Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vintage Sheets 101...

I have a thing for vintage sheets.  Partly this stems from my love of thrift stores and I blame this on my mother.  Maybe my grandmother.  Gramma used to volunteer at her local Hospital Auxilary Thrift Shop and was always unearthing treasures for us.  My Mum is the ultimate recycler so I guess this all comes honestly.  Last summer I started the whole vintage sheet thing as a cheap alternative to quilting cotton because I really wanted to practice free motion quilting without the worry of wrecking a quilt made from expensive fabric.  I used a combination of sheets and some coordinating prints and used Elizabeth Hartman's Clothesline quilt tutorial for this happy quilt.

When shopping for vintage sheets there are some things to remember.  Firstly, look for sheets in good shape without too much fading.  I stick to flat sheets as much as possible.  Fitted sheets are often quite worn, especially in the centre and are prone to pilling of fabric.  Ick.  Fitted sheets can also be stained.  Double ick.  So my rule of thumb is that unless a fitted sheet is in really like- new shape, I don't even look at them.  Pillow cases can be a good bet but there are some pitfalls.  They can smell.  Yep.  Think about it.  Lots of sweaty heads may have slept on them.  This may sound strange but if a pillowcase appeals to me because of the print, I always do the sniff test.  I will only buy a stinky pillowcase if it is an unusual or sought after print.  I have found some success in getting rid of the stinky pillowcase smell by laundering them with about 1/2 cup of plain white vinegar.  Hanging outside on the clothesline after the vinegar treatment will also help.

The whole laundry thing is the very first thing I do with any vintage sheet purchases.  They go straight to the laundry room for a good wash.  I do this before I even take a picture for the blog.

Of course vintage sheets have a lot of fabric.  Cutting them down to fat quarter size or a more manageable size is a good idea but I only do this as I use them.  I have also found whole vintage sheets to make great quilt backs.  You can find 100% cotton vintage sheets and they can be really lovely as a quilt back.  Check out my string quilt.  I used a sheet for the back.  Pure happiness.

I like to keep the border prints from sheets too.  First of all, they often have some very pretty trim.  Bonus.  Secondly, the print is often tighter and denser in a border of a sheet and that makes a really pretty binding on a vintage sheet quilt.  NICE!

Vintage sheets are readily available.  You can afford to be picky when selecting sheets or pillowcases for your stash.  Locally, I can find sheets for $2 to $6 depending on the thrift store.  Pillowcases are anywhere from $0.50 to $1.99 depending on the store and of course, condition.

Most vintage sheets are 50/50 polycotton or percale.  As a result, they do not act like a quilting cotton when pressed.  The voice of experience also reminds you to use a lower heat setting on your iron because of the polyester component in the sheet fabric.  Yep.  You can get a little melty with your iron.  The blocks also do not press like cotton so you have to be okay with a block that may appear a little floppy.  When all is finished and quilted, a vintage sheet quilt will look lovely and soft and ready to be snuggled under.

Some great vintage sheet blogs...  Jen's In Colour Order.  Not only does Jen have some great tips for using vintage sheets but she has an Etsy shop where she sells vintage sheet fat quarters and stuff.  Jen has a great blog post on how to handle and cut up a vintage sheet to make it usable.  There is also the  The Vintage Sheet Blog.

So there you have it!   Have fun and experiment!


  1. Thanks for sharing. I always wondered about using vintage sheets when quilting.

  2. You have some great advice and helpful hints. I've been buying vintage sheets for a couple of years, but unlike your area, in our area vintage sheets are very scarce. At thrift stores I find a lot of cheap sheets that you can see through. Sad to say, vintage sheets are getting harder and harder to find locally. So if you are finding them where you live, you might want to keep picking them up. At $2 - $6 that is a bargain for sure.

  3. Great post Cathy and I love the gorgeous golden quilt you made out of vintage sheets last of the blogs I follow is having a second vintage sheet fq swap at the moment and I can't wait to receive mine...I love the randomness of patterns, colours etc

    Have a great weekend Cathy.

  4. This was fun to read. We are very much of the same mind about buying sheets, except for the sniff test (!) thing. I usually just pass on pillowcases just like you pass on fitted sheets unless they are like new. I also save the dense borders. I would love to have enough for a strip quilt.