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Designers sew cedar-chest treasures into one-of-a-kind clothes

The designs of Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs put cedar-chest treasures of another era to use in a new way. The young husband and wife team from upstate New York combine antique laces and embroidered linens to create one- of-a-kind blouses and jumpers. They use rare pieces of tapestry and crewel work in jackets and skirts.

"We take a customer's treasures and incorporate them into an item that is very personal." Richard says. Home sewers can do the same for themselves, he adds.

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Their spring/summer line, carried at Liberty, a specialty clothing shop in Washington d.C.'s Georgetown area, features jumpers in soft, misty colors of linen accented with antique embroideries.

Other ideas carried out for customers include:

* Trimming a dress with a collar and cuffs made from antique lace.

* Turning a Persian wool shawl into a long, dirndl skirt.

* Using a colorful mola as the centerpiece of a tunic top.

* Trimming a nightgown of lightweight cotton with Victorian lace.

* Using a piece of antique needlepoint as the focal point on a jumper front.

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* Turning a large Thai silk stole into a skirt and blouse.

* Using an embroidered tea towel as the centerpiece for a blouse front.

* Fashioning an embroidered Victorian bedspread into a jacket.

An item which has become a signature of the designers is the chasuble, a sleeveless dress or top that slips over the head but remains open at the sides.

Adopted from the style of the outer ecclesiastical vestment used in many churches, the chasuble is worn over a matching dress or blouse with sleeves.

For summer, the MacKenzie-Childses make chasubles of antique tea towels, hankies, and dress scarves embroidered and trimmed with tatting. They combine the delicate antique linens with pieces of lace and sew them together like a puzzle. In winter, they combine richly colored velvets, ribbons, and lace.

"The original purpose of the old fabrics are outdated," says Mrs. MacKenzie-Childs."But the beauty of the designs in the embroideries, crewel work , and laces is still there. We find they can be appreciated just as much now in a new whole new context."

The MacKenzie-Childses, who regularly comb antique shops and estate sales for old fabrics and trims, say that repair work on the antique fabrics is often needed.

Mr. MacKenzie-Childs, who learned to sew professionally at 15 when he was hired to work in a specially clothing shop in Milford, Massachusetts, spends endless hours re-embroidering damaged fabrics and reweaving sections of worn wools, he says.

He first washes all the antique cotton, linen, silk, and wool fabrics by hand with a mild soap to be sure the old fabrics can withstand sewing and wearing. Then he takes out rust and mold stains with spot removers.

The MacKenzie-Childses are now working on their fall clothing collection which will feature a low-waisted tartan plaid press with white antique cotton collar and black bow.

The collection will also include jumpers of wool with insets of tapestry, crewel work, and needlepoint as well as skirts with inlaid patterns of velvetten. Prices for their clothes at Liberty range from $100 to $500.

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