Vintage Linens Love Affair

 

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Ahhh! It’s happened…we are finally THAWING OUT here in New England. I tell you, dear readers, it was a L-O-N-G winter for us! Spring makes me think of freshly-laundered linens gently swaying in a soft breeze, flowers covering vintage floral hankies, soft cotton, embellished pillowcases and lovely linen vintage tablecloths, painstakingly embroidered by hand. Linens of yesteryear still bring on the charm today; they are “spring” on fabric. April’s blog is dedicated to vintage linens: tablecloths, hankies, afghans…OH MY!

One of the most fun finds at antique stores, tag sales, and flea markets is a bunch of vintage hankies. There’s so many colors and shapes, some with beautiful edging or lace. Prices range from a few dollars for a “lot” to a few dollars a piece. I love sharing vintage hankies – one tucked into the envelope of a card doesn’t require more postage, and makes a card extra-special!

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Vintage hankies and scarves are also one of the easiest things to repurpose. I like to tie one on my purse handles as a nod to vintage and a pop of color, or onto the handle of things like baskets, luggage, and coolers.

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Train cases aren’t widely used for travel but make great charming storage for all sorts of things! A hankie adds some fun color.

Train cases aren’t widely used for travel anymore, but make great charming storage for all sorts of things! A hankie adds some fun color.

Long before the days of Pinterest, I moved from Pennsylvania to Connecticut over twenty years ago. As a going away present, a friend made me beautiful framed vintage hankies. I’ve also seen hankies turned into curtains, pillows, and bunting! (Then of course, there is the “tissue” use- they are softer, gentler and better for the planet than paper disposable tissues, if you can get over the “ick” factor).

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I use vintage hankies as “dresser scarves” or to highlight the color of a decorative piece, and I love putting them under my vintage sewing machine collection. A hankie under a sewing machine not only looks quaint but protects surfaces from being scratched by the metal under the machines.

 

This sweet little machine (I named after MaryJane) sits in my kitchen atop one of a set of cherry themed napkins from the 40’s, tying into the theme of my kitchen.

This sweet little machine (I named after MaryJane) sits in my kitchen atop one of a set of cherry themed napkins from the 40’s, tying into the theme of my kitchen.

 

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My husband bought me the VSM I had long been hunting for: a White brand model 1265…the same model my daddy bought my mama in the 1960’s that she taught me to sew on as a child. I love it’s “camper colors”, don’t you? The little box that perfectly matches sitting in front of the machine was a Christmas gift from a friend… a vintage hanky box!

“Hanky boxes” were typically made from repurposed greeting cards, (similar to greeting card bowls), but laminated. Sewn with embroidery floss or thread, in interesting shapes, they were meant to hold a lady’s hankies. So sweet! In all my junktiquing, I’ve only seen a couple!

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Here’s another example of a vintage hankie box made from cards. Photo courtesy of Mary Reid.

Vintage tablecloths and table runners are another favorite. They can run from a few dollars to quite expensive, but certainly bring charm to any table, as well as are fun to repurpose.

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My grandmother made this linen tablecloth for my parents in the late 50s. It’s the only thing I have from her. It doesn’t fit my table, so I drape it sideways.

My grandmother made this linen tablecloth for my parents in the late 50s. It’s the only thing I have from her. It doesn’t fit my table, so I drape it sideways. Draping tablecloths vertically or layering odd shapes is also chic.

 

For Easter, this table runner graced our table; a $2.00 flea market find, I had to repair the lace a bit.

Too pretty to put away! When it’s not Easter, I repurpose it by draping over a plain pillow. I’ve seen table linens at the foot of a bed, draped over a bench, or used on coffee tables. Think outside the box!

Too pretty to put away! When it’s not Easter, I repurpose it by draping over a plain pillow. I’ve seen table linens at the foot of a bed, draped over a bench, or used on coffee tables. Think outside the box!

My friend Linda gave me this beauty for my glamper,  Gidget, for my birthday. I love how the colors tie everything together. Vintage linens were made strong and hold their charm!

My friend Linda gave me this beauty for my glamper, Gidget, for my birthday. I love how the colors tie everything together. Vintage linens were made strong and hold their charm!

