Celebrate In Style: National Laundry and Linen Week!

fw3What a week it has been! Such a celebration! The parties, the festivities!

Have you had as much fun as I have?

What?! You haven’t been celebrating one of the most exciting events of the year?

According to the Textile Ranger, it’s National Laundry and Linen Week! Woohoo!

I’ve soaked, I’ve scrubbed, I’ve starched, I’ve ironed. I’ve even combed fringe. This holiday season is always such a whirlwind!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve answered questions from a few readers about caring for vintage linens. I thought that, to celebrate this week where the whole entire world focuses its attention on laundry and linen, I’d formalize some of the advice I’ve given.*

Cleaning vintage linens

If you have vintage fabrics or you find some at a thrift shop, they probably have spots or stains from use and storage. If napkins and tablecloths are used for a meal, let’s face it—they get spots. As I’ve said, I think of these as “the ghosts of good times past.”

But, if you want your linens as pristine as possible, those stains can be lightened considerably or removed altogether with the right products and patience. If what you own is very fragile or very precious to you, or made of something other than linen and cotton, you need to decide whether to take the chance of laundering.

OxiClean—I start with OxiClean, a powdered laundry booster. Depending how fragile my linens seem, I use either the washer or wash by hand. I use the hottest water that comes from my tap (and it’s HOT!) and dissolve the OxiClean. Then I let the linens soak for a long time, sometimes overnight.

The water may turn a tea-like shade—this should convince you that the process is doing its job!

Then I just finish the wash. I make sure I rinse really well and often add a glug or two of white vinegar, just to neutralize anything that remains on the fabric.

Biz and Cascade—If the OxiClean does not get all the stains out, I go for the big guns. I first saw this combination recommended on Pinterest and have been amazed at how effective it can be!

Biz is an enzyme-based laundry booster and Cascade is a dishwasher detergent. I use the powder forms of both, although I’m not sure that matters. The Pinterest recipe says one half gallon of water, with one half cup each of Biz and Cascade. That’s a lot! I’ve never used that much. Depending on the size wash I’m doing, I throw some of each product in—if I need to do another wash with a stronger solution, I will.

Again, I use very hot water, either in the machine or the sink. I dissolve the ingredients and let my stained linens soak. Even when I’ve already done the OxiClean soak, the water often turns a distinct brown with this concoction!

I don’t start with this combo, though, because I worry a little about the strength of it. And I don’t use it for anything I would be devastated to lose. I have seen no evidence of it hurting fabrics in any way but still . . .

When using this combination, multiple rinses are very important!

Whink—If you have linens that have rust marks, look for a product called Whink—it’s available in Walmart and often in hardware stores.

This product, when used according to directions, is like magic. The rust spots will fade and disappear before your eyes.

Again, I would not use this product except as a last resort. It can happen that the rust has damaged the fabric and, when the rust goes, so does the fabric.

I don’t use bleach—too easy to damage fabric. I do use sunshine—I keep the fabric damp with a spray bottle. It works!

Retro Clean is a newer product for linens. It is getting raves but I haven’t seen the results others have. Besides, it’s expensive and I would need a lot of it! You might want to try it, though.

Storing vintage linens

Since you may not keep your pretty old linens on display year-round, you need to store them away—do it safely!

This boils down to two rules—no plastic and no starch.

Fabric should be able to breathe during changes in temperature and humidity. Plastic doesn’t allow that. It makes sense to me to tuck your nice tablecloth and napkins into an old cotton pillowcase. Or you can buy acid-free tissue paper.

Regarding starch: starched linens are surely lovely. That crispness! But the rule is to iron and starch your linens before using them but always wash everything clean of starch before you store it away!

Consider it—starch comes from things like potatoes. Potatoes are food. Insects and rodents search for food. In eating the starch, they will chew on the fabric as well. I just went through a batch of old linens from an auction and it broke my heart how many items were damaged this way!

So, those are the basics:

Yes—OxiClean

Yes—Biz/Cascade

No—plastic

No—starch

If you have your own linen and laundry secrets, let us know! If you have other questions about the care of your linens, please ask! You should be using and enjoying these pretty things.

And don’t forget to mark National Laundry and Linen Week on your calendar for next year–I think a parade is in order! See you soon—I’m off to celebrate!


* I think the products I mention by name are probably all North American products. They work, though, because they have certain ingredients, like sodium percarbonate in OxiClean, for example. If you want to try these products and can’t order them on-line, you might look for a product available in your country that includes the active ingredients.

American Dishtowel Club Show: The Finals!

Welcome back to the American Dishtowel Club (ADC) show and the much-anticipated final selection of Best of Show!

With your thoughtful and generous input we’ve applied conformation standards to three groups of dishtowels.

The voting was very tight, reflecting the high-caliber of entrants in the show, as well as discernment of the voting public.

