As my arms are slowly healing and I have had a self imposed sabbatical from blogging and sewing, I have spent some time experimenting with laundry techniques.
I managed to get hold of 2 beautiful dresses from the 1940's, both black. One made from silk crêpe and the other from wool crêpe. Both dresses smelled rather bad. The wool crêpe dress smelled of old sweat and musty awfulness, the silk dress had bad underarm odour. I am lucky enough to own a book from the 1930's which amongst other useful things also has a chapter on laundry and dry cleaning, and I decided to see if the tips listed in the book would work.
The book lists vinegar as the best solution on removing armpit stains. This did work on the salts which formed the stain, but the smell did not go away. In fact, the vinegar added a certain something to the existing smell which did nothing to improve it.
I then heard that rubbing alcohol might work, and decided to give it a try. So far I found that the alcohol kills just about any odour, be it sweat or the musty smell that sometimes clings to vintage garments. I have so far only tested alcohol on cotton, silk and wool, but it seems to work beautifully, and so far it looks as if the garments takes well to the treatment.
What I do is I use a spray can with alcohol to dampen the garments (or rather, I have my better half doing this part due to the wrists). Once the garment is dry it needs to be washed (I always hand was any garments pre dating 1950).
I also found that even though vintage wool crêpe shrinks, it can be returned to it's original size with some patience and an iron. Use a dry pressing cloth between the garment and the iron, and gently pull the garment into shape.