Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Brimfield, Massachusetts - the Antiques "Carnival"

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Earlier in my blog I'd mentioned the antiques shows and flea markets at Brimfield, Massachusetts. Since the July Brimfield shows are coming soon, I thought I'd give you an overview of what goes on in this antiques mecca. (For those of you who are already familiar with Brimfield, this might be a rehash of what you already know . . . ) But here are a few Brimfield-tips:

Brimfield is about an hour due west of Boston, and is a wonderful antiquing experience. In fact, it's darn close to a carnival atmosphere, very much a full day of fun . One never knows what to expect at Brimfield, and if you've never been there before, it's an event you will never forget. Thousands of sellers with nearly anything you can think of will offer you antiques choices ranging from the tiniest thimbles to the largest furniture you've laid eyes on - somewhere in one of the twenty individual Brimfield shows there's a dealer wanting to sell really nifty antiques to you.

Brimfield is held three times a year without fail, every May, July and September. The remaining dates for 2006 are July 10-16 and September 4-10. Officially, Brimfield begins on the Tuesday of these weeks and ends on the following Sunday. However, those in the know get there by Sunday evening, when some exhibitors begin setting up (especially those in shows closest to Brimfield's town square). The set-up continues through Monday, and many buyers are able to score really neat things by coming early.

The majority of the shows open on Tuesday, but there are several good ones which open on Wed, Thursday and Friday at different times. Some shoppers try to be at the openings of every show they can manage, feeling that they will have a better chance of finding their favorite antiques before they are snapped up. Prices can be very reasonable at Brimfield.

Cash works best, but some dealers will also accept checks. There are ATM machines to be found at Brimfield, too. Most sellers are not able to accept credit cards, since they are selling in open fields, however there are a few who do.

You should be aware that by Brimfield town ordinance, no selling is allowed until Tuesday dawn. That means that a dealer selling on Sunday or Monday risks getting a ticket if caught selling on either of those days. It doesn't seem to stop them from Sunday and Monday selling, though.

Come rain or shine, hurricanes or tornadoes, flooding or 100+ degree heat, Brimfield is never cancelled. Almost all of the shows are outside, with very few with indoor exhibitors. A few shows have open-air pavilions. Some sellers bring their own tents, or hire tents from the show promoters.

Exhibitors come prepared with a wide range of clothing to wear, from shorts to winter coats, just because one can't possibly count on any particular kind of weather in Brimfield. Most of them are in Brimfield for several days, sometimes the whole week, and there's isn't a nearby store to buy additional clothing if needed.

You should be clothing-prepared too. Always bring footware and rain gear capable of getting you through a day of slogging in rain and mud. Boots are needed to slosh wet, sloppy fields; if it's warm and dry, sneakers will do. Experienced shoppers skip high-heels and sandals, knowing that all the outdoor walking they'll be doing will cause agony by the end of the day in the wrong kind of footwear. In fact, it's not unusual to see serious shoppers wear hiking boots or shoes with good support and heavy socks. After all, who wants a sprained ankle with no hospital nearby? Wear tried-and-true footwear, and you'll be much happier when trekking the large, uneven fields of Brimfield.

Skip the umbrella - nothing is worse than being in a huge crowd, trying to see what merchandise is available as everyone squeezes around tables, and then being poked in the eye with an umbrella rib. Wear a rain jacket with a hood, or wear a rain hat. Or, just accept that you might get wet and live with it. I wear a hooded rain jacket with several deep internal pockets, and I take gloves with me just in case it's cold. Keep wallets, check books, cameras and other valuables inside interior pockets - there are pickpockets who work the crowds of Brimfield.

Use sunscreen religiously! Even on hazy days, a long day outdoors at Brimfield can mean your new color is lobster-red (and painful).

Many shows do not charge admission. Some do. Generally (but not always), the better the show's quality, the more you should expect to pay to get in. Admissions are usually in the $5/per person range. One of the exceptions is Hertan's, which is a fun, outdoor quality country-themed show under a beautiful canopy of trees. This show opens on Wednesday at noon with the official Blowing of the Horn - free admission, lots of comfortable shady walkways, decent food with places to sit, this show is well-worth attending.

Certain Brimfield shows expect their sellers to offer only antiques, while others allow anything to be sold. Treasures abound on every field - it's just a matter of finding them. J & J's wants their exhibitors to sell only antiques, and highly discourages any reproductions. Same with May's, Hertan's and Brimfield Acres, just to name a few. Other shows allow anyone to sell anything; reproductions are commonly seen at these shows, often mixed in with real antiques. Be sure to politely ask if you are not certain of an item's age.

Just remember - buyer beware! Knowledge is important when buying at the Brimfield shows. Buy things because you like them, but know what you are paying for. If you are only spending a few dollars, it may not be so important if it's not old. However, when you are paying big bucks, you'll want to know the age, history and any other pertinent information the seller can give you IN WRITING on their receipt, which should also have their name, address and phone number.

If you plan on being in Brimfield for several days (really - this is the only way to visit Brimfield), plan ahead for a place to stay. All the close motels and hotels are usually fully booked months in advance. There are several big name chain hotels in Sturbridge, which is seven miles east of Brimfield. Sturbridge is a great location for restaurants, and there's an afternoon antiques show on Thursday of Brimfield week that is top-notch. It's at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, with free parking, and has some high quality dealers who really know their antiques. I've shopped it with excellent results.