Nonetheless, the people have spoken and we have arrived at the three finalists for Best of Show in the competitive world of dishtowels. These are: the Flour Sack Towel, the 1950s Towel, and the Fringed Display Towel.

Please review the finalists carefully and vote, in the comments section, for your choice of “best of show” dishtowel!

Working Class Winner/ Best of Breed

Flour Sack Towels

Affectionate, playful and vivacious into old age, water lover

Guidelines: The flour or feed sack towel is designed as a towel to do a specific job—drying dishes. Despite its humble origins and surface appearance of fragility, these towels are perfect for their job. They display great thirst, are long-lived, and, as one would expect of a water towel, they dry quickly. There are few absolute characteristics to be applied to this group, although they are often so beloved by their families that they are decorated lavishly.

Sporting Class Winner/ Best of Breed

1950s Towels

Happy, eager, and charming

Guidelines: It is common for dishtowels to reflect societal preferences and trends. This can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the 1950s-era towel. Towels of this breed are resolutely upbeat and sociable. Members of the group often have a pink and aqua coloration, although they may display other bright tones, and stylized graphics. Potential owners should know that towels of this group are enthusiastic to a fault; they will not behave in a subtle manner or remain quiet, no matter how well trained.

Non-working/Non-sporting class Winner/ Best of Breed

Fringed Display Towels

Serious-minded, dignified, bright, and aloof

Guidelines: If ever a towel was designed for the show ring, the Fringed Display Towel fits the bill. Physically commanding and of large build, these towels are arresting in appearance. They are prized for their genetic make-up—only the highest quality linen is found in these towels. The towels are expensive to own and maintain, and owners are proud to display these towels for others to envy and admire. The towels are haughty and can appear untouchable; however, anyone who appreciates sheer physical perfection and breeding will be entranced.

Now that you have reviewed the best of breed finalists, we encourage you to vote for your favorite; as you vote, please keep in mind that you are voting not for a specific towel but the category of dishtowel you feel exemplifies best of show. Voting is open for one week. Results will be announced at the end of voting. Don’t delay in making your voice heard!

A Close Encounter of the Wildlife Kind

IMG_5017How do get a jar off a skunk’s head?

Yes, that’s right. Very, very carefully.

I looked out the window yesterday morning at about 6:30 and saw a skunk in the yard. No big deal—we see skunks regularly.

But then I took another look. This particular skunk had an empty plastic mayonnaise jar stuck completely over its head!

I don’t care how you feel about skunks, it’s awful to see an animal in distress, to know it’s going to die. This poor critter was wandering around the yard, it couldn’t see, just trying to walk its way out of its predicament.

I stood there, feeling horrible. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just walk up to a skunk and grab its head, could I? I’d have to live outside for weeks or bathe in tomato juice!

The skunk wandered away and I told myself it had left the yard and, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t help it because I didn’t know where it had gone.

But when I looked again, there it was, bumbling around the yard. It hadn’t left and it was never going to leave because every time it hit the jar against anything it would turn around and go another direction. And it wasn’t going to get through our cedar hedges, and off our property, without hitting its head.

All I could think of was having to watch this poor thing wander around and get increasingly frantic all day and, ultimately, watch it die of hunger or thirst right there in my line of vision.

I finally ventured out. The skunk was walking in a straight line until it ran into something. I figured if I stood in its path, it would walk right up to me.

And I’d be on the end without the scent glands, right? What’s the worst thing that could happen to me?

Gulp.

So there I stood. The skunk waddled right toward me. I bent down and took hold of the jar . . .

And it slipped out of my grasp! I had the jar right in my hands but hadn’t expected it to be so tight on the skunk’s head. I’d lost my chance!

The skunk jumped back but . . . didn’t spray. Skunks don’t really want to spray because once they’ve used their ammo, so to speak, it takes awhile for them to reload. They save the big guns for the super scary stuff, and I didn’t qualify . . . yet.

So, I tried again.

The skunk walked toward me.

I moved slowly and quietly.

I grabbed the jar firmly and pulled hard.

And, pop!

The skunk’s head came out!

We made sustained eye contact for a moment, wide eyed, and then we both turned and ran.

The skunk stopped, turned around, and went into all its warning gyrations—all the things they do before they spray. It stomped its feet. It raised its tail high. It pretty much stood on its head to make the threat seem big and scary and real.

But it never sprayed.

It ran under our porch and stayed for a few minutes and then I saw it walk, in its normal slow, swaggering way, off into the sunrise. It got out of danger without ever firing a shot.

My hands have stopped shaking, my heart rate is back to normal, and I’m glad to report that we both live happily ever after.

A Tale of Two Bostons

Spring 2015. It was a tale of two Bostons, and both were the best of times for us.

The country mice returned to the big city last weekend, for a taste of all it has to offer. We experienced the serene and beautiful Boston, in the museums and the parks.

