Cocktail (Napkins), Anyone?

cock tailIf I were going to start a new collection of vintage linens (and I’m not!), it would be cocktail napkins.

They are so small, easy to store, and utterly, utterly perfect. They speak of attention to detail and elegance of a time gone by.

Because a cocktail party is a special, showy occasion, cocktail napkins tend to be special and showy as well. And just as cocktail parties can take different tones, so can the napkins. Some are arch and clever, some are a little naughty, some are self-consciously elegant.

All of the napkins are designed to be noticed and to communicate about the party-giver.

Many, many of the napkins reference the point of the party—drinking. Roosters are extremely popular on cocktail napkins, presumably because of the connection with the “cock’s tail.”

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Elegant “cocks” on super-fine fabric, with handmade lace

red blue roosters

Jaunty printed “cocks”

Other cocktail napkins depict all aspects of drinking. You’ll find designs of glasses and liquor bottles.

Madeira linen glasses, with tiny red cherries

Hand embroidered on linen, with tiny red cherries

Madeira bar accessories!

Madeira bar accessories!

You’ll also find pink elephants

pink elephant

A pink elephant, hugging his cocktail

and fish that are drinking like fish!

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Partying goldfish!

A whole subset of cocktail napkins is the risqué or naughty category. These turn up on eBay and Etsy pretty regularly and can be very expensive.

One napkin, two views

One napkin, two views

Four girls with padding

Four girls with padding

A woman in a bottle

A woman in a bottle

Another direction in cocktail napkins is that of sheer elegance and opulence. These napkins were used as a way to demonstrate taste and refinement.

pastel F mono naps-5

The tiny “F” monogram is created by hand-pulling threads

These napkins are the finest-quality and most perfect I’ve had my hands on. The linen is like gossamer and the monogram “F” has been added, not with embroidery, but by drawing and tying those tiny threads.

The napkins pictured in this post were all wrought by handl. This work is not “hands at home” but, rather, done by experts and highly prized.

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Madeira hand applique on organdy

Because of their appeal and craftsmanship, cocktail napkins can sell for pretty crazy prices, especially the very detailed ones that are cheeky and whimsical. But you can also get lucky and find wonderful surprises at tag sales and thrift shops. These superb napkins with embroidered champagne glasses came from an estate sale in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

my champagne

Tiny stitches form the champagne glasses and bubbles!

And the F monogrammed napkins shown above were thrown into a mixed lot in an eBay auction.

So, keep your eyes open and see if you can add some fabulous cocktail napkins to your life! Or, if you just like looking and enjoying the glimpse into a bygone era, feast your eyes on this specialty shop, as well as this one!

Cheers!

Sewing Hands at Home, with Attitude

IMG_2546I don’t sew.

Well, I do sometimes, but I hate it. I like sewing by hand well enough but I just hate using a sewing machine. I hate any sewing machine but I loathe my expensive computerized machine.

My problem is I hate a couple of other things more than sewing so I find myself sitting at a sewing machine every once in awhile, like I did last week when I made these curtains.

A couple of years ago, we took out the wall between two guest rooms and put in French doors, with the intention that any company we had could use the space as a kind of suite—lovely, right?

But, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with lovely intentions and hell, in this case, is one very nice guest room, connected to a room that has become the repository for all the vintage linens I have purchased and have yet to list in my shop. Hellish, indeed.

IMG_2528So, until I can get those linens under control, we needed a way to block the view from the guest room into hell. And that’s where the curtains came in.

I had a clear idea of what I wanted in curtains and to find them I was going to have to shop, spend money, and settle for something that didn’t live up to what I envisioned. And those are exactly the things I hate more than sewing.

I really don’t find any joy in shopping, unless it’s for vintage stuff at great prices. I rarely go to a store and, instead, make do with what I have rather than facing the hassle of buying new.

I wanted simple curtains, anchored at the top and bottom with rods, with blue and yellow. I wasn’t going to find those in a store so my other option was to have someone make them for me.

But . . . but . . . pay someone else to do something I could do myself (even though I hate doing it)? My pesky Puritan work ethic simply wouldn’t allow that happen. And so the windows stayed uncurtained.

