Our spirit bottles are made from old glass bottles dug up from the ground. As such, these vintage & antique bottles have imperfections. We’ve added some magic to them, and used them to entrap evil spirits — then sealed them in with wax. Each bottle has its own spirit, complete with paper label. Artful creepy fun to display, excellent conversation pieces, and worthy of storytelling…
We’ve sold some already at Etsy this season, and the buyer, Pete, actually tested them with an EMF reader, just like they do on Ghost Hunters! The results may surprise you… They sure surprised us! We’re sharing Pete’s story and photos with his permission:
Wanted to show you something.
I placed an EMF meter against bottle. Nothing at first, then meter goes crazy — then back to normal. Its done it again since typing this.
Sometimes a idea or thought or meme becomes real.
That’s cool with me lol.
Naturally, we can’t guarantee such super — or, should we say supernatural — results. But it is a spooky possibility!
More vintage & antique Halloween decorating ideas from our space at F.A.R.M.
Sometimes I don’t think we talk enough about the cool things we have in our Etsy shop… So it’s time to highlight some of the items recently listed in our Etsy shop, including additional information about them.
But it is neither safe nor advisable to throw them into the wash machine. (Since the weave of burlap sacks is so wide, I rarely ever trust my washing machine with them. Even the gentle or hand-wash settings always seems to create pulls or holes, often starting at the threads at the seams. I just don’t like to risk it.)
Instead, you must hand wash them — and, due to their size, one at a time at that.
While the old feed sacks I cleaned today are made of burlap, you can clean other feed, seed, flour, sugar sacks etc. in the same way.
How To Clean Old Feed, Flour, Seed Sacks Found In Barns
Step One: Remove Stuff From The Inside
As these old seed and feed sacks once held product (and also may have been used for lots of other purposes) there’s always some icky stuff left inside the sack. Stick your hand into the bottom of the sack and turn it inside-out. Shake it gently to remove any leftover contents. And then follow-up by using your hand (preferably gloved!) to wipe away anything hiding along the seams of the sack.
Once satisfied that you’ve removed everything, stick your hand in again and pull upwards to return the sack right-side-out, so that the graphics are again on the outside.
Step Two: Remove The Clumps Of Dirt & Animal Poo
I prefer to begin by hanging the sacks on the clothing line outside and using the hose to spray off the clumps and first layer or two of dirt; however, as it is below zero today (and not likely to change any time soon!), I begin with the bathtub. So gather your plastic cleaning gloves and follow me into the bathroom…
As soon as I start the warm water running in the bathtub, I take a single feed sack out and begin by holding in beneath the running water. I do not plug the tub yet as because many of the clods of dirt an manure will require pressure to come off. Since we are without the pressure of our handy lawn hose today, the pressure of the running water from the tap will have to do. Once the majority of the big pieces are off, I set the wet feed sack on an old towel while I wash the mud and farm fresh dirty pieces down the drain — being careful to catch any twigs, rocks, or other large pieces I do not want to pass into the drain and clog it. I toss the twigs and other pieces in the trash and rinse the tub a bit so that it is clean enough not to turn the running water brown right away.
Step Three: Soak & Rinse
Next, I put the stopper in the bathtub and begin filling the tub with warm water. As these sacks are pretty dirty, I only use warm water at this point.
Since old feed & seed sacks are quite large, you’ll need to fill the entire bottom of the tub with at least 2 inches of warm water. I lay the feed sack onto the water & push to submerge it. (Despite the earlier soaking, you’ll often find large sections of the sack are not wet. Sometimes this is where large pieces of dirt were; other times, it’s from the graphics themselves or other chemicals preventing the water from penetrating the textile fibers.)
Usually the water turns instantly brown again, but I continue to swish the sack gently around in the water to dislodge more dirt.
I don’t use any brushes or tools. Just my hands, the water, and, as necessary, gently rub the fabric against itself to dislodge things I can see and feel through the gloves. Remember, burlap is an especially rough textile and may contain “knots” and other natural bumps, so look before you spend time rubbing something that won’t come out. (Or at least won’t be removed without ruining the piece!)
As you swish and rub, look for holes, spots, etc. Avoid unnecessarily pulling on the holes and tears while working to remove the spots.
Typically, I repeat this step at least two more times so that the water bears just a slight tint of brown and few, if any, clumps of stuff. Then I proceed to flip the sack inside-out again, and give the inside a rinse.You’d be surprised how much remains on the inside, even after three rinsings!
If that is clean enough to not require repeating, I flip the sack back so that the graphics are outside and give it one final rinse.
