Archive for the ‘storing antique and vintage linens’ Category

my new technique for sorting socks

June 24, 2012

Background:  i like to keep pairs together so that they are worn together and wear out together…but mostly i like to reach in to my sock drawer and just grab a pair and go which means i sort them first. but, i agonize over sorting socks because i buy the same brand of black and brown and navy socks again and again. to make matters worse, my husband also likes the same brand and we have lots of identical-seeming socks! i used to spread them out in broad bright daylight to try to differentiate the vague differences in color from age or wear or size. even the same brand and size socks can vary in weave or length. keeping “mine” mine and “his” his is important to me. therefore, it took a long time for me to pair my socks.

my friends and my husband all remained unimpressed about this; i thought that i may be the only person who cares so much about sorting my socks! not true, though… because when i showed my new idea to my mom, she also immediately grasped the idea and also adopted it!

my new way is to mark my socks… which has saved me time and energy. i marked each pair with fabric paint. the kind i used comes in small bottles with a squeeze tip applicator. i made one gray dot on my first pair, two on my second pair and so on. i improvised various simple shapes or changed colors when i thought that too many dots seemed confusing. variations in color added even more choices so one pair has two white dots flanking two gray dots. i let them air dry overnight and they were “good to go!”

sorting them now is a breeze. I no longer have to examine every single black sock in order to pair them. say that i start with a black sock with a neon orange spot… if i next pick up a black sock and it has a neon orange spot… voilá, that pair is DONE. if sock #2 has a white dot, i place it with the white dot facing up and go on to the next black sock. #3 might be a match for either and if it is, that pair is also done.

to give you a better idea, here is a photo i took with my phone one day as i was folding laundry!

some of my black socks!

more advice: my fabric paint advises label says to turn items inside out for washing so i apply the dots on the outside of the socks. i place the mark near the top center where it will not show when i wear jeans and where i look for the mark as i sort. i first experimented with right and left but found it to be more complex and it took more time. i can imagine a family where one person’s socks have blue dots, one person’s has green. or gray. or yellow. or taupe.

happy sorting!


Storing and Organizing Your Antique (& Modern!) Napkins for Everyday Use

June 6, 2012

Here is a recent question regarding storing linens.

My problem is storage…not enough of it…and I need to find a better way to keep my linen napkins (A) visible (B) safe (C) easy to get without messing up the rest.  Seriously, I have been online looking at archival boxes, etc. I have three generations’ worth of napkins…

I had exactly this problem which was exacerbated by the fact that when a set of napkins were sold, I not only needed a way to find them easily but also to be able to pull them out of a box or a stack without wrinkling them or wrinkling the other items in the stack. My solution is to use cardboard panes, one for each set of napkins. But first I cover the cardboard in white tissue paper to keep the cardboard from touching the fabric.

I tie ribbons around each set of napkins in order to keep them tidy and together. Lastly, I attach a tag that tells me what they are. I try to place each tag in a different place on the cardboard so that I can see each one at a glance and I keep them facing front.

Napkins are stored on shelves in a glass cabinet which protects them from dust and humidity.

Even if the set that I need is on the bottom, I can easily lift the entire pile, extract them and replace the rest because they are supported by the cardboard.

The tag identifies a set of placemats in storage. The tags for the sets beneath this one are staggered along the front edge.

Although I devised this system for myself through necessity, it doesn’t surprise me that other people have come up with similar systems. For instance, I recently acquired linens from an estate of persons of great wealth which meant that they had multitudes of everything. I was amused to see that all their linens had been sent out for laundering and the laundry had packaged the linens to perfection BUT had laid them directly on flimsy, inexpensive cardboard and then wrapped them in cellophane!

These napkins were stored for decades inside cellophane wrapping.

Here is another close up.

They looked lovely, all bundled up! But, when removed from the packaging, they were actually quite stained, much of it coming from being stored next to substances that off-gas chemicals.

They were placed so carefully, alternating tops and toes, with only four to each package. I suspect that nobody could predict that they would be put away and not opened again for decades.

another pretty set of napkins tucked away in cellophane.

It does take decades and decades of poor storage to ruin things, though. I have seen linens that were rolled in newsprint or on cardboard paper towel cores that were exposed to those particularly acidic papers for 40 or more years and, besides needing to be laundered, fared pretty well. The worst thing you can expose your linens to is humidity and damp!

Go organize your linens! But enjoy doing it.

Keeping Linens for Posterity and Family Heirs: Notes for Future Generations

May 25, 2012

Several questions have recently popped up regarding storing linens. One person wonders how to store them in order to identify and keep them for the next generations and  another asks how to store them so that they can be accessed for every day use.
I am dealing with the first question in this post:

… what is the best way to label antique linens so that descendants will know the significance of what they [the linens] are. I know what to write, I just don’t know how to make sure that it stays with the item. The best I can think of is to write with pencil on acid-free paper and put it with the item and wrap both in muslin or cotton. I’m thinking-stay away from ink, safety pins, etc. Any guidance?…

To find a note attached to an antique linen is a treasure! It can convey so, so much! A note can clarify (or muddle) all sorts of things: identification, origins, ownership, dates, materials, family relationships, lore, stories and more. I have seen many ways of handling this issue, all with varied results.
For those of you who have not yet contemplated a project such as this, here are my suggestions for what should be included. Record any information that you have regarding the piece and cite the source of that information. Think of the five “W”s: who, what when, where, how? (Smith family Christening dress. Made by Mrs. Smith of Park Place, NY, circa 1898. Written by me in 2025, Jane Smith Doe, NY, NY. Great Aunt Hattie told me all about it when I visited her in Ohio in 2001.) Simple.
As much as I hate to see a big old rusty safety pin piercing a dress or a napkin, I would much rather have that with the note than not have a hole and not have the note! Museums write (or print) in indelible ink an inventory number onto cotton tape which is then sewn onto the edge of an item. The inventory number is recorded elsewhere in a catalog or computer file along with pertinent information. The simplest adaptation would be to write in indelible ink (a sharpie) on cotton tape and sew or tie the information to the item. Here are some actual notes that come from items I have had.

