From the Permanent Collection: The Holiday Linens

IMG_3050One of the best things about the holiday season, to me, is seeing how people choose to decorate their homes. I really believe that, when you show me how you decorate, you tell me who you are.*

Do you buy new ornaments every year and switch up your color theme? Do you have a white tinsel tree that channels the 1970s? Are your most-treasured ornaments those that your children made of pipe cleaners and marshmallows?

Christmas trees, and holiday decorations, in general, seem autobiographical to me, as if our personalities are imprinted in our choices. And, I expect, a lack of holiday frippery sends a message about our priorities, too.

It probably will come as no surprise that at home, here at Love Those Hands at Home, we tend toward the vintage, the handmade, the natural. I am in no way suggesting that our choices are the best or the prettiest or to be emulated—just that they are highly predictable, when you know the people who live here.

The handmade ornaments will have to wait for another year to have their story told—I had not world enough or time to fit them in this year, alongside the candy and other priorities.

But the red and white vintage linens have made their annual appearance, and they tell a large part of the story of who I am at the holidays.

I value traditional, old-school, quality. All the holiday linens in my permanent collection are red and white. It’s the classic color combination of the winter holidays for me, evoking peppermint sticks and holly berries against the snow. It hints at Santa, an ideal of generosity and giving we can embrace, even if we don’t share points of view about miracle births in mangers.

I love this long, long piece of fabric.

IMG_3059It is heavy and sturdy, of fine quality. It was probably originally sold as yard goods–the pattern repeats regularly and, if cut and hemmed, each piece would be the size of a dishtowel. In its length and understated elegance, it serves as a mantel cloth here every year.

IMG_4153I love this hand-embroidered runner, with dark red and pink pinecones.

IMG_3077It was made by hand, not by a family member of mine, but by someone’s mother or grandmother. The careful work seems symbolic of all handwork done to add color and vivacity to plain cloth.

IMG_3218And I love this exquisite show towel.

IMG_3069It is ostentatious and would’ve been purchased and displayed, never used to dry hands, to make a statement about the wealth and superior taste of the owner. It’s not those characteristics of the towel that appeal to me, though. It is, simply, the quality and beauty.

This towel is finest-quality linen, almost crispy, with a glorious sheen on the natural-colored fibers. The bands of red add interest and depth. The fringe is as showy and untangled as the day the towel was made. The intricate weaving shows wildlife, both in the red bands and, more subtly, in the tone-on-tone field of natural linen. Sheer vintage linen perfection.

IMG_3075These linens come out every year, as reliably as the Christmas stocking my husband stitched for me and the wreath on the lighthouse outside.

IMG_3130When they have been ironed and placed where they show to advantage, I feel my house reflects my taste and my values.


Are there holiday decorations that communicate about your closely-held values?


* This is to borrow liberally from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who observed, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” I believe that is true, too!

42 thoughts on “From the Permanent Collection: The Holiday Linens

  1. Little did I know that the kitchen linens I grew up with would have worked well on a mantel. I guess it says volumes about me that this year I donated almost all my Christmas tree stuff, including the fake tree, to a charity shop. However, my stockings (knit by my aunt) are “hung by the chimney with care.” And yes, red is the perfect color for this bleak time of year.

    • I should donate my Christmas tree ornaments–we never seem to bother to set up a tree! But then I look at the ornamented and get all nostalgic. I’m glad you have handmade stockings to fill!

  2. I think our stockings are the best indicator of my Christmas values. Jim’s and mine are felt, his with a decorated tree and mine with a snowman. I bought them several years ago, so they are not special in that regard. What makes them special is they evoke all the felt stockings made by my mom, each decorated with a different winter design. The one she made for me had a golden bell on it. Son’s stocking I’ve described before, purchased the winter he was born. It is plaid, signifying his Scottish heritage. The one I made for FFDIL mimics his in shape and size, and is covered with dancing reindeer.

    While these don’t sound like much as described, to me they are my connection to past Christmases, and to family. When I was a kid we never had many presents, and we didn’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. But we always had our stockings.

    • I had a felt stocking when I was little, too–I wonder what happened to it. It’s clear that a lot of love and nostalgia are embodied in your stockings–key aspects of any Christmas celebration, if you ask me!

  3. As a summer Christmas person I have developed over the years a very different type of Christmas decoration. It reflects the season and involves flowers and herbs and and the colours of summer. Having said that, for a variety of reasons there are no decorations this year. There is instead a puppy, a new art room and lots of visits away from home. Have a wonderful time with your family and friends. Merry Christmas! xo

    • I could amuse myself for hours, thinking about how I would decorate if I lived in NZ! You’ve used your creative energy in other ways this year–and the outcomes will last the whole year round!

  4. Your hearth looks so beautiful. I remember the collection of Santas on your mantel from last year. I like the tradition of taking out the same old things. The oldest thing I set up each year is the nativity scene from my childhood.
    My tree has evolved to be mostly handmade ornaments I’ve made. They reflect the different crafts I’ve been into: just knitting for awhile, then on to felt, other crafts. The latest are cross stitch, cinnamon stars, and sewn rustic plaid stars.
    Merry Christmas.

    • My tree decorations haven’t been out much because we haven’t set up a tree for a few years but, like you, i can follow my crafting passions through the ornaments. You should do a blog post about your handmade ornaments!

