Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Handmade Christmas Gifts Frugally Victorian and Mid Century

 The Victorians appreciated personal handmade gifts of monogrammed and embroidered linens at Christmas and considered them wonderful expressions of friendship and family.  Contrary to the practice of spending far too much money for gifts today, the time invested in even the simplest piece of linen was valued greatly. Here are some beautiful ideas for gifts you can invest a little time is creating that will surely be appreciated for years and generations to come. 

Good, wonderfully woven fabrics are readily available in vintage linen shops locally and online.   Hand towels, tea towels, kitchen towels, pillowcases and small table cloths and linen runners are perfect for the simple embroidered monogram or a center cartouche embellishment.  Vintage damask fabric have beautiful field patterns in many motifs which feature a center frame called a cartouche.  That is the traditional area for the single or entwined monogram or symbol.  A flower or geometric choice, even a white on white running stitch outlining some of the detail in the damask pattern highlights the quality of the piece.  Bold colors or pastels, in cross stitch, whip stitch and outlined with a contrasting color make a stunning piece.

Alphabet transfers can be found at any craft or fabric shop.  Online vintage shops on etsy have an lovely assortment of old embroidery transfer patterns that will make a lovely presentation as a gift as well.  Silk, cotton and wool yarn or floss is available in a huge assortment or colors and sheen these days at the local craft or fabric store.  You can find simple stitch instructions online and demonstrations on if you have trouble following the directions from pictures in an embroidery book.  Again, the work doesn't have to be complicated and in fact, the simpler, the better.

Another great idea is working a simple monogram in the corner of a good quality linen vintage kitchen or tea towel.  The rage these days is old German or French linen toweling and you may see samples of this kind of work with just a tiny initial in the corner, usually in black or red.  You can choose any color you like, and scale the initials to the the size of the stripes or pattern of the towel. 

Choosing the right textile is important.  Good, thick, tightly woven fabric holds the stitches properly and wears well with use.  Good fabric doesn't have to be ironed at all if pulled from the dryer when still slightly damp and laid flat to finish drying.  The cottage chic look of the natural weave of the fabric is charming. 

Kitchen towels can be embroidered with the words, Glass, China, Silver or days of the week as well.  Even vintage calender towels can be outline embroidered for a special look around the year or embellished on particular birthdays and anniversary dates.

You can find calender towels going back decades that are in fabulous condition on etsy or other retro textile shops and ebay.  Read the descriptions carefully and inquire as to the specific condition and quality.  Kay-Dee is an excellent brand, Startex, Martex, Stevens, Cannon and Wilendur are quality brands as well.  I would avoid the reproduction Moda brands sometimes marketed as Aunt Martha because the fabric is thin and while it's vintage-like, it's not good vintage quality. The fabric doesn't have the heft to embroider on the front surface. Quality work, even the most simple work doesn't have to go through the fabric.  Thick, hefty vintage linen has the required hand so the majority of the work never has to go through to the back.

 Small Linen or cotton table toppers are an excellent field for your embellishments.  Usually 32 to 34 inches square, these old cloths were traditionally used for card tables.  Ladies played bridge as a regular club activity back in the day and the hostess usually had to set 3 to 4 tables. They weren't used much and sometimes the embroidered work on these cloths is perfect as a gift the way they are.  Or the old work is easily picked out to start again with your design. Today, these cloths work beautifully for small side tables and as a cover cloth atop another on a dinner table.  So search around for some great vintage linens that will make wonderful gifts and add your special touch.  Your effort will be cherished and appreciated.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Buying Vintage Linens Some Tips for Success

I love the hunt for good quality vintage linens but sometimes regardless of the quality, you can end up bring home more than you paid for.  Value is important, of course, but so is the condition.  Sometimes that can be hard to determine through the dirt and soil.  Obvious stains don't bother me nearly as much as box lots of fabric covered in dirt, boxes that clearly have old water marks and mold and the smell of old, old musty cellars or mothballs. So here are some tips you might find useful so you don't plunk down contemporary money for linens that are beyond vintage and suitable only for the compost heap.

Textile Auctions can offer a great selection in one place but don't get carried away.  First take a look at the box.  If it has obvious water damage and dirt, wear a pair of gloves and turn the linens over to the bottom of the box.  If it looks like the linens have been there a while without airing, lift a couple pieces from the bottom and middle of the stack and hold them to the light.  You'll be able to see thin spots and unfolding the piece will tell if the creases have been ironed in a long time.  Look for signs of critters, mold and old darkened starch. 

Brown fold lines can mean the linen was laying in a wooden drawer without a liner between the linen and the wood.  Over the years, the fabric can absorb the oils and sap in wood as well as the finish stain or oil.  These stains are very hard to remove without damaging the fabric. The fabric can absorb acids and moisture from cardboard as well, just like old prints and pictures.  Again, very difficult to remove without weakening the fabric.  Unless the quality of the linen is excellent, pass this kind of damage by, especially if the linens looked well-used.  Full on bleaching and powerful soaks like oxy will remove the stain eventually but they also destroy the fiber.

Old Starch.  Back in the day, ladies used starch to stiffen linens and that was fine when used lightly and if the linen was used frequently.  Old starch is a lovely treat for silverfish and over the years, undisturbed linens can host a colony of these critters, not to mention mice.  Even, brown coloration, dull yellowing and gray hues mean the linen may have been put away with residual soil or improperly rinsed of wash water.  Starch will brown or turn a dull yellow over years. So be wary of the strength of the fabric and gently pull on an inconspicuous corner to see if the fabric gives. If it is dry and weak, it is going to split, especially along fold lines.  Thin, shiny fabric is fragile and past use so discard it.

Obvious food stains can be difficult to remove.  First of all, they have been set for a long time.  Second, the original owner probably washed and dried the same stain several times before the piece ended up in the drawer for years.  Heat sets stains and ironing sets stains.  The fatty acids in grease and food will weaken fiber of time.  If the stains are light and few, take a chance but check the piece carefully against the light for weak spots and tiny holes. 

Remove linens you buy from their box and place them in a heavy garbage bag and tie it tight.  Don't transport old, musty boxes in your car and don't bring them into your home.  Roaches love old boxes and make homes in cardboard.  The old musty smell is mold and not something you want to bring home either. 

Choose a sheltered space outside your home to store the bags until you are ready to wash them.  Open the bag outside to inspect and shake out every piece then bring them straight to the washing machine.  Use a good amount of detergent, no bleach or oxy, and the hottest water for the longest wash cycle.  Then run the load through again with no additional detergent.  It takes time for fabric to wet all the way through. Remove from the washer and inspect each piece before you put them in the dryer.  Determine how you'd like the treat the problems you find before you allow the fabric to dry.   You may find you'll need to treat, soak, treat, wash, and over again several times before the problems are resolved.  It takes time and care to remove decades of problems but if done carefully, the result is well worth the effort.

If one napkin in a set has some stains, you'll need to wash the entire set as often as you do the one that has a problem if you want to end up with a set that matches. Blue fabrics from any era almost never hold up to spot treatments that leave streaks and lighter areas on the piece.  Always treat the entire piece of any fabric to avoid streaking.

I hope these tips are helpful and I think they are even more important if you are considering buying linen lots online.  Be careful of descriptions that include 'as found', stains that may or may not soak out, have not washed, etc.  Just remember to open the box outdoors because their 'as found' doesn't have to enter your home as it left theirs.  Personally, I don't want someone' mold spores floating around my house.  If you are selling linens, wash them and do not iron them if they have stains you do not intend to resolve.  Just allow the fabric to naturally dry so the buyer has a better chance of handling the issues without a problem.