Vintage Style Clown Mobile – restoration project.

We’ve loosely based our nursery on a vintage circus theme and it’s coming together slowly. There’s no real rush as long as we have the baby basics that we need. Anyways, it will be a long time before our little lady (who is still in utero presently) can really enjoy all her rooms assets, so we will continue to acquire and make things as and when we can. 


Today’s project is a vintage clown mobile I picked up at a charity shop. 

The strings had deteriorated and some had snapped right through. The whole piece was also trapped under a thick layer of greasy dust. The mobile itself, is quite heavy, we think it could possibly be resin cast with an acrylic paint finish. The paint is in really good condition with no chips or damage. I don’t know how old it is precisely, but if I were to guess I’d say it’s not as old as it appears to be. It’s done in a vintage 50’s style but my money says it is maybe only up to 10 years old at maximum.


Before cleaning


To give you an idea of size; the canopy has a 45cm diameter, 145cm circumference and 25cm in height. The clown is just under 20cm high in its sitting position… So it’s quite substantial. However, this was project was a ‘cake walk’ after the laundry fiasco. Really all the mobile needed was a good clean to revive the colours, and some new strings.

After a good clean the colours were very vibrant, and the faux aged finish is very obvious, I’m going to revise my original estimate re: age to anything between yesterday and 3-5 years old at most. 

Obviously it wasn’t yesterday, not with the dust layer and snapped old strings with rusty metal rings… But it’s not authentic aged either. It’s still a beautiful big wow factor piece and perfect for a vintage circus nursery.


After cleaning

Detail of string and bead stopper


This step was actually quite difficult; to get the strings all the right length for clown to hook onto at the bottom was like trying to solve a ‘fractal mathematical monster’.

The original string work was done in halves with different lengths across half of the canopy back to the edge on each side (see detail above and illustration below). Each end of each string was secured with a small bead on the inside of the canopy.

This string work gave a nice effect when pulled down to a common length and hooked into the clowns parachute back pack cords.


Excuse the rough illustrations – they are super rough – but you get the gist.

Original string work visually explained.


I decided not to try and mimic the original design, instead putting it in the tooooOOoo hard basket. I used one continuous thread right the way around the canopy and drew down the strings to two points, I let gravity do it’s job by making the loops even.

I used cooking twine/natural cotton as it is strong and thick and will take longer to wear through, than whatever that previous string was…… it looked like thin paper raffia in it’s deteriorated state but I’m sure it didn’t start life that way.

The cooking twine I had was a light natural whitesh cotton colour (cooking twine is so versatile – I also use it to knit eco-friendly face cloths which are super soft and luxurious). To fit in with the old timey look it needed to be a darker colour – so I stained it naturally using some really good instructions from Click on the image below if you are interested in the process.

coffee and tea stain instructions

Dyeing fabric with tea and coffee – instructions at


The process I used involved aromatic chai tea that I had made myself, which I combined with about 6 black tea bags in a pyrex jug. I then added hot water from the kettle, dunked in the cotton and let the brew steep for an hour (see time lapse below). The result was not really dark enough so I left the concoction to sit over night. I found that the overnight step was completely unnecessary as the cotton didn’t take on any more colour. So, the next morning I brewed a super strong pot of coffee and started again after giving the cotton a quick rinse and a squeeze. I poured just enough coffee to cover the string and I have left it to sit for the day to have ample time to suck in all that glorious colour.


My process of staining cotton string with Chai and Black Tea


I found staining fabrics with a natural processes is not an exact science. I quickly decided I’d just keep going until I reach the shade that looks right and luckily hubby thought the house smelt amazing with the hot chai aromas but kept being fooled into thinking I was making some weird gross spaghetti soup every time he saw it on the bench. By the time I pulled the string out of it’s dye bath he exclaimed that it just looked like dirty string. – so rude.

Here are the pictures, one of the chai dye after one hour and the other is after the final coffee dye after one day compared with the original colour. I got to this point and figure – it’s good enough.


Once the string was dry the colour was much lighter than I expected, but it’ll do for what I need and it smells like divine gingerbread and spices which is an unexpected bonus. The colour is half way between the chai and coffee stain when wet.

Natural dye vs natural state cotton


You may have noticed that in initial pictures there is a rusty old circle hanging from one side of the canopy strings; the other one missing. Instead of replacing these with new shiny metal rings I decided to leave these out all together, I felt it gave it a nicer look and would be a lot easier than trying to fake age on shiny new metal.

Here is what the final result looks like….




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