A Weekend Steeped in Vintage

I had the kind of delightful weekend available only to the lover, and purveyor, of vintage linens.

Oh, it was a good weekend anyway—the temperatures in upstate New York reached a very unusual 60 degrees, my beloved Penn State Nittany Lions won at football, hand quilting and chocolate were on the agenda.

But the best part of the weekend involved finding a plastic bin full of wonderful linens I didn’t know I had.

How is that possible?

It’s embarrassing to admit but I have been known to hoard such things. I buy linens at garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops, and on eBay. I buy them when I find them and often don’t deal with them right away. I may have as many as 10 large plastic bins stored, waiting . . .

I thought I sort of knew what was in those bins and it did not fill my heart with gladness.

Recently my dealing with old linens hasn’t been much fun. I have a lot of plain white damask table linens—elegant and of high quality but, frankly, they all look alike unless you are a real aficionado.

I have a LOT of tablecloths. Tablecloths are time consuming and a pain to iron and I can only deal with them on days when I can move them straight from the ironing board to the big table and take photos right away.

And, lately, I seem to have had a lot of items that have damage, some of it small but some of it serious. The serious damage means giving up on the piece altogether but the small damage creates the conundrum—do I try to sell it anyway? I have to take photos of the flaws and list it “as is.” Is it worth it? Will it bring the overall look of my shop down if I include such things?

And I admit, I have a tendency to “cherry pick” when I go looking for linens to smarten up. I open bins, rummage around, pull out the unusual, the striking, and leave the mediocre or common. This means I have a lot of mediocre and common waiting around . . .

So, I was thrilled when I opened a bin, thinking it would be more of the same, and instead found a treasure chest of lovely items, vintage but in unused condition—towels with bright printed designs, napkins with perfect embroidery, all manner of unusual and striking beauties.

All the stars aligned.

The sky was bright so I could take photos in natural light.

The days were warm so I could work on our glassed-in porch where that natural light is abundant and the big table awaits.

I could iron tablecloths because I could move them to that awaiting table on that porch where the day was warm and the natural light was abundant.

And I could enjoy all the variety and quality that are the best aspects of dealing with vintage linens.

Over two days, I ironed and took about 300 photos of items ranging from large tablecloths blooming with printed red roses to small tea cloths delicately embroidered.

From sassy chickens to sweet pansies.

From understated elegance to napkins of every stripe.

Of course, I still have work to do. The photos must be edited and listings written before these pretty things are available on Etsy. But the linens gave me something I needed this weekend.

I started with a pile of chaos and ended with crisp, sweet-smelling, beautiful order.

Lately, it seems, little things mean a lot . . .

What made your weekend delightful?

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83 thoughts on “A Weekend Steeped in Vintage

  1. Thanks for this cheerful post. I had a similar experience recently. I was going through my dad’s CD collection after he died and found a CD I had sent him with demo recordings of a bunch of songs by local Boston area songwriters which I had recorded in 2002 and then forgotten about. Hurrah for small surprises!

  2. What a wonderful surprise. I especially love the chickens! My weekend featured some quilting time (piecing, not actually quilting) and some exercise. We walked just short of 2 miles on Friday and enjoyed two aggressive tiny snakes that wanted to bite us. They were BROWN snakes, color and species, not even 10″ long. Snakes of this kind can be very passive or NOT, and we found NOTs. On Saturday I used the elliptical for the first time post-injury. While not for very long, it was good to know I can. And on Sunday we walked outside again, more than 2.25 miles. That’s my longest walk since 10/11! So my rehab is coming along well, and I’m working hard on more than my knees.

  3. I love looking at your vintage linens. They are beautiful. As you were talking about the ones that are stained or marked I was thinking how they could be cut and used as quilt blocks. 🙂 My success over the weekend was seeing a table runner on Pinterest I really liked and figuring out how to make one for myself. I had a couple of trial and error moments and if I did it again I’d probably do it a little different, but It’s done, and I love it.