Now, finally, it is time to proceed to washing with soap. This sack is on it’s fourth rinsing and just about ready for Step Four.
Step Four: Wash With Soap
With more warm water running into your clean enough for this (but not clean enough for your family) bathtub, plug the bathtub drain and add some gentle cleaner. I prefer to use, again, Murphy’s Oil Soap. I find it strong enough to clean, but not too drying for such old fabrics. (Old textiles left in barns like this can be more brittle than you imagine!) Also, since Murphy’s doesn’t make a lot of bubbles, you can see what you are doing. And you’ll want to see what you are doing so you can address spots. (I know a lot of you are thinking you need bleach to clean something this filthy, but scrubbing and rubbing does more to really clean than soaking in bleach or other chemicals — and I do not want to discolor or otherwise damage such old fabrics!)
Bonus: Murphy’s Oil leaves a more natural and non-offensive scent, which means the cleaned primitive farm advertising piece is much more like it should be — and isn’t now a perfumed piece that annoys those looking for primitive items or mantiques.
Once you add your previously-rinsed old seed or feed sack to the soapy water, you’re likely to see much more of the brown than you’d imagined could possibly be left. You can let the submerged textile soak a bit in the soapy water, if you’d like. And then come back and gently swish it around and rub spots as necessary.
Step Five: Rinse
As the tub drains its filthy water, I run the tap with warm water again and rinse out the sack.
Step Six: Drying
Once you are satisfied with how clean it is, you can remove the old farm advertising sack from the water and gently wring it to remove the excess water. Once you’ve got as much water out as you can from wringing it, lay it flat on a large beach or bath towel and roll it up so that the towel can absorb more of the water. You may have to do this more than once, with a new clean & dry towel each time, as these large old feed and seed sacks can hold a lot of water.
Then hang the old seed sacks to dry. (Antique & vintage textiles are never a good mix with dryers.) Again, this is great to do out on the clothesline, but the season prevents that. So I hang them to dry on clothes hangers with clips (with plastic, vinyl, or rubber tips to avoid rusting!) over the bathtub. It is best to hang the seed sacks from the bottoms, where they are stitched, so that the heaviest part of the bags are at the top and not pulling so much on the rest of the fabric. I like to use the tired hangers for this, so that I have more room to work on cleaning up the bathtub (again!) while things dry. However, if you have different fabrics and colors involved, you may wish to hang each piece separately so that there is no color transfer, bleeding, or discoloration. (This set lets you have the option to hang tiered or use the hangers individually.)
Step Seven: Inspection
Once the feed sacks are dry, inspect them again for holes, spots, and other imperfections
Sadly, after all this work, there sometimes are spots left. You can wash them again, as needed.
Sometimes I still find a few seeds that have worked their way into the seams and fabric weave as well.
As a buyer or collector, you likely will need to wash your new acquisition again. Even when dealers like myself clean the items, it’s more for presentation than the final act; we know items will be handled in the shop and we remove the “ick factor” but other shoppers do handle the items, including laying them on the floor to inspect them and the like. So whatever textile you buy, you ought to be prepared to launder it yourself for use or display in your own home.
It is especially important to note any holes, tears, or weak spots before you ever even consider using the washing machine.
As a dealer, I never mend any sacks as that would mean the piece is not in original or as found conditions. Other than filth, I leave them as original as I can and instead price accordingly. I leave it for the buyer to decide what, if anything, they want to fix. (Sometimes, they like the authentic nature of the sacks as they are. Sometimes they prefer to stitch them up a bit before displaying them or using them for pillow cases, foot stool coverings, etc. But that is up to the buyer.)
With finer gunny sacks, or sacks with lighter colors and finer weaves, you may need to do some additional cleaning on spots. More on that at a later date as my back is sore from all that time bent over the tub!
A few weeks ago, my husband & I attended an auction at the Cass Country Historical Society. The museum was deaccessioning hundreds of items in order to raise funds to replace the historic St. John’s Lutheran Church which had suffered too much damage from a fire. On one trailer full of guns & ammo, I spotted this beauty:
It’s a folk art family tree of tintypes! (At least we believe they are tintypes; without prying the frames off, we can’t fully inspect them to say for sure.) The “tree” is made from a six-sided wooden base pyramid, covered with plaster used to hold the shells, photos in frames, mirror etc. in place. There once was a ring of old tokens at the top as well, though those were apparently removed awhile ago (you can still see the impressions of them in the plaster). The bottom has four metal caster wheels. Measures 27 inches tall; 18 inches along the widest part of the base.
