Posts Tagged ‘antique linens’

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.

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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.

Embroidery Comparison, Antique and Modern

May 26, 2012

See what you think. Although I know I am an embroidery snob, I know there is also a reason to own sturdy modern embroidery that we can use without fear of destroying something too precious to use.

This modern guest towel is embroidered by machine with a dragonfly. It is quite pretty.

Next, compare it to a monogram on the traycloth of a breakfast set that was made nearly a hundred years old and was embroidered by hand. The dragonfly is crude by comparison.

The next photo contrasts the modern dragonfly towel with the traycloth and two embroidered white linen antique towels.

These items each have their place in the world.

The Lace Museum (Kant Museum) in Bruges, Belgium

May 26, 2012

Lace in the Kant Museum

Photos and commentary from my September 2008 trip to the lace museum in Bruges, Belgium. (The Flemish word for lace is “kant.”

Rare and Beautiful Laces, Linens and Embroidery

I saw (in person!) bobbin laces that I have only ever read about in books. One lace, called “Binche” (pronounced “bansch”) has a reseau called “fond de niege” or “snow ground” because the ground looks like snowflakes. It’s remarkable.

This is a round tablecloth with exquisite peacocks.

More peacocks decorate a superb handkerchief.

This is a lappet (or barbe) made in point d’Angleterre.

a close up:

Some gorgeous handkerchiefs were on display.

The lace is called “Toveressewerk” in Flemish.

a close up:

The following handkerchief is embroidered with spectacular whitework flowers. There was a remarkably similar one in the Irma Lace Shop for sale for around $2,000.

A coronet crowns this deer bobbin lace cartouche.

Windmills, swans and castles flow around this tea-sized tablecloth.

Delicate flowers and embroidery trace ethereal designs on this tablecloth edged with superb lace.

a close up:

This tablecloth combines many kinds of superb lace: filet (lacis), bobbin lace and needle point lace. (point de Venise)

Note the picots on the brides of the point de Venise ground.

This point de Venise (needlepoint lace) tablecloth features putti (winged cherubs) shaded in half stitch.

Another astonishing point de Venise (needlepoint lace) tablecloth has a large center medallion
with a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

a closer look:

These laces are no longer being made. Thread this fine has not been made for more than a hundred years. And, even if the raw materials were available, there is no longer any one with the ability to make it. Here is a movie of a lace making demonstration at the museum. The woman who is making the bobbin lace uses a pattern which she keeps beside her and she glances at it from time to time without stopping her hand movements!

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 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.
1.
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.”

2.
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.

Crazy for Antique Linens

April 24, 2008

Ok, call me crazy, obsessed or addicted… and you would be right. I am wild over old things in general and antique linens/ textiles in particular. I am new to blogging but when I am laundering and ironing the linens in my collection and the linens I sell, constant patter runs through my brain as I think of things I’d love to tell anyone (everyone) about using splendid old things!

My interest in collecting antiques (living, breathing, sleeping antiques) rolled into the decision to become an antiques dealer. I figured “If I enjoy these beautiful old items so much, maybe someone else out there shares my interest, too.” And, Voilá! (not quite that instantaneous, but I am a pretty determined individual and whatever interests me, I jump into wholeheartedly!)

As my little hobby business took off, no one has been more surprised than I. Linens are stacked everywhere and they have taken invaded my life and my house! Customers become friends, other dealers become friends, the techies become friends, strangers become friends… and the web has linked us together in ways not fathomable just a mere few years ago.

Living amongst antiques gives me an appreciation for times gone by when everything one owned was made by someone’s hand. The idea of something being precious enough to hold onto, use, maybe repair and pass on is fascinating. Other ands have touched and enjoyed these things! After they pass through my hands, other hands will continue to enjoy them, too. It’s a nice thought.

my life is way too hectic to start blogging… hmmn, so is everyone else’s!