Articles, Ideas, Linen Care
How to wash antique linens
Monograms, More than just Letters
Why do antique sheets come in so many sizes? Which size should I buy?
How do I know what size tablecloth to buy?
We at Pieces of History Antique Linens and Lace get many excellent questions related to linens and laces, over the upcoming weeks we would like to use this forum to answer some of them. Years ago, back in the day, tablecloth sizes were chosen depending on the time of day and the occasion. The dictates for the amount of drape on any given event was rigidly adhered to . In the event one did not know and was unfortunate enough to use the wrong size cloth, oh faux pas! You were the subject of many whisperings and titters behind rapidly waving fans! Today, thank goodness, this is no longer the case. The only rules might be in choosing colors that don't clash. Seriously though, what you decide to use on your table is only limited by imagination or one's pocketbook. A tablecloth can be any length from no drape to floor length and any color and or pattern at all. Still, some would like a few guidelines, and for those in the dark I will mention these. For very formal occasions, white is the color of choice, other colors may be used but white is always correct! The cloth should be long enough and wide enough to drape over the side and have the bottom rest about 4-6 inches above the chair seat. This gives guests enough room to scoot their legs comfortable under the table without the cloth getting in the way (have you ever been at a table where the cloth was draped all over your legs and you couldn't find your napkin under all that bunched up fabric?) It can be a bit shorter and still be fine. Another choice is to have the cloth drape to the floor. This looks very dramatic, hides the chair legs (perfect for folding tables) and the family dog looking for tidbits. The drawback is that it's a lot of fabric to push out of the way when sitting down to the table. If your tablecloth isn't wide enough or long enough you could use the layering technique. This is done by using contrasting or complementary colored tablecloths one over the other. The longer cloth is placed on the table first and the smaller one over that. Even a smaller 3rd cloth can be used. This, done well, can create a rich, expensive textured look. Have fun and experiment with different colors, sizes and shapes to see what you like! A round cloth can be used on a rectangular table over a larger rectangular cloth or a square cloth over a round one or vice versa. Almost anything goes! After you find that perfect tablecloth or combination, how do you keep it from sliding around on your table? A good inexpensive solution for this are the thin rubber mats made to put under carpeting to keep it from scooting around on your floor. These come in a variety of sizes and can be obtained in most hardware stores, they are washable (hang to dry) and easily cut with scissors to fit your table contours. Another benefit is that they pad the table under the cloth which helps prevent damaging your table as well as your fine china and eliminates the annoying rattling of utensils. Get the ones that are made specifically to go over wood floors and remove them from the table along with the tablecloth at the end of the meal when everyone is in another room comfortably digesting. Pieces of History Antique Linens and Lace has a fine selection of tablecloths including round, square, rectangular and hard to find wide banquet cloths.
How to wash antique linens
Linen is a wonderful fabric, its usually heavy, smooth and cool to touch, it drapes beautifully. Linen is the luxury of fabrics for the bedroom, or bath, and with a bit of extra care it will outlast cotton. Linen is a strong fabric but it doesnít take well to agitation like say from a washing machine. I advocate hand washing for small items if washing only one or two. For large items with stains or large batches I suggest this method, which is the one I use. I wash by soaking my linens. I usually use a 5 gallon plastic (never metal) bucket (cheap to buy at a hardware store) I usually use 1/3 cup of regular Tide (I have heard good things about Ivory snow too and 3 heaping Tablespoons of 20 Mule Team Borax. I then fill the bucket about ĺ full of warm water and stir till the powders have dissolved in the water. I then add the linens. A bucket will hold one large sheet for soaking or one large tablecloth and a few napkins. Donít put too many items in; you should be able to stir the contents around a bit. I then let this soak overnight, but you can soak them up to 3 days safely. For OLD extra stubborn stains I also add 1/4 cup of Clorox 2 (not bleach) to the mixture before adding linens. This soak will get out most stains. The idea is to soak stains as soon as you can after they get stained. If items are not stained a simple 10 minute soak in mild soap will do. I NEVER use fabric softener as it coats the fibers with silicone, which inhibits linens absorbency. Once the items have finished soaking I then dump the entire contents into the washer, I spin the dirty, soapy water out then refill with water, I slosh the linens around with my hands for a bit then spin the water out and repeat the rinse (I NEVER allow the washer to agitate!) and put them in a dryer on