My Belgian Lace Experience 2008

May 26, 2012

My September 2008 trip to the low countries included visits to 16th century canal houses, many art museums, a chocolate museum, a brewery and the lace museum in Bruges, Belgium. here are some musings on the state of handmade linens and lace in the world today. In one museum, I saw a filet lace panel that was dated 1599.

Outrageously Beautiful Brugge (Bruges)

Bobbin lace was invented in this gorgeous region. You can hardly walk half a block in the old city center without passing at least one linen and lace shop. Unfortunately, most shops sell the same kinds of things and most of the things have been imported from China. (really) Some are pretty, (but mundane,) pieces. But they have nothing to do with the superb tradition of handmade linens and laces.

Several years ago in Venice, I did a double-take when I saw on display a very expensive Point de Venise tablecloth that looked to me as though it had been made in China. When I went into the shop to get a closer look, the Chinese shopkeepers confirmed my suspicions. There is nothing wrong with selling or buying Chinese-made lace but selling Point de Venise in Venice implied that it had been made in Venice. Most people who visit lace shops in Bruges would assume that everything had been made in Bruges.

Some shops displayed older pieces in their windows or inside. (at prices that were expensive, even with the very weak dollar) The vintage Duchesse lace handkerchief in the next photo costs over $200.

This hanky costs approx. $450 USD.

This lovely Rose Point (or Point de Gaze) Hanky is nearly one thousand dollars.

This “rosaline perleé” bobbin lace-edged embroidered round tablecloth is over $2,000.

The lace shop “Irma” sells only items that have been handmade in Belgium, both modern as well as antique. The shop sells lovely bobbin lace items that are made by area lacemakers. The shop also has some amazing antique laces including a 16th century handkerchief with a pricetag of Euros 5,000. (about $7,500.) The owner of the shop guessed that it had taken six or seven years to make that handkerchief.

Lacemaking today is a cottage industry that is a labor of love. The shop owner estimated that, when all is said and done, that the lacemakers earn about an euro an hour for their painstaking work. He also told me that, because there are no young lacemakers working today, within 10-20 years there will be none left at all. If you have an opportunity to travel to Brugge, please do so. I know you will enjoy it.

Items in Churches

I found the following (random) items to be interesting. Although there were plenty more that were on display in places that did not permit photography. The maroon velvet banner on display in a cathedral is embroidered with gold and silver metallic threads.

Close up of the embroidery

This photo shows a statue garbed with ornate fabrics, embroidery, brocade, gold and lace. Forgive my blurry photos but I hope they give you a taste of how richly decorated and beautiful she is.

I loved seeing the altarcloth in the next photo in use. It caught my eye because it was completely worn through with holes.



Linens Seen on a Virginia Trip March 2012

May 26, 2012

On a jaunt through the State of Virginia in March, 2012, I came across many exhibitions that I thought were pertinent to the care, use and history of old textiles.

First stop: Monticello.

Note of interest:

“A wash house (laundry) was vital to a large household. Clothing, as well as bed and table linens had to be washed at least once a week. Physically demanding, laundering involved soaking, soaping, rubbing, washing and boiling the linens,; then draining, rinsing, bluing, re-rinsing, starching, wringing, drying and finally, ironing.”

The Williamsburg Museum (please visit, you will love it)

The sign about whitework

Note of interest: “In an era when laundry was done by hand and textiles had to be ironed without the benefit of electricity, snowy white accessories were signs of gentility and status.” The next photo is of the apron on display. England, c. 1760-1780.

it is embroidered with chain stitches and areas of drawnwork.

The sign about the handkerchief quilt

Mount Vernon Display of a Napkin that belonged to George Washington. The dark areas are holes and wear.

Note the explanation of the embroidered laundry mark which “…allowed Martha Washington to avoid wearing out individual napkins by rotating their use.”

laundry in times past!

May 25, 2012

Laundry was grueling work. The emphasis is on the word “WORK!”

This is a copy of a letter that was kindly shared by a customer.

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.

One more laundry mystery

May 15, 2012

From a friend:

I received some lovely old whitework centerpieces…more than likely Madeira.  When I washed them the embroidery turned blue.  I know that many pieces have the blue embroidery, but this is the first time that I have washed whitework and the embroidery turned blue!

The blue is lovely, but I purchased them for the white on white which is my very favorite and stops my heart.  I am trying to figure out if I am mad at myself, sad at the loss of white, or should be indifferent?  Anyway, let me know what I did wrong.   This has not happened to me before so I was surprised to say the least and truly saddened for the loss of white on white.

My reply:

i have had this happen. i do believe it is temporary. two things may fix it.

1. iron them. sometimes as these things dry, they turn back white. (i have no explanation.)

2. relaunder them. sometimes that does it, too.
i wouldn’t give up.

I hope she updates us!

NEW ADDITION: (from a friend)
It has something to do with the bleach which often turns blue on white.  At times when the blue has remained, another rinse will usually release it.  Sometimes I spray Clorox Cleanup directly on my white bathmats if I get spots on them but they don’t really need laundering.  A few minutes later I’ll come back and they’ll have dark blue to purple spots where I sprayed.  The first time I freaked out but after they dry they turn back.  Also if I the the blue on laundering linens and it doesn’t fade when it dries (it almost always does), I just put the piece out in the sun and it will turn white:)

Marghab List update

May 3, 2012

My project to try to find a photo of as many Marghab designs is ongoing.

here is

a Marghab goblet round in the deer pattern

a Marghab goblet round in the deer pattern

the link to the list:


Flanders Lace Comparisons

May 3, 2012
Comparison of Lace Edgings

Comparison of Lace Edgings

Lace is a world unto itself.  It gets wider and deeper the more you explore. I am not an expert, just a lace enthusiast in training. Today’s musings were on Flanders lace.

New Stuff! info, thoughts, things.

May 3, 2012

I am trying to test which way of communication is going to be the best for readers and for me… whether I continue to write here, on my website under “musings” or on my facebook page. For now, all three places are covered!

yesterday, I posted photos and descriptions of a recent trip to visit historical sites in Virginia:

The description of doing laundry in the 18th century is sobering.

Do this today.

March 11, 2012

I’m not kidding. Go to wherever you are storing your linens… your closet, your drawers, your basement, your attic, under your bed… wherever! If your linens are wrapped in plastic, cellophane, newspaper, other paper or rolled onto cardboard tubes, please remove them. You know those heavy plastic zipper cases that bedding comes in? They are so sturdy and clear and convenient and it’s almost as though we can’t help but put our linens into them… well, take them out of those plastic things today and throw away the plastic things. Or put dishes in them. Or toys. Anything but fabric.