Some of True Up’s favorites from Kate’s collection … see them all on Flickr
Please tell the audience a little about yourself, where you live, your blog and shop if you have them, what you do when you’re not sewing.
I’ve relocated temporarily to a cabin on a hill top on my family’s farm in Southeastern West Virginia. Before that I was in DC for about 10 years. And, before that, a college and grad student in Ohio, Arizona, California and Cairo.
I work as a communications/PR consultant — writing, editing, research and strategy –- so I can find work remotely from my corner of the world. But, I plan to return to a more urban setting in the coming months.
Since I’ve been in WV, I’ve also had the opportunity to indulge my love of antiquing by working for successful and knowledgeable antiques dealer in Lewisburg, WV. I have also set up a booth at a local antique mall and sold at the local flea market.
I’ve closed my booth but do have an Etsy shop. I keep it stocked rather erratically, but usually have some vintage fabric offering.
My Flickr photostream serves as a kind of blog.
How long have you been collecting vintage fabric?
My mom and grandmother used to bring me along on their antiquing jaunts, so I was indoctrinated at an early age. Two specific memories from college stand out with respect to my interest in fabric / textiles.
1. Semester abroad in India. This is my first recollection of spending a great deal of time admiring fabric patterns and colors. My friends and I would buy fabric from the market to for a local tailor to make traditional tunic-pants outfits for us. The fabric selections where overwhelmingly colorful, varied, and inspiring.
2. First vintage fabric scrap bag purchase. I bought a bag of trims and cotton scraps from an antique store in the small Ohio town near my college. It’s my first memory of experiencing an aspect of the previous owner’s personality, history, preferences, and tastes with an antiquing find. A collection of papers , photos, or diary provides a more specific window into the past, but the sewing box or fabric stash is a special treasure for me.
How would you describe your vintage stash — what is the predominant fiber, era, colors, etc?
The dominant fiber is definitely cotton. My interest in prints, patterns, color schemes shifts. I love prints and patterns from the1920s-1940s eras, although lately I’m developing a new appreciation for the larger-scale, more abstract designs.
I especially love feedsacks and have started hunting these specifically. I love old packaging that was designed to meet a practical marketing need –- contain loose items for sale -– and be decorative and appealing enough for the consumer’s future reuse. I think of feedsacks as the textile equivalent of the biscuit, coffee, and tobacco tins.
What does your collection say about you?
I think my collection reflects my interest in my surroundings and environment, wherever that might be. It also reflects my love of a good deal. When I see a good price on something that strikes my fancy, I often end up coming home with fabric that I ordinarily wouldn’t have looked at.
Since I’ve been in WV, I’ve paid more attention to feedsacks, quilting or apparel weight cotton prints, and scrap bags used by quilt makers. When I was in DC and other cities, I found more upholstery or dÃ©cor-weight fabrics that caught my eye.
What are your favorite sources for buying vintage fabric?
My local flea market is a twice-weekly, year-round hot spot for vintage treasures of all kinds. I’ve found some great fabric there. In cities, I try to hit estate sales. I’ve had great luck in Richmond, VA, and the DC suburbs.
What is your very favorite piece or pieces in your collection?
My current favorite is from a set of 20 small, narrow curtain panels that I bought at a yard sale last summer. The fabric is delicate, so I’m afraid to sew anything with it for fear of tearing. It has a lovely watercolor wash feel to it. I’m using two of the panels in my bathroom.
My second favorite is this 1970s print from a nearby hotel that is remodeling and selling bolts of unused fabric at an antique mall.
How do you store it? Any special ways of cataloging it for posterity and/or organizing it all?
Cataloging –- I started posting on Flickr as a means of cataloging. At first I was more interested cataloging the little pieces with great patterns because they’re so hard to organize, find, and remember. Now I put up the pieces that I like or those that are particularly odd or unusual.
Organizing — This is an issue. My temporary home is a log cabin with wall-to-wall windows in the main room. Great for views, not great for furniture placement and storage. My current solution is to put all the scraps into old picnic baskets, sorted by color and type (e.g. blue and red floral in one and blue and red geometric or plaid in another).
My feedsacks go in my grandfather’s old barrister bookcase along with quilt tops, favorite smaller pieces, and, of course, some books.
I also use old suitcases, which I try to keep neatly stacked in some corner.
Are you more of a collector or do you use your vintage fabrics a lot in sewing?
I like to use my fabrics -– but, truth be told, there are a few pieces that will likely never be used. This is especially true of the feedsacks I used to use these for projects, but I haven’t done so in a good while. I hate the idea of cutting into one when the hunt is getting harder and costing more.
If I find multiple yards of something like shirting or rayon, I’ll use it in a sewing project. And, I’ll use the remnants and scraps when I can –- doll clothes, little accessory items, etc. My sewing skills are self-taught, so I tend to make fairly basic pieces that aren’t hard to fit so that I limit mistakes with the precious, limited supplies.
Holes? Gaps? Holy Grail?
No specific holy grail –- I try to start out with an open mind. Much of the fun is in the discovery -– looking and learning about what makes up the castoffs and left-behinds from earlier eras. If I start with something specific in mind, I’m almost always disappointed. If I go in with no expectations, I tend to take greater pleasure in finding the unexpected.
What is your most regrettable experience with vintage fabric collecting?
I made a colossal bidding error at an auction this past August. I was confused about some common terminology and bid over $1500 for 140-plus feedsacks. I thought I was bidding $140 (The sacks were separated into groups of 10 – I thought I was bidding on everything for $140. Instead, the $140 was for one bundle, and I took all 14 bundles. Add on the buyers premium and tax … a costly mistake.)
Everyone was unhappy -– 1. The many quilters who were outbid by my mistakenly high amount, 2. the auctioneer who lost the original sale (she graciously canceled my winning bid when I realized what happened) and the future sales because the interested quilters left after my bidding coup, and 3. me, who went from the utter elation of scoring the best fabric buy ever (140 feedsacks at a buck a piece) to the devastating realization that I was on the hook for two grand (especially painful given my bargain hunting tendencies).
I did end up buying a box lot of fabric for $5 with some unexpectedly nice pieces, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Thank you so much, Kate! Ask me about the time I accidentally bought not one, but two accordions at an auction by mistake …
All images in this post copyright Kate Kolstad and used with permission. For part I of the Vintage Fabric Collector Series (doe-c-doe), click here.