Sometimes aged linens yellow or have darkened fold marks. Don’t pass up something you love because it is has been previously “well loved”.

My fellow farmgirl and dear friend, Linda Weston, has been collecting vintage linen tablecloths for years, and swears by Biz as the best soak for vintage linens. (Biz can sometimes be hard to find. Linda found hers in Target). I’ve also used OxyClean.

To clean spots on things like tablecloths and napkins, I do several steps. First, I use a homemade spray directly on any spots I see. Mix one cup each of vinegar and blue, original Dawn dish liquid in a bowl. Microwave on high for one minute and put in a spray bottle. This works great to clean dirty showers or oven doors, but it’s also the best fabric stain remover! Spray directly on any spots and let sit. Rinse well…making sure to get all of the soap out before going to the next step.

If you need whitening, soak your the piece in cold water with a scoop of either Biz or Oxy Clean. You might need to soak overnight, and more than once to get the whiteness/brightness/stain removal that you want. I use a vintage enamel baby tub, but you can use your bathtub or kitchen sink. Never put linen or embroidered pieces in a modern washer or dryer!

A good soaking in a cold bath and this tablecloth is clean and bright...mint condition!

A good soaking in a cold bath and this tablecloth is clean and bright…mint condition!

Finally, I hang to dry. If there are stubborn spots, I will use a tiny bit of bleach on a cotton swab, and simply touch the spot (only if it is on a white background). I despise bleach, and do not use it in washing. I use other, environmentally safer and green cleaners when cleaning, but learned to keep a small bottle of bleach on hand in the house a few years ago when we had a rabid raccoon on our porch. He was very sick, and drooled all over everything before Animal Control arrived. Bleach to the rescue! For spot removal, only dab on white, and rinse. You may have to repeat this a couple of times. Last Christmas, I saved a beautiful napkin from a set that had been used to “mop up” red wine. It took repeated tries, but now you can’t pick out the napkin that was once a complete dark red wine mess from the other pristine, white background printed napkins.

For washing and whitening whole loads, I love to use old fashioned bluing in my wash cycle.

Even laundry bags had charm “back in the day”!

Even laundry bags had charm “back in the day”! A bit of whimsy for washday.

Linen calendar towels are fun finds! They can range in price from $2.00 to $10+, depending on the shape and where you find them. They make great birthday gifts with the recipient’s birth year.

 

Linen calendar towels are fun! This one matches the theme of my kitchen. My fridge works perfectly, and I dread replacing it. After almost 20 years, the front is scratched. This fun towel brings whimsy and matches my kitchen, hiding the ugly front of the refrigerator.

This calendar towel matches the theme of my kitchen. My fridge works perfectly, and I dread replacing it. After almost 20 years, the front is scratched. This fun towel brings whimsy, and matches my kitchen while hiding the ugly front of the refrigerator.

This one “announces” the year of our vintage camper.

This one “announces” the year of our vintage camper.

Another great find are vintage blankets and afghans. I teach knitting and crochet classes, but also specialize in repairing and restoring vintage pieces like sweaters and afghans. I love that I can save something with a history or sentiment.

I recently repaired this beautiful vintage throw for a fellow Vintage Glamper friend. It was coming apart and had dry rot, though all the colors were vibrant. To keep dry rot at bay, store woolen linens in cotton bags or pillowcases. Plastic bags are not good for long term storage of wool.

I recently repaired this beautiful vintage throw for a fellow Vintage Glamper friend. It was coming apart and had dry rot, though all the colors were vibrant. To keep dry rot at bay, store woolen linens in cotton bags or pillowcases. Plastic bags are not good for long term storage of wool.

Some pieces might be too far gone to repair, and are referred to on sites like Etsy as “cutters”…good for making into things like pillows, quilts or bags.

The vintage stadium blanket from 1969 that my friend Andrea gifted me was perfect for my Glamper. I easily repaired a few holes, but could not get the heavy grease stains from the wool.

This dark, grease like stain would not budge from this 1969 stadium blanket. Before...