Everything started coming together about a month ago. I found a bolt of new, old-stock Stevens linen toweling fabric on eBay. That’s a lot of adjectives but they’re all important to me. The bolt meant I got 20 yards of fabric and I needed a lot. It was vintage and originally would’ve been sold to women as yard goods, to make their own dish towels, but it was also brand new and never used. Stevens is an American company, still in operation, that has been making towels for over 150 years.

The fabric was a beautiful natural linen color, with bands of yellow and thin accents of blue running along the edges. And to make it even more perfect, because it was meant as toweling, it was 18 inches wide; I could make two panels for each of the French doors and not have to hem any sides. All I would have to actually sew was the top and bottom rod pockets!

IMG_2531And we had company scheduled to arrive, which really lit a fire under me.

So I dusted off my loving hands and sat down to sew. I still refused to use that nasty computerized machine, opting instead for my mother’s old mechanical machine. It was more than up for the task!

I cut the fabric so I knew it would be plenty long enough and then did the top on all four pieces. First, I double-turned and stitched a quarter-inch hem because the fabric was a loose weave and wanted to ravel.

IMG_2535 IMG_2536Then I folded over about 2 inches of fabric and pressed it and stitched two rows, one along the very edge of my double-turned hem (so, two inches from the top edge) and the other one inch in from there. The space between those two lines became my rod pocket and left about an inch of header fabric. Am I making any sense?

IMG_2538In the meantime, my husband hung the rods. The top rod was done as usual, with the brackets facing up to let the rod sit in them, but the bottom brackets were placed upside down, so I could hook the bottom rod over them.

I hung up all four panels on the top rods and stepped back to admire my work—that’s the only good thing about sewing!

To finish the bottom ends, I sat on the floor and pulled the fabric in each panel to the degree of tension I wanted and pinned it. I didn’t try to do any measuring because the panels were so long and because it seemed easier to just fake it. I did one panel at a time and did run back and forth to the guest room to double-check everything a lot so that, if I messed up, I wouldn’t ruin everything.

IMG_2542The bottom hems went in just like the top ones. I didn’t trim the extra length until I put the finished panel up and made sure it was just right. If it was too loose or too tight, I could’ve picked the stitching out and made the adjustment.

But they all came together perfectly! And because of the tension on the panels, when the rods were snapped into place, I didn’t even have to iron them.

I honestly love these curtains—they are just my style and just what I envisioned. I have fabric left over so I can make more curtains or pillows or dish towels, for myself or to sell.

Don’t get excited, though. I still really don’t like to sew. But it certainly is a useful basic skill to have and to fall back on. Am I alone in my antipathy for sewing? Can you sew? What can I do to learn to love it?

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You Complete Me

pot holder girl-2For me, a special feeling comes from picking up a project, begun with good intentions by a woman who now can never finish her own work, and seeing it through to completion. I always imagine that long-gone woman smiling, to know that her effort was not wasted and that her work lives on.

If you love to embroider or quilt AND you love vintage AND you love the sense of a connection across time and place and experience, you can find almost limitless opportunities to work on vintage linens that need attention from you to be completed. It’s the best of all worlds—you can add your touch to the work, feel great about it completing a project that never would’ve gotten done without you, and be further rewarded by a vintage design done with quality vintage fabric!

Just as so many of us buy patterns and fabric with big plans but end up, instead, with UFOs (un-finished-objects), our foremothers did, too. Etsy and eBay are crammed with these projects, either never started or only partially done, and all are just waiting for a pair of loving hands to complete them.

If this all sounds appealing, you have lots of options to choose among, including the three I’ll cover here.

Vintage embroidery, waiting to be finished

I did a quick search on Etsy just now that yielded over 100 vintage items, ready to be stitched and turned into something lovely. You could find many more on eBay. The projects range from pillowcases to napkins to aprons to towels and the fabrics range from Irish linen to cotton and easy-care-options. Some of these projects are completely unfinished and some are nearly complete. You can even find sets that include the original thread.

This is an example that I found recently and will list on Etsy if I ever get around to it.

pot holder girl-1The embroidery here is finished and accents the colored cotton. The pieces are designed to be assembled as potholders and I think the girl’s face and bonnet piece is meant to be a caddy for the round potholders. The long piece with the embroidered word “holders” may be meant to be folded in half and stitched to the girl, as a handle that could be put over a drawer pull.

