabrics a little more strength. My favorite tip for using an iron on stabilizer is parchment paper. The kind you get from the grocery store for baking! Lay a sheet on your ironing board to protect it and another on top of your project to protect your iron. Once the reinforced fabric has cooled, you can cut and sew with it like any other fabric.

Happy Quilting

Once your fabric is ready, you are only limited by your imagination. You can combine multiple vintage fabrics or pair them with modern solids for an updated look. You can also use these tips to make memorial quilts out of a loved ones clothing. Some of my first quilt were made with vintage men’s dress shirts I thrifted. You can turn your favorite childhood sheets into something special for you or little ones you know. Have fun and make it memorable!

To see more from Rose Pettijohn, check out her website here! Don’t forget to subscribe. She has a great Newsletter!


Coffee Chat with Rose Pettijohn

Coffee Chats with Quilters is a new interview series about the quilters behind the Quilts and Quilt Designs! I interview both hobby quilters and businesses. In this episode I interview Rose Pettijohn! We talk about vintage fabrics, vintage sewing machines, her beautiful collection of wall hangings called America Forgot, and we get a tour of her sewing room!


If you would like to see our future Featured Writers, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter here.

Visit Rose Pettijohn's website, here.

Visit Rose Pettijohn's Etsy Shop, here.


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