In terms of hotels in other areas, you will probably end up driving a half hour or more to the nearest available hotel. Some folks stay at hotels in Springfield, Mass. while others stay in Auburn. Planning ahead means booking a room several months in advance. Do not arrive in Brimfield thinking you'll be able to just wander into any hotel and secure a room. It probably won't happen. If it does, it'll most likely cost you a whole lot of money. If you are making a last minute trip to Brimfield, sometimes you can find a hotel with an unexpected cancellation, so it's always worth a phone call.

Food in Brimfield can be wonderful or it can be miserable. Great choices of eats are offered at the food court in front of the New Englander Motel. From healthy wrap sandwiches to soups to lobster - the range is terrific, and there's usually a place to sit. Avoid the long lines from 11:30 am - 1 pm, and don't expect the food to be cheap. However, the quality is good and the people-watching is fabulous!

There are food stands everywhere. Just about every antiques show has it's own food concession, so you'll have plenty of opportunity for breakfast and lunch. Lots of ethnic foods are available, plus plenty of good old-fashioned American food too. You might want to carry a snack in your pocket, just to carry you until you can actually sit down somewhere and eat. If you are searching for a true sit-down restaurant, try Francesco's for good pizza and Italian pastas.

I find it's easier to just eat at one of the outdoor stands, but some folks do bring their own food and just tailgate it. By leaving food in your cooler at your car, it allows you to carry back all your morning's purchases. Just remember - the fields of Brimfield stretch about a mile long, and you might end up a long ways from where you parked. Many folks haul a fold-up shopping cart with them for their food and their purchases. I don't, just because they are so cumbersome in crowds and more trouble than they are worth.

There are no free parking locations at the Brimfield shows. Parking usually costs around $5-6 per car for the day. There are parking areas throughout the show locations - in the yards of private homes, on the lawn of the local church, and in huge open fields dedicated just to parking. Many of the individual shows also offer parking.

DO NOT BRING PETS TO BRIMFIELD. I've seen several dog fights at Brimfield, and it's an ugly scene.

In one case I watched as a Rottweiler ON A LEASH did serious damage to a small poodle, and the poodle was the original aggressor (poodle was minus an ear when they were finally pulled apart - it was definitely bad judgement for both owners to bring their dogs). And don't leave your dog in your car! People will notice that your dog is being baked alive, and will call the police, who will break your car window and save your dog, then write you a ticket for animal abuse. Dogs don't care about antiques, so leave them home where they will be much happier.

DO NOT BRING CHILDREN TO BRIMFIELD. Children just do not enjoy being dragged around huge fields of old stuff, and after the first 10 minutes are bored to tears (literally) and want to go home. You won't enjoy your Brimfield experience, and will be far too distracted by unhappy youngsters - leave your kids home.

For additional information about individual shows and Brimfield in general, including maps, hotels, eateries, airports, and much more, click here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An Innovative Skunky Mainer

Striped Skunk

Reading a local weekly newspaper the other day, I noticed the police department's report for the previous week. An officer had issued a summons to a local man for applying skunk scent to the front steps of the village hall. Skunk scent is usually made from skunk musk gland, and is extremely difficult to remove from fabric - like carpeting.

Therefore, every time someone walked those front steps into the village hall, they tracked the dried crystals into the interior of the village offices, and the scent was probably pretty bad.

It didn't take too long for the village officials to determine who the likely suspect was, and after an investigation by the police department, a summons was issued. No mention was made of why this individual was so mad at the village officials, but he certainly found an unusual way to get even.

Unfortunately, the village has now spent more than $3,000 in attempts to remove the scent, hence the legal action. Sure glad I don't work at the village offices . . .

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Summer Begins in Maine

It's Memorial Day Weekend, and summer has officially begun in Maine. Lobster dinners abound - it's the quintessential Maine meal, and just about every eatery up and down the coast has their version of it. The weather, so wet and cold these past few weeks, is once again fabulously beautiful this holiday weekend - blue skies, warm tempertures and everything is in bloom.

The weather forecasters have been toting the wonderful weather for the past week, so folks from Boston and New York City are flocking northwards for the first long vacation weekend of the season.

Local businesses are counting on this influx of those "from away" to support their businesses. Maine is a tourism-based state - gas stations, convenience stores, antiques shops, state-operated beaches and parks, grocery stores, boutiques, art shops, lobster pounds, hotels and bed & breakfast inns, white tablecloth restaurants and roadside diners all base their annual incomes on the four months of summer season.

The financial tone is set by the first weekend of summer. If the weather is good, people enjoy themselves and often return later in the summer for a second or third trip. If the weather is poor, the tourists don't show up, and they might not even bother trying a later summer trip. So Memorial Day Weekend is critical in Maine.

Even though the weekend is only half-way through, good reports are coming in from business owners. A local well-known auction house had a stellar sale yesterday, with strong prices on most of their antiques - the auction house was filled with big city tourists who outbid the local dealers with passion. Here in Damariscotta, there are several boutique stores offering candles, garden items, locally made glass, seaside-designed custom jewelry, artisan pottery, upscale clothes and other quality items showcasing Maine, and I saw many people wandering from shop to shop, many of them carrying bags of their newly acquired treasures. Things are starting to look good for business in Maine!

A new antiques multi-dealer shop opened for the first time Saturday. Scuttlebutt Antiques, on Route 1 just south of Rockland, had it's Grand Opening, and first reports were that there was a steady stream of customers, and many sales on the first day. In this difficult economy, starting a new business takes courage, and this shop so far has not only opened, but has done so with some of the finest quality antiques dealers this area has to offer. They've definitely become the "scuttlebutt" of the Maine mid-coast!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Use Your Silver!

Often people believe that silver tablewares and tea services are meant only for holidays and special occasions. That's the farthest from the truth! Using your silver and silverplate items on a regular basis will not only make them easier to care for, but will allow you to enjoy these beauties of your antiques collection on a regular basis!

