Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Vintage Household Hacks & Retro Thrifting Tips

For just over a year now, I have been a regular live studio guest on That’s Solent News discussing all manner of heritage-themed topics. One of the most popular aspects with viewers has been my household tips and crafting solutions from a bygone era. Topics covered have included: upcycling old hot water battles, rubber gloves and cardigans; crafting using buttons, old jam jars, potatoes and old fabric scraps. Everyday uses for lemons, sugar, vinegar and baking soda.  However, a common thread throughout all of my film segments (as well as my writing) is to seek inspiration from the past and make it relevant in modern times.

Retro Thrifting Tips

I have an extensive collection of 20th century cookery books, printed ephemera, patterns, magazines and advice manuals which I draw my inspiration from. I have now been collecting for many years and clocked-up a significant amount of ‘rummage miles’ at fairs and charity shops. I am a very savvy retro shopper, rarely ripped off and have managed to secure some brilliant finds for a few pounds or even pence.

I urge anyone wanting to start this type of retro collection not to bother with Ebay, Etsy or on-line stores, you will be purchasing products that have been ridiculously marked-up and in most cases you will be charged P&P as well. Remember, the buyer has sourced these items for pence and is selling them on to you at a massive mark-up. Visit your local charity shops or boot fairs first.

Going direct to the source is great fun and with charity shops, you are also supporting a good cause. Why not take a few items to donate when you go along, it is extremely satisfying to do this. If you are a crafter, remember that some charity shops also keep patterns, magazines and jars of buttons in the storeroom, so do ask at the front desk. We all know how hideously expensive buttons can be (John Lewis take note). I have just started collecting vintage buttons but be warned, this is a very addictive, although inexpensive, pastime.

My biggest bugbear is vintage dress patterns being sold on-line or at specialist fairs for £20+ a piece. A quick trip to your local charity shop you will pick-up the same for £1 to £2.  The other day, I found 20 patterns in a charity shop from the 1960s through to 1980s, all for £1.50 each. This is definitely not a rare occurrence but a regular one.

In another charity shop haul, I brought a stack of 1970s and 1980s knitting patterns, each one costing 10p. The shop even threw-in a special knitting pattern holder for 50p! I have also just brought, from a local fabric shop this time, a stack of 1940s, 50s and 60s Stitchcraft magazines. Each costing no more than 50p. As the saying goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. Have a go at retro thrifting, it is so much fun. Leave your credit cards at home, take £10 with you and see how much treasure you come home with. If you are a blogger/vlogger then let everyone know about your finds.

Never pay more than £5 for a pattern unless it is an extremely rare example, pre-1950s. Don’t forget to check the packet has all the pattern pieces too. Another point you might want to bear in mind is sizing. Vintage dress patterns, particularly from the 1940s to 1970s, are based upon body measurements approximately 2 dress sizes smaller than you would expect them to be. Men and women at that time were much slimmer. Our body shapes have changed dramatically in the last 40+ years.

For example, a size 18 pattern in the 1960s would contain the measurements equivalent to a size 14 in 2016. If you want a 1960’s pattern equivalent to a modern size 18 pattern then look for a plus sized (XXL) or size 20 pattern from that period. Chances are, you will not find the latter so you may have to resize yourself when you get it home. Don’t panic! This is not as difficult as you may think and there are plenty of on-line tutorials to help you with this.

Vintage Household Hacks

I am always coming across useful snippets of advice in vintage magazines or publications. These pearls of wisdom are often brilliant and still relevant. I raise a smile when I see a new lifestyle trend or fad diet in the media that promotes a supposedly ‘innovative way’ to make or cook something. A quick trip to my bookshelves, 9 times out of 10, I find exact same advice in the pages of books/magazines within my own collection. It is just old advice repackaged for a new generation.

Anyway, below are a selection of some of my own favourite household tips and hints that I have shared with That’s Solent TV’s viewers over the last year and am delighted now to share, here, with you.


Vinegar is acidic so can be used to neutralise food stains and cut through grease. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-limescale. If you are using vinegar on items of clothing, use white distilled and not malt to avoid staining fabric. I always descale my shower head and keep my stainless steel saucepans clean using neat malt vinegar.

  • Glass can be cleaned using a solution of warm water and vinegar;
  • 1 tablespoonful of cider vinegar in a glass of warm water can be used as a gargle to relieve a sore throat;
  • If you are a brunette with a bit of dandruff, why not mix a tablespoonful of malt vinegar in a glass of water and use it as the final rinse after shampooing. This will remove any traces of soap and also helps put a shine on your hair;
  • If you have ball-point pen marks on a surface, remove by dabbing area with a cotton pad soaked in neat, white distilled vinegar;
  • To remove limescale from a shower head. Detach showerhead and immerse completely in a bowl of malt or white distilled vinegar. Leave for at least an hour and be amazed at the results;
  • If you use stainless steel saucepans, food residue can remain even after washing in hot soapy water. I find saucepans that have been used to boil pasta and poach eggs often leave a food residue welded onto the base after washing-up. Just add about a centimetre depth of vinegar and leave for about an hour. Wash again in hot, soapy water and your saucepan will gleam once more.

Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda

Normally, we would associate this ingredient with baking but it has so many other uses around the home. The Ancient Egyptians used baking soda as one of the components to create paint for hieroglyphics. Baking soda was invented in 1846 by two New York bakers, John Wight and Austin Church. During the latter part of World War One, eggs were becoming increasingly scarce. A recipe was developed for making egg powder which consisted of: 1/2 lb cream of tartar; 1/4 lb baking soda and 2 teaspoons of turmeric.

  • Festival and camping/glamping season is now upon us. There are many uses for baking soda so pop a jar of it in your ‘survival kit’. If you want to whiten or clean your teeth mix a paste of baking soda and a few drops of water, brush your teeth in the normal way. Heritage brand, Arm and Hammer, have a large range of beauty products, including toothpaste, which use baking soda as the core ingredient;
  • To make an effective dry deodorant combine 3 tablespoons cornflour, 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Apply underarm using a cotton pad. Alternatively, add a few drops of coconut oil to the mixture, store in a jar, this makes a good wet deodorant;
  • Make your own dry shampoo by combining baking soda, baby powder and cornflour. Best not used long term as ingredients can damage your hair by making it very dry but perfect for an emergency fix at a festival;
  •  To clean silver add 2 teaspoons baking soda to warm water. Wrap item you wish to clean in foil and place in the wet mixture. The foil must not touch the object. Foil creates a chemical reaction with the baking soda and the item is cleaned. Remove the foil wrapped item after about 1 or 2 hours, dry item and then buff with a soft cloth. Be careful when cleaning using this method, don’t leave for too long;
  • To remove coffee and tea stains from a mug. Mix a solution of 3 parts baking soda to one part warm water and leave in the mug for about an hour;
  • Coming-up to picnic season, if your vacuum flask needs a freshen then fill the flask with boiling water, add 2 teaspoons of baking soda, secure the screw top lid, leave overnight. Next morning, tip water away and wash-out thoroughly;
  • If you have a grease stain on your carpet, apply a generous quantity of baking soda onto the stain. Brush through the pile, leave overnight and then vacuum.


1 thought on “Vintage Household Hacks & Retro Thrifting Tips”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s