This dark, grease like stain would not budge from this 1969 stadium blanket. Before…

After

Sometimes set in, old stains can be “hidden” with fabric markers or even paint. When all stain removal methods for wool failed on the greasy spots on the stadium blanket, I  “hid” the spots using fabric markers and acrylic paint. Dab carefully…small dabs. SMALL! 😉

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The result is beautiful. The spots are barely noticeable. The vintage yo-yo quilt is a recent thrift store find. The beauty of vintage linens is also in how they “layer” so deliciously!

My bed is a mix of new and old. The yo-yo throw and pillow cases are vintage, the quilt is new, mass-produced, and the throw pillows are made by me from vintage-style fabric. Layering makes a bed cozy and inviting.

My bed is a mix of new and old. The yo-yo throw and pillow cases are vintage, the quilt is new, mass-produced, and the throw pillows are made by me from vintage-style fabric. Layering makes a bed cozy and inviting.

The yo yo quilt is kitty approved.

The yo yo quilt is kitty approved.

There’s just something about vintage linens, with many people collecting them. Their designs are happy and many show true handiwork. Bursting with color, they ooze charm, sweetness, and warmth…not bad qualities at all!

*Do you collect vintage linens, or have some pointers to add? Leave me a comment, or just say “hi” so I know you stopped by!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 37 Comments

  1. Lisa Hunnicutt Strange says:

    I bought the cutest tablecloth from the 50s and I live it. So bright and cherry.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Lisa, OOOOOo…fifties tablecloths are the best! I agree, they bring on the cheer! They are so much fun! Enjoy! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Cindy Hamilton says:

    What a wonderful post! I too love old hankies and linens. I have some hankies that I found in my great grandmother’s purse along with some old vintage greeting cards. I’ve gotten some great treasures at yard and church rummage sales. I live in Florida and love when I come across an old tablecloth with Florida decorations on it. You do have some beautiful linens!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Cindy! Thank you so much! How special it is that you have your great grandmother’s hankies and cards! Oh, and I love the vintage tablecloths from Florida! I don’t have any, but I’ve seen some. The Florida graphics are some of the best vintage ones! Fun! Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Diann says:

    After my mom passed away many years ago, I found a complete pieced quilt top that I remember my mother piecing with the church women. Fast forward 35 years….cleaning out drawers to repaint and there it was, wrapped in tissue, pristine. As a Christmas gift last year, I wrapped it and sent it to my sister from our mom. A very dear friend has completed that quilt as of February. It is amazing. And the quilt top is over 50 years old…awesome!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Oh Diann, what a beautiful, awesome story! You’ve brought tears to my eyes. How special is that quilt?! So sweet. I love that you gave it to your sister, started by your mom and church friends, and that a dear friend finished it. I know your mom is smiling in Heaven! Thank you sooo much for sharing with us. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Connie Gause says:

    I think your going to love your box of things I sent you! Loved your blog this month! ♥️

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Connie, my sweet friend, thank you! I am so glad you liked the blog. Talk soon. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Binky Thorsson says:

    Hello Nicole,

    There is a wonderful product you can get at quilt shops or online called Retro Clean. I have used it and it works magic if you follow the directions! I have saved so many vintage quilts, linens, and fabrics with water stains (from floods, etc.), rust stains, blood stains, etc. I testify it’s worth every penny. I’m just saddened they didn’t create it sooner to save so many lovely textile pieces that were tossed through out the years. Here in California it was $15.99 for the 16 oz. Package. http://www.retroclean.com
    Thanks for your inspiring share!!!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Binky! OMG thank you for sharing!! I checked out their website and it looks awesome!I have never heard of it before. Looks like a great product; I will have to try it. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Marlene Capelle says:

    Someone once gave me a hankie box. It was beautiful but, alas, I was young and didn’t know what it was so I didn’t take care of it so now it’s gone. Kicked myself many a time over that. When I have a vintage dresser scarf or table topper that is so stained nothing works I tea dye it. Not too dark but it hides the stains and only slightly changes the colored thread.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marlene, I feel your pain! My grandmother could design and sew anything. When I was a teen, about 13 or 14, I was visiting and we were looking through her closet. She had a beautiful sunny yellow dress she sewed in the early fifties. She probably designed, it, too. It no longer fit her of course, and being only 14 at the time, it fit me and she gave it to me. I wore it and wore it, (I loved vintage even back then), and when I grew out of it, I think I tossed it. Makes me sick to think of it. She saved it all those years! Looking back, it must have been sentimental for some reason, because they lived in a tiny, tiny one bedroom house with only that one closet. I would have loved to have it today, but I was young, and didn’t think.