  5. The permanent collection is lovely! It’s so nice to see how you decorate, very festive and pretty.

    I believe I either get D minus or a F for my decorations this year. I promise to do better next year…sigh.

    • I’m pretty sure no one is assigning grades (especially failing ones!) to your decorations. I’ve seen evidence of your eye for detail and beauty and I bet your house needs no extra decorating to look good at Christmas!

  6. Oh what better way to start the day after a very pleasant but very busy Christmas than to look at your linens and read your stories about it. Ha, just what a turkey and ham smelling, tinsel covered , kitchen ignoring home maker needs on the morning after;0)
    And I agree: your personality is as beautiful as your linens and what you tell about them. Love and Peace, Johanna.

    • I love that image of you covered in tinsel! It sounds like you had a very good time at Christmas–and I’m glad to have given you a moment’s distraction with my linens!

  7. The linens on your mantel with a wonderful collection of Santa’s is lovely. I cherish all of my linens from my mother, grandmother and great grandmother especially their Christmas aprons. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

    • Warm and cozy is important during winters in upstate New York! I agree that old linens have charm that can’t be replicated–it makes me happy to save them from tag sales and put them back into use!

      • I can well imagine you need to rug up!!! Opposite situation here it’s been 39 degrees today in Perth but fortunately cooling down a lot tomorrow (we are in the middle of summer of course it’s not always like this!)

  8. I love that everyone makes an effort at Christmas time. Walking around my village and looking at the Christmas lights and peering at people’s Christmas trees is one of my favourite traditions. My house is also filled with old decorations that come out every year. Our tree is full of ornaments that my brother and I made when we were little! Your linens are so pretty, I adore the red and white theme. The show towel is my favourite I think, and the wreath on the light house! xx

    • I love the wreath on the lighthouse. We always do that, even though my husband and I are the only people who can see it–it isn’t visible from the road or from the lake. I bet your tree, with the old handmade ornaments, is beautiful–little kids make the best ornaments!

    • We haven’t taken anything down yet, partly because, as you say, it looks sad when everything is put away. And partly because I know the wreath over the fireplace is going to spew pine needles all over the place and I’m postponing the inevitable! I hope you, too, had a great Christmas!

  9. I have tree ornaments from my grandparents, a few decorations from childhood, and like to add some berries and greenery. if I had Christmas in the summer , the house would have flowers and herbs like Pauline’s. Your home must be lovely. enjoy it for the full 12days!!

    • How lucky to have ornaments from your grandparents! I wish I knew what happened to the old ornaments I remember from childhood–long gone, I guess. I agree with you that adding the greenery is absolutely necessary!

  10. Kerry Lou. Every word of your post resonates with me. One of my most cherished possessions is a very old embroidered small tablecloth, the needlework is exquisite but the story of the great-aunt who embroidered it makes it even more priceless. Her hands were partially crippled by polio as a child and yet her embroidery is so beautiful it could move you to tears.

  11. Thanks for finding my blog in it’s early days! Like you, I love vintage linens and this was such a nice story. I especially love the damask with reindeer! Wow, beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I, too, am an appreciator and collector of vintage linens, although I possess only a few holiday ones. There’s something about the feel of the cloth, the weave of the fabric, the embroidered designs that hearkens to simpler times, to the hands of a woman, the love of a family, the history of some place.

    My holiday decor is simple and plain and nothing extravagant.

  13. My decor, like my mom’s and my grandma’s, has a heavy Scandinavian influence. Lots of candles, jultomten and the like. I also veer toward red and white, as much of the Swedish decorations are those colors. Our houses also have a collection of handmade items – most from my brother and I over the years. This year each family member got ornaments from my grandma’s collection as this as the last holiday at her house. One of mine was a paper star I colored with crayons when I was less than 2 years old. Made it 33 years intact and was hung on her tree every year without fail. =)

    • I love that the paper star has returned to you and that it made it through all these years–it must’ve been treated as a treasure! Your decorating style sounds very appealing–the combination of Scandinavian and handmade would be hard to improve upon.

  14. Your mantel, with that lovely red and white linen, is so beautiful! and I love that you display all of the linen in that last photo.
    I came across my grandmother’s linen napkins when getting out a table cloth the other day and noticed that not only do they need ironing, but they’re beauty is never seen.
    I’ll think of you and try to do better!

  15. Christmas brings out the nostalgia in me! So much tradition, so many memories. One of my great -aunts gave me a box of beaded satin balls for my wedding shower and some of those go on the tree. My grandmother (her sister) made beaded angels, Santas, tricycles, and puppies–those go on. My mother used to give me a different glass German ornament each year. Those go on. We have ornaments that remind us of loved ones now gone. Those go on. Our tree is a memory tree. And the tree stays up through Epiphany — January 6. The holiday isn’t over yet!

  16. Reblogged this on Love Those "Hands at Home" and commented:

    Let’s see. We’ve talked about the Santas, the weather, and the red and white hand-crafted projects. We’ve done some music and a recipe and some reminiscing.

    What about Advent, chez nous, is missing so far?

    Vintage linens, that’s what!

    That post has been written so I’ll just dust it off and present it again. Many of you have been loyal friends long enough that you’ll remember this post.

    For the rest of you, I hope you’ll be inspired to go through any old family linens you have hidden away and consider bringing them out for your holiday fun.

    If not now, when??

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