Sterling and silverplate sooner or later will tarnish. By using it frequently, you will retard that tarnish everytime you wash it. Don't put it in the dishwasher - those high heats and caustic dishwasher cleaning compounds are not your silver's best friend.

Tarnish is a brownish discoloration, but longtime tarnish will appear almost black. It is caused by moisture and by sulphuric acids found in air pollutants. We're not talking about moisture as in washing your silver. Instead, it's the lightweight moisture that is in the air, as in high humidity. So storing your silver in a place that with 40-50% humidity is better for it, than - for example - in a damp basement. And the air pollutants? Think car and truck exhaust.

I used to have two retail antiques shops. One had an entrance doorway on the side of the building, away from the busy 4-lane street by about 50 feet. The other had it's main entrance directly facing the street, only 15 feet from 4 lanes of continual heavy traffic. I displayed silver tablewares in both shops, both on a table top about 15' from the front door. Guess where I spent the most time polishing silver? The shop with the door facing and closest to the highway. Those fumes, especially from the big trucks, really sped up the tarnish process, and I polished silver about twice as often as I did in the second shop.

Here are some hints for caring for your silver and silverplate:
  • Hand wash your silver - polishing it with a dry cloth after washing will help retard tarnish. You don't have to rub hard - just a simple drying with a soft towel will help remove tarnish if you are doing it regularly.
  • If you aren't using your silver regularly, store it in special tarnish-proof bags which can be found in department stores or local jewelers.
  • Certain items speed up tarnish, or cause corrosion, spots and stains - eggs, salt, olives, vinegar, perfume and some fruit acids are all culprits. Try to wash your silver as soon as possible after your silver comes into contact with these items.
  • Don't wash sterling and stainless steel items together - sometimes the two together will cause a chemical reaction which will tarnish the sterling and corrode the silver.
  • When polishing silver, rub the silver cleaner between your fingers first. If you feel grit in the polish, don't use it. That polish is too rough on silver and will produce minute scratches. Wright's Silver Polish is non-gritty, and I use it on my silver. Remember to rinse your silver with warm water to remove all traces of silver cleaner.
  • Sometimes it's just a mild tarnish needing removal. Try a paste of baking soda and water, applied with a damp cloth, then rinsed with warm - not hot - water. Afterwards, just dry with a soft towel.
  • Don't wrap silver for storage in plastic wrap. It won't prevent tarnish, and will trap moisture.
  • Don't leave salt in silver salt shakers. Over time, salt will cause corrosion and pits. Empty, wash and dry shakers completely after each use.
  • Absolutely do not use any of the tarnish dips to clean silver!! Your silver will come out dull and looking like it was made yesterday. Is that how you want your antique silver to look? One of silver's best attributes is the oxidation down in the ornate areas that make the design stand out. These dips - often advertised on TV around the holidays - remove that oxidation and makes your silver look brand new.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Which Antiques are Hot in Maine

I was thinking today about which antiques are really selling in Maine, and started making a list. Then, I thought about what's not selling, and made a list of those antiques too.

Above on the left is a half hull ship's model, about 14 inches long and mounted on board, which is in a local antiques shop and priced at $595. The Lion and Lamb hooked rug was mounted and hanging in another local shop, priced at $1350.

Here goes:

Antiques Which are Selling
  • Hooked Rugs, late 19th and early 20th century - especially anything with animals, people, scenic, ships
  • Silhouettes from the mid-1800s
  • Weathervanes
  • Country furniture in old paint, 19th century
  • Marine anything - half hulls mounted on boards, also paintings and other artwork, rugs, etc. Around here, if it's a ships' theme, it's probably going to sell.
  • Vintage lighting from the 1920s and 1930s
  • Garden antiques
  • Folk art, particularly one-of-a-kind items which are interesting and colorful
  • Fireplace tools and accessories from the 19th c
  • Early baskets
  • Large wood country bowls, and if they have old paint on them, even better
  • Vintage leather furniture

Slow Selling Antiques
  • Quilts in common patterns, especially those from the Depression era
  • Oriental Rugs
  • Silverplate tablewares
  • 19th century glass
  • Samplers, particularly really late 19th c or early 20th c
  • 19th c. brown furniture
  • Vintage clothing from just about any era
  • Duck decoys
This may not reflect what's selling in your neighborhood, but these are the things that are either hot or very cold in my area.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Scuttlebutt Antiques - New Group Shop Opening in Warren, Maine

The other night I attended the Preview Showing for the new group shop, Scuttlebutt Antiques, which is opening to the public this Saturday, May 27, 2006. Strong turn-out of dealers, auctioneers, antiques show managers, the news media and the public, and the food was fabulous!

Darren and April Gilbert with Dawn and Jeff Wright are the two couples who co-own and operate this new three floor antiques shop. They recently purchased and updated a large former gift shop, located on Route One just south of Rockland, Maine. It's a great location on Route 1 includes a huge parking lot. It's a wonderful building - they were able to save much of the former gift shop's original nautical-themed pine cabinetry and decorative accents, including the mahogany front country and the authentic antique Fresnel brass lights that adorn the front entrance.

Both couples have extensive experience in the antiques trade, having worked in retail and wholesale sales, auctions, and group shops.

It's a light and bright shop, with a very open and airy floor plan and wide aisles. Already most of the first floor is rented to local and not-so-local dealers; at the moment, the shop only has a few showcases and a few pine stepback display cupboards available on the main floor.

The second floor - called the Sail Loft - is divided into small booths, and is perfect for dealers specializing in small furniture and other small antiques. The lower floor hasn't been completed yet, but should be by the end of the summer.

