Posts Tagged ‘antique linen’

Damask Pattern Names

July 9, 2012

Today’s conversation in the form of questions and answers:

Q: Would you be able to tell me the pattern, possible age and manufacturer of a damask tablecloth if I sent pictures?

A: Unfortunately not. Although we can guess the age. But there were reputedly 800 damask weaving companies, each weaving 800 discrete patterns in Ireland alone in the 19th century. If the tablecloth has no tag and no name woven into it, the manufacturer can’t be identified. There is no database of makers or patterns anywhere.

Q: I was trying to find out if I had found a really fine tablecloth or an inexpensive one.  I’ve seen ads for cloths that go in the hundreds of dollars. I’d at least like to identify the pattern if tablecloths have patterns the way that depression glass does.

A: Damask patterns don’t have known standardized names. Sometimes an unused piece comes with a label or tags attached that include a pattern number and a company name and a pattern name but even this information doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone anymore. I now understand your question better when you told me that depression glass has names. But damask isn’t like that. The names have been lost to history.

Nowadays, I name them after whatever the pattern looks like: Rose, Polka Dot, Striped and sometimes I just make up names so that I can jog my memory with a name that is a visual cue.


linen fabrics! fiber content or generic name for household linens?

June 6, 2012

OBSERVATION FROM A CUSTOMER: I had been a little concerned at the use of the word “linens” in your offerings, as it could refer to either material in a generic sense, or the fabric, i.e. made from flax.

I know that the term linen can be confusing because it does have two meanings. Household textiles are given the general term linens. We have linen cupboards or linen closets even though most modern homes store more things that are not linen than they do things that are! When I offer something on my website, I always identify the fiber if I know it. Sometimes I will even note that I can not identify it!

thoughts on mangles, old and new

June 6, 2012

QUESTION: do you have thoughts on the Miele linen presses if the linens are older or antique? Embassies use them but I don’t know…
Hmmmn, I do have thoughts on mangles in general and on the Miele rotary ironer, too. I had never actually ironed one thing in my entire life until antique linens caught my interest. For the past eleven years, a 1950s vintage mangle iron has been my constant companion. I use extreme caution with it as it is a rather basic rotary ironing machine. No bells, no whistles, no automatic shut off. When I turn it off, I check twice to be sure that I have actually turned it off. When my fingers once got too close to the heat, I learned pretty fast how hot HOt HOT! that machine could get! But I made peace with it and I learned to use it. My biggest worry now is that it will break and I will be all alone without it.

With that concern in mind, I recently (just coincidentally) asked a friend if I could visit her with a damp sheet to test the Miele mangle that she got as a gift a few years back. I’d never seen it in action. The Miele was fine. (but, sadly, not better than fine)

While using it, I inquired if it got any hotter? My friend replied that she, too, often wished that it did, but, no, it did not get any hotter than what I was experiencing on its maximum heat setting. Since heat is the single most important aspect of ironing, that was a huge drawback. And, yes, I did let it heat up for a while before I stated using it. (Because I think that modern hand irons don’t get very hot, either, I had anticipated that the Miele might not as well. I was hoping to be proven wrong.) Next, I asked if I could pause or stop the roller in order to let a monogram or a particularly damp section of cloth get a little extra heat; again the answer was no.

Because I am used to ironing on my own mangle iron and have developed techniques for using the sides of the roller and placing items “just so” on the roller, I was frustrated by the lack of control I had over the Miele. I was very frustrated that I could not pause it with a knee pedal to let a section of cloth stay in place on the heat. It didn’t seem intuitive with large large items such as king-sized sheets. Again, it was fine. but not stellar, especially for the price.

My vintage mangle is going strong after 60 years of use. I change the oil myself once a year. (although I do keep an eye on it more frequently) It is heavy and the 25″ metal roller exerts a lot of pressure on the fabric, also contributing to a wonderfully ironed outcome. But old mangles were not created equally, either. Mine is an “Ironrite” brand and it has open ends on both sides, making it easy to iron large items. The heating element is also at the bottom and the heat rises to the roller, which is heavy and heats evenly and holds the heat. I have seen other people’s vintage mangles in use and none of them have had any of the features that make the Ironrite work so well. There are plenty of the old ones out there, too. Repeat: none have the features that make the Ironrite ones so utterly useful. (someone, please tell Miele!)

So, if someone offers you an old mangle ironer for free that is not an Ironrite, it will be better for you than not having one. But if you are thinking about investing in one, I would recommend an old Ironrite. Nothing beats them.

However, the Miele is constructed so that, along with not really being able to place my fabric where I wanted to, I also couldn’t burn my fingers.

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!