    • I have a long-term plan for some sort of quilt from vintage linens . . . but other projects always jump to the front of the queue! And I have enough damaged linens for several quilts, I’m afraid! I hope you’ll be using your new table runner this week! Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. The linens are wonderful! I even checked out etsy to enjoy more of the treasures you have found. My weekend was filled up with family and friends, a fun time.

  5. Friday I was cleaning windows in my shorts and t-shirt, temperatures in the seventies, rather full of chagrin. Saturday, I came back from a walk in winter gear, wind blowed Chalrey and me a long the park!! Sat in house, candles on, knitting at hand with tea and cakes watching birds on the feeder whilst wet snow was blowing around with leaves. I felt so happy!!!! xo Johanna ps the vintage linens are glorious of course!

    • Yes, we had that big switcheroo with our weather, too–a little abrupt but, like you, I love the excuse to sit inside and enjoy my home! Happy Thanksgiving to all the Walkers!

  6. Kerry, it rained and rained here and then, yesterday…snow. And it’s still snowing. By dinnertime last evening the house had that muffled sound that I love so much. And it was a WEAVING weekend. Excellent!!!

  7. The linens are lovely. I can see why this was a fun group of linens to organize, iron and photograph. The availability of natural sunlight can make all the difference between great pictures and near failures.

    • And natural sunlight gets harder and harder to come by this time of year–in your part of the world, too. That’s why I was trying to get so much done while I could!

  8. Ah yes, the photography & listing sessions. Still not my favorite thing to do, but helped enormously by interesting items to shoot. Maybe you need to hide something great in each bin as you stash it away to make surprises for the future you. 🙂

  9. I was looking for a K-size crochet hook and ended up taking ALL the fabric remnants and yardage out of my sewing/knitting chest! Stunning how much colorful calico I had accumulated – and I’m about out of grandchildren to make quilts for! What to do? I found one bag of quilted scraps left over from a long-ago placemat making project. And I found an old pattern for a teddy bear. By the end of the weekend, I have one teddy bear sewn and ready to stuff for my youngest grandchild, and another one cut out and ready to sew for a charity donation, and an empty bag – not one scrap left large enough even to make a teddy’s tail!

  10. I love vintage linens. Just never know what to do with them. I have many handkerchiefs that I want to work into a quilt one day. This weekend was spent with my daughter as usual and some sewing time. I still have boxes in storage that I’m going through so hope to find a surprise or two there. Have fun with your treasures and Happy Thanksgiving.

  11. That’s some eye candy! I particularly like the pansies.
    About your dull damasks…I revently saw an article, might have been in a MSL I was flipping through, and they had dyed the linens. Nothing harsh, but soft colors and some were dip dyed ombre. They were really lovely and took the linens up a notch. I’m not sure if you dye though. ;-D
    If some of the damaged items are interesting – cross stitch, embroidery or a good pattern, you might sell them as a bundle for piecing. I have a collection of beautiful Chinese embroidered sheets and pillowcases which are quite stained, but I dream of cutting the good bits out and piecing them together. Just a thought. (Like my couch pillows!)
    Peter and I had a good weekend too. We took my Sweet 16 quilter for her annual maintenance (the store is 1 hour away) and shopped at the outlet stores for a bit. Then as we meandered home, we found a good barbeque spot to get take out for dinner. The Fall is in full color here (Not as bright as you get, but pretty good!) so it was a lovely drive. We are getting smoke from the NC forest fires. We haven’t had rain for months and there is none in the forecast either. Very worrying.

    • Thanks for all the ideas about the linens! I have long had plans to make some sort of quilt out of the pretty parts but never seem to take the plunge. SO many projects I want to do! Your outing with Peter sounds so nice. We drove across New York this week, back to Buffalo, to spend Thanksgiving with friends. Pretty soon bad weather will nix that kind of trip!

  12. So beautiful.. your writing and photos give me the courage to consider opening up the boxes of old linens I have in my attic. Writing into my calendar for the winter months: vintage linens!

