How do I clean this vintage beaded purse?
November 25, 2014 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on how, if possible, I might clean a vintage beaded purse. The beadwork was done on a loom; it's not beaded to the fabric underneath. I'm wondering if there's a safe way to clean the beadwork, and am finding contradictory and possibly specious advice online.

I'm not sure what material the beads are made from. They are quite small — size 18 or smaller. A magnet is attracted to the outside of the purse, but I wonder if that is because the beads are strung on wires rather than because the beads themselves are metal. It looks like there was originally a satin lining inside; only a layer of muslin is now in place. A cloth tag reads "Made in Paris France." Does anyone have an idea what material these beads are likely to be made from, and, ideally, have experience cleaning similar materials?
posted by Mothlight to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would assume glass.

In fear and trembling I would take an old toothbrush and see how it affected a less visible patch of the beading. If that worked I might add a dab of porcelain cleaner - also in fear and trembling - and see if that got me anywhere.
posted by tel3path at 5:17 PM on November 25, 2014

I'd dab a bit of rubbing alcohol on and hold my breath.
posted by quince at 5:31 PM on November 25, 2014

The beads are probably glass, possibly with some sort of iridescent coating. As for cleaning, I'd ask a jeweler. If that's not something you're likely to do I'd try jewelry cleaning solution. Remove the muslin lining or pull it up, out of the solution while soaking. Try wiping gently before using a brush. If there's a coating on the beads it'll be fragile. If you don't see it flaking off you should be ok.
posted by irisclara at 5:52 PM on November 25, 2014

Seconding ask a jeweler before you try anything! Alternatively, you could try contacting these folks and ask for info.

I googled on how to clean antique beaded purse and got this link. There may be others that work for you--including some youtube videos.

It's a beautiful bag and looks quite elegant.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:07 PM on November 25, 2014

If there are wires in there, be careful not to cause rust.
posted by amtho at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Magnetic means these are more likely cut steel beads, particularly if it seems a bit heavy for its size. I would be wary of attempting to clean it if it were mine, but here's one possibility. A large library might have copies of beaded-purse-making books that provide patterns and care instructions from the period these types of purses were made (it was a popular hobby). But to be safe, I'd seek out a restorer of vintage jewelry.
posted by notquitemaryann at 6:29 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi! I'm a textile conservator so it's my job to care for and repair antique textiles. I'm going to recommend you hire an expert for this, we really know our stuff! But we are very expensive, and that's because it takes very specialized skills to safely clean objects. If you are in the US you can find a conservator here. Other countries' professional organizations can also point you to a local conservator.

So if you still want to tackle this yourself I would recommend you swab the beads with a cotton q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to see if that removes any of the soiling. I would not use any jewelry cleaning products, or abrasive cleaners. That will damage the surface of the beads and while it might make them shiny in the short term, it opens them up to further damage and rust in the long term and is very very bad for any textile fibres in close proximity. Be gentle and try to pull the textile lining out of the way so that it doesn't get wet from the alcohol if at all possible. Controlling the spread of the solvent into a fabric in such a way to prevent staining and tide lines is tricky, so try to avoid getting it wet at all. Work at it a little at a time and be patient. Test first in an inconspicuous area and see if this cleaning method is effective - it might not be. Water is actually a really strong solvent but of course it contributes to the development of rust on the surface of metals. There are many variables we take into account when cleaning objects like pH, temperature, how solvents react to different types of soiling... there's a lot of chemistry involved so unfortunately I can't describe it all here.

It seems like the beads are probably metal and the soiling you're seeing is probably at least partially tarnish or rust. There is no safe way to remove this without the potential for immediate or future damage to your object. Even if we were able to remove the tarnishing and rust, it would take a very carefully controlled environment to keep the rust from forming all over again. It's a sign that your piece has age and value and is generally a good thing! I just want to caution you again because a significant portion of my time is spent doing what I can to correct botched attempts at restoration and often in those situations there's very little I can do to help. The bottom line though is that this is your piece and I encourage you to do what you think is best to let you enjoy it, it's beautiful!

I hope this is in some way helpful to you, and good luck!
posted by Threadcookie at 6:03 AM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Based on the collected advice, I don't think I'm going to try to clean this myself. For now, I'll appreciate it as is. I've never found a piece like this before — with not a single bead out of place.
posted by Mothlight at 8:26 AM on November 26, 2014

« Older Is 'Planet Earth' still the ultimate Blu-ray...   |   Curata alternatives for content curation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.