A couple of other examples:

Vintage transfers

Iron-on transfers were very popular in days gone by and a favorite technique for women to spiff up plain towels or other household items. These pieces of tissue paper had a design that could be transferred to fabric with a hot iron and each woman could choose her own design and colors for embroidering. Vogart was a huge purveyor of these designs and there are literally hundreds of sets of Vogart designs available on Etsy and eBay at any given moment.

If you are lucky enough to have some vintage towels or pillowcases that belonged to your grandmother or mother, you can replicate the work they may have planned to do by using these transfers and doing the embroidery. And, if you are NOT lucky enough to have plain linens waiting for your loving hands, of course you can purchase those in lots of places, from garage sales to antique stores.

Monograms? Check.

Pin-Up Girls? You bet.

And how cute are these chefs?

You can even get transfers to create quilt blocks that can then be turned into a full-size quilt, just like one your grandma might’ve made.

Vintage quilt tops

And speaking of quilts, it nearly kills me to find a beautiful quilt top, pieced or appliquéd by hand, that was never completed and used. All that work! All that love! All that unfinished business  . . .

I understand how this happens. Most people view the creative aspect of quilting to be making the top—piecing the precious scraps or appliquéing the thrilling colors. It’s a lot more fun to make the tops than to do the necessary, but long and nit-picking, work of the actually quilting together of top, batting, and backing. So many more quilt tops were made than ever got turned into a finished product. But, still, an unquilted top never achieves the essence of “quiltness”—keeping a person warm while brightening a room. It’s like a caterpillar that never gets the chance to be a butterfly! You can change that!

I was lucky enough to learn to quilt by hand on an unfinished top made by the venerable Grandma Van. She finished many quilts but wasn’t able to get this one done. I was learning to piece my first quilt top and was a long way from being done but wanted to try my hand at quilting. My husband had brought this quilt top home when Grandma Van died and I knew what I needed to do.

It’s fun to look at this quilt now because my learning curve can be tracked from the middle of the quilt, where I started with ragged, long stitches, to the edges, where I was getting pretty good at regular, tiny stitches. It was almost like Grandma Van was there, guiding my hand! And I finished the quilt—I brought it from a pretty, but basically useless, piece of pieced fabric to the finished treasure Grandma Van meant it to be.

grandma van and meIf this sounds appealing but don’t have a Grandma Van in your past, there are thousands, and that is not an exaggeration, of quilt tops available on Etsy and eBay. Quilts in every style and pattern and color combination you could want, from the sophisticated to the folky:

All kinds of unfinished projects would benefit from your loving hands. The next time your fingers are itching for a new challenge, instead of starting from scratch with a new design and new materials, consider helping a “friend” finish her project. Trust me, she’ll want you to keep it when it’s done.

These projects need you. You complete them. And along the way, you may just find that they complete you.

Why Vintage? Reason #5

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The things that make me different are the things that make me.
A.A. Milne

For the past month, I’ve been examining and trying to articulate the reasons why many people love vintage. The first reason I discussed was the fashion appeal of vintage design; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to re-use; the third was the related issues of cost and quality. Most recently I wrote about the sentimental and nostalgic reasons people choose vintage.

I’m going to quote one of my readers to sum up the final reason for choosing to incorporate vintage into our lives; as she put it, she likes vintage items because they are “unique and uncommon.” Yes! Exactly!

Let’s face it—we live in a world that has been Target-ed and Ikea-ed. Nothing wrong with those stores—they’re stylish, fun, and inexpensive. But the things one can buy there are not individualistic, uncommon, and unique.

If you like stylish, fun, and inexpensive, PLUS individualistic, uncommon, and unique, I bet you love vintage!

If we’re trying to better understand what draws people to choosing vintage over new, I think it would hard to over-estimate this desire to express oneself with the unusual, one of a kind, quirky, special.

Vintage is all your own. You’re very unlikely to find exactly what others have, even if you go looking. Even items that were mass-produced 50 years ago are not likely to be plentiful now.

For instance, I sell vintage linens. I have reference books about these items that show pictures of hundreds of examples of kitchen towels and tablecloths but most of the items that I have found and kept (or sold) do not appear in these books—there were just so many out there over the years that what you can find now seems endlessly varied!

Pretty much any style, or amalgam of styles, can be expressed with vintage. I know I like the classics and I like quirky—and my home is full of vintage purchases that express this.

