Posts Tagged ‘storing antique and vintage linens’

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.


ingredients assembled? go!

May 9, 2008

The last ingredient you need is your common sense… and everything you may have gleaned about doing laundry from your experience. The rules always apply: wash like items together. whites with whites, colors with colors, darks with darks, delicates with delicates, heavy items with heavy items… see the pattern?

Start with whites, the least scary, most reliable category. I fill my tub with the hottest water I can get and sometimes add teakettles of boiling water, too. You can use your bathtub, your sink, a bucket or whatever you have on hand. I add the product called “Restoration,” mix it so it dissolves and start adding my items. I usually do not even unfold things; I want them to stay as flat as possible, without air pockets, so that the water permeates all the layers/fibers equally. I swish everything around like a washing machine agitator, only gentler. If the items are not submerged well, the detergent won’t penetrate the fibers equally and you end up with an uneven, mottled appearance.

Here is my favorite part. Go away and let it soak for a few hours.
(or overnight, although the oxygenated reaction ends after about six hours.) It is my favorite task because I know the stuff is working and I can go off and do something else. freedom, sort of… as I will swish it around when I go in to check it periodically.

The water immediately bubbles like a witch’s cauldron. And, depending on how dirty the linens are, begins to turn dark. When I launder antique items that have been stored badly and reek, the water can turn as dark as strong black coffee.

Gather together your stuff… and go!

May 8, 2008

If you think you are ready to tackle the laundry… Make your list and gather (or buy) the items you will need. Nothing brings you to a stop faster than not having the right thing on hand.


RESTORATION, a product from engleside products, lancaster, PA, 800-553-2637

or substitute oxyclean


a gallon of plain white vinegar (for rinsing)


whink brand liquid rust remover


laundry detergent (whatever you have on hand)


chlorine bleach (OPTIONAL, use only as a last resort)

That’s not so long a list!

Laundry is Rocket Science? I think not! The 1st three steps…

April 26, 2008

Because of the number of emails that I get on this subject through my antique linens website, I know that laundering and caring for antique and vintage linens and textiles consumes many of us. Because I did not have time to answer each and every question, I added a “tips on laundering antique linens” page to my site. ( But, daily, my mind is on the ever-growing list things that I have learned through more than a decade’s worth of washing things to sell.

First off, when did we get so scared of laundry!? From ancient times (or today, in ancient places) when rocks and the riverside were the method… to laundresses, hiring space on a laundry barge on the Seine River in Paris in the 19th and early 20th century, to the invention of soap flakes, scrub boards, laundry powders, chlorine bleach and modern laundry detergents, surfactants, softeners and scents, laundry was a yearly, monthly, weekly or daily chore. As more chemical products are invented along with washing machines and dryers, I wonder if we feel more removed from our washing than in days gone by?

Courage, my friends! Laundering and storing vintage Christening dresses, antique linen sheets, lace collars and cuffs and anything else is not rocket science! So, gather your heirlooms and your inner strength (I know it’s there!) and follow along as I help demystify the process for you!

In some ways, it’s easier than ever before because we have a wide range of products at our fingertips. In some ways, it’s harder because we have become limited by our washers and dryers and can’t get outside of those boxes. Let’s go!

RULE #1. Use what you have
a. common sense.
b. whatever resources you have at your house. (if you don’t have a bathtub in which to soak linens, substitute whatever you do have, a bucket, a sink, a plastic storage container, look around.)

RULE #2. Breathe.
a. Don’t begin anything when you are rushed. Especially if it is your first try.

RULE #3. Do not do anything to jeopardize your piece.
a. If you are truly worried, first soak in vinegar water and rinse it in plain water to remove chemical residues from prior washings that might interact with whatever you are about to try.

more to come…

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!