Terrible Tuesday: a warning about using vintage notions

I love vintage notions. I have a huge stash of them. Besides the fact that I used to find vintage bias trim, piping, ric rack, and more for pennies at yard sales and thrift stores, the packaging is so cute that I could never resist!

I used to dive into my stash of vintage notions whenever I needed something, cheering because they were practically free. But no more.

I made the awful mistake of mixing vintage black piping with precious new Liberty Of London lawn on my favorite blouse. And now nearly 2 years later the fabric on the blouse looks great but the piping has disintegrated.

Before I went blonde, lol!

Before I went blonde, lol!

Here’s a before shot of the blouse. I loved it so much that I used it in the professional photos I had taken for my ‘Author headshot’ (vanity!).

I sewed the piping around the mandarin collar and around this front bib panel. The fabric on the blouse is so nice it hardly ever needs ironing. I love wearing it.


But look what happened to the piping. It is literally threadbare in this photo. You can easily see the white cord underneath the black threads.

The piping around the bib was so ragged that I accidentally rubbed it too hard with my thumb and the cord came out. It made me so angry. I love this blouse!

So I pulled on the cord and it came easily. It all pulled out easier than opening a package of gum by pulling the string. And it left this raggedy black ‘trim.’

The cord came out of the piping on the collar just as easily. To use the word again, it was literally falling apart in my hands.

I think I’ll take a pair of embroidery scissors and trim up the shreds of piping. Maybe I can make it look intentional, or at least not very noticeable. Then I can still wear this top for ‘mom duties’ like shopping and carpooling. I can’t bear to throw it away.

So this post is an accidental advertisement for Liberty of London fabrics. Although expensive, they are beautiful and outlast the notions! But it is mostly a warning… put your cute vintage notions on display in a jar… and buy new ones for your projects! Or at least think carefully about whether your notions (new or not) will hold up to the wear and tear – and laundering – that your project requires.

By the way, you can read more about the blouse (including the pattern I used) in this blog post. Or click here to search for all our Terrible Tuesday posts.


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  1. Michelle White says:

    I never would have thought of that!
    Oh my goodness. What a shame. And all that work for it to just crumble:(
    I must say that it gives it a different look when it is ragged, though.
    Not entirely bad.

  2. What a shame!! I have TONS of vintage notions as well-picked up at yard sales and such. I have not had an issue with any, so far! I will definitely keep this in mind. What I really would like to ask is regarding the actual blouse or more specifically, the COLLAR! I have several patterns (vintage) that I would love to make with mandarin collars but I can never seem to get them to fit correctly. Any help or directions to a link on fitting one would be really great-thanks! You inspire me to sew some every day!

  3. Barbara Grant says:

    Currently an ‘on-trend’ look I reckon, so wear it likes its meant to be! Love the fabric ❤️

  4. Missy smith says:

    Can you not replace the piping? I know it would be some work, but if it is your favorite? My mom & I quilt and we have both made quilts that do the same. You find one of the fabrics used in the piecing after little wear or washing falls apart while the rest of the quilt is fine?

  5. What is the pattern for this cute blouse?

  6. Take a permanent, black magic marker and touch up the white cord. I actually like the ragged look but know how disappointing things like this can be. Laurene

  7. Ugh! So sorry! If I were there, I would pick/rip it all out for you. The old cotton things do rot…now we call them biodegradable.When I started reading this, I thought you were going to tell us that the black bled out in the wash. You are good to share all of this and you need to reach more people. I will share this.

  8. I wonder if a fine black lucet cord https://www.instructables.com/id/Easy-wooden-lucet-cord-making-tool/ would look good tacked on the edge once the vintage piping remains are removed? I’ve found that braided cotton embroidery floss–divided for 3 of the 2 strands by 2 strands and then 3 of those braided together (tightly enough to be firm, but not so tight that it twists)–is very strong I’ve used it for dog toys for our Chihuahua (who uses it for ages like flossing teeth). I’d pre-shrink it after braiding, though. I think the time involved would be somewhat significant. You could try with a small amount (if you like the idea), and see what you think of it. I didn’t use the lucet to braid, just secured one end of multi-strand section and braided firmly.

  9. Oh, gosh. So glad I read this. Just received a TON of vintage trim from my Mother. Now I don’t dare use them except for crafting. Whew

  10. I’m so sorry to hear that. I kept a lot of things from my mother’s sewing stash, and her memory is alive in her hoarded goodies, but this is a good warning. I think polyester vintage, (circa 1970’s and later) is still safe, as that stuff will outlast all of us. Also a warning about vintage zippers made of cotton: they shrink! Our ancestors had to prewash them. I inherited a drawer full of prewashed, very wrinkly zippers. I’m not using them on my new garments. It’s just not worth the risk.

  11. Cindy Rosborough says:

    I have a top with a frayed edging, made purposely. Yours really looks pretty good! Just trim the long pieces off and make believe it was always supposed to look that way.

  12. The problem you experienced was that the bias tape you used was aged cotton without any synthetics in the fibers. Aged cotton does not hold up well to repeated washings. Be sure to read the label on you vintage trims it will give you the fiber content. You are correct that it is best to use new trims and leave the older ones for doll clothes or crafting.

  13. Wow! I also have inherited a ton of vintage sewing notions from my mother. If it is due to the old cotton, I’m wondering if old cotton fabrics will disintegrate too. I have a lot of old cotton fabrics that I inherited too.

  14. Georgia Anderson says:

    Black and purple will be the worst colors as the mordants used in darker dyes are more corrosive to the fabric.