I’ve never been a frilly person. I’ve never been too interested in trends. I like timeless and I don’t care about matchy-matchy. I am hard pressed to find what really says “me” in stores. But by going vintage, I can get the balance I like.

When I shop vintage, I am regularly drawn to quality white linen tablecloths and napkins. They’re elegant, without appearing to try too hard, and they can be pressed into service all around my house.

IMG_2572I also am drawn to metals in classic styles. I have about 50 silver-plated Revere bowls, all sizes, all from garage sales (except the one I won as 3rd runner up in the Junior Miss pageant 1000 years ago)! They make quite a statement all displayed together. Similarly, I snap up simple copper pieces when I see them. I like the tarnish and the dings, the patina that develops over time.

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I like furniture that had clean lines, is casual and slightly rustic, with being too chippy and beat up. And I like it authentic; again, a patina that has come from use and love, not from a process applied at a factory.

Shopping vintage lets me find the balance that says “me,” by cherry-picking a lot of looks and styles from across the years. And it lets you do the same, to meet and express your tastes.

I’ve also learned, by paying attention to what I keep around, that I like the quirky, the slightly off-balanced.

I want to leaven the classic and timeless with the off-beat, a tiny bit of weird. IMG_2564 IMG_2569 I’ve collected these towels over the years—they’re always referred to as “risqué” in listings on Etsy or eBay, even though they’re pretty tame. They make me smile every time I’m in the room where they’re displayed and I’m not ever going to see this collection in someone else’s house.

Since we live in a rural setting, I also like a touch of “Adirondack” without going completely native. So, if I see an oddball planter or piece of fungus art, I can indulge myself. Really, you’re not going to find fungus art at Pottery Barn!

IMG_2560But that’s just me! I’m not you and, if you love vintage, you already know that it allows you to express your preferences just as specifically as I can express mine! And that’s part of the appeal. Those of us who love vintage see it, partly, as a means to express a sense of self in a highly individual way.

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In the past few weeks, I’ve talked about the reasons why I think people are drawn to vintage items. It’s a complex mix, with a number of ingredients. Each person who chooses vintage has a different recipe for their mix: 2 parts individuality to 1 part ethics to 1 part sentiment; 2 parts trendiness to 2 parts commitment to re-use. Only we know, for ourselves, what mix motivates each of us.

I’ve found it interesting, and informative, in terms of self-knowledge, to articulate these reasons. I think, for me, it’s 3 parts sentiment to one part frugality, with a soupcon of individuality thrown in for good measure.

What about you? What’s your recipe for vintage love? Is it a choice motivated by 1) a sense of fashion; 2) a sense of ethics; 3) a sense of finances and quality; 4) a sense of nostalgia and sentiment; or 5) a sense of individuality? Or all of the above?! Do tell!

Why Vintage? Reason #3

dansk bowlA week or so ago, I began what is a short series by asking, “Why vintage?” What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people?

The first reason I discussed was the fashion appeal of vintage design; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to re-use.

Today I’ll talk about impulse to buy and use vintage because of issues of cost and quality.

3) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of cost and quality

Anyone who’s on the vintage bandwagon will want to regale you with the great deals they have gotten! My mother has been known to usher people around her adorable lakefront cottage, pointing out pretty much every piece of furniture and décor, and naming the price she paid at garage sales! Don’t judge—I bet you’ve done it yourself!

It isn’t simply the low cost of the finds that is so appealing, though. You can get inexpensive stuff at the dollar store, too. The key is that vintage can be cheap and excellent while the new stuff at bargain stores, and even some better stores, will be cheap and, well, cheap.

You’ve heard your parents and grandparents lament that, “they just don’t make [fill in the blank] like they used to!” And the truth is that, in many, many cases, they don’t.

Let’s consider two sorts of places you can buy vintage and what you might find. There are lots of others—I’m just using these as examples.

Online

The Internet has completely changed the world of shopping for and collecting vintage items. There was a time when, if we wanted to buy cool vintage clothes or housewares or tools, we had to be committed to slogging through every garage sale, flea market, and thrift shop we came across, just hoping. Now we can simply do a search, as broad or narrow as we like, and find our passion quickly.