One of the really interesting features of this shop is that it has an elevator!! Not too many multiple story shops have their own elevator, and usually dealers have to lug their merchandise up and down stairs. Scuttlebutt Antiques' elevator allows dealers to load theier furniture and boxes of stock into the elevator, minimizing the time and effort it takes to haul things into their booths. More importantly, this elevator is large enough to accommodate the disabled, making the entire shop available for everyone to shop.

Rather than trying to just fill space at Scuttlebutt, the owners decided early on that they would be quite particular about the quality of antiques the shop would offer. They have been careful about which dealers they wanted to include, and have turned down a few who handle lower-grade merchandise. They've been quite successful in attracting good dealers who have years of knowledge and experience; most of these dealers offer antiques from the 19th century, and the variety is fabulous.

At the preview, I noticed that almost all of the booths had 18th and 19th century antiques. The range was quite impressive - formal and country furniture with a strong range of good painted furniture, mirrors, folk art, stoneware, lots of English and American glass and china, baskets, lighting, jewelry, sewing tools, paintings and drawings, toleware, nice early treen, and many other categories which I can't remember at the moment. Plenty of quality, and the prices are equal or below most of the better shops along Route One.

Several sales were made at the Preview, and two spaces were rented out to a couple of dealers who came to the Preview to see how the shop looked. Both are good signs that Scuttlebutt Antiques is on it's way to being a very succussful shop!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Storing Your Antique Quilts

When they were made 100 years ago, no one ever thought a quilt was meant to last for a hundred years of use. Still, there are many 100 year old quilts in existence today, often stored by collectors who don’t have enough room to display them all.

If you have an early quilt, here are some tips to store them properly:

  • Quilts need a stable environment - that means no extreme temperatures or humidity. Forget leaving your quilt in attics, basements, garages and similar locations - vintage quilts need to be in the same kind of comfortable environment that humans enjoy, meaning not too hot, not too cold, not damp.
  • Don’t use plastic bags for quilt storage - if moisture gets inside, stains and permanent damage may occur. Antique fabrics need to breathe. And please don’t use rubber bands to secure a rolled up quilt - they will scrunch the vintage fabric and can cause damage.
  • A simple way to store and protect your vintage quilt is to roll it in a clean white cotton sheet that allows air transfer. Acid-free tissue paper is another alternative.
  • Never store quilts on a bare wood shelf or in a wood dresser drawer. Cedar chests are also a poor choice. The tannins and acids in the bare wood can transfer to your antique quilt (and other vintage textiles too), with staining and fiber damage possible. Over time, tannins and acids can also transfer through cotton sheets. Varnished wood shelves or drawers are usually not a problem.
  • Folding quilts causes stress on antique fibers. Fold lines generally cannot be repaired. The best option is to roll a quilt for storage; if you can’t roll it, then remember to re-fold it every few months to prevent permanent crease lines, fade, and fiber damage.
  • Some collectors “store” their quilts by displaying them flat on a bed. Nothing wrong with this method, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines: The best place is in a spare bedroom, where the quilt can be seen but not used daily. Make sure that no direct sunlight shines on your antique quilt. Sun fade is not reversible - prevention is the only method to prevent damage. If you have cats or dogs, close the bedroom door and limit access to your antique quilts. Quilts will eventually deteriorate from pets sleeping on them. Store your quilts in a location where mice can’t get to them. Mice love to make nests from those old cotton batts in quilts.
  • Hanging an antique quilt on a wall is okay for storage, and you’ll have the pleasure of seeing a beautiful antique fiber art. A quilt must be evenly supported across it’s entire width when being hung.
  • Do not use nails, staples, tacks, pushpins, clips or any similar type of item to attach your quilt to the wall!!
  • There are specialty wall rods which can be attached to a wall, similar to a curtain rod, and are specifically designed for draping a quilt evenly and safely. Be sure they are not raw wood (see above), and that they have a finish which prevents contact with bare wood.
  • You can also use a metal curtain rod to drape your quilt, as long as you are in a no-moisture area that would cause rust on the metal rod.
  • Another solution in hanging an antique quilt is to hand sew a 3-4" strip of cotton fabric - referred to as a sleeve - across the back of the quilt along the top, then thread a varnished wood dowel through this casing so you can hang the dowel from curtain rod brackets. Be sure to hang the quilt high enough on the wall so it doesn’t touch the floor, where pets can reach the quilt.

There's also a good website where you can learn a bit more about quilt hanging, and you can order a wood quilt hanger. Click here for Marie Miller's (Dorset, Vermont) website on quilt hanging tips, or to order her wood quilt hanger.
Remember when hanging your quilt to keep it out of direct sunlight!

This “hanging storage” method is a great way for collectors to rotate their quilts, enjoy them as art, and evenly distribute their weight so fibers won’t stretch, stitching won’t be pulled, and the possibility of fold lines are decreased. If you change your hanging quilt display every few months, it allows you to rotate your quilts, check for signs of insect and mouse damage, and also allows you the opportunity to re-fold the ones not being displayed on a regular basis.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cleaning a Hooked Rug

Did you know that you can clean your own hooked rug?

If it's really, really dirty, you might want to have it professionally cleaned. Or, if it has really tough stains, that again might require professional help. But if it's everyday, simple soiling, you can probably do it yourself.

First, a hooked rug must be vacuumed. You don't want to see any loose strips of your rug sucked into a vacuum, so first carefully check your rug for any wayward strips. If you find loose strips, it's time to repair the rug before it gets any worse.

If you don't find any loose strips, you can continue with rug cleaning. There are a couple different techniques for the vacuuming process, so use whichever works for you.

