Wet vintage linen can be delicate. When the fibers are wet, they become fragile. Tears or separations are commonplace. So, how can you dry vintage linens safely? The best way is to use a large towel. Lay the wet linen on a large towel and roll it up, squeezing the water out of the linen as you go. Repeat as many times as you need until the linen is fairly dry, then drape the linen piece over a drying rack. Make sure you support the linen across the entire drying rack and not just one rung, as one rung will stretch that area touching the rung. Let it dry – then fold it. Try it – you’ll never dry fine linens on the line or (shudder) throw them into a dryer again. I have more tips like this on my new public Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mom-Me-Vintage-Linens-Lace/335108499846187?sk=page_insights Join me and share your tips as well.
The other day, I was in the store straightening up the linens and repackaging some lace that someone had left out, when a woman came in a started browsing. I greeted her and she replied in kind then without another word, went about her browsing seemingly with purpose. I went back to my straightening up and yet occasionally I could hear her softly chuckling to herself, as she would pick up one tablecloth or drapery at a time. Soon, she started fingering the napkins and then the bed linens; all the while softly talking to herself or, as I said before, softly chuckling. Eventually she got close to me and I commented, “Beautiful aren’t they?” She looked at me and with a slight twinkle in her eye said, “Oh my, do I sound like an idiot? I’m so sorry, but I must sound like an old nut job. When I came in here earlier this week, I had to stop myself from smiling out loud. I keep forgetting that other people are around.” I told her not to worry, that she didn’t sound like a nut, when she continued to explain, “It’s the linens dear, the lace, they so much remind me of when I was a little girl, helping my mother wash and press the linens. Every Wednesday was our wash day and my job was to iron and fold the little tea napkins and kitchen towels, when I wasn’t in school.”
I could see the memories in her eyes as she very carefully folded each towel back up and neatly placed it back on to the stack. I could tell she was doing it the same way she did as a child. Rose (that was her name) eventually bought two 50’s hand towels and a couple of lace dress tops I had salvaged. She said she was going to make a gown with a lace top for her granddaughter. As I thanked her for her purchases, she stopped me and said, “No, thank you for the memories. I’m going back home at the end of this week, and this little shop has added a special memory to my trip.
I have to admit that prior to Rose coming in, as I was ‘cleaning’ up after people, I had asked myself if all the work I put into this shop was worth it. In one brief encounter, Rose made it all worthwhile. Thank you Rose – wherever you are. You are the reason I collect and sell vintage linens. You managed to put a smile on my face on a day when I needed it the most.
(Photo credit: George Eastman House)”]It makes sense that as owners of a vintage linen and lace shop, we are in love with fine linens. Tight woven linen, some white, some cream, some with hand printed flowers and vines, with vivid red, yellows and green colors in distinctive patterns. Colors just as alive and vibrant today as when they were first produced. You can visualize the artist passing the linen through each color separation, but not always registering the cloth exactly, as would happen if it were in today’s high-speed linen press.
That’s what makes vintage so special; the imperfections afforded a warm hand, versus the cold steel of today’s production methods. Then you have the beautiful Damask linens, each with their subtle but distinctive pattern, that when laid out on a table, along with the matching napkins and fine silver, make dinner with friends a special event.
Oh, did I fail to mention we just picked up a trunk full of vintage linen this weekend? You probably would have guessed it anyway. I have spent my day, literally lying within the folds of history. I have smelled the clean air, the aroma of the slow cooked pot roast and roasted potatoes. In my mind, I hear the clatter of dishes and dinnerware over the chatter of family- all sitting down to Sunday dinner.
I started thinking, what makes the experience of touching fine linen so special? For that matter, what makes the experience of collecting anything vintage so special? I don’t know the exact answer; it’s different for everyone, but I have my suspicions. The 30’s, 40’s, 50’s are my favorite years and it’s hard to pick any one thing that makes these generations stand out, until you voice all adjectives and realize that you have used “quality” more then once.
The fact that the linens that we hold in our hand are so crisp and wonderfully colored after all these years and hundreds of washings later, are a big part of it. Modern day linens miss this level of quality. Maybe it’s the fact that these were produced when pride and quality of workmanship was in everything. Perhaps that’s what all of us look for when we purchase anything vintage. We are purchasing a chance to get back an era when times were simpler and families were closer and pride in workmanship was paramount. When you pick up a napkin from the 30’s you get the same feeling your grandmother felt and the same feeling your children will feel when they are the recipients of your collection.
Secretly I want to keep every linen napkin I touch; every lace doily I wash, or every tablecloth I fold. I want my daughter to have this quality long after my passing. Then my husband says the magic words that bring me back to why we opened this store. He’ll say, “Do you know that when a customer buys these linens, that their children will probably end up using them in their future?” I pause and think about that and then it strikes me, that this is the guarantee that “quality” gives you. That’s what I live for. By retrieving, preserving and passing on this little bit of cloth, I pass history forward. That makes me smile.
Stop in a pick a piece of this history. Take a look at what American workers did. Some of them (many of them) were your grandmothers and grandfathers, maybe – if you’re older, even your mother and fathers. They did good back then.