Finding that special item is manageable now but is it low cost? You can certainly spend a LOT of money on eBay or Etsy. And your purchases may not be the great bargains they could be if you found them at garage sales, as we’ll see soon.  But the cost and quality can still beat, by a mile, what you’d find on brand-new products.

I used eBay and Etsy as my primary points of reference but there are lots of places to buy online, including Craigslist, of course.

In a fairly quick computer search, I found vintage, but unused, pure linen tablecloths for as little $10. On Etsy, I found a set, again unused, with a vintage Irish linen tablecloth and four napkins for as little as $26. A brand new Irish linen set, in a similar size, from a purveyor of new Irish linens could cost upwards of $200.

Similarly, I found tablecloths in sturdy cotton or cotton/linen blends, with cool mid-century designs, for as little as $15. The least expensive brand new tablecloth and napkins set I could find on the J.C. Penney website was $25, for a plain one-color cloth made of polyester!

J.C. Penney doesn’t sell any wool blankets. A new wool blanket, for a queen-size bed costs $190 on the L.L. Bean website. A new Pendleton blanket, the most basic model, costs $180. Similar-sized Pendleton blankets can be found on Etsy, in what is asserted to be excellent condition, for as little as $30.

Do you like to cook and love that Danish modern look? Dansk has revived the Kobenstyle pans and is selling the new casserole pan for $130. I recently sold a vintage one, in perfect condition, for half that (this is the photo at the top of the post).

Like Le Creuset? You could buy a brand new Le Creuset lasagne pan for $130. Right now, on Etsy, you can get a vintage pan, with no issues, for $36. The new 3.5 quart Dutch ovens are selling for $230. Recent auctions on eBay, for a 4.5 quart vintage Dutch oven, have finished with winning bids as low as $20.

I could go on and on. But, really, do I need to?

Garage sales and flea markets

For those with patience and a zest for treasure-hunting, there are huge bargains to be found at flea markets and garage sales. This kind of shopping is not for everyone, of course, but for those of us who love vintage, the “thrill of the hunt” gets us out the door early on the weekends.

If you’re looking for one specific item, you would get frustrated in these venues. But, if you’re getting ready to set up housekeeping in a new place or just love the process of poking around, the great deals can be amazing. And, again, the quality of the vintage items you find will almost always be greater than buying new. Let’s look at a few of my finds:

coffee tableThe coffee table, above, is a classic style, huge, heavy, and made of solid wood. It did not need any refinishing and cost $20.

blue tool boxThis is an old wooden tool box, with a tray that lifts out. It cost $15 and I use the tray for jewelry storage. I love the blue paint!

quilt & chairThe chair in this photo cost $8, but it needed a new seat. It’s a very nice example of Windsor styling—see how slender the back pieces are? The quilt is from the 1930s or‘40s, all hand stitched, in great condition, and cost $3. It’s one of my favorite garage sale items ever.

deck chairI got three of these redwood deck chairs for $1; yes, that’s 33 cents each! I love the vintage style and how sturdy they are.

At Target, they sell set of 3 Pyrex mixing bowls for about $14. I buy mine at garage sales for no more than $1 each. Cast iron skillets? A couple of bucks. Coffee makers? A couple of bucks. My favorite iron (and I know irons!!)? A dollar.

And don’t even get me started about vintage linens! I regularly find hand-crocheted afghans, tablecloths with stunning embroidery, napkins monogrammed by hand for a hope chest, all for a fraction of what they are worth. How do you even put a price on the kind of handwork and soul that went into making such things?

I could go on and on. But, really, do I need to?

I’m not trying to talk you all into become garage sale sleuths and flea market mavens. Rather, I’m trying to provide some insight about what makes the sleuths and mavens tick. And to let you know that you can get the same quality, for very good prices, on venues like eBay and Etsy. You might even find something you like among my treasures!

It isn’t just the bargain—I could find bargains at T.J. Maxx or Kohl’s but you couldn’t pay me enough to go into either one. I hate traditional shopping. It isn’t just the quality—it’s easy to find quality, if money is no object. It’s the combination of finding something fabulous, and old, for a pittance, getting that jolt of knowing you got something you needed (even if you hadn’t known you needed it!) for next to nothing or much less than it’s worth.

How about you? Can you relate? What’s your best coup, in terms of scoring both cost and quality in the vintage world? I’d love to hear your stories!