      I love the idea of using tea dye to cover stains, too! Great idea, thank you for sharing! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Diane Ryan says:

    Its fun to see all your vintage linens and hankies and how you use, care for and display them. Wish I’d kept a few of my ancestor’s things. Saw a pretty quilt idea making hankies into butterflies for each square. My friend is working on one with hankies her friends are sending her or she finds.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Diane!Oh what a great idea! I bet the hanky butterfly quilt will be just so adorable! Great idea for making a quilt. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Denise says:

    as always I loved your blog today! I have a lot of old vintage linens that belonged to my Mom and Grandmother. I need to use them more, especially after seeing your pictures of how you used yours. I also have old quilts too!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Denise, thank you…How special that you have your mom and grandmother’s linens – I’m glad you’re going to use them! Vintage linens were meant to be used! I think that is what is such a big part of the charm of the past; people used “fancy” items like tablecloths and pretty linens everyday, and if you take care of them, they will continue to last. Love that you love old quilts, too. Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Renate says:

    I also love collecting old linen and cotton tablecloths and napkin sets as well as crocheted handkerchiefs. They make the table look special, and using cloth
    napkins is environmentally friendly and also makes the get together feel special.
    Will keep an eye out for old quilts after your blog.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Renate, I agree! Using cloth linens as opposed to paper makes any meal “special”. It seems that very few stores carry even “new” table linens anymore. Hopefully they make a comeback, as the move to greener living continues. Aren’t they fun to collect? Happy Hunting, and thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  10. Reba says:

    Reading your blog today reminded me of a couple of my most favorite pieces (among many tablecloths, quilts, doilies, afghans, and old nightgowns from Germany). When I got married (41 years ago-doesn’t seem that long ago) my Mom gave me a hand-quilted and hand-embroidered Southern Belle quilt that she made for one of my gifts. Needless to say, that one stays on my bed! :) Then I found a white crocheted doily in the shape of a Southern Belle (dress with umbrella) at an antique shop. I tacked it on top of a burlap pillow that adorns the bed! I love the old mixed with the new as well, such as burlap pillows. I haven’t ever seen another doily like this as I travel across the USA each year visiting unique shops or antique places! Both are true treasures!!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Reba, first off, how wonderful you’ve been married 41 years! We were married 25 last year. :)
      What a special keepsake you have with the quilt. And the doily! Sounds like a beautiful mix of old and new for sure. Love that look! And burlap looks so cool in decor. I love it. I need to remember to use it more. It adds a lot of charm. There’s some great antique shops here if you ever breeze through Connecticut! Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  11. Joan says:

    I too have several vintage linens, hankies from my great Grandmother, table clothes, pillow cases and dresser scarves that I did as a child, quilts from an Aunt and great Aunt. Thanks for tweeking my thinking, I love them but using them daily, guess I just take them for granted, no more. I’m going to get out some tatting lace, from great Grandmother and great Aunt, and make it into something, like trim for some towels for my ladies wash stand I use in my bedroom (it is part of a bed set from my Grandparents) they got it in 1910 as a wedding gift. Whew I got windy about all of this, thanks again for the super writing and great pictures. God bless.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan! You just put a huge smile on my face with this comment. I love that I inspired you like that! Would love to see what you make! I don’t do tatting but I have a friend who makes beautiful pieces! And I think it is super special you have your grandparents’ bed set. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. Julie says:

    Thank You for your story on vintage linens…I have been collecting them for years…Have you ever seen Huck weaved towels? Or Swedish embroidery? The time and effort put in to create vintage linens was amazing…An elderly friend gave me the recipe for an “antique linen” soak, she called it I’ll share it with you.
    1/2 gallon of warm water
    1/2 c. Cascade dish washing soap
    1/2 c. Biz powder
    Soak as long as needed Repeat if needed.
    A friend soaked a “dirty brown” quilt in a bathtub…it looked new after two ” soaks”

