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.

So Lovely and Yet . . .

A beautiful damask bath towel, probably part of a hope chest.

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A gorgeous goose eye twill weave.

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Elegant hem stitching, done by hand.

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Satin stitch monogram; again, done by hand.

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But an unfortunate monogram.

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Was the young woman dismayed at the image her initials brought to mind?

Or did it make her laugh, because she knew she was no such thing?

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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!

You Could Win!

I am in the mood to give something away.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I wasn’t sure what to give.

Then I was ironing pretty vintage kitchen towels and I thought, “Hey, I know! A pretty vintage kitchen towel!” Because I’m sure you all share my dishtowel jones, right?

Right!

But which towel?

That was easy—this one.

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It’s vintage. I wouldn’t want you to settle for anything less than vintage.

It’s pretty. Fresh and unusual colors on a bright white background, all in crisp linen. Yum.

It’s unused and clean. Because I wouldn’t want to send you a towel you might consider icky.

It has flowers, for the gardeners, and tulips and daffodils, for those experiencing spring and those already longing for it. And the flowers are turquoise because, even though turquoise flowers are rare or non-existent in nature, they shouldn’t be!

It’s an all-around perfect towel! I hope you think so, too!

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To get a chance to win the towel, you can encourage me to do a chore I’ve been avoiding.

I need to find out how many of these yo-yos I’ve made so far.

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I’ve been avoiding this chore because I have a notion of how many yo-yos I will need for even a twin-bed-sized coverlet and I am loathe to acknowledge how far I have to go. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to count them.

So, I’m asking you to guess how many yo-yos I have in this pile and jar. In a week, after you’ve had a chance to guess, I will HAVE to count them so I know who to send the towel to!

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The fine print:

  • I’ll accept guesses, in the comments here, until noon, my time, on December 6.
  • Anyone, in any country, can guess. This towel is willing to travel!
  • Only one guess per person.
  • In the case of correct ties, I will do a random draw of those who made the correct guesses.
  • If no one guesses correctly, I’ll send the towel to the person with the closest guess.

Please make your guess and encourage others to guess, too–this towel needs an excellent home! And I need to get busy making more yo-yos . . .

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Afghan: A Blanket By Any Other Name . . .

For me, it doesn’t get much better than finding a treasure that is both handmade AND vintage. The idea that an item is a tangible expression of affection, made by someone who is no longer living, gives that item a special resonance. Of course, those makers DO still live on because they created something beautiful that is still cherished by the living.

I think it’s especially neat to find handmade afghans. An afghan is a crocheted or knitted throw or blanket, made by hand, often as a gift. Think about the symbolism of receiving such a gift, made by someone who loves you, and sort of wrapping yourself up in that love!

Not everyone appreciates these beautiful objects—I find a LOT of vintage knit and crocheted blankets at garage sales and estate sales. It seemed sort of sad to me at first, as if here were these items, made with love, full of love, but floating around without anyone to bestow that love upon.

But then I realized that I wasn’t the only one who appreciates the old-school charm of these throws—I’ve found “forever” homes for a great many of them.

These are some of the beautiful vintage afghans I’ve had the pleasure to know, all handmade, all special.

I have afghans made by my grandmothers and even made one myself, in my only real attempt at crocheting. Do you have any in your home?

My Kind of Book

It’s a book.

IMG_3987It’s a vintage book.IMG_3989

It’s a vintage book about textiles.

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It’s a vintage book about how to make textiles by hand.

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It’s as if we belong together!

“With her knowledge she can combine her imagination and ingenuity to create new patterns or adapt old ones and so give color and meaning to modern life.”

The Linens Call Me, And I Must Go

I hear their little voices, calling from the spare room.

Some voices are clear and strong, the voices of the ones on the top of the pile. Some voices are muffled, barely audible—these are the voices of the ones buried deep down in the stack.

The vintage linens are calling me. And they have accusations to make.

They claim to have been forgotten. Neglected. Left to wrinkle.

Their beauty and craftsmanship is going unrecognized and unappreciated, they claim.

They say it’s all my fault.

I brought them here only to ignore them, to turn my focus to chocolates and weaving and blogs and things.

That’s what they’re saying, in their whiny voices. And, you know, they’re right!

