Marching to the Beat of a Different Linen

When you hear the phrase “vintage linens” what comes to mind?

I think of sturdy linen kitchen towels with bright stripes along the edges, or lush and large white damask napkins. I think of tablecloths, and dresser scarves, and pretty embroidered pillowcases, all the usual suspects that filled the kitchen drawers and linen closets and hope chests of a day gone by.

Oh, but there is so much more! The loving hands that turned themselves to embellishing the dishtowels and napkins and pillowcases didn’t stop there! I love the unusual and quirky vintage linens that pop up occasionally.

Today, you might go to a big box store for plastic boxes when you want to organize your kitchen or bathroom. Your grandmother picked up needle, fabric and thread, and brought her creativity to bear.

I love that so many of these announce what they can do for us! But sometimes, they aren’t so forthcoming and it just isn’t clear what the funny, quirky piece was for.

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A wonderful, and old, canvas piece with pockets and hanging tabs. Apron? To hang on a towel bar?

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Very pretty hand-embroidered tabs, about 4 inches long. I have no idea what they were meant for but they would make elegant bookmarks!

Sometimes I’m even confused about what the decorations meant.

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I mean, I understand cacti and I understand lederhosen but . . . I  really don’t understand them together.

My recent favorite has had me stumped for a while.

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Top–pretty, with a slit opening in the middle

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Bottom–looks like a shower cap!

I tried it on and was pretty sure it wasn’t a bonnet. No photos of that—you’ll just need to trust me.

I was convinced it was meant to go over a serving bowl, to keep the dinner rolls warm and the flies off.

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But my husband made another guess and now I’m sure he’s right (and he wants me to acknowledge that I admitted that!) He said it was designed to go over a box of Kleenex!

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All of these oddball items, all of these special treasures . . .

I think this is, in part, why I am so hooked on vintage linens—there’s always something a little new, a little different, a little offbeat to be discovered. And in discovering these unusual items, I feel like I get a peek at the off-beat, distinct personalities of the women who made and used these things.

It’s tempting to think of our foremothers as staid and conventional and tradition-bound but some of these fun old linens, full of personality and bearing the individual’s touch, suggest that just ain’t so!

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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!

Quirky Hands at Home

When I think about “hands at home,” I can fall into the trap of thinking of sweet old ladies, crocheting pink doilies, with a cat at their feet. But, really, some of the best handmade items are downright quirky and remind us that each person is really, truly an individual with a big personality.

One of my favorite dish towels is the one pictured here. I sold it about a year ago and have always sort of wished I hadn’t. I’d love to know the story on the person who embroidered this spooky little guy. Is it a gnome? A house elf? A space invader? Was the maker chuckling the whole time he or she stitched?

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You’ll see lots of quirkiness in the handmade—some intentional, some accidental. It’s part of what makes it real!