This unique piece still bears the museum’s original paper label which reads “Pyramid Showing Family History Of The Charles Pollocks; Gift of Mrs. Charles Pollock, Fargo, N.D.”. (We prefer to call it what it is – a family tree!)
I’m amazed by it. It’s not like Godey’s Lady’s Book had their own Martha Stewart columnist suggesting a “how to” for such things. (If they did, I would think these folk art family trees would have become as popular as the Christmas tree the magazine made de rigueur.) At the time this was likely made, circa 1880s (1910s at the latest), North Dakota may not even have been a state yet, and Fargo may have only had a population of less than 6,000!
As promised on our Facebook page, I’ve posted more detailed images of this true piece of Americana. Among the notable antique photographs shown below: A gentleman who appears to be in a Civil War uniform, with a colorized stars and stripes flag, and a woman who looks to be Native American.
This is what it looks like in our little “nook” space at Exit 55 Antiques (Fergus Falls, MN) with the antique French candelabra. We also have it listed for sale in our Etsy shop. I believe the photos here and in the listing should answer all your questions, but feel free to contact us if you’d like.
When you see these, you may be tempted to not even clean out your fresh-from-the-dirt bottles — but remember, there may be dead mice and far worse hiding in them. So clean and disinfect them first! (For heaven’s sake, at least disinfect the outsides!)
Making spirit bottles is a lot easier than cleaning them. The hardest part is finding and/or cutting corks to fit the bottles and then sealing them tight with sealing wax. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here…
If your bottle is stained or streaked from its long dirt nap, you may wish to do nothing else but cork and seal them. But if you want them to look more spooky, you can put bits and bobs in there that look a bit creepy… Found natural objects, like seeds, leaves, and feathers work. And you can add bits of moss, sting, and the like as well. Not to give too many of my secrets away, but you can pull apart some strings to make wispy webs — and I like to toss in a bit of flour and other bits to make some dust and things stick to the webs. You don’t need to add much of anything really. The simple “what is that” factor behind some cloudy glass in a distinctive bottle has a large effect.
Now you need to seal the evil spirits inside the bottles. For bottles without any caps or lids, I use cork stoppers. And I like to smudge the corks up a bit to make them look older and creepier. It’s easy to do this by rubbing the corks on newspaper. Given the random range of bottle sizes, you’ll likely need to cut or chop some cork pieces to fit. That’s OK, because they look old that way too.
Whether you have cork stoppers or the original caps n the bottles, you’ll need to really make sure the spirits remain trapped in the bottles. For this, we used sealing wax. We opted for red and gold, but you can pick whatever colors you think work best. If you are doing this with children, adults should do this part — and carefully! Hot wax burns! (One note here, the gold colored sealing wax was more temperamental to work with.)
Once the bottles are sealed and the wax cooled, use twine to tie on some paper labels. We used slips of old paper from a sadly-too-damaged “lost” antique book to make labels, writing names for witches, demons, and diseases in German, Russian, and French! For finishing touches, I pulled strands of the twine part to have older looking strings. And we rumpled the edges of the paper tags too.
For the antique shop, I made a large display of the spirit bottles, hand-painting warning signs on more of the antique wooden shingles. We set down a vintage black hat and a few more seasonal items to create a little Halloween vignette. If you don’t want to make any spirit bottles yourself, you can come buy some at the antique shop — or contact us. We will ship! UPDATE: You can now find the spirit bottles and signs in our sister shop, LunaTiques!
Their name appeared in the credits as part of the “Archives Provided By” team of experts, which meant they had helped Mike, Frank, and the crew with some research and photographs used on the show. The specific item my folks helped with was an S.S.S For The Blood bucket which Mike discovered on a pick.
My folks were found by the television show staff based on this article my mom had written for Collectors Quest, back when we were all paid staff writers. Here’s an excerpt from that article:
the S.S.S. stood for Swift’s Southern Specific and that this was one of America’s oldest pharmaceutical companies, founded in 1826. Their first product was the S.S.S. Tonic, used for blood. So, it was indeed an advertising piece. Now on to its purpose. We found an exact replica of this pail which had sold at auction a few years back, although no price was available. It was intended as a string holder! You would place the ball of string in the bottom, with a piece that would trail out of the opening. These were handy devices used for wrapping items that sold in the pharmacy. It was placed on the counter top with a nearby roll of paper and you’d use the string to secure it.
That article also included photos of the old pharmaceutical advertising item, also shared on the show.
And here you can see No Egrets Antiques in the credits! (Psst, you can also find my folks goodies at eBay and Etsy.)