  15. Meriel Johnson Aho says:

    How disappointing 🙁 But I have to say…the ragged look isn’t terrible, haha! If it was neatened up a bit, I think it could definitely look intentional and be very wearable that way!

  16. Don’t forget to include thread you’ve got in that collection, too. It rots.
    As to using a Sharpie, that’s what we machine embroiders use to cover up the edges of our projects when some of that pesky stablizer shows through. Shh, that’s a secret.

  17. Lisa Buckenmeyer says:

    I use vintage notions in mixed media art and wall hangings. I can still preserve memories of a bygone era but not have to worry my clothes will fall apart 🙂

  18. Patricia Sharpe says:

    I remember the first time I saw you model your blouse. I loved it then and it’s looks just as good now even with the

  19. Kelly Sas says:

    So good to know this as I inherited a ton of gorgeous vintage notions of piping, ric racs of all sizes and colors, bias tapes etc from a woman in our church who was a seamstress. She was still making bridal gowns at 92 yrs old! I am so honored that she wanted me to have any and all of her sewing supplies I wanted.

  20. I have some spools of cotton thread that have been with me for over 20 years, and before using them I always test them by pulling as hard as I can to see if they will break. So far, so good!

  21. Elizabeth Farr says:

    An excellent cautionary tale. I do use vintage thread for hand basting, and I love my vintage buttons, but I’ve learned to stay away from vintage zippers. When I was first sewing, I bought a huge lot of vintage zippers on Ebay, figuring that practicing on them would be (and it was) less expensive than buying individual zippers. While many of them are in perfect working order, there have been more than one that don’t zip smoothly or worse come unzipped on their own. Talk about a wardrobe malfunction! I was able to save some in some jeans that I made with a hook and eye, but seriously, I could have saved myself the hassle and been kinder to my pricey Emma One Sock Italian stretch denim if I had just used one of the new brass zippers that I use in my jeans now in the first place.

  22. So sorry that happened! Could you sew a narrow seam binding over the raggy strip? The only part you would have to pick open is both ends to tuck them into the seam.
    I have read horror stories about quilters using pretty vintage fabrics like sheets and table cloths to back quilts. After a few washings the fabric shreds! Buyer beware on eBay……. vintage usually means old musty aged rotted stuff. As far as zippers and seam tapes there are many tutorials on how to make kitchy jewelry from those items.

  23. That is such a sad tale, but maybe a reminder to us all to not hoard stuff and just use it!

  24. Also beware of quilting fabric from Joann’s. It will fall apart after a few years (or even less!) no matter how cute it is, if it is organic, or if it is from a well known designer.

  25. Two suggestions:
    1. Use a black marker to color the white cording.
    2. Take the offending sections apart and replace the piping.

    It is a beautiful blouse and worth saving.

  26. Margaret D says:

    Trim the offending piping out completely and, if you can, pull out all possible threads with a good pair of tweezers. Since it’s on the bias, you can usually get all the threads out. Then make some cording with 1/8" cord and some beautiful black bias-cut fabric. Hand-sew the cording to the edges and . . . voila! A fully restored blouse. Well worth the time investment for the beautiful print, and fairly easy to do.

  27. carol branum says:

    Just leave it,it characterizes your shirt,makes it more special.

  28. Carolyn Taylor says:

    I made a big mistake like that. I was crocheting an afghan and used a skein of a lovely old yarn I inherited from my aunt.I spaced it throughout the afghan. It was dry-rotted and the first time I washed the afghan that yarn disintegrated. Broke my heart. I never used old thread, old fabric, or anything old in something that is to be used. I learned my lesson the hard way.

  29. I found that out before I used the binding because it shredded as I tried to curve it. I’ll save my vintage notions just for fun and maybe display them, but not use them.

  30. Sandie Major says:

    Wow! Just getting ready to launch my online store with vintage notions, buttons, etc. Now I am wondering if I need to relegate the vintage cotton items to a "for crafting only" category. Thanks for the information!

  31. Janet reeese says:

    Not surprised by that. After time most things, especially fabric do that. The fabric itself breaks down.

  32. Becky Rice Ware says:

    First, binding on piping always wears out faster than the surrounding areas, because it is wrapped around the cording, which is firmer & less pliable, & the rest of the fabric rubs against it, particularly in the washer & dryer. In addition, it may not be so much that the bias binding was a "vintage" notion, but it may have been the actual fiber it was made of, which caused the problem. Polyester & cotton, as well as other fibers, react differently with laundry detergents, & over time, the natural fibers like cotton, will literally break down & disintigrate, leaving only the polyester fibers, which are often see through after the cotton fiber is washed away. Some of it has to do with chemicals, whether they are alkaline or acidic, & how they interact with each other. It is also a good idea to at least wash & preshrink notions before sewing with them, to help avoid vintage notion regret.

  33. MesaMusicMom says:

    I have had problems with new notions as well. Made a smocked dress for my granddaughter and the rick rack (new) I put around the collar was in shreds. (She DID wear the dress a LOT!) I had to buy new rick rack and take the dress apart to replace it.

  34. That’s frustrating, but I actually like that raggy look.

  35. Thank you for the warning. I inherited my husband’s Grandmother’s sewing supplies. I have used her thread with no problems yet and a french lace as well as a poly lace, but I haven’t used any of her bindings or hem lace. I will definitely keep this in mind when I go to try some!
    I think your blouse still looks nice with the fringey trim. Just go with it!

  36. I agree. The raggedy look is cool.

  37. Does anyone know if there is a "market" for very old buttons. I found a button "collection" all sewn onto fabric by color that we believe belonged to my grandmother….who passed away in 1950….so these are pre1950.

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