Sunday, January 31, 2010

Camphor, Smoke, Moths and other Problems

Have bought a variety of interesting, and - on the whole - very beautiful vintage blankets this week, and will soon be listing them in my eBay shop, The Scottish Home. But most of them, although new, and in their original packaging, have had to be washed, because they had obviously been stored in various houses where people smoked. Not only was the cellophane a strange yellow colour, but all these lovely, unused, albeit sixty year old, woollen blankets, stank of cigarette smoke - they were kippered! I doubt if there is anything more disappointing than coming home with some wonderful old textile, to find it saturated with the scent of somebody's old ciggies. It's fine when you're dealing with linens or woollens, which can easily be washed. And all my blankets now smell wonderful. But it's terrible when- as has occasionally happened to me in the past - you find some lovely old embroidered picture, or Cantonese silk shawl - something you can't possibly wash - and you get it home to find that it smells of smoke. Textile conservators must have a way of dealing with this, but it isn't something that you can deal with in a domestic setting.

My other intractable problem, last year, was to buy a box of old quilts and coverlets - only to discover that they were permeated with such a strong smell of camphor that they were utterly unusable. Even driving home with them in the car was a bit of an ordeal. I don't think it can have been mothballs - too strong. I suspect they had been stored in a powerful camphorwood wardrobe or chest for many years. The linens that came in the same box, had to be washed several times, at high temperatures, and then hung out on the line, before the smell disappeared. But in the box were several very pretty bedcovers, made in some early man made fibre - and they simply would not respond to washing at all. I hung them on the line, and went away for a week. It rained on them. I came back, rinsed and dried them - and the pungent smell of camphor filled the house. I figured, eventually, that with these manmade fibres, the camphor molecules had somehow bonded with the textile molecules (but, of course, I'm no chemist!) and the coverlets were doomed to smell horribly of camphor for all eternity. So I got rid of them.

I got to thinking afterwards, how these Victorian gentlemen, in their tweeds, or ladies in their fur coats and capes, which were - of course - stored in the same kind of camphorwood, to deter moths, must have gone around absolutely stinking of this somewhat toxic substance. Not at all nice, although perhaps if everyone smelled like that, nobody noticed!

Which leads me to moth deterrence. Lavender is pretty good, and I find I use a lot of it: lavender bags, dried lavender, strong lavender essential oil (which smells almost medicinal, but very nice) and sprays. Better than camphor any day!

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