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?

Iron Woman

IMG_7938I’ve been ironing again.

And you know what I’m going to say—I love it so!

I don’t like ironing just anything. I don’t like ironing clothing so I have blouses I never wear.

And I don’t like ironing great big tablecloths that don’t fit on my ironing board but I do those anyway because I want to sell them. When I sell them, I’ll never have to iron them again!

I like ironing smaller items that fit on the board in front of me. I like them quite wrinkled to begin with so I really see the transformation that heat and pressure bring.

And I like ironing a random stack of linens, where I’m not sure what is going to turn up next. With each new item I press, my thoughts wander. I think about how I will describe it when I list the item on Etsy. What can I say to communicate clearly to a potential buyer—why is this special? What home does it deserve?

I wonder about how the items were made. What was this lace made for? How does any human hand make stitches that small and precise?

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Done by hand–how incredible.

But much of the time ironing allows me to let my mind wander wherever it will go.

And often my mind goes where nostalgia will take it.

These homely placemats made me think of the days, in the early 1960s, I guess, when liquid embroidery was all the rage. Instead of needle and thread the “embroiderer” used little tubes of paint to follow the transfer design on the fabric.

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When I was about 10, my grandmother was my Sunday School teacher and she got all the girls in the Sunday School class together, at the farm, and we “embroidered” aprons for our mothers as Mothers’ Day presents.

I remember aqua fabric, an easy-care blend, no doubt. I remember wondering about the paints—I knew how to embroider with a needle and thread and couldn’t see the improvement. I don’t remember wondering if my mother would like the gift, although I have absolutely no memory of her ever wearing any apron, let alone this one. I was sure she’d love it because I had made it.

These memories—from the farm, of my Mama and my Mom, of working on a project with the other girls—are warmer than the steam coming off my iron.

These hand crocheted placemats take my memories another direction. When I was a teenager, I visited a girlfriend a lot and she lived with her grandmother. Her grandmother was a lot like my grandmother had been . . . but my grandmother was gone by that time.

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I remember her grandmother working on an amazing hand crocheted bedspread, done in natural cotton thread. It was very intricate and very impressive and I remember seeing it, finished, on the bed over a bright underspread. I couldn’t believe anyone would have the patience and ability for such a project. She also made dandelion wine . . .

Another grandmother, another warm house, and warm memories.

Every time I come across a towel or napkin monogrammed with a “W” or an “S,” I think of my grandparents. Printed towels from the 1950s with butter churns and sad irons? Or a funny apron from the ’40s? The farm.

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When I fold pillowcases just so, my mother’s mother is in my ear, telling me how to do it, to minimize wrinkles.

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It’s cold outside now. The warmer lake makes big billows of fog against the frigid air. Close to shore, the ice fishermen take their chances and shiver.

But, oh my, it’s warm at my iron. The steam rises, the memories swirl . . .

They Sang As If They Knew Me

Morland_Maid-IroningI love linens. I love ironing. I love folk music.

And I love a man who loves a woman who irons.

Imagine, just imagine, how I would feel about the melding of all four of these loves! Can you imagine?!

Well, my friend with a Vintage Attitude could imagine, and she rocked my world by introducing me to this song:

DASHING AWAY WITH THE SMOOTHING IRON

(YouTube video)

‘Twas on a Monday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-washing of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Tuesday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-hanging out her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Wednesday morning
………………..
A-starching of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Thursday morning
………………..
Ironing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Friday morning
………………..
A-folding of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
………………..
Airing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
………………..
A-wearing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

Oh. My. Goodness. I finally have a theme song.

The lovely lassie spends every day of the week working on her linens—I can relate!

But who would write a song about ironing linens??

Ah, the British, of course. The song seems to have been first published by the musicologist Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) and appears to originate from Somerset.

Those Somerset gals knew their linens!

I love that the song has a long history but, more than that, it’s a song about being adored for taking good care of linens. You don’t find a lot of folksongs honoring the hard work women did!

And work hard this woman did, to keep the linens clean.

She washes them. She hangs them to dry. She starches them. She irons them. She folds them. She airs them. And she even wears some of them, on Sunday, when she rests from the other tasks and steps out on the town!

Maybe I should change the last two verses of the song, to reflect the other steps I take—that’s the very essence of the oral/folk tradition, right?

My last verses will go like this:

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
………………..
Taking pictures of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
………………..
A-selling of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away!

Now if I can just get my husband to learn to play this song on his guitar. And to agree to gaze adoringly at me while he sings it . . .

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How about you? Do you have a theme song that sums up large chunks of your life?

Thinking Can Wait

IMG_9246I’m ironing again.

Almost exactly a year ago, when feeling kind of overwhelmed, sort of stressed, I wrote about how ironing helps me chill out.

And, this week, I find myself ironing again, for the same therapeutic reasons.

I had what was, for me, a full and hectic week last week. A number of you suggested I needed to get back to making and creating and crafting, as a way to return to bliss.

I think you’re right . . . next week. But this week, even thinking about making something seems too much.

And, so, I found my iron, the one from the garage sale that gets really hot and has no steam function at all.

I found the big spray bottle, the one I sometimes use to stop naughty cats in their tracks.

I set up my ridiculously expensive ironing board, the one I treated myself to. I tell myself I’m worth it.

I dug in the pile of clean but mussy linens, and I found ones that make me smile. First, a set of heavy, lush damask napkins that make me think of being pampered. IMG_9262

Next, another set of damask napkins, with a pale pink stripe—they press up beautifully and say “garden party” to me. IMG_9253

Then, for fun, some jazzy, mid-century dishtowels.

There are linens in my piles that speak to any mood, any need.

Slowly, methodically, I iron. The heat and steam are blown away by a breeze coming in off the lake.

The pile of crumpled, disordered, hectic fabrics shrinks.

The stack of beautiful, orderly, crisp linens grows.

To paraphrase the old saying, “Sometimes I irons and thinks and sometimes I just irons.”

This week, I’m focusing on just ironing. Thinking can wait.

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On Edge? Iron!

ironing-2http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/daily-prompt-activity/

I love to iron. Yes, you heard me right. When my life feels a little jumbled and disordered, crumpled like an old sheet, I iron.

I’m not on edge too often. I have an easy life, mostly free from drama. When I get tense, it’s usually because I feel like I have a lot to do, so the usual methods of relaxation simply don’t work for me. If I try to “relax relax,” I fidget and worry, completely preoccupied with the things I should be doing.

So, I’ve figured out I need to “work relax,” I need to do something that counts as work but is mindless and repetitive and, yes, relaxing.

So, I iron. As I iron, my mind can wander freely. I can sort through all those things I think need to be done, and figure out a plan for accomplishing them. I can plan a blog post. I can gain perspective.

I don’t iron shirts or ruffles or anything fussy. I iron tablecloths and napkins and big expanses of linen. I take big messy messes and, with a few sweeps of my iron and squirts of my spray bottle, turn the messy messes into gleaming, crisp fields of smoothness.

Hey, you meditate your way. I’ll meditate mine. And I’ll wish that all problems were as easy to solve as wrinkled linens!