Kimberly Niesz is the owner of Niesz Vintage Fabric & Design, one of the small handful of stand-alone vintage fabric and textile sources on the internet. Being a vintage fabric seller would be right up my alley, but that would involve actually having to part with the merchandise, so I suppose that’s a deal-breaker! Needless to say I’m mighty curious about her line of work, so I asked her some questions to go along with her run as guest curator of The Daily Swatch this week.
True Up: Will you describe your shop for those who aren’t familiar with you already?
Kimberly Niesz: The main focus of the website is vintage fabrics; quilting cottons, barkcloth, chintz, and feedsacks dating from the 1930s-1960s. I try to stock mostly unused yardage, but drapes and other textiles in good condition will occasionally be listed. Kitchen and bed linens are also on the website and there’s a fun Decorating Ideas section that highlights ways to use vintage textiles in our homes. I love to sew and have recently started selling totes and pouches on Etsy.
TU: Is it true you live in and run your business from an 800-sq.ft. home?
KN: Yes, i’ts what the realtors would call “cozy.” But, it’s just my husband, myself, and our dog so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Hubby has graciously allowed me to take over the spare bedroom and with a little organization and a new shelving unit, the fabrics seem happy . I do wish I had a little more room to spread out when sewing or working on projects, but this space works for now.
TU: Do you have any tricks for storing fabric in tight quarters?
KN: Go vertical — open shelving and clear stackable bins.
TU: How did you start selling vintage fabrics and other textiles? What did you do before that?
KN: I started collecting vintage fabrics about 14 years ago after discovering a box of 1930s floral curtains in my Grandma’s attic. I wanted to use them to make slipcovers and pillows for the house, but couldn’t bring myself to cut up the unused panels. So, I started hunting at flea markets and antique stores for vintage fabrics more suitable for projects. I was hooked. It was such a thrill to find a print I had never seen before or several yards of barkcloth in perfect condition! It wasn’t long before the collection started to outgrow the small space and so I began selling … casually at first, as I was still working long hours as a hair designer. But five years ago I retired from the hair biz to help care for my sweet Grandma. Since then I’ve made selling these wonderful pieces of textile history my full time job.
TU: How did you come to specialize in your particular niche of vintage fabric?
KN: I simply buy what I love. I’m drawn towards the cheery florals and fun color combinations of the 40s and 50s. Thankfully, that’s also what I most often find at estate sales in the area. I very rarely come across antique (100+yrs old) textiles. And even though I love the prints of the 70′s, its a little hard for me to sell fabrics that I remember wearing as vintage — LOL.
TU: How did you learn to identify/date vintage fabric and textiles? Are there any resources you recommend?
KN: Well, I pretty much read anything having to do with vintage fabric that I could get my hands on. Learning what selvedge widths were most common and what colors and design elements were popular during specific periods helped immensely. I also spent time on eBay’s Needle Arts and Vintage Textiles Discussion Board soaking in the information given by the very knowledgeable posters there. As far as resources … I’ve been collecting Sears and Ward’s catalogs from the 40-60s for years, and the fabric and drapery pages are a great resource for knowing what types of prints were popular in certain eras. I also highly recommend Eileen Trestain’s Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960.
TU: How do you decide what to keep for yourself and what to sell?
KN: If I’m “over-the-moon” in love with a certain print, I will try to keep at least a half yard or so for myself. I also make sure to keep pictures of all the fabrics that have passed through my hands. But, most of the fabrics are eventually listed for sale.
TU: Do you see trends in vintage fabric — i.e. do genres go in and out of popularity with your customers?
KN: Absolutely! The Shabby Chic trend made barkcloth florals popular … then geometrics and anything with polka dots was hot … next it was the tiny 30′s cotton prints and novelty feedsacks … and now midcentury modern, bold 60-70s prints, and anything “cute” seem to be in demand.
TU: And, I have to steal these great questions from A Dress A Day: what’s the best thing you’ve ever found (for your shop or yourself)? What do you have in stock that you can’t believe hasn’t sold?
KN: Wow! That’s hard. I guess my best find would be a 10 yard bolt of unused black tropical barkcloth. (sigh) It’s gorgeous! And just because I hardly ever find antique fabrics, a second best find is a five-yard piece of an 1880s double pink or cinnamon pink calico with the label.
And I can’t believe that this orange and pink daisy print hasn’t sold. I think it’s just the cutest!