And we experienced the transcendent Boston, full of inspiration and joy, in watching the running of the Boston Marathon.

Two years ago, the Boston and its marathon experienced the worst of times. The city was devastated by a bombing and its aftermath that killed four and injured hundreds, many gravely.

Now, and probably always, the Boston Marathon is much more than a race of 26.2 miles. It’s a statement—by the runners, the spectators, the merchants, the city—that Boston is stronger than hate and fear and violence.

In addition to being inspired by the thousands of runners of all ages and abilities, we had the special fun of watching a friend run her first Boston marathon to fulfill a longtime dream. She achieved a personal best time in the race, as did her training partner!

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A busy weekend, a full weekend, an inspirational weekend, and, above all, a joyous weekend. The best of times . . .

American Dishtowel Club Show: Non-Working/Non-Sporting Group

Welcome to the third installment of American Dishtowel Club (ADC) show! With your input we’ve sought to apply conformation standards to three groups of towels, ultimately to arrive at the Best of Show in the competitive world of dishtowels. (If you have not yet reviewed and voted on the Working Group Towels and the Sporting Group Towels, you are encouraged to do so soon—voting is very tight!)

Today we are joined by the towels of the Non-Working, Non-Sporting group. Upon reviewing these groups, we hope you will vote, in the comments, for your favorite.

Guidelines: These towels are bred primarily to reflect on their owners’ affluence and exquisite taste. These towels demonstrate a phenomenal gift of beauty and reflect common ancestral traits of high, pure breeding and quality. It should be noted that these towels require special grooming and can be haughty and difficult to care for. Their sheer physical beauty captivates many in spite of the fact that these towels rarely perform well in a working or sporting environment.

Monogrammed Damask Towels

Steadfastly devoted to loved ones, but standoffish and lordly toward strangers

Monogrammed Damask Towels are often considered one-owner towels; they are loyal and bonded to their owners. Of substantial size and impressive good looks, these towels most often bear a pure-white coat and are marked by one or more hand-wrought embroidered initials. Towels of this class can be viewed by outsiders as cold and remote but they are affectionate at home and beloved by their families.

Dainty Fingertip Towels

Graceful, charming, and fussy

Dainty Fingertip Towels are the teacup poodles of the towel world and, in fact, discussions are underway regarding the creation of a new “toy” towel category in years to come. These towels are bred for petite size and sweet prettiness. They can be vulnerable to injuries from hard exercise and are perhaps best suited to households without children. Eager to please, they are boon companions of the elderly and love to be pampered.

Fringed Display Towels

Serious-minded, dignified, bright, and aloof

If ever a towel was designed for the show ring, the Fringed Display Towel fits the bill. Physically commanding and of large build, these towels are arresting in appearance. They are prized for their genetic make-up—only the highest quality linen is found in these towels. The towels are expensive to own and maintain, and owners are proud to display these towels for others to envy and admire. The towels are haughty and can appear untouchable; however, anyone who appreciates sheer physical perfection and breeding will be entranced.

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the towels in the Non-Working/Non-Sporting Group, we invite you to vote for your favorite; as you vote, please keep in mind that you are voting not for a specific towel but the category as a whole.

We hope you’ll join us next week for the final installment in the American Dishtowel Club Conformation Show. At that meeting, the Best of Breed for each of the three classes will be revealed and you will have the opportunity to vote for Best of Show.

Tired of Weaving?

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Not me–you! Are you sick of hearing about weaving yet? Gosh, I hope not! I hope you can maintain at least a passing interest as long as I stay obsessed!

For this scarf I recently finished, I went against my nature and chose a bright variegated yarn for the lengthwise, or warp, threads; it’s made of rayon. The weft, or threads that form the width of the scarf, is black and a blend of silk and wool. The combination made a soft fabric with a lovely drape.

The pattern is an undulating twill, not hard to do at all!

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Your Spring, My Spring

You.

Yes, you, with your signs of spring. With your hellebores and your hyacinths and all that green and gold, and those cherry blossoms. And those lambs!

Well, we have signs of spring, too, you know.

We have dirty snow and lots of leftover sand on the roads, left by road crews to get us through the winter. We have the teensiest of buds on a few shrubs. We’ve had four snow-free days in a row!

But we also have ice that’s finally melting on the bay. We have moving water for the first time in months!

It'll all break up soon

It’ll all break up soon

We have cats, luxuriating on warm flagstones, feeling frisky, spring in their blood.

Sweet Beau in the sun

Sweet Beau in the sun

We have maple sap dripping into metal buckets, all along the roadsides.

Looking down the barrel of the spile, at a little drop of sap!

Looking down the barrel of the spile, at a little drop of sap!

And we have the annual pancake breakfast, with family and neighbors, shucking off wool jackets, slathering on the maple syrup, and lingering in the bright sunshine of a perfect spring day.

Finally . . . spring. Always worth the wait.