moderate heat and dry til barely dry, if you want to iron right away then til damp. I always iron linen on the COTTON setting, on the backside of the linen keeping the iron moving on a well-padded board. I do not bother to iron sheets for my own use as I prefer them soft and I donít mind the wrinkles since they get that way anyway. I also do not use starch; linens should not be stored once they have starch on them. I also rotate my linens so items get used on a fairly regular basis. When ironing fancy embroidery cutwork and needlelace etc. be careful not to tug on it or get the iron caught in the brides as this will tear or weaken the fabric. It is essential to have a thick padding under the item before ironing padded or heavy embroidery, then if the item is damp you can apply VERY gentle, even traction as you iron, start at the middle of the decorated part and work out to the sides and edge on middle or low cotton setting so it wonít scorch. Generally the padding allows the item to move and stretch without the need for much traction. If you have never ironed fancy cut or embroidered items practice on a poor piece until you get comfortable doing it. I use a Rowenta Expert steam iron, this way the linen gets plenty of moisture from the steam to get those wrinkles out and I can iron them when they are dry instead of damp. If you follow these directions your linens will give you many years of joy and service. Extra notes: Oxyclean works well instead of the borax for removing age staining I have also read that Natures Miracle (found in the pet store for treating pet stains) which has enzymes that break down protein stains also works well as an overnight pre soak for linens. I haven't tried this but it does make sense that it would work on whites. To find out more about linens and linen care go to my links page where I have links to some sites that have more linen info.
Monograms, More than just Letters
When I was young, I remember the special spoons my mother had with the fancy scrolled T on the handles , the T stood for Tolford, my great grandmother's last name. I was fascinated by the beautiful swirling design of the letter and the soft worn patina. I imagined all the people who must have used those spoons, their thumbs resting over that letter just so, rubbing the handle and softening the once sharply defined lines. These weren't just any spoons, they belonged to someone, claimed, important, they had an initial after all! This fascination began my interest and love of antiques, especially those with monograms. I learned to appreciate them regardless of what the monogram was, sometimes I couldn't even figure out what the letters were so convoluted were the scrolling designs. They were conversation pieces as friends and family members tried to figure out the letters, sometimes amusing each other with stories about what might have taken place around those items. It made them even more interesting and fun. It eventually became a challenge to educate myself on learning to read the many types of letters used in monograms. I spent time in libraries looking up the books that would not only help me identify the items themselves but the letters on them as well. I became interested more specifically in monograms on linens in high school when I went to a high tea with a friend of mine who's mother was from England, the table was laid with her best silver, linen tablecloth and these small beautifully embroidered tea towels and napkins all monogrammed with initials. I had learned to embroider from my grandmother and thought I was pretty good with a needle until I saw these linens, they were gorgeous! The ends of the towels, as well as the edges of the napkins had the finest handwork I had ever seen! I couldn't believe it was possible to make stitches that perfect or fine, but there they were in front of me. Things came full circle when some years later I began collecting and then selling antique linens. I started as most people do by just looking for monograms pertaining to the family name, my name or my husbands. After a short time I realized how limiting this was, so many fantastic linens had letters that had nothing to do with our name...I was missing out! I quickly embraced the notion that monograms were works of art in and of themselves regardless of who's initials were on them. This revelation opened up a whole new universe of possibilities. Who cares if its not my initial? Each letter has its own unique form and beauty, each one hand embroidered by someone different bringing their own individuality to the piece, a little mini masterpiece in and fabric and thread. To make things more interesting, fine hand monogramming is a dying art, few people have the skill or patience to do it let alone the time! Now is a good time to invest in some of these beautiful linens, while there is still a good supply of them around to enjoy and treasure! You might ask why do some monograms have one letter, while some have more? To be specific, mon meaning of man and gram or gramma meaning letter or record. Webster's dictionary states monogram as meaning "a sign of identity usually formed of the combined initials of a name." The choice of the artist of whether to use one or more letters then became personal preference. Some wanted just one family initial