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ASK MRS. BIDDINGTONS Advice on Restoring and Preserving Art & Antiques

Advice on the Cleaning, Care and Storage of Old Lace

Dear Mrs. Biddington,
What shall I do with grandmother's lace tablecloth? It's in good condition but unattractively yellowed. I'm sure it has not been used in thirty (or more) years. How should I clean it?
Yours truly,

My dear Brianna,
I have called upon my dear friend, Bryce Reveley, who lives in New Orleans. Mrs. Reveley runs a business called Gentle Arts, which cleans, restores, conserves and appraises old lace. Her clients are individuals as well as auction houses and museums.

Mrs. Reveley, who has picked up a bit of lace lore in her work, does not endorse some bizarre home practices for whitening old lace such as steeping it in buttermilk in the moonlight or putting it on freshly fallen snow.

According to Mrs. Reveley the basic prohibitions are:
"Lace does not go in the washing machine. Do not use lemon juice, dishwashing detergent or salt on it. And do not put lace in the sunlight in the morning when the interaction of the morning dew and sunlight causes a bleaching process. All of these things do work to some extent, mind you, but they are not recommended for long-term conservation."

Her recommended home-care program is to use Orvus WA Paste, a non-detergent cleaner often used for old textiles. Actually, it was designed to be used on horses, cows, pigs, and sheep because it leaves no irritating residue.

Lace washing process:
Use one teaspoon to a gallon of warm water (115 degrees F). Line your sink with an old towel that can be used as a sling for picking up the wet tablecloth. Immerse the tablecloth and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour, without agitation. Rinse, letting the water run and drain at the same time. Rinsing may take up to an hour. Stop when the water is clear enough to drink.

Lace drying process:
Cradle the wet cloth in a towel. The towel should absorb the weight of the tablecloth as lace articles are in their most vulnerable state when they are wet. (Mrs. Reveley recalls working to restore a lace christening dress that had been heavily starched and hung on a clothesline to dry. The wind and weight of the skirt caused the christening dress to split in several places.) Wrap other soft towels or absorbent material around the tablecloth until it is damp and safe to handle. Spread it on an old sheet on a flat surface and gently shape and block the lace with your hands. Use drinking glasses or glass jars to hold the edges down.

Storage of lace:
Old lace should be kept wrapped in unbleached muslin, cotton sheets or acid-free tissue paper. Cardboard boxes should be used for storage. Do not put the box in the attic or in a cedar chest, and do not wrap it with plastic. Lace, like any other stored textile, should be aired once or twice a year and refolded along different lines so that threads do not disintegrate.

If you follow the preceding admonitions on care and conservation, your grandchildren will be using this tablecloth.

Augusta Biddington

Ask Mrs. Biddington Archives:
Ask Mrs. B--Framing and Hanging Paintings
Ask Mrs. B--Cleaning Paintings & Works on Paper
Ask Mrs. B--Framing Prints & Works on Paper
Ask Mrs. B--Lace Restoration
Ask Mrs. B--Lace Cleaning
Ask Mrs. B--Liquidating an Estate
Ask Mrs. B--Humidity & Fine Objects
Ask Mrs. B--Roseville and Removing Spray Paint
Ask Mrs. B--Care of Doll Hair


With fine objects, pleasure derives not only from ownership but also from acquiring the specialized knowledge involved in their conservation. Even experienced collectors may not know exactly how to care for their delicate valuables. At BIDDINGTON'S, upmarket, online art auctions & art gallery, our in-house oracle on preservation and restoration procedures is Augusta Biddington. Mrs. Biddington is an old hand at old things. This archived feature was first published in 1998. Mrs. Biddington is no longer able to provide answers to specific questions.

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