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?

Busy, Busy . . . Happy

Autumn is always this way.

We realize that time’s a’wastin’, that soon we’ll be hunkering down for winter, and we try to pack a lot of living into these perfect days.

Chores abound. The perennials are being cut back. The outdoor furniture needs to be stored.

A quilt is basted, waiting to be finished this winter. The yoyos are almost, almost, sewn together and finished. Two other quilt projects wait in the wings.

The looms are momentarily naked but plans have been planned and one warp has been wound, a yummy wool for fall.

It’s time for chocolate, a new and different venture on Etsy, and, always, vintage linens.

It’s the time for spending quality hours with family snowbirds who are ready to fly away and it’s time for a little travel of our own, to enjoy autumn in New England.

Busy, busy. Happy, happy. And you?

 

For All It Represents

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I love this dresser scarf. Or is it a table runner? Or a doily?

It doesn’t matter what we call it, I love it all the same.

Do I love it because it’s pretty? Not really. I can see why some people would find it lovely but it is not my aesthetic at all. It’s a little too fussy, a little too pretty and flowery and girly, for my taste.

Do I love it because it’s rare and seldom seen? Not at all. This sort of hand embroidered fabric, meant to decorate a dresser top or sideboard, is pretty much, literally, a dime a dozen. In the world of vintage linens, the only items more plentiful are crocheted doilies.

Do I love it because it’s practical? No. It comes from an era where women seem to have felt compelled to cover blank surfaces with “décor.” Antimacassars, doilies, runners, piano scarves—the philosophy seemed to be “let no piece of furniture go naked.” Some of these items had an ostensible purpose—antimacassers on the backs of upholstered furniture, for instance, were designed to keep a popular male hair product—macasser—off the fabric. But, really, most of these items were just meant to look pretty.

I have lots of reasons not to love this runner and yet I do love it.

I love it for what it represents.

  • A woman seeking to beautify her space. Whether this was made by a Yankee, to hold dark winter at bay, or an Okie, facing dust storms or a lonely road west, this woman wrought her own scene of beauty.
  • A woman with enough leisure to time to be able to think about beauty. Whoever did this piece had done enough of the daily chores, the must-dos, to feel justified in taking her leisure on a want-to-do. I’m happy she found that time.
  • A woman who found a way to “be productive” while sitting quietly and beautifying her world. I can relate to this and I know some of you can, too. If you are a person of action and you like to point at what you’ve accomplished, you relish a job of work that can be done while sitting in the shade and allowing your mind to wander.
  • A woman who took pride in something made by her own hands that would So much of women’s daily work was work that was undone—beds made that were unmade each night, clothes washed and dirtied again, meals made and eaten and made again. To embroider something or stitch a quilt was to create a lasting object, something that might, even, outlive the maker.
  • A woman, perhaps denied other ways of asserting her individuality, finding a voice in her handwork. She chose the pattern, the colors, the embellishment. It was unique and it was hers.

This little dresser scarf packs a lot of meaning for me.

I also love it because I saved it.

Those of us who have pets will probably admit that the ones you saved from a grim fate always seem extra special. The stray one, skittish and fearful, the abandoned one, in pain and alone, those pets have our hearts in particular ways.

This runner came in a box of linens found, as usual, under a table and ignored, at a garage sale. The box actually held many pretty and quite exceptional items but, there, at the bottom, was this country cousin of a runner. And it was stained and filthy. It was a stray, unlikely to be noticed or to find a forever home.

I soaked it for hours in three different washes. I progressed from regular washing through my big guns, the Biz and Cascade combo. It was still stained. I did the Biz and Cascade again and added boiling water to my already very hot washing machine. Finally, the stains faded and disappeared. I ironed it carefully and spiffed it up for its glamour shots.

And now the runner is beautiful.

Was it worth the time and energy? It was not, at least not because it was exceptionally lovely or rare or useful.

But, yes, of course, it was worth it! It was worth it because of all it represents, because of the woman who crafted it and all the women like her, and like us, who make our marks by making a mark with thread or yarn or fabric or paint, or any of a multitude of other media.

I won’t keep this little runner—a person can’t adopt every stray and be fair to them all. I’ll show it to friends and see if there is a worthy home among them. At some point if need be, I’ll list it on Etsy in order to match it up with a good home.

One way or another, I’ll find it a place where it’s appreciated for what it is and for all it represents.

Snapshots of Busy-ness

It’s that time of year, when loving hands are busiest! Our house smells like chocolate and looks like a place where lots of fun is being had.

Several projects I’ve been playing with but nothing is finished . . . I’ll tell you more soon!

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And a pretty scarf is still on the loom–slow going but I like it!

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And, of course, there’s candy everywhere.

This is one of the big sellers this year–English toffee!

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I’m sure I know the answer to this question but how busy are your loving hands these days?!

All My Life’s A Circle . . .

coconut bark-2All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown

The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around

All my life’s a circle but I can’t tell you why

The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by.

As so often happens, I woke up with a song in my head. I think my subconscious provides me with the lyrics, depending on my mood and what is happening in my little piece of paradise.

This morning, the song in my head is Harry Chapin’s “Circle.” I know why.

