How to Start Collecting Vintage Textiles

There are lots of ways of collecting vintage things and going about collecting.

1. to acquire and hoard them (this is ok; it protects them for future generations)

2. to display them in a “no touching” way

3. to use them (and to be prepared to sometimes use them up)

4. a combination of the above.

You can also control your acquisitions by depth of focus. Only lace? Only one type of lace? Or, even only lace from a certain part of the world. Or, take monograms, for instance! You could choose to collect monograms. Or perhaps only hand embroidered monograms. (But that leaves out many superb monograms that have been fashioned from lace instead of by sewing.) Or perhaps collect only monograms with certain letters, maybe letters you like the shapes of or, possibly, only letters that form your own monogram. Or your family’s or your cat’s!

There are also more specialized collections: some repair, reuse and recycle into other things such as crafts projects, making quilts or human or doll clothing. In an even more rarefied strata, some people put together a specific collection as a gift to posterity, hoping to find a museum (or even a grandchild) who will curate it.

Let me guide you toward the type of quality and price to pursue…. if you think you could not bear to use a $75 guest towel, then perhaps a $12 one would be a better choice. Or, you can collect tiny scraps of lace to hold on to and learn from and then, later, when you know the techniques that grab you, you can go on to buy a collar or cuffs or a lappet. Consider napkins to use, sheets to sleep in, old undies and nightgowns to wear! Or, even easier… a nice little stack of fabulous hankies or doilies… they often have many of the techniques at an affordable price and they are easier to store because they are small.

Most people will advise you to not buy items that are damaged because it is the perfect and rare ones that hold value. I believe that a damaged, but affordable, item can be a wonderful way to learn what really good techniques are so that you can familiarize yourself with them and spot them later. A scrap of 18th century toile may be tiny but affordable. An 18th century coverlet made from that toile will be priced out of reach.

Ask yourself honestly what you think you want to do with the things you are acquiring and let that be your first buying guide. Although I grant that most people who stumble on the world of antique linens do not have a plan in mind and just want that pretty thing that so attracts them. If you nodded yes to that idea, then sadly, you will probably be hooked and it won’t matter what you want to do with them. They’ll just pile up and up and up and you will be ankle deep in linens. And, then knee deep. And then, there is no going back.


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