Collecting vintage Barbie dolls and fashions can get very expensive, but it’s not impossible for collectors on a budget to join in the fun. All it takes is a little patience and willingness to do some restoration work on vintage items that have seen better days.
Over the summer, I picked up a few vintage Barbie dresses that were in pretty bad shape. We’re talking bad stains, tears, holes, and previous repairs that did not go well. In short, they were disasters that desperately needed some TLC. Luckily, I have plenty of TLC to give.
One of the dresses I bought is Cotton Casual #912, (1959-1962).
This is a fairly common vintage Barbie dress, but it can still go for $25-35 if it’s in mint or near mint condition. That’s a little over my price limit, so I found one in TLC condition for $9.
The front is in pretty sorry shape. The ribbons are frayed and no longer tied into bows and there’s a massive stain covering most of the skirt.
Then, there’s a hole in the bodice seam.
The back of the dress sees a continuation of the same dark stain that plagues the front.
On the plus side, the snaps are original and still secure, all hems have original stitching with no fraying, the gathered waist seam is intact, and the original Mattel tag is in place.
I know it looks bad, but a few little repairs transformed this dress from a stained mess to something bright and beautiful.
This was the scariest part of the whole restoration process. The stain was dark and bled all the way through the fabric (it even went through the doubled up hem). At minimum the dress is 54 years old, so who knows what that stain is or how it got there.
I decided to try a basic stain removing sequence for vintage fabric. I soaked it in a mixture of water, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide for two hours. Then, I set it out in direct sunlight until it dried, (sunlight and hydrogen peroxide are gentle bleaching agents). I repeated this sequence four times and managed to get the stain to lighten several shades. Still, it wasn’t enough.
Finally, I soaked it one more time in Vintage Textile Soak for four hours. Then, I laid it out to dry inside (the package instructions warn not to put items in direct sunlight after using the product). This did the trick! The stain is nearly gone and only visible if you know where to look for it.
The Bodice Seam
The hole in the bodice seam was tricky in that it reached all the way down to the gathered waist seam. Repairing it with a running stitch would mean ripping out all the original stitching along the waist seam. Instead, I decided a simple whip stitch on the bodice seam inside of the dress would fix the hole just as well.
In it’s original form, the ribbons on the bodice were tied into bows. Unfortunately, the ribbons on my dress have frayed to a length much too short to retie. To fix this, I had two choices: 1. Replace the ribbons with new ones 2. Attempt to sew the ribbons to look like bows.
I ended up going with Option 2, because I believe in keeping as much as the original dress in place as possible. I shaped each ribbon into a bow and sewed the center with a reinforced stitch. It took a few tries, but the result turned out better than expected.
After some patience, creative solutions, and a steam iron, my $9 Cotton Casual looks amazing…
Here’s, the front of the dress with restored bows and a repaired bodice seam. However, the biggest difference is the absence of that bad stain.
The back of the dress looks just as good. The stain is mostly gone!
Who knew a little TLC could go so far … My Bubblecut Barbie is looking pretty good in her Cotton Casual dress.
This is just the beginning! The restoration process is ongoing with several other TLC vintage fashions. Stay tuned!
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