  13. As you said, the weather here in the Northeast was beautiful this past weekend. I did a lot of raking over the past week and finished up on Saturday. Not a leaf to be found on the back lawn. Such a pleasure to look out the kitchen window and see that green lawn all nice and neat. Then we had rain Saturday night into Sunday and the winds were howling. Now there are leaves on the lawn again! I thought they had all fallen before I raked but I guess not.

    The oak leaves are huge this year! And there are so many of them.

    But at least we didn’t have snow like some people did. Over a foot in spots.

    I love that pansy tablecloth!

    • Where do leaves come from anyway? We raked and raked, like you . . . but we still seem to have leaves. We drove across New York last week, to Buffalo, and there was a LOT of snow to be seen. Shape of things to come, I’m afraid . . . .

  14. I find it hard you could forget you had those beauties – just goes to show what a stash you have!
    And it’s also good to know you can find pleasure again in the small and ordinary details of your life – we all need a shift back to ‘contentment’ status I think.
    The last two weeks have been so full on for me I no longer know when the weekend was. I’ve been helping my daughter prepare her new home and move in and then reclaiming my home which involves more moving of furniture, sorting, disposing, giving away and making my art room a fabulous place to be……… I keep wanting to get rid of stuff, the less I have the happier I am. I’m almost there 🙂

    • It sounds like you’ve had a whirlwind! But what a satisfying way to spend time. We got caught up, last week, in travel, to spend Thanksgiving with friends, so I haven’t lifted a needle or weaving shuttle in days! Soon, though!

  15. The bright pansy cloths are especially enticing, given that we in NE Ohio had 2 inches of snow yesterday. Of course, we also had a 70 degree Friday. Guess which day I spent outside? As to damasks, I have dyed them with multi colors and found their sheen imparts a bit of depth to a quilt. Of course, they’re a bit wobbly to sew, but they respond well to starch.

    • That’s a good idea about starching the damask, to make it manageable! Someday, I’ll get to that project. Winter is sort of here, too–snow comes, then melts. But the ski resorts are open and the Xmas lights are going up!

  16. What a lovely surprise for you! They do look gorgeous and the prints are so bright and cheerful. I spent part of the weekend ironing too but it wasn’t as pleasant as yours! We took part in a quiz night in aid of church funds on Saturday. I’m not that keen on quizzes but the company was good!

  17. Vintage weekends and the best kind of weekends! I seriously love you colourful collection, I think the roosters are my favourite. I envy your glassed in room and natural light, we have only a couple of hours of mid-day photo quality light at the moment, which makes photography considerably more difficult (as well as getting out of bed..)

  18. Kerry, your joy is palpable. It’s always a treat to spend time doing the things we love. I’m happy to hear you’ve had a warm weekend with sunshine and the perfect light for photography. And what fun to find an entire bin of long-forgotten treasures.

    We had a wonderful rainy weekend so I enjoyed what is quite rare around here. My son is home from college for the week, so that added to the happiness quotient.

    • Rain, a son home, Thanksgiving–it all sounds just the antidote to some of the difficult times we’ve been through. Although every time I read the news, I horrified all over again! It was good to have Thanksgiving last week, and a chance to call to mind the many, many things we are still grateful for.

  19. Gorgeous linens – what a fabulous find. I like rummaging through my yarn collection every now and then because I always forget about buried treasure in there. Hey, I might even knit some of it up one of these days! 🙂

    • I do the same thing with weaving yarns! I move them around and hide some away and then re-discover them. Sometimes I wonder why I ever bought them in the first place . . . .

      • Lol! You should see the four bags I currently have stuffed full of unwanted yarn waiting to go to the thrift store, much of which is in the ‘why on earth did I buy THAT?’ category (and of course there is still plenty left…..!!). 🙂

  20. Oh I loved seeing your discovery of beautiful linens. They made me very happy to. Could you have a “less than perfect” corner in your shop for lightly damaged linens? I agree with one of your readers, they could be used for other purposes like making a quilt and at the right price they could be very enticing for the super crafter! I returned home from India, which was a feast for my eyes! So many beautiful colors and fabrics. It was very warm there and as a got off the plane into 34 degrees on Saturday, I knew it was the beginning of winter.