The first is to lay a window screen over your rug, and using the wand attachment to your vacuum, vacuum the entire rug edge to edge.

The second is to instead just secure a section of pantyhose over your wand attachment with a strong rubber band, and then vacuum. Either method will prevent loose strips that you aren't aware of from being sucked into your vacuum.

Be sure to vacuum both sides of your rug. Over time, much dirt, dust and dust mites end up in the rug foundation. Vacuum slowly and carefully, taking your time. The vacuuming is quite important - if you don't vacuum, all that dirt will turn into a muddy mess in your rug when it gets wet, making it much more difficult to clean.

Test your rug for color fastness. With a wet q-tip or a wet clean white rag, test any colors in your rug which are red, purple, brown, blue, black, or any other strong color. If testing produces any color bleed - STOP. Your rug needs professional cleaning to prevent colors from bleeding. If you see no bleeding of color, it's probably okay for you to clean your own rug.

Read through all the following instructions first, so you are familiar with all the steps and materials necessary.

Throughout the cleaning process, handle your rug gently. Wet rugs can come apart if handled roughly, so treat your textile with gentle respect.

Materials - you'll need a bathtub, baking soda, at least two or three clean old towels, and a sweater dryer or something similar for drying.

Now for the actual cleaning -
  • Fill your bathtub about halfway with tepid (not cold but not hot either) water
  • mix in a cup of baking soda
  • add your rug, carefully laying it face up in the tub, making sure all of it gets evenly wet
  • swish the water around it for several minutes, lifting the rug from underneath with your hands - just a few inches - to make sure all surfaces are treated
  • drain the tub, moving the rug to one side so all the dirt and grime can be rinsed away (I carefully and loosely roll the rug from the short side to accomplish this step)
  • rinse any accumulation of dirt from the tub, then refill with more clean, tepid water
  • again swish water around the rug to rinse, repeating this step until you see no more dirty water
  • while it's still in the tub, roll rug from short end and press out excess water - do not twist or stress your rug, or you may damage the foundation
  • slip a clean dry old towel under your rug and remove from the tub
  • unroll rug while still in towel, then re-roll both together; press entire roll with your hands to force excess water into towel; unroll and re-roll with a second clean dry towl, repeating this step - the idea is to get every bit of water out of your rug
  • allow rug to air dry - do not hang it, or you may over-stress the foundation - instead lay it on a sweater dryer (available from your local department store) or other support
Now your rug is clean and you can enjoy it's wonderful design and beautiful clean colors!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Eating in Wiscasset, Maine

Yesterday I wrote about some of the good antiques shopping which can be found in Wiscasset, Maine. I wouldn’t be doing antiques shoppers justice if I didn’t mention some of the great places to eat in this beautiful town. You know how antiques shopping can create serious hunger pangs!

In this area, one of the best-known eateries in Wiscasset is Red’s Eats. Red’s has been showcased on television more than a dozen times, and has had countless mentions in many national magazines. For location, there isn’t much ambiance, since it’s right next to the railroad tracks and right on the busy Route 1, but it’s a huge tourist attraction. During the busy July and August high season, the line is long, it's so popular.

Red’s is just a tiny carry-out kitchen, where they take your order through a window and call your number when your food is ready. It has a half-dozen tables outside on the deck beside it. There is no place to sit indoors and no place to park - everyone just uses the public street parking. Red’s is right on Route One in downtown Wiscasset, across from the Sheepscot River, and the view is pretty nice. The tables fill up fast on warm days, so sometimes it’s better to move to the town deck across the street, which has a better view.

Red’s is known for it’s lobster rolls. For $14.95, you get all the meat picked from a complete lobster in each roll. Many local restaurants offer lobster rolls for less, but you are only getting about a ½ lobster. If you’re hungry, it’s worth the $14.95, but if you are just looking for a snack, there are plenty of eateries which offer a lobster roll for around $9.

Red’s has more than lobster rolls; you can get other seafood, plus hamburgers, sandwiches, fries and other foods which can be cooked on their grill or in their fryers. For a first-timer to Wiscasset, Red’s is worth a visit for the quirky Maine flavor, and just because it’s been a fun tourist attraction for several decades.

There are many other places to enjoy a meal. Try Sarah’s, which is across the street from Red’s, also on Route 1. Here’s a place to sit down inside, take a leisurely break from shopping, and enjoy a meal while sitting next to the windows overlooking the lobster boats and sail boats moored on the Sheepscot River. Sarah's has great salads, wonderful baked goods, good desserts and lots of variety in meals. Quite busy in the mid-summer, Sarah's might require a wait for a table. The earlier in the week one goes, the easier it is to get a table easily.

Locals go to several other restaurants in Wiscasset, mostly to avoid the tourist crowds and to enjoy a good, quiet meal. For breakfast, they go to Ship’s Chow Hall, found about a mile south of downtown Wiscasset on Route 1. Ship’s has some of the friendliest waitresses in Maine, and the breakfasts are tasty and filling, cost about $5-6. The are only open until the early afternoon, and don’t serve supper.

One of my favorite restaurants is The Sea Basket, on Route 1 a couple miles south of Wiscasset. It’s a super restaurant for fresh, local seafood, and their lobster stew is spectacular - rich, lots of lobster chunks, definitely not diet food but so comforting on a cold, rainy day that your tummy will thank you for this fabulous treat. Also good are the clam basket, the lobster rolls, and - for dessert - their Whoopie pies. If you haven’t had a Maine Whoopie pie, you need to try one. At The Sea Basket, they come in a variety of flavors, and consist of a chocolate cake-like shell with a rich, creamy filling inside.

