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.

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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!