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A store full of New Old Stock upholstery fabric — but what’s the most marketable?

vintage-new-old-stock-upholsteryAlison is in possession of a store’s worth of New Old Stock upholstery — fabrics and vinyls — but wants our help. What designs of vintage upholstery are in demand among Retro Renovators today? Read on — then help me give her advice that may save this vintage treasure.

gilfabrics-on-etsyAlison writes:

A few years ago, my family bought out an old upholstery supply shop that started in 1946. The company had a ton of old upholstery fabric and vinyl from the 1960s and 1970s. Some is actually even older, but the records have been lost.

It wasn’t moving from the shelf at all, and the corporate company decision was to junk it. My crafty and creative self couldn’t let this gorgeous supply of fabrics go, especially if craftsmen and creators could use it to enhance their projects. To prevent all this fabric from ending up in a landfill, I have been trying to catalog and post a few samples on Etsy. Unfortunately it is labor intensive and time consuming to sort, measure, and catalog hundreds of bolts of fabric, and I am beginning to wonder if the corporate decision might have made more sense and if there is even enough demand for vintage upholstery fabric to justify the effort.

I would love to get your feedback on the products listed. If you know of any highly sought after styles or patterns from this time period I’d love to know, so I can pick them out before all this fabric gets sent to the landfill.

What’s marketable — and how should Alison proceed to sell her New Old Stock successfully and efficiently?

Super exciting, Alison — there’s almost nothing we get more excited about than New Old Stock from old stores and warehouses. To help get started, here are a few of my ideas:

  1. Offer samples — People doing reupholstery projects really need to be sure the fabric works. As part of each listing, or as a separate listing, I think you need to offer sample-sized pieces. I’d say at least 9″ x 9″. 
  2. Focus on bolts with lots of yardage — Folks doing reupholstery generally need a lot of yardage. A sofa requires like 20+ yards! So, I’d focus on cataloguing and listing the fabrics with the most yardage first. 
  3. List total yardage in the listing — Relatedly, list the total yardage available in the main listing or even in the heading. This will help people narrow down to the fabrics that might work for them. You might also categorize the listings similarly. Right now, you have Upholstery, Vinyl, and Fabric categories. I’d add Less than five yards, 5-10 yards, More than 10 yards, More than 20 yards. You could also consider other categories such as: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s … and Florals, Plush, Screen-printed. 
  4. What’s marketable — So now to the $64,000 question. There is more than one to retro, so golly, there are niches of folks looking for everything.
    1. One of the first things that I did when I got my vintage dining room set was to reupholster the seats. This did not take much yardage. I used a plush, hearty velvet-like, tone-on-tone fabric. 
    2. Florals, meh: In upholstery or fabric, our readers likely aren’t going to go for these, unless the flowers are 1960s flower power. I do see you sold some that were flocked or satin-ized — those are a different era of retro, find more! 
    3. All your vinyls should do well, I think — folks are always wanting to reupholster bar stools and banquettes and the like, and you have some winning designs.
    4. 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, but not 1980s or 90s — If you’re prioritizing, go for the early years. 1950s and 1960s fabrics new old stock are hard to find; very desirable.
    5. Got any barkcloth? SUPER desirable! 
    6. How about tiki/Hawaiian/Polynesian? Should sell! 
    7. Frieze — added per Georgia Peachez comment. Here’s what frieze looks like, for those who are not familiar with the term.
    8. Chinoiserie — per Shann.
    9. Anything Knoll-like, per ineffablespace, and I’d add: Maharam.
    10. Also see ineffablespace’s comments re pricing and sampling.
    11. 1970s design is rising in popularity — I love corduroys, for example — and please, don’t fear the wacky — like the Bicentennial fabric. Wacky is good.
    12. Novelty patterns of any era might find buyers.
    13. But 1980s and 1990s — I’d shove those bolts to the back and wait a few more years.
    14. Last but not least: Watch what sells and go dig through your stash to find more like it to list.
    15. Oh and one more thing: I’m sure you were saying it would ‘go to a landfill’ kind of casually. If bolts don’t sell, I am sure that places like Goodwill could always use them. And, a ReStore Habitat for Humanity might take the vinyl, considering they often also sell furniture and appeal to Do-It-Yourselfers.

Thank you for writing, Alison, this is all quite exciting! Good luck!

Readers, take a good look at Alison’s etsy show here.
Then, we’d love to hear your thoughts on her questions too!

 

  1. Shauntelle says:

    I second the idea of selling it to set designers in film & television. They are ALWAYS looking for deadstock period appropriate fabric and wallpaper! I do a ton of prop rental through my vintage shop here in Toronto and a few years ago, my upholsterer asked me if I knew how to liquidate a whole shop full of vintage wools (a neighbour of hers inherited it). I put her in touch with the set designer people I knew and they bought the whole lot.
    Go on imbd.com and look up set designers or production designers and start from there (think MadMen type shows and movies).