The Sea Basket is not a fancy place - expect to be served food in plastic baskets with plastic cutlery, But even with long summertime lines, they serve you quickly with a big friendly smile, and the restaurant is spotlessly clean.

For upscale dining, try Le Garage, which is in downtown Wiscasset on Water Street just a couple blocks off Route 1. It looks like a simple, wooden garage-style building, but inside it’s quite nice, has lovely atmosphere for a fine quality meal, and is located on the Sheepscot River too. The food is top-quality and the very freshest, from a chef who isn’t afraid to try some unusual combinations with whatever local seafood and produce is available that day. Imagination is key here, and although it’s a bit pricier ($18-30 per meal), the menu offers some very fine eating. Lobster dinners are good here.

These are just few places to try while in Wiscasset, Maine, but there are others too. Often you can stop in a local convenience store and get a pretty good lobster roll for carry-out, and there are public gardens (try the Sunken Garden next to Blythe House Antiques for a private lunch hidden away from the road and the crowds) and public docks (the one at the end of Water Street just past LeGarage has picnic tables and a fantastic view of the River) that are perfect for a Maine picnic. Wiscasset is a great place to enjoy fine antiquing and excellent food!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Antiques Shopping in Mid-Coast Maine

Mid-coast Maine is one the best areas in New England to shop for antiques. You can easily spend a full week of daily antiques hunting, and only cover a small portion of the shops in this area.

One of the most well-known antiques towns is the historic village of Wiscasset. Located on Route One, Wiscasset is bordered by the picturesque Sheepscot River. It’s a fabulous place to spend a few days poking through the antiques shops and eating fresh seafood in locally-owned restaurants. No big chain restaurants in this pretty town - all the eating places are individually owned and operated, making for some really good eating.

You can start with Avalon Antiques Market, the largest group shop in Wiscasset. Found just three miles south of town on Route One, Avalon offers about 100 dealers spread through three floors. Dealer quality ranges from flea market level to fine early antiques, and the variety of is astounding. Avalon dealers each have separate booths or showcases, and offer period furniture, books, jewelry, folk art, silver and silver plate, glass and china, American Art pottery, stoneware, art, fishing and hunting collectibles, garden decoratives, kitchenwares. paper items, quilts, painted furniture, and this is just a few categories! You won’t be bored shopping at Avalon, so plan for a few hours poking through their large shop.

Three miles north is the downtown section of Wiscasset, with it’s classic 18th and 19th century buildings. Throughout the entire village are dozens of small antiques shops well worth visiting, so stop in one in the central business district on Route 1 and pick up the current antiques shop map. It’s a great town for strolling and viewing the private homes, antiques shops and gardens that make this fine town a wonderful adventure.

Many of the antiques shops are actually in the homes of dealers, but don’t let that put you off. These dealers usually have a separate section of their homes dedicated to their antiques shop, and they will welcome you with big smiles and open arms.

Shops in this part of Maine are very strong on 18th and 19th century Americana, with a sprinkling of decorator European antiques, Victorian and mid-20th century collectibles mixed in. One of the charming attractions of shopping in Wiscasset is that most of the time you are in a shop where you can discuss your finds with the owner/dealer, making negotiations for best price so much easier.

Be sure to stop in Blythe House Antiques, at the corner of Route One and Pleasant Street. This lovely shop, in an historic 1799 red clapboard two story ship captain’s home, is easy to find since it’s across from the Post Office. Sixteen fine quality dealers fill two floors with room settings of both country and formal furniture, antique decorative accessories, hooked rugs, architectural elements, baskets, and other home furnishings primarily from the late 1700s through 1900. There are also several showcases of good small antiques, including sewing tools, folk art, jewelry, china, glass, Shaker items, silhouettes, and treen, just to name a few categories. This is a shop that has many uncommon antiques, and is definitely a must-visit on your shopping list.

There are so many shops in Wiscasset to see, but here’s a few other good ones - Dennis Raleigh Antiques, Robert Snyder and Judy Wilson Antiques, Marston House Antiques, Lilac Cottage Antiques, Patricia Stauble Antiques, and Priscilla Hutchinson Antiques. All are open daily, and carry excellent quality - you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Tea-Staining Fabric

Sometimes, a vintage textile has stains that just won’t go away. No matter what technique you use in attempts to clean, the stain is permanent.

If it’s not a valuable antique textile, you might consider tea-staining as a way to camouflage the stain. Tea staining gives your textile a vintage look, downplays the stain, and can improve the overall image of the stained textile.

If your antique textile is rare or valuable, consider just leaving it as is and not tea-staining it. An antique textile's stains are also part of it's long life and history, and sometimes it's just better to accept the old stains rather than to try to improve upon them.

This method can also be used on new fabrics which you would like to look old. It's easy to do!

To Tea Dye a Fabric:
  • Bring to a boil 3 gallons of tap water in a stainless steel pot.
  • In the meantime, fill your sink with cold water and soak fabric to be dyed. Having your fabric uniformly wet allows it to accept the dye evenly.
  • Place 8 ounces of black tea - any inexpensive kind will do - tied in a section of cheesecloth or muslin, and add to the boiling water. Boil for 30 to 60 minutes; the longer the boil, the darker your dye solution will be. Remove tea bag.
  • Wring out your evenly dampened fabric, and add it to the dye bath. Turn off the heat, and let it steep for several hours, even overnight. Swish it around occasionally to get an even dye level and to check for dye color.
  • When it reaches the color shade you like, remove and rinse in cool water until it runs clear. Remember - fabric will appear darker when wet. Wash with Ivory or other mild detergent and rinse again.
  • Gently wring, roll in an old towel, and hang to dry.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Antiques Hunt in Maine, and a New Group Shop Opening

Rainy-misty, foggy and cool, a typical mid-May morning in Maine, and I was out early shopping for some neat old stuff. Found a few items, including a sweet 1920s little girl's gingham dress and a circa 1900 wool hooked floral rug, which definitely needs a good wash and a new edge binding. Also found a rustic oil on board painting of a log cabin in the spring, complete with birch trees, which was probably painted sometime in the 1930s. It's never been framed, and I love it's Adirondack look - definitely a good accent for a country cabin or cottage.

