Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Cleaning

Project 9, part 4 – It’s Not Cotton (Part 1, part 2, part 3 here)

I’m just going to put this image of the collar, pre-cleaning, up here for you. As a reference for later. Don’t worry about it…

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! Thank you so much for your patience – I now have a new cooktop, a pile of new flooring for my kitchen, and a little more time to spend on my projects! This week I got around to cleaning my Edo coat, and…well. You’ll see. It was definitely a surprise.

Seriously, though, Vintage Textile Soak — hit me up. I’m your biggest fan!

I started with my bae, Vintage Textile Soak. There was no way I was going to risk other modern detergents considering the age of this garment, and also considering that I don’t have the equipment to chemically analyze what dyes were used on the fabric. I could see traces of blue in the creases of the fabric, so I was relatively sure that indigo was used at the very least. Indigo is technically colorfast…but this garment is over 150 years old. I was willing to accept some dye loss in order to clean it, and also to ensure that if the coat got saturated again I wouldn’t find myself dripping blue all over the carpets. 😀

Forbidden soup.

The minimum recommended time for Vintage Textile Soak is four hours, and I felt like that would probably be enough. I had enough to do a second round if necessary, but I figured I’d start low and see how things went. The photo above was taken no more than two minutes after submerging my coat. Spoiler alert: that is NOT DYE. I will leave you to imagine the expression of both terror and fascination on my face when I realized this.

If you want to restore antique clothing, have dogs, or do home improvement projects, I highly recommend owning a huge pile of towels.

After four hours I emptied my tub (yes I had to clean it again after this…ugh…), and rinsed the coat. It took about five minutes of rinsing for the water to run blue instead of brown. At that point, it looked like all the grime was released, and instead some of the indigo was washing free. I rinsed it for another few minutes, but eventually called it good and carefully laid it out to dry. A fair bit of indigo washed out, but again, I’m comfortable with this. I do think learning to use plant-based dyes would be a really fun project at some point – let me know in the comments if you might be interested in such an adventure!

So now we get to the crux of this post. Take a minute, and scroll back up to the top, and look at the collar of the coat. I’ll wait.

…you good? Ok. Well, here’s the collar post-wash, once it dried:

Not pictured: my scream of horror when I realized how filthy this really was.

The collar and bias binding at the top is not, in fact, dark brown cotton. It’s golden tan silk. Do you need a minute?

I did, too. It never even occurred to me that the collar might be a different color, let alone a completely different material. My nightgown, which is of a similar vintage, was no where near this filthy. Of course this made sense to me when I stopped to think about it – my nightgown was worn as just that, and possibly as a car coat, and then only through the early 1900s. It’s been carefully preserved since then. This coat was no doubt worn as a daily garment by a man for who knows how long, then possibly continued to be worn for many years after the original owner. Then it passed into the the secondhand clothing market rather than being preserved as a family heirloom. It is entirely sensible…but I am also still a little grossed out by just how much dirt it accumulated.

I didn’t notice my lens cap until editing, haha. Tamron makes some fine lenses though – I can highly recommend them!

Other than my Lovecraftian revelation, I am entirely pleased with the results of my cleaning. The color is much lighter now, overall. It’s in no way even – a result of staining and dye shifting over the years – but I rather like it. It looks like a nebula! All of the rice paper adhesive that remained from removing the toggles came off – it turned to a jelly in the water and I was able to simply wipe it away as I was rinsing the coat. The parts that are actually cotton are a little stiff, but wearing the coat and working with it will soften them back up.

It still drapes beautifully though!

The silk collar is clean, now, and the luster has been restored. It was not in great shape to begin with, but it hasn’t substantially degraded from the cleaning process. Considering that there was only this small amount of silk on the coat (there were a couple of other smaller patches that I removed prior to cleaning), it makes it even more precious. Was the owner a lower-ranked samurai retainer? Perhaps he had enough wealth to afford a smooth silk collar, but had to work hard enough that sturdier cotton was more sensible for the body of the coat? Or a bushi, perhaps, who worked the land unless called up to fight, who had earned enough for small luxuries?

I may never know the answers, but I have to say I love my coat more than ever, now! The next step will be embroidering the mon I’ve picked onto the back, and preparing it for lining. So join me in the next installment when I begin the arduous task of embellishing and reassembling my coat! ❤

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