This note identified a piece’s origins: Asturias, Spain. Would that the writer had dated it herself!

The next note identifies the maker and her relationship to the note’s writer.

This note is pinned to a folded doily that is embroidered with Art Silk embroidery. It was firmly attached by piercing every layer! (not good)

This note tells a little story. Also very sweet!

my best deciphering ability: This cap was embroidered by Marcia Post out of _amster [& given] for Mary Spelham Cooley & given to her by her & her daughter when McAllister was old enough to we__ it. I felt dreadfully when I found I had ______ out— H-C.L.”

The next note is quite complete and was essential in identifying an esoteric fiber. (Lace made from yak hair)

White Yak lace Square Shawl brought by Dr. G. F. Hawley to Annie C. Newton from Europe just before his marriage to her, July 8, 1868

The danger of not attaching a note to an item is that the note may become separated from it. But it’s not such a problem if you have only a few family items. If you have a piece that is exceptionally important or sentimental, consider buying an acid free “museum box” for it. Even easier is to place it inside a cotton pillowcase along with any pertinent related information such as an older note along with a note from you and a family photo of the item in use or of it being displayed in your home or of the person to whom it once belonged. Separate the fabric from the documentation with acid free tissue paper. Reminder: store clean but un-ironed in a dry dark place.

Larger collections will be more challenging. If you have inherited or collected a large number of items, sewing or tying notes can become time consuming or it can be the start of an interesting project.  You can loop cotton thread or twine through a note and through a buttonhole or cutwork and openwork areas but items with no openings are harder. I purchased a “fine clothing grade” needle gun that inserts tiny plastic fasteners, just like the ones they use for price tags on clothing. I try to insert the needle through existing openings like hemstitching or buttonholes or I put it into the least obtrusive place I can find. On a large and sturdy item, writing with indelible ink on an interior hem or hidden area is easy and quick. Purists may not love that idea but I believe that if your choice is to mark it or not, it is far better to mark the item. The method you choose will depend on your patience and fastidiousness.

The important thing is to start!

Laundry and Inventory Marks on Linens

May 25, 2012

The dilemma of keeping track of ones linens has posed a problem throughout the centuries. In days when people owned very few possessions and linens were necessary and precious goods, household inventories listed them. They also needed to be tracked and identified when they were sent away to be laundered. From the times when they were sent to Holland to be washed and bleached upon the grasslands and in later times (after the New World was discovered) when they were sent to soak up the Caribbean sun, people still needed and wanted to have their own things returned to them. Even if they were being given to a local laundress who collected them from the doorstep and then returned them, each household needed to differentiate their things so that the correct items would be returned to them.

Markings needed to be immediately understood, (relatively) easily made and as permanent as possible. Many systems have been in use. Monograms (woven and embroidered) were used to mark the linens and signify ownership. Names, initials, ciphers and numbers were also embroidered onto linens, often at the top or bottom edges. Sometimes, initials were used in conjunction with the number of the piece. (tablecloth #1, sheet #65, etc.) Indelible inks were concocted and were written upon the items. Later cloth tags or labels were sewn onto items and were sometimes stapled with huge unsightly pieces of metal. It seems that these markers were so essential that, how they looked was not nearly as important as how they functioned. To our eyes, some methods seem time consuming or odd, others seem clunky or downright ugly.
Here are some examples.
Monogram and royal crest woven into damask fabric. The crest is of Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy. Of course, the pattern was also decorative.

Some of these napkins were also stamped in black to further differentiate them.

It may look like a mess to us but the black stamps were evidently necessary to differentiate these napkins from other sets. R. Casa signifies “Royal House.”

Monogram and royal crest embroidered into damask fabric. This monogram is from a tablecloth belonging to a member of the Germanic Princely House of Saxe-Meiningen. This is an example of beautifully embroidered laundry/inventory marks.

Other items were embroidered by less skilled hands.
blue thread

This was someone's method for identifying their item.
white thread

Crude white letters are embroidered on the edge of a towel.
red cross stitch

A tiny ME 4 is beautifully cross stitched in red near the top edge of a linen sheet.
embroidered H, Hersant, PG and my inventory number

I.D. marks in a time line. A tiny red H is embroidered at the foot of a sheet. The name Hersant is handwritten in old indelible ink. I added my own inventory mark: MSA (for Main Street Antiques) and the item number 13545.
red dot

A simple red dot is embroidered onto the corner of a fine Irish linen hemstitched handkerchief.

Handwritten in inks
19th c napkins/tc and napkins

a mid-19th century handwritten set of initials on an old damask tablecloth.

The same handwritten monogram, plus the number 6 beautifully identifies a 19th century napkin.

Another ink-inscribed damask linen from the 19th century.

redwork towel

A simple hand inked set of letters on the edge of a show towel.

sewn on tags/labels
blue label

This tiny label was sewn onto a pillow sham.
black label

A gorgeous old napkins sports a label that was first stamped in black ink "C 19" and then sewn onto the hem.
woven label

A modern machine woven label was custom designed for a hand weaver from California.

Another useful marking variation is to indicate the size of an item, usually for tablecloths, occasionally for bedding.

red size

All you have to do is look at the corner to know that this is your 4 yard long tablecloth!
white size

Even fancier, this tablecloth shows size in inches, the number of people and the board length.