  2. Elizabeth from Texas says:

    I just ADORE vintage florals with bright colors! In fact I’m in need of gobs for pinch-pleat drapes!

  3. Ann Ladenberger says:

    Agree totally. Also, see if your state has a TV/film production development office (Google it and see if your state has one. Many do.) I live in Georgia and TONS of production is done here; Hollywood ain’t where it used to be.) they might be able to direct you to potential buyers. Also, theatrical companies might have a need, or art schools. Don’t toss it!

  4. Lyndasewsalot says:

    I would group coordinating fabrics together. Sort of like fabric company’s arrange their sample books. . I don’t know if you have seen the trend of mixing all sorts of vintage fabrics on one chair. It’s not a purist , historical ,vintage look. But it sure is a lot of fun to look at. It would open your stock up to people not only with vintage taste. It also has a great bohemian (boho?) look. I do quite a lot of upholstery , and curtains. The fabrics I scout out at estate sales are : barkcloth, Naugahyde , crackle vinyl (so hard to find, the new ones are all pixelated) I love any texture that feels good to touch . I love groovy , sixties cottons . ???? I love it all!!! Make sure you store it in a good environment that won’t encourage dryrot. And even if you have some that has dry rot , don’t get rid of it . Offer it at a discount price. If it’s not crazy damaged it can be lined before its sewn . Or covered with thick clear vinyl. And stretched tight. Then warmed with a heat gun. And it will last under the vinyl. Fabric makes me so happy. Good luck, I hope this wasn’t to much of a rant!

  5. Lyndasewsalot says:

    Adding to my rant ….I wouldn’t accept returns . Inspect it before you send it. Measure it 2x before mailing it out. If you do accept a return , never take it back if the fabric is cut by the client. Once they cut it , it should be a done deal.

  6. Marilyn Watson says:

    I agree with you Madeline totally… but if it won’t sell except to Quilters then I guess there is no alternative. I hate it also…it would be so cool for some of this to go to Drapes and bedspreads and then out of that pillows or quilts. In my Grandmother’s time that is how they did quilts… left over material… from making clothes or Drapes…
    the florals would be great for a 40’s project and the Birds and Bells fabric reminds me of the drapes in That Darn Cat in Hayley Mills Bedroom. So that might be early 60’s..

  7. Mary Elizabeth says:

    I would go for anything Scandinavian–Marimekko style–in smaller yardage amounts for pillows, valances, place mats and wall hangings in a 1960s or ’70s room. Remember fabric covered wood valances? Upholstery fabric is good for those.

    Anything designed by Vera Neumann or in her style. Also, a floral stripe like the green one shown in the photos or an old-fashioned timeless paisley would go well in a formal 1960s or ’70s-style living room. And definitely bark cloth. Vinyl for the ’60s and ’70s should be in bright solids, large poppies or daisies or simple stripe or check.

    For the 1940s, vinyl and fabric for kitchen curtains could be fruits and/or flowers. Look at the old-fashioned oilcloth patterns to see what was up then.

    Lots of luck to Alison.

  8. Wendy says:

    I work for one of the national chain fabric stores and yes you should definitely offer samples. Customers want to see how the fabric will work in their space with lighting, other furniture, etc. Also don’t knock those florals! Costume designers use those for period costumes. I have made several dresses for eighteenth century era out of upholstery fabrics.

  9. SusieQT says:

    I don’t have much input as to which fabrics are desirable, but I can give you some advice on how to better compose your Etsy listings. I would have much more descriptive titles- include how the fabic could be used or cut, like “sofa size” or “sold by the yard” right in the item title. Buyers just skim through a pile of listings in their search results, and that is really your only shot to tell them that bit of info. Also, use all five photo slots- like some others have said, seeing the whole pattern can make or break a sale. And if there is any damage you need to show it. Disclaimers like “it may be dirty” without photos in most cases mean no sale. Also, add more categories to your shop to help buyers search- like Pam said, someone might want to only view florals or novelty prints. Some of these are time consuming (the photos, I get it) and some not (it only takes a minute to sort items into new categories in the listing manager), but I think you will find it is worth your while.

  10. Andrea says:

    I’m looking for an upholstery fabric from the 1990’s made by Spectrum Fabrics. I have found a version of it with a celadon background called “Hampshire,” but I don’t remember the name of my fabric, which is on a beige background. It pictures cascading bouquets of roses in various shades of pink, peach, off-white and a little burgundy.

    Could someone suggest some kind of registry that would help me locate a particular design from the 1990’s?

  11. Pam Kueber says:

    Hi Andrea, I don’t know of any registry like this.

    I tend to believe: Sourcing exact patterns of old fabrics is likely very hard as there were probably thousands of patterns available in any given year.

    You description sounds like a “cabbage roses” print. That’s a generic description.

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