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Julie! I looked up what Huck Weave towels are…I remember those! I haven’t seen any in years, but there were some when I was growing up. Swedish embroidery is beautiful! Thank you for the recipe! I will have to try it if I have something very yellowed! Thanks for sharing it with us! Farmgirl Hugs, my dear friend, Nicole

  13. Pingback: Vintage Linens and Possibilities | Celtic Fair & Culture Directory/True New England/Friendly Bluebonnet by CelticAnglican Shop

  14. Beverly Battaglia says:

    Nicole, these are very beautiful pictures. My mother, your grandmother, had beautiful linens, crocheted doilies and bedspread, but I do not have any of them. I love the vintage hankies you gave to me.
    Love you,
    Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Momma, so glad you like the hsnkies! I remember my grandmother’s crocheted bedspread. So beautiful. Love you, Nicole

  15. Sandi King says:

    Hi Nicole, I have some of those calendar tea towels from my mother and also a suitcase toiletries case like the one shown from her and I am using it to store some things in. I also have doilies packed away that were hers and the Retro Clean may be what I get to clean them up if they need it when I find them. Thanks for a lovely blog and thanks to Binky Thorsson for the URL for Retro Clean.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sandi, Thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. I am going to try that Retro Clean, too. I had not heard about it before, but it sounds good! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  16. So appreciate the vintage inspiration! In the farmhouse, I’m more of an antique/prim/old-fashioned gal, but with the new camper I’ve come to love looking for vintage finds to spruce her up. I came across some embroidered tea towels for a song at a fun shop, and stitched them across some toss pillows to help them fit better into the retro camper look…thanks again for the inspiration!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mary, Oh that sounds lovely! I adore tea towels, new and vintage, and sometimes they are too pretty to use as “towels”. Making a pillow is a great idea! I bet your camper looks so cozy and home-y! Enjoy! Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  17. Susan Lazarou says:

    Have you tried quilt soap or a degreaser with borax to remove the stain on the blanket? ..or even peroxide or a combination vinegar and baking soda…id try all those before I toss anything. As for the holes in the item …to do an embroidered flower around the hole makes it a conversation piece…I’ll add an arrangement of embroidered flowers around a hole first going around the hole with a blanket stitch then add a few tounds aroubd that round, then do some flowers and leaves. Can make a hole in my blanket look exquisitely pretty. You dont see the holes you see the beautiful flower arrangement. Just an idea. Susana

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Susan, I will try the borax…haven’t done that before. I did try the vinegar and baking soda. I love your idea for holes in things! Lovely! Very “Make do” which I love. I would never toss something (especially vintage!) just because of holes. There’s always something to do about it. Thanks for the great comment! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  18. Vivian Monroe says:

    Nicole, I love your vintage collections. I too have been a collector of hankies, scarves, tablecloths, runners, oh and I found a great find at an estate sale on vintage linen calendars…about 20 or more of them for 10cents each… I love them. I was lucky and had the year my husband and i got married, found the years of both my sons births, and some other fun years….I too tie hankies on my train cases, on my vintage handbags, and at one time I had tons of vintage gloves but I ended up selling those since I didnt wear them enough..I love my vintage table cloths I change them out quite often usually weekly, I have so many and I like to use them..I use the larger ones for curtains to hide things on shelves sometimes…loved the post…be Blessed. Neta

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Oh Neta, we are so like-minded! I also have some vintage gloves, too, but I usually just have a few for display as I don’t wear them much, either. What a lucky find – calendar towels at 10 cents!! The cheapest I have ever found them was $2.00 a piece, and I was doing a happy dance at that price! Thanks for reading and commenting; it’s always great to hear from you. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  19. Jeri Grant says:

    I use vintage embroidered napkins and cotton hand towels for bathroom hand towels. I keep a stack folded on the sink. They are pretty and everyone can dry their hands on a clean towel. I keep a vase or large jar on the counter to deposit used towels.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Jeri, What a GREAT idea! I love that! Sounds so pretty, too! Thank you for sharing. Farmgirl Genius repurposing, for sure! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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