Still getting settled in my apartment. It's just a tiny one bedroom apartment, perfect for one person. It's in an 1850s post and beam barn, with skylights bringing in much natural light. I have fabulous views of the Damariscotta River, which is only a couple of hundred yards away. Friends tell me that there often has been a pair of nesting eagles along the river's edge, but I have not been fortunate enough to see them yet.

The property has several gardens, both flower and vegetable, and my landlords treated me to dinner the other night with fresh asparagas picked hours earlier from their garden. They have encouraged me to enjoy the blackberry patch, and to help myself to rhubarb too. Last year I planted a very small garden with tomatoes and herbs, just a simple garden to play with. This year, I hope to expand a bit and add a few more vegetables. I love to cook, and am drooling at the idea of combining fresh-picked veggies with local seafood.

Looking forward to being part of a new antiques group shop opening in two weeks on Route One not far from Rockland. Excellent dealers, great 18th and 19th century merchandise - should be a wonderful antiques shop. If you get up that way, be sure to look up Scuttlebutt Antiques on Route 1 in Warren, Maine.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Vintage Textile Conservation

Here are some simple tips to help you care for your antique fabric items. These are just general rules - please remember that each antique textile is unique, and some require special care and handling by professionals.

Provide a stable environment for your old textiles. If it’s necessary to handle them, do so carefully. The less handling, the better. Clean your hands first, so that body oils and dirt don’t transfer to fabrics. Don’t wear sharp jewelry - preventing snags and tears is much easier than trying to repair them later.

Light can be harmful to antique textiles. Keep your textiles out of direct sunlight. As many old textiles are made of cellulose (cotton and linen) and animal (wool and silk) fibers, they can be damaged by sunlight’s ultraviolet rays. Even fluorescent light can damage old fabrics. Heat from incandescent lights can also cause problems.

Minimize light damage to fabrics by drawing the shades in a room so that sunlight and it's UV rays don’t reach textiles. Place antique textiles in a room location that is not exposed to direct sunlight. Keep artificial lighting as far from textiles as possible.

Climate control is important. Try to maintain temperatures around 70 degrees, and humidity at 50%. Do not store antique textiles in garages, attics or basements - the idea of preserving old textiles is to prevent excessive heat, dryness and dampness, all which can destroy your old fabric item. If somehow your item becomes damp, mold can grow quickly. Fast drying will discourage mold - you can use fans, electric heaters, handheld hair dryers, even sunshine on a warm day.

Insects and rodents can cause serious trouble for antique textiles. If you can, regularly vacuum areas where you store your antique textiles. At the same time, inspect for signs of rodents and insects. If you find them, either eliminate them or move your precious textiles to a different location. Again - a few moments preventing damage will save you from spending a lot of money on restoration later - IF your item can be restored. Insects and rodents often cause damage which cannot be fixed.

Textiles with fresh stains should be treated as soon as possible. Cool water with a lightweight soap such as Ivory will often resolve many fresh stains. Textiles with fresh blood stains should be soaked in cold water first, then carefully and gently washed with Ivory, then rinsed in tepid water. Test first for color fastness. Sometimes old blood stains can be removed by covering the stain with a paste made of meat tenderizer and water. After a 15 to 30 minute application, sponge carefully with cool water.

If you are storing textiles, don’t wrap them in plastic. Plastic traps moisture, which will endanger your vintage textile. Instead, wrap it in a plain cotton sheet, which will allow your textile to breathe. Try to avoid folding quilts, or, if that’s not possible, change the fold direction a few times each year to avoid stressing the fibers and creating permanent fold lines.

If it’s a hooked rug, roll it with the top on the outside, which will keep the foundation from being stressed. Mounting a hooked rug on a strong backing material and then attaching that material to a wood frame will allow you to turn your rug into a work of wall art - there are many professionals who can do this kind of work for you.

Antique fabrics are wonderful collectibles, and should be enjoyed as a display. Protect them and use them to warm your home as a reflection of your personal taste!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brimfield Week!

Earlier, I'd written how much I like rain. Okay, so MOST of the time I really like rain. But I've just arrived in Maine, and it's raining and is supposed to rain for the next four days. No - no - NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I want beautiful weather and fair skies and sun and warm temperatures so I can enjoy my first week here!

Oh well, there'll be good weather to come - hopefully all summer long - as I spend the next four months here. And Spring is about 2 weeks ahead of usual here in Maine - the tulips are done, the magnolia trees are shedding their pretty pink blossoms, and the antiques traffic is just starting to pick up.

This is Brimfield Week, and often after Brimfield is over, many dealers and collectors head to Maine. It's only a three hour drive away, so it's a worthwhile trip. After the hectic craziness of all the Brimfield antiques shows, shopping in Maine is a breath of fresh air. Besides - this is the time of year for cheap lobster!!

If you aren't familiar with the many antiques shows held in Brimfield, Massachusetts three times a year, I'll give you a quick synopsis. Brimfield is a very small town an hour west of Boston, and in May, July and September of each year, the town hosts a couple thousand antiques dealers for a week of selling and buying. It's a huge series of shows which attracts many thousands of buyers from all over the world. Nearly every kind of antique, collectible and reproduction is available somewhere at one of the Brimfield shows.

