Restoring a fiberglass lampshade. Part 1.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I'm a total freak for vintage lamps. I have a ton of them, and I love all of them deeply. I get even more excited when the lamp has a fiberglass shade! Fiberglass lamp shades were very common in the 50's and 60's. They came in a variety of colors, finishes, and patterns, and cast a nice glow since the fiberglass is semi-transparent. The were often laced with leather or plastic along the tops and bottoms in a contrasting color. Here are a few of the fiberglass shades I have around my place:

vintage lamp collection by vitaminihandmade
My mom gifted me this great lamp for my birthday a couple years ago. She knows me well!

vintage lamp collection by vitaminihandmade
I bought a pair of these great vintage lamps on Etsy a few years back. I love the starburst design on the shades! These lamps are especially nice, since there's also a light bulb inside the pink glass base!

So my mom bought a floor lamp with this tiered fiberglass shade at a garage sale in Pacific Grove for $2! The lamp was beyond repair, but the shade had potential. She gave it to me, and I decided to fix it up. Here's what I was working with:

shade3 shade1

The good:
  • The paint splatter paint pattern is great, and I love the gold accents.
  • It's huge (almost 18" tall) and is just the right scale for a glass/brass fixture shade that I'd like to switch out.
  • It isn't an heirloom, so I don't feel like I'm going to wreck anything if I try to fix it. 
The bad:
  • It's really wonky. I think the rings are bent.
  • The lacing was loose and/or broken in places and the seams were gaping open.
  • The rings and spider fitters were rusty.
  • It smelled like it had been stored in a shed underneath a pigeons nest. Yucko! 

broken fiberglass lampshade lacing by vitaminihandmade shade5

Let's get to work! I started by cutting off all of the lacing, since it was already damaged beyond repair (if your lacing is in good shape, you can still clean the shade with this method, but you'll be cleaning around the rings and will dry it upright). Most of the glue was long gone, but where it was still intact, I carefully pulled it off, taking care not to damage the fiberglass sheets. So I had the rings, and two sheets of fiberglass, ready to be cleaned.

shade6

I found this recipe for whipped up detergent. I used All Small and Mighty, because it's what I had. Since it's super concentrated, I only used about two tablespoons to about a cup of water. I whipped it up with a whisk attachment.

shade7

I'm not sure why the whipping is necessary, though. The bubbles immediately started disappearing when I stopped whipping, and eventually disappeared entirely. Either way, I scooped the foamy soap onto a sponge, and carefully wiped it across the fiberglass, making sure to go in the direction of the "grain".

cleaning a vintage fiberglass lampshade by vitaminihandmade

Fiberglass is composed of lots of tiny glass fibers, and rubbing in the wrong, or in multiple directions may rough up the surface. I rinsed the sheet with warm water, and then laid it out flat on a towel to dry. The larger sheet was a little more difficult, since it was so big, so I improvised and clipped it up with a skirt hanger and hung it up in the shower to dry.

drying fiberglass sheets

I *hope* to eventually be able to switch out this ugly glass shade in my work area with my freshly-restored shade.

shade4

This glass and brass shade really doesn't add anything to the space, so a new shade would really spruce up the area. It'll look great hanging in front of my vintage floral curtains!  

I will be reassembling the shade in part 2 of this post, and will be retrofitting the shade onto the light fixture in part 3, so check back again!

Please note: These methods worked for me and my particular shade. If your shade is delicate, or valuable and you are concerned about potentially damaging it, consult with a professional.

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I accidentally removed your comment, Ann! Oops! My family has always been big believers in fixing what you have, and I know it rubbed off on me. :)

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  2. any suggestions how to change the color to a fiberglass lampshade?

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  3. Were you able to get any creases out of the fiberglass material. There was an accident with a very old and expensive MC lamp ($170.00) that we bought with for our daughter's birthday. She lives in San Diego, CA, I live in PA. I am heartsick as she found it online near our home. I am about to finally ship it to her place. I thought about ironing the creases out of the fiberglass, but am worried it might melt the fiberglass. Any thoughts?

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  4. Hi there, I love your lamps! Had to come right out and say that... Now on to a question I have, since I can't find any answer so far. My husband and I have his grandparents lamp, which has a wonderful fiberglass shade. We are going to store it for a bit in our attic. This attic is a small space between the ceiling and roof (I NEED a finished attic!). I am hoping you will have a suggestion or knowledge on how to store it? I was thinking to wrap it in plastic, though I am not sure how the temperature changes will effect it. I would hate for it to be compromised, as we plan on lighting our life with it in the near future! Any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thank you!! Let me know if you would like a different contact as well... Best wishes, Chritina.

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    1. Hi Christina! I don't have much experience storing the shades, but I think something breathable would be good for preventing mildew - like paper bags or a loose wrap in kraft paper inside a cardboard box. Fiberglass is also used for insulation so I don't think the temp changes would affect it too much. Best wishes!

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