The Case of the Larcenous Lady*

It was the trip of her lifetime. She had scrimped and denied herself small pleasures at home so she could fly Braniff.

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So she could stay at the Waldorf.

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And at the Lake Placid Club.

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And the Copley Plaza.

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So she could ride the Pullman Railroad and let the porters bring her tea.

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And as she left each place, each adventure, she knew she’d never be back. This was, for her, the last hurrah.

So, she slipped a little something in her case, just to keep as a small memento of this special time.

It wasn’t that she was a thief. No, never that! She had just looked forward to this for so long and spent so much money, surely a small souvenir would do no harm.

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Do you know this woman? There must’ve been many like her, to judge by the vintage linens I’ve come across from hotels and airlines and resorts.

These linens all speak to an era of travel that is long gone by—elegance and attention to detail. 

I’ve never brought home a pilfered souvenir from a trip, although I was almost seduced  once by the heavy silverware at the Saturn Club in Buffalo, with the tiny stamp of the planet on the handle.

But I admit I’d’ve been sorely tempted by these lovely items of a bygone time.

*My blog post title was apparently the title of an episode of the old Perry Mason TV series!

 

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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?

The One That Got Away: A Pansy-Strewn Tablecloth

IMG_7422One of the best things about selling vintage linens is that I love what I sell and get to scout for beautiful items to pass along to others.

One of the worst things about selling vintage linens is that I love what I sell and, in passing them along to others, I sometimes really regret letting something go.

Such is the case with this wonderful tablecloth. IMG_7406Never mind that I have no room to keep it, it doesn’t fit my décor or lifestyle, or that it would be better appreciated by someone else—I still wish it had stayed mine.

I am not a pink and purple kind of gal. I rarely, if ever, would have a reason to use a cloth like this and don’t have a table it would fit on. It only made sense to sell it.

It sold with a couple of days of listing and the new owner was eager to get it.

But the minute I got notification of the sale, I experienced the worst seller’s remorse.

Part of the reason was the quality. The embroidery was stunning and done so perfectly. My grandmother always said that the mark of expert embroidery was that it looked nearly as good on the back as it did on the front.

The front of the tablecloth is shown on the left; the back is on the right.

The front of the tablecloth is shown on the left; the back is on the right.

Additionally, the linen was heavy and dense, with a beautiful sheen, and the hem was finished with delicate hemstitching, a detail that adds such elegance.

The other reason I’m sad to have let the cloth go is that I had learned a bit of its story from the woman who sold it to me. I rarely get any provenance for the vintage linens I buy so that’s always special—the cloth had been made as a gift for the owner’s mother. It was made in Scotland and brought to the United States in the early 1950s, when the woman emigrated.

And the pièce de résistance is that a man created the beautiful embroidery!

It makes me inordinately happy when I hear of a man excelling at work that is stereotypically “women’s work” or, for that matter, a woman doing work we associate with men. I love the idea that a person gets so much pleasure and satisfaction from an activity that they persist even though others may think them odd.

I know men, including my husband, who love working in textiles—they ask why should women have all the fun?!

In addition to the quality of the tablecloth and the detail that it was made by manly hands at home, the fact that a man made this lovely piece for a woman, who brought it with her to America, also allowed me to indulge in a little speculation. He must’ve cared for her very much—making this tablecloth was not a done on a whim! Did he love her? Did she not love him? Why did she leave Scotland? Did they stay in touch?

Sigh.

Knowing a tiny bit of the history of this tablecloth captured my imagination. The fact that I’ll never know the rest of the story is fine by me—the story in my head might be better than the truth.

The tablecloth has gone to its new home. I wrapped it carefully in tissue paper and put it in an envelope. I told the new owner what I knew about the history. I wanted to lecture her about using it carefully and cherishing it, but I exercised self-restraint.

It’s hers now.

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From the Permanent Collection: The KerryCan Tablecloth

IMG_6786I got into the vintage linens biz on Etsy because my collection of vintage linens had grown to massive, ridiculous, and embarrassing proportions. Beautiful tablecloths, napkins, runners, pillowcases, (etc. etc., to the nth power!), boxed up and stored, never seeing the light of day or being appreciated.

So, I decided to find good homes for them and have done so for almost 600 pieces, at last count!

But, as you might expect, I keep a few special pieces for myself—some lovely, some quirky, some with sentimental meaning.

One item that has entered, and will remain in, my permanent collection is this appliquéd tablecloth of a 1940s housewife, engaged in her daily tasks.

When I started to develop an on-line presence, on Etsy, Facebook, and here on my blog, I needed an avatar. I’ve never been much of one for posting many photographs of myself on-line and I was in a rush to get my little Etsy shop open so I just decided to use a picture I had taken for one of the tablecloths I intended to sell.

IMG_6805It was, I’ve decided, a most fortuitous decision. Over the years, I’ve come to feel like the woman on the tablecloth is like a little portrait of me, done in faded cotton and thread.

I love the details in this hand-sewn appliqué—the hairdo, the big apron bow, the seams up the back of the stockings! I don’t have that hair, my apron is sturdy canvas with lots of smears of chocolate, and I avoid nylons at all costs, let alone ones with seams up the back.

And yet, I feel great affection and affinity for this woman. She’s busy, she’s industrious, she’s always into something. She keeps a cleaner house than I do but, like me, she spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

She turns her loving hands to home.

If you look at her closely, you’ll see she’s come a bit undone, she’s wrinkled, and faded. Hey, it happens to all of us at some point! But she still stays presentable and engaged in her world.

She was for sale for a while but, thankfully, no one saw her for the lovely star she is. I came to my senses and returned her to the pile of my special linens. She keeps me company in the kitchen and at craft sales.

IMG_4037I love the thought of the person who sewed her and the layers of handiwork. The maker worked long and hard to make a tablecloth—a practical, working item—and decorated it with designs of a woman working. And now it’s come to represent a bit of work I do.

That’s a lot of loving hands at home!