It’s because the seasons are spinning ’round, and it’s autumn, and candy season has begun.

As I’ve explained before, I sell handmade chocolates, and I can’t temper chocolate for the candy when the temperature is warm. Every spring, when the mercury goes up, I put away the candy-making paraphernalia and my circle spins to other pursuits.

Every September, the circle spins again, I take out my lucky tempering bowl and my digital thermometer, my sugar and butter and chocolate, and I commence to make candies.

I’ve had my first candy foray of 2015 this week. I made a double batch of caramels—about 200 candies—and yesterday I dipped half of them in dark, beautiful Callebaut chocolate. This morning I made white chocolate bark and will dip the rest of the caramels in Callebaut milk chocolate.

(On a side note, there’s a story in the news about someone who worked at Callebaut in Vermont, who hated his job so much he called in a bomb threat, in order to get fired. Never mind, how twisted his thinking was—can you imagine hating a job at a chocolate factory?!)

In the next few months, “candy season” in my world, I’ll make the equivalent of about 500 half-pound boxes of chocolates.

This arc of my circle is pretty predictable. I’ll chop, stir, temper, dip, garnish, package, label, rinse, repeat. And repeat.

I’ll get knickers in a twist about preparing enough candy for the one holiday boutique I participate in, and then I’ll have too much.

I’ll get up in the morning and check Etsy, half hoping to find more candy sales, and half hoping I won’t.

I’ll worry about running out of chocolate or out of half-pound boxes.

At some point, I’ll probably get a nasty sugar burn and I’ll get very, very sick of chocolate.

And, while this arc waxes, others aspects of my circle will wane for now. I’ll have much less time for vintage linens and weaving and blogging and quilting, and I’ll pout about all of that.

I’ll wonder why I do this candymaking thing at all.

But then, I’ll get my first order of the season from the “Queen of Sienna,” a blog friend, fellow seller of vintage lovelies, and loyal lover of chocolate. She’ll say kind things about my candy and be excited I’m back, selling again.

When I do the holiday boutique, people will come specifically looking for something they loved last year or because they heard about the chocolate from a friend. Etsy shoppers will buy candy as Christmas gifts and ask me to include sweet messages to their loved ones far away.

And my family and friends will be pleased when I have extra candy around!

I’ll find I enjoy quiet mornings in my warm space, with the smell of chocolate and caramel and vanilla. I’ll achieve a certain satisfaction from the repetitive motion of dipping caramel after caramel into silky dark chocolate. Zen and the art of candy making.

And, through it all, I’ll know that, when and if it stops being fun and fulfilling, I can put away the lucky bowl and digital thermometer for good. Because the circle of my life isn’t a stone circle, and the seasons can be filled with whatever I choose.

For now, though, I choose chocolate, and candy season.

Parting Shots of Summer

Summer wanes.

The light changes.

The TV is tuned to golf and college football (We are . . . !)

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I list vintage woolies on Etsy.

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And my thoughts turn to making chocolates.

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The garden keeps on giving.

The birds hum and the dragons fly.

Colors deepen and gleam.

IMG_3899Autumn is on its way . . .

My Dishtowel Jones: The Danish Modern Beauty

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It’s no secret I’m addicted to dishtowels. I love ‘em, old and new.

I like to use them.

I like to weave them.

I like to sell them.

I even run contests to honor and glorify them.

I have a new favorite dishtowel—quite possibly the best ever!

It’s damask linen, very high quality. It’s crisp and almost crunchy, the way good linen is when new. And it has that sheen, that shine, that polish that only linen gives us. It’s unused fabric—never washed or put to use, with the original sizing. The woven design looks different on the two sides. One side shows the pattern as light against a darker background and the other side reverses the shades.

The style of the towel is Danish modern and that makes it unusual in itself. While I could show you lots of table linens and towels that evoke styles such as Art Nouveau or Deco, and even more that are mid-century modern and cottage, it’s unusual to find linens that really complement the cool, clear lines and pale colors I associate with the Danish Modern aesthetic.

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This towel also makes one thing clear—it’s a bar towel! The woven design is of wine glasses and champagne coupes and brandy snifters and decanters of adult beverages. There they are, all lined up on the “shelves,” waiting for the party to begin.

I have four of these towels. The fabric was sold as yard goods and the original tag was still affixed to the linen—“Dalsjofors hellinne” from Sweden.

gothic petuniaI bought a piece that could be cut up into four towels—the design is laid out in a way that made it easy to see where to cut. I double turned the hems and stitched them on my beloved Singer Featherweight.

And now I admire these towels. I gaze at them in wonder and touch them with affection.

I know I don’t need four of them and I should sell some of them on Etsy, to spread the beauty around a little. The closest I’ve gotten is listing one of them at a pretty high price.

It irritates me a little that the listing has gotten almost no attention! Towels that are FAR inferior (in my opinion!) are getting love but my Danish Modern beauty is so understated and elegant, it goes unnoticed. Do you think that’s why so few of us opt for understated elegance as a look?

But beneath my irritation, I have to admit I feel a little relieved. Like all addicts, I covet all of what I need. I want to keep it close, to revel in it, and I certainly do not want to share it!

They say addiction is wrong but if this feeling is wrong, I don’t want to be right!