Whether you just put them on display or turn them into permanent accents, decorating with vintage scarves is an inexpensive way to add color and pattern to a room.
You'll find plenty of usable scarves at thrift stores and flea markets. Estate sales in older, upscale neighborhoods are frequently good sources for fine examples. You may even find some designer scarves lurking amidst the goods. Vintage scarves are frequently in pristine condition. If they're not, you can clean even delicate silk scarves.
Create Window Treatments
Stitch a collection of vintage scarves together patchwork style to make a vibrant, eclectic pair of curtains. The scarves don't have to match. They don't even have to share the same color scheme or pattern type.
Sheer and lightweight scarves filter the sunlight as it streams through your windows without blocking it. If you need more privacy, line the curtains with drapery lining material. You aren't limited to windows. A patchwork-style scarf curtain also works well as a shower curtain or room divider.
For a no-sew window treatment, make a valance by folding a large square scarf in half diagonally. Then, knot the ends onto your curtain rod. Or, drape the scarf over the rod so the rod is positioned inside the diagonal fold. For the latter type of installation, you can also use a rectangular scarf. Because the points won't align when you fold the scarf, the result resembles a handkerchief hem.
Another no-sew option is using clip-on curtain rings to a pair of scarves into cafe curtains. Cafe curtains hang from a rod placed approximately half-way up the window frame. They work especially well in kitchens and breakfast rooms where you don't feed full coverage for privacy. If you don't mind a bit of sewing, you can also hand sew rings to the tops of the scarves or make tie tops from lengths of ribbon.
Make a Quilt or Throw
The same patchwork effect that works well when you make curtains from a group of old scarves also works for making a quilt or throw.
Sew enough scarves together to achieve the size you want. For a throw, line the sewn-together scarves with drapery lining or a solid-colored decorative fabric. If you're making a quilt, you'll need to batting and a fabric backing before quilting around the perimeter of each scarf.
If your scarves have large-scale graphic motifs, you can even quilt around the individual designs as well.
Frame Scarves as Art
For your most prized scarf finds, frame them and hang them on your walls as art. A good frame makes the scarf look more important, and the frame's glass serves as protection.
Framing works especially well for delicate pieces that may not survive if you handle or wear them. Look for a frame with the same shape as your scarf. There's no need for matting, but you may need to mount the scarf on a fabric-covered backing if the scarf and frame aren't the exact same size.
Hang a large scarf by itself or group two or more small- to medium-sized framed scarves together in an art grouping.
Create a Vertical Display
If you want to decorate with your scarves without making them impossible to wear, consider displaying them on a leaning ladder.
To display delicate scarves, sand a sleek wooden ladder until it's smooth and snag-free. Then, apply several coats of glossy white paint. Let the paint dry and give it a light sanding between coats. For a glass-like finish, use oil paint and apply up to seven coats of lacquer on top of the paint. Damp sand after each coat of lacquer for the best result.
For thicker, heavier scarves made from opaque fabrics like wool or flannel, opt for a rustic barn ladder or southwestern kiva version. Leave the natural finish intact and unpainted. You can give it a few coats of clear furniture wax to nourish the wood and help protect against snags.
Upholster a Chair Seat or Back
If a scarf is large enough -- and they frequently are -- you can use them to reupholster the seat or back of a dining-style chair.
Add a backing of drapery lining material before upholstering with a lightweight or silk scarf. Reserve the most delicate scarves for chair backs, unless you're using the chair as an accent piece in a formal living room. Even lined, the fabric may be too delicate to use on chair seats that get daily use in a den or dining area.