Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Renovating a Vintage Suitcase


I won a suitcase on ebay a couple of weeks ago for £10. I must've bid on hundreds, and I kept losing out as my budget was small. I wanted a cardboard one that was in a bit of a state so I could make it beautiful and then use it for storage. This is what I bought:


It measures 54cm/21" wide by 33cm/13" deep by 18cm/7" high. As you can see, it is really quite worn out, so I didn't feel remotely guilty about covering it in paint.


It was such a treat when I opened it to find this label inside. Look at the date - 3rd September 1939, just as the Second World War was starting, and half an address from Hartlepool, written long before a time when the Post Office used postcodes. Just think of all the places this suitcase might have been, all the clothes and possessions (and memories) it has carried over the last seventy years.


The metal clasp says "British Made" in very tiny letters. I think there is something very romantic and old fashioned about a cardboard suitcase; it makes me think of a steam trains and Brief Encounter and running away to join the circus.


I should probably start by saying that I have no idea if I did this renovation correctly - I could not find any good tutorials online for this type of project - so I made it up as I went along. I began by peeling away any of the loose or torn paper lining, so that I had a smooth surface to paint inside. Then I vacuumed the interior and wiped the exterior with warm soapy water.


I gave the whole suitcase, inside and out, two coats of water-based undercoat and primer (trying not to paint the metal corners and clasps too much). I lined the interior, but wanted a clean white surface behind the fabric, in case any changes in colour or tone showed through.


Then I gave the exterior two coats of top coat. I used some leftover cream emulsion I found in our garage.


Then I lined the interior with fabric. I measured and cut it as closely as possible then fixed it with PVA glue. I used pink ric rac trim to perk it up.


I used sand paper to try and remove the worst of the paint from the metal corners and locks. Then I gave the exterior two coats of clear varnish to protect the paint from wear and tear. Last of all, some decoration. I looked at lots of decals online but could fine none that I liked within my budget so when I saw this tin of travel stickers I thought, well now these will do nicely.


I like the way their vintage style echoes the history of this old suitcase.  I can just peel them off when I get bored with them.



I think I will keep my wool and knitting things in it for the time being. It will probably end up holding toys at some point. I did think that these would make lovely baby memory boxes. If I could find two smaller suitcases (more like the size of that pink one in the photo below), then just think of the fun that could be had choosing fabric for the lining, and stencilling names or initials on top... But I am getting carried away. My children will probably have left home before I get round to doing that.





32 comments:

  1. Very pretty! It's fabulous to give something a new lease of life once more...

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  2. Be still my beating heart. I am now going to have to do the very same.

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    1. Do! Take the time cover any bits you don't want painted with masking tape - i was too impatient and didn't and kicked myself afterwards.

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  3. Wow! A fab transformation. I love the idea of using them as memory boxes. xx

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    1. Hi Lozzie, thanks. One day I will have a go at memory boxes, when I find some fabulous fabric to line them with. Gillian x

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  4. It looks great Gillian! Did you cover the smaller pink floral case as well? The pattern looks identical to the fabric you used on the inside.

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    1. No, the little pink one I bought in Liberty in London. Yes they are similar...I bought the fabric I lined my case with in John Lewis super cheap (end of a roll I think) and I chose it partly because it looked very "Liberty"! xx

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  5. That looks amazing Gillian - what a fantastic idea. You are really talented x

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    1. Karen, I'm really not! I just like to escape to the garden with a paintbrush during nap time!

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  6. Love the suitcase! You did a wonderful job :) Am equally fascinated by the date on the inside of the case... How cool to imagine as you did all of the adventures and sights this case has seen in the hands of those who carried it... Especially in light of it being before WWII. I also love how faithful you were to stay in your budget! So tempting sometimes to cross that line, but you worked within your boundaries and it looks so great :) Encouragement for me to do the same as I go about my creative jaunts!! Thanks!!

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    1. Ah, thanks Nelli. Always being on a budget is sometimes frustrating, but it makes it all the more satisfying when it turns out well! x

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  7. What a wonderful project! I love it! Looks great fun to do and will be very practical as storage for wool (or toys!) as well.

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    1. Thanks, it was a lot of fun. I'm on the hunt for more suitcases now!

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  8. What a wonderful job and so great that you have given new life to something so old. I wonder if it might have been used during the war by an evacuee - wouldn' it be wonderful to think it might have held a child's toy then and that you might return it to that use!

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    1. Hi Mags, thanks. I did think there was something a bit "kinder transport" about a cardboard suitcase from that era. I hope it didn't spend seventy years sitting in someone's attic!

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  9. Great job on your DIY project! I have two vintage suitcases I never knew how to conquer but now I do. Thanks and keep up your great work!

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    1. Thanks! It was fun - I hope you enjoy renovating yours. :-) Gillian x

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  10. WOW! It looks great, do you remember where you got the travel stickers from by any chance?

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    1. Hi, thank you! I bought the stickers in Waterstone's Bookshop. They don't sell them online but here is a link for a stockist:

      http://www.thepaperie.co.uk/cavallini-decorative-sticker-set-destinations.html

      Gillian x

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  11. Hi,
    This is brilliant! It has given me an idea for a dull trunk I have, thank you.
    Ivan
    (I miss John Lewis, always first port of call when I go and stay with my parents - I do say hello first!!)

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  12. Lovely article, I recently bought 2 vintage suitcases from a lovely antique fair in Stafford. They were filming Bargin hunt at the time I called in!
    I want to line them with pretty paper and pva glue, and needed a bit of advice. So thanks for your help!

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    1. Oh they now do the travel stickers on Ebay!

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  13. I've recently been to a vintage fair and I bought a suitcase. And saying it is run down is an understatement. I got it for £5 though, so not too bad!

    I've managed to fix up the broken handle, but the corners are in a bad state. I need some corner patches. Either leather or metal, I was wondering if you've ever seen any? And one more question! If I stitched up some old silky vintage material to make a lining, do you think PVA would be enough to stick it in place?
    Your suitcases are lovely!<3 - Georgina

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  14. £5 is a bargain indeed! I have never seen corner patches, I'm sorry. I'm not really sure where to suggest for those. I'd just try googling them, that usually helps me. And yes, I think PVA would be fine. I used PVA to hold my fabric lining in place and over a year later it's still holding up beautifully. Good luck!

    Gillian x

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  15. Hi, I think you`ve made a wonderful job of transforming your cases. I`m about to start work on mine, now you`ve shown me what to do, many thanks. Think it will look smashing in our campervan at the festivals.

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  16. Oh this is just divine, I love it just so much, what a pleasure to use now

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  17. just seen this, love what you did here! also love the liberty covered suitcase, I think I would love this too! Heather x

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  18. Just bought the French version of your suitcase form a vide-grenier
    Maybe they could be penpals!!

    Gill

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  19. Great idea - just what I wanted to cover a vintage El Al square case. What paint did you use for the locks?l

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    1. Hello - I didn't paint the locks or corners, I just left them the plain metal they were when I bought the suitcase. The locks work and I was worried I'd jam up the mechanism if I painted them.

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  20. Hi! You did great job with your suitcases! I'm just fixing one old suitcase and looked if anyone had idea how to remove the paper. I took out as much as possible and start to paint now. I have fixed one old trunk and painted over the paper that coulnd't be removed and it worked well. Greetings from Greece! x Teje

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