Often, buyers shop their favorite shows, and then head further north into New England for more shopping. The antiques shops throughout all the New England states enjoy a nice shopping rush for a few days before Brimfield and immediately after Brimfield. Many New England antiques shop owners also go down to Brimfield to re-stock their shops. Some of them just shop a few of the shows, while others try to get to all the shows. Some shop owners go to Brimfield just to sell.

Brimfield is an experience unlike any other. Nearly all the selling is done out of doors, either in open fields, or under tents. It's a series of about 20 shows, all run by individual show promoters. Buyers rush from one show to the next, trying to be there as the gates open so they can have first crack at the antiques being offered.

One must be careful - Brimfield is full of fakes and reproductions. There is little vetting of antiques for quality. Many sellers are quite honest about what they are selling, and will gladly tell you that you are buying something new. But occasionally, a seller will not mention the origin or age of something you may be buying. It's definitely a Buyer Beware situation.

I'll talk in more detail about Brimfield at a later date. But it's a fascinating place to go antiques hunting - a zillion choices, and then there's always Maine!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lessons on Life at an Earlier Time Through Vintage Photography

If you've been reading my blog, you've noticed how fascinated I am by early photography, especially that time period from about 1860s through the 1930s. There's just something about these early photos which show life as it was in simpler times that makes me smile.

The photo above, of a young toddler, is a fine example. She's feeding the family's chickens, and at her tender age - probably about two - she's already learning responsibility. Feeding chickens is just one chore in this family's daily duties, and this youngster is learning to do her part. Probably this was just something fun to do on this sunny afternoon, but it's a fine way for children to learn to help out with family chores and learn personal responsibility at the same time.

This photo came from an Indiana family's photo album, and follows several different members of the family from the 1890s through the 1930s. If you want to see other everyday-people photos from my antiques webshop, click here.

These chickens are almost as big as she is, yet this young lady is fearless! In fact, she's quite comfortable amongst these birds, and she's smiling. She's learning a second lesson - don't be intimidated. The Depression-era generation lived during difficult times, yet they held their own and even prospered, just because their parents knew how to raise them to be strong individuals. Chickens don't scare her! Of course, Mom was probably a step outside the camera's range, but still - how many of today's toddlers do you know who can go eye-to-eye with frisky barnyard fowl, yet not run away screaming? How fabulous is that??!!

Now here's a third lesson, one that's a bit harder to see in this photo. This little girl is learning from her Mother that she shouldn't sweat the small stuff. Take a close look at her shoes - she's wearing her pretty Mary Jane shoes. Many Moms would be aghast at the idea of their toddler wandering a farmyard, feeding chickens and getting those nice leather shoes dirty. After all, those Mary Janes weren't cheap, and a toddler wouldn't know anything about keeping her shoes clean. But this Mother understood the importance of the first two lessons, and decided that if her daughter's shoes came out a bit worse for the wear, it wasn't very important in the overall big picture.

Recently I learned to ask myself a very important question when facing something that bugs me. It's a question which addresses the overall big picture - I silently ask myself "Will it matter in two weeks?" If the answer is no, then it's time for me to get over it and move on. If the answer is yes, then I must try to find a satisfying solution.

And if there's no solution - and that doesn't happen too often - then it's still time to get over it and move on. After all, one can't change what cannot be changed, right?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rain is Good

It's going to rain all day today. All day. And I'm supposed to be loading my van to leave for Maine.

Not much point in getting everything soggy, just to sit in my van for a two day drive to Maine. So today I'm going to share with you why Rain Is Good.

Rain can slow you down and give your brain and your body a breather. My husband usually gets up at 5 am and works outdoors everyday, but when his employer couldn't find enough indoor things for him to do, he sent him home several hours early. Tom's been working the past 22 days straight - with no time off - so this was a fabulous opportunity for him to wind down, get some extra sleep, and rejuvenate. Even better - he's in a cooking mood and has offered to make a good hot comfort-food lunch. Hurray for Rain!

Rain makes crops grow. Spring 2006 started early in this part of Michigan, and the warm weather enticed the farmers to plant early. But we didn't have much snow this past winter, so the fields are bone dry and nothing has sprouted. This rain has all the farmers smiling, because they know that this good soaking rain combined with the warm weather we've had will trigger all the crops to start. Within a week or so we'll have little green shoots of corn, soybeans and other good things beginning to show. It's early, but with good weather this summer, the fields will get a few extra weeks of growing time if they need it. All the better for farmers, who would like to have extra yield this summer to make up for last summer's somewhat dismal crops. Hurray for Rain!

Rain is making my perennials smile. I've transplanted a few, and others are just starting to pop their heads up. The past few weeks of unseasonably warm weather - 70 degrees in Michigan??? in April???? - got me itching to play in the dirt. I've been checking my peonies, which my husband accidently whacked to the ground last summer, not realizing they weren't weeds. The Bad News - he's not a gardener. To him, just about everything you can't eat is a weed and needs to be destroyed. The Good News - my decimated peonies are coming up strongly with plenty of buds, and even an errant-but-well-meaning husband with a love for man-toys like weed-whackers can't destroy a good peony. Hurray for Rain!

I love a good rain. The simple, continued resonance from an all-day soft rain seems to re-set my brain. Often it slows down my decision-making, bringing even better thought-processes and new ideas that I'd skipped earlier when life was a bit too hectic and I wasn't taking enough time to fully consider all options. I really do love a good rain.