Old Becomes New

0 comments Posted on October 2, 2012

Repurposing Vintage Fabrics in the Home

by Marian Parsons (Miss Mustard Seed)

I love using things that are old in my home. Antiques and vintage pieces bring a sense of warmth, age, history, quality and personality. I’m drawn to old furniture, chandeliers, mirrors, decorative pieces, books and whatever. You name it. So, of course I love using vintage fabrics as well. I have an embarrassing amount of table linens and pillow cases that I’ve acquired at yard sales and flea markets. I love the quilts I inherited from my family. But the use of vintage fabrics in my home goes beyond using linens for their intended purpose. I have no problem cutting them up and using them in new ways. Gasp! Yes, I’m at peace with it and I do it quite often.

This is not as unconventional as it sounds. Resourceful women have been cutting apart fabrics intended for one purpose and using them for another for decades…maybe centuries. I’ve heard of little girls wearing dresses made out of cotton feed sacks and quilts fashioned from threadbare clothes. So, why can’t we as resourceful women of 2012 turn a linen tea towel into a pillow cover? Or turn needlepoint upholstery into artwork? Or an old hemp grain sack into upholstery? Why not?

Here’s what I look for when I’m shopping for vintage or antique linens to repurpose…

1.     Fabrics that are clean or can be machine washed. I especially look for this with old grain sacks. Some of the dyes used on American cotton feed sacks will run if they are washed, so I only purchase them if they’re relatively clean.

2.     Pieces of fabric that are large enough to make a pillow out of or use for upholstery. If a piece of fabric is too narrow or small, it’s not going to be easy to repurpose into something for my home. Tea towels are usually the perfect size to cover a pillow, and two grain sacks will be enough to cover a small wing chair.

3.     Sturdy fabrics. A dainty silk scarf is not a good candidate to repurpose for the home. I look for nubby hemp, thick linen, cotton ticking and other fabrics that will wear well in my busy home.

4.     Textiles that show their age. This may be a negative for some people, but I like it when old things look old and well used.  I don’t want to buy something old that looks brand new. I don’t mind a carefully mended hole or a small stain or the yellowing that happens with age. I think it gives these pieces character and is what makes them unique.

5.     Personal touches. I love monograms, hand embroidery, lacework, red work, any detail that was added by hand to personalize the piece. I don’t care if they’re my initials or not. I just love the fact that someone thought they were special enough to embellish.

You don’t have to limit repurposing fabrics to only antique and vintage textiles. You only have to go as far as your closet. Make a bunch of old ties into a Christmas tree skirt. Turn an ill-fitting sweater into a pillow, placemat or stockings. A thin quilt can be made into a shower curtain.  The options are limitless.


The next time you’re bored with your options at the local fabric store, try giving some old textiles a new life!

Marian Parsons (Miss Mustard Seed) is the author of the DIY/Home décor blog www.missmustardseed.com.  She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, and a parade of painted furniture.


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