while others favored 2, 3 or even 4 or more letters. One letter usually denoted the family name, 2 letters could either denote the first and last initials of the man, or on rare occasion, the woman's family name and the mans. Three initials usually denote the family initial in the center large letter with the first name initial as a small letter and the middle initial last. The use of 4 letters typically involves both the man and the woman's initials, the woman's maiden name initial and the mans family name are usually the 2 larger center letters. This is just an example of the most typical ways the letters were arranged, since individual preferences varied, so did the initial arrangements. Monograms can also give clues as to the origin of the linens. A family crest, coat of arms or symbol above the monogram speaks volumes about the piece. Typically these were used by people of wealth and or title, a crown above the monogram was only allowed to be used by those of the nobility. So, a crown, with a monogram under it and a good idea of the age of the piece and the possible country it came from could probably pin the original owner down, especially if there was a date under it (linens rarely have dates but when they do it greatly increases their value)! Some of the more stylized letters can sometimes help place the age of the piece, if the style looks to be Art Deco, it probably is, the same applies for Art Nouveaux and Arts and Crafts. Monograms also served another purpose. Early linens were expensive (think of the time it took to make them), they were listed as part of the estate, even in small homes the linens were listed as part of the property and often were listed in the will. The monograms and numbers often found under them made it easier to keep track of the them, especially if the linens were washed at a communal washing area or if they went to a local washer-woman in the town or village. Show linens boasted the family monogram front and center, especially on towels, sheets and bedspreads. Monograms done for identification purposes were usually placed on the top corner or more rarely, on the bottom corner. Monograms are much more than a pretty letter or letters on linen, they are little pieces of history that have a story all their own to tell if you are just willing to pick them up and pay attention to what they have to say!
Why do antique sheets come in so many sizes? Which size should I buy?
We at Pieces of History Antique Linens and Lace get many excellent questions related to linens and laces, over the upcoming weeks we would like to use this forum to answer some of them. This month's question is 2 fold. 1. Why do antique sheets and pillowcases come in so many sizes? 2. How do I know what size sheet or pillow case to buy? Today, our beds and mattresses are manufactured in standard sizes, those sizes being Twin or Single, Full or Double, Queen, King and California King. Mattress sizes for these are as follows: Twin; 39 x75 Full; 54 x 75 Queen; 60 x 80 King: 78 x 80 California King; 72 x 84 Linens are also made in standard sizes so its easy to go into the store and buy the size that corresponds to your bed size. Pillowcases are the same, you buy the cases according to what size pillows you have which are also standardized. In the Victorian era to about the 1920's (and later for Europe), beds, mattresses and pillows were custom made to order, even earlier in America's colonial and homesteading days and up to the advent of mechanization, everything was hand made usually at home for ones own use for whatever size needed. Homes were SMALL and so were the beds, the linens were hand woven using flax (or occasionally cotton) grown right on the farm which was hand harvested, hand processed and then woven by the lady of the house who was also busy with all the other chores required for day to day living, she may or may not have had help, given this, she made fabric only as large as necessary to do the job, which is why early American linens are generally small 50 to 74 inches wide and 75-90 inches long typically, there also was no distinction between top and bottom sheets. Pillowcases were also hand made to fit the pillows at hand, they were often narrower than those we use today though longer sometimes one pillow was used to span the width of the bed. Wealthy homes were larger and had more people around to help, the beds were larger and so were the linens, with more free time they were also often woven more finely, if the lady didn't weave she bought them or had them shipped from Europe. All the linens were EXPENSIVE either in ones time, or by trade or purchase. They were numbered for easy reference in wills and to keep track of if laundered by a laundress or in a community pot with other's linens. Linens From England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy were generally larger both in width and length, the wealthy often had huge beds as a status symbol and the linens were correspondingly large to match, these linens were often monogrammed and enhanced with beautifully skilled embroidery done by the ladies of the house since embroidery was considered a genteel art fit for ladies of high station. I have seen sheets as large as 130 by 160 inches, truly king size!
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