I had cause to go into that spare room the other day, searching for napkins to meet a buyer’s request, and was . . . well, a little horrified, actually! I came face to face with gorgeous items I’d completely forgotten about! Many, many of them . . .

I have definitely been remiss. I have all kinds of excuses, of course—I’m busy with other things, it’s “candy season,” it’s too cold on the glassed-in porch to take the photos I need in order to make listings on Etsy.

But, as the linens told me, they deserve better. So, I’ve been making time for them lately and enjoying their company. When they’re not pouting, they are really quite delightful to be around!

History and Mystery: A Baby Named John

baby cupWho was baby John?

All we know for certain about the baby is that he was a boy, born long ago.

Born in 1916, he’s probably left this world by now. But we can guess he was a valued addition to his family, enough so that someone commemorated his birth with a simple and beautiful baby cup, engraved to honor that special boy and year.

What was his life like? The bottom edge of the cup shows little dents and dings—was he a rambunctious boy, who beat his cup against his highchair and laughed when the cat ran away, startled?

Was he born in upstate New York? His baby cup turned up at a garage sale here. Were his parents farmers like so many in this rural area? Did he grow up drinking milk from the family Holsteins and gathering eggs from disgruntled hens? Were his days spent rambling the fields and finding his way home, at dusk, in time for the evening chores?

Was his dad, perhaps, away in the Great War when he was born? Did John himself take up arms in the next war? He’d have been the right age. Did he make it home?

Did he go to school past 8th grade? Did he find love? Was there a son, also named John, who played with the silver cup? Or did the cup sit at the back of a china cabinet, forgotten?

Who puts a baby cup in a garage sale? Maybe John’s children’s children’s children, none of whom remembered him, except as the occupant of an old picture frame, and who had little use for a bibelot, so pretty but prone to tarnish and dust?

A small object like this baby cup, so evocative, so full of secrets, so eloquent in its silent silver glow.

My fond hope is that someone will buy this little treasure, to give to another baby named John, maybe one born in 2016, one hundred years after that other baby was born. I’d like to see this little cup polished and set out, reflecting the sun and another child’s smile.

A Great Day for Saling

IMG_7350It seems to me there might be just two types of people in the world: those who love and understand shopping at garage sales (yard sales, jumble sales, tag sales, etc.), and those who don’t.

I am firmly in the former camp! If you’re in the latter, be assured I’m not trying to convert you—heaven knows I don’t want any more competition for the treasures at these sales!

But I know that non-believers question whether anything of value comes up at garage sales. And I’m here to tell you, “Yes, it does!” Consider this post a way to gain insight to those of us who get up early on the weekends, drive miles out of their way, and dig through piles of dirty junk just in case there’s a treasure to be found.

The photos here show my haul from just one day of garage saling, last Saturday.

IMG_7358To be completely honest, the previous day had been dismal, with no treasure, no thrills. Absolutely soul-suckingly bad.

And taking the honesty further, many of the Saturday sales (we stopped at about 10) were dismal.

But all a person like me needs is one or two great sales (or one or two great finds at a dismal sale) to be re-energized.

The first sale I went to had no junk, just tidy tables of interesting and odd items. At least I think that’s what she had—I was so completely focused on one table, a great big table, of vintage linens that I barely looked at the rest.

This, this, is what keeps a garage saler going. Beautifully kept, clean, old, unusual items, for remarkably reasonable prices.

A perfect tea cloth with Italian embroidery and drawnwork.

IMG_7439 Another tea cloth with a spectacular embroidered design. IMG_7447An antique coverlet, surely made for a hope chest, that is a tour de force of hand stitching and lace crochet work.IMG_7480

A lovely tablecloth, hand embroidered and brought from Scotland 60 years ago (this one might just deserve its own post!)

IMG_7422 And this was just one sale. We also found vintage hand-crocheted afghans, beautiful damask napkins, and unusual china and ceramic pieces, including a little souvenir pitcher from Vermont, showing a maple sugaring scene! You know how I feel about maple sugaring!! And I bought many perennial plants at the rate of three plants for a dollar.

Yes, this was an unusual and rewarding day.

But, you see, dedicated garage salers live for these days, and a day like this will keep us going through many a lean, dry spell. We are optimists. We always believe that, around the next corner, will come the heart-pounding thrill of finding something really special.

So, what will I find tomorrow . . . ? And which camp are you in? Garage sales—yea or nay?

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!