    • That must’ve been a shock, coming home from India! Your trip sounds amazing–I would love to go there just to see the fabrics and the beautiful people! I doubt I’ll ever go–the flights would just about kill me, I think.

  21. Oh dear, I am in trouble now! Headed right to your Etsy shop as soon as I post this. I have my own treasure trove of vintage linens, and I can see from your photos that we have similar tastes. I enjoyed every word of your post and a couple of the previous ones too, especially PollyAnna,

    • Oh, thanks, Brenda! Thanks for reading and for the comment. Aren’t vintage linens the best? You’re lucky to have some–I hope you use them. It drives me crazy when people just put them away in drawers . . .

  22. Such comfort. Not only the process ~ discover, sort, iron, photograph ~ but the linens themselves. They take me back to my childhood, when everything was safe and cosy. My grandmother and Mum embroidered linen table cloths, although nothing as sassy as the chickens!
    We had beautiful warm weather on the weekend, perfect for getting out into the garden, going for leisurely walks and brunch with friends.

    • Do you still have some of the linens from your mother and grandmother? They’re the best and, yes, the memories are so wonderful. I love to think of you, getting into spring and summer, while we wait of the snow to come . . .

      • My mother still has them, which is a comforting thought.
        Summer has been very slow to come here this year, but it will probably come with a big wham in January and February!

  23. I absolutely love it when I come upon a stash of goodies I seem to have forgotten. Oh, the joy! The linens are beautiful and it is no wonder that you are so fond of textiles. While in Ireland this time, I did come across a shop that had very nice old Irish linen. Very difficult to find these days, most were woven in Northern Ireland. Beautiful pieces, very tight weave, many with a bit of embroidery. I wanted to bring them all home, but by then my suitcase was heavy with woven wool blankets!! happy Thanksgiving to you, Kerry!

    • I have never had any luck finding linens in Ireland or other parts of the UK! I have been to Avoca and to other weavers but now that I know how to weave, I’m less likely to buy. I wish you’d do a post showing yours, though!

  24. I know the feeling,I have tubs and tubs of vintage scarves ( I dare not reveal how many) I sometimes play games with myself,ie, ‘today you will shove your hand in the box and list the first 5 scarves that come out’ or ‘this morning you will list 4 pink scarves’ or anything arbitrary/

  25. Kerry, these are lovely, what fun they must have been to sort through! Do not be dismayed by the mediocre/ common. I may have some future interest in some of those….I have some projects in mind, for some wedding and shower gifts. There may be others interested in helping you unload some of those as well. 😊

  26. “I started with a pile of chaos and ended with crisp, sweet-smelling, beautiful order”.
    Love it!
    And our teams one again!! YAY!
    (Have I told you that my father is a Penn State Alum? We were a happy household yesterday)
    Glad you had such a lovely, comforting day.

  27. Wow! Wow! Wow! Those are just so beautiful! Whenever I go to an antique store or thrift store, I always look for linens first. I love them, too. I love to give them away as gifts, tuck them inside purses or bags that I make, …they just seem to add an extra special touch. I couldn’t pick a favorite from your photos – they’re all so lovely! Isn’t it wonderful when we find a great surprise like that, which we didn’t know we had?!

  28. I especially loved the Rooster linens! I pick up linens too on occasion, but only if they’re pressed already. I don’t like ironing but I can see the joy in collecting them. Good luck with the bins… slowly.

  29. Wow, that’s a lot of stuff (clicked on the link to your Esty site). The items were labled “vintage” and appeared to cover quite a range of textile options. Do you have any of your (anxiety driven) woven items (non-vintage) on the site? –Oscar

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