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March: when everyone is Irish – linens, vintage linens, and Irish linen

So much better than lies, damned lies, and statistical lies — welcome back diners, lets explore vintage linens! I had a lot of fun enhancing my own knowledge about linens. I learned that prior to cotton and the synthetic age, all textiles were linen.  Even sheets and towels were linen, which is why we today still have a linen closet. 

A set of monogrammed linen bath towels

When I think of linens I automatically think of Irish-linen, that lovely, soft, plant-based textile that’s super wrinkly.  In my research, I found that linen has been a significant part of the Irish economy for over 300 years.  Linen is loomed from the flax plant, which has been in use as a textile fiber for 8000 years, and quite abundant in Ireland.  Linen items can come from anywhere, but Irish linen is considered the gold-standard.  To be considered Irish linen, the fabric must be loomed or woven in Ireland.  The skill of spinning linen was historically so important to the Irish economy it was a highly regulated by the government. 

Vintage linens often have detail that is lacking in modern linens:

-Natural fibers – Many of today’s “linens” look like linen, however they are either 100% synthetic or synthetic blend.  How to tell? Natural fabrics will always wrinkle, whereas the synthetics have a bounce-back feature.  The natural fabrics become very soft overtime, whereas the synthetics tend to maintain a roughness.

-Hand stitching – this one requires a closer look, but often the hand-stitched items will have imperfections.

-Hand-made lace: Battenberg and cut-work are two of my favorites.  Battenberg lace is a type of tape lace with threads that can be pulled to make intricate curves. 

A battenberg lace ladies hankie, I’ve used this particular one for a pocket-square

Cut work lace is a type of decorative needlework that consists of deliberately cutting out small spaces or holes from a ground material. 

A well-loved table cloth from my grandmothers aunt.

There is also bobbin lace, which was a series of bobbins and a pattern. The user would loom the bobbins together to form handmade lace, and usually serves as edging. 

-Embroidery: very consistent with vintage linens, and there are numerous patterns and colored embroidery tape. 

This was my first attempt at embroidery, this charming pastel floral wreath, i made a set of eight napkins.   The pattern also includes a monogram, but I’ve not attempted that yet!

-Monograms: I love monograms.  They are often dimensional and can be simple or complex.  Monograms in this periwinkle color are a particular favorite.

A series of five monogrammed ladies hankies

Bringing the past into the present, and some classic vintage tabletop linens to consider for your own collection. 

Table cloths and table runners: always classic for any table.  Some may have minor flaws, such as tears, which can be easily mended, or stains.  Like most vintage items its these flaws that bring vintage items character.   True linen table cloths are remarkably soft from years of washing, and feel more like silk than linen.   Likewise with napkins, they are incredibly soft and durable.  Additionally, cloth napkins especially vintage ones, are the ultimate in sustainability! 

Tea Towels: so many options and choices with tea towels; often linen or cotton.   Older vintage ones are usually embroidered with cute images, florals, or monograms.  One of my favorite shops, Whimsical Whites, which is sadly no longer in business made these lamp-shade covers from vintage tea towels.

A small lamp shade. Some of these vintage tea towel embroidery patterns really tell the era of the piece – look at the stove-top coffee maker!

A slightly larger lamp shade

Doilies: oh the dreaded doily – they don’t have to be placed on sofa-arms!  There are some very pretty doilies, and can be quite functional.   Consider using for coasters or heavier ones can be used as table-trivets for hot dishes. Lighter ones can be useful for alfresco dining.  Heirloom pieces are also nice when framed or added to decorative pillows.

A set of five doilies from my grand-mothers Irish roots. Perfect coaster size, though I am not sure if that was their intended use. The photo does not do them justice, but the little clovers are quite dimensional.

Use for covering beverages or side dishes to keep out the pesky critters for outdoor dining, beads will often be added for weight. 

Vintage linens are beautiful and a great addition to your collection of beautiful things.  If you want more ideas for what to do with vintage linens Pintrist has some great ideas. I’ve also seen them used to make cute blouses.

Recently, my husband was called into work, when this happens my go-to is Downton Abby. While many of the scenes are filmed in the historic Highclere Castle, some are village scenes of the commoners giving us a brief glimpse into their lives as well. While watching I noticed the amount of doilies that was shown in a scene and reflected on how valuable these simple items must have been to people who had a very limited income to make frivolous purchases. Oh if all of these items could talk, the stories they could tell. I am always mindful about how much effort went into having such nice things when they were indeed very difficult for most to come by.

I hope you enjoyed this look at vintage linens, and there is so much more to explore – check back in the autumn when we’ll look at vintage quilts Please comment and share how you use vintage linens – and please share with your friends who enjoy beauty in their world. 

What to look forward to in April: a Springtime Easter feast followed by egg cups in late April.  Until then, enjoy something beautiful!  ~d

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