Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Sensual Beauty of Old Linen

I used this scalloped, embroidered old tablecloth I found in my mother's things, as a window curtain in the hall bath.

I have a confession to make: I've turned two old worn-out linen tablecloths into curtains for my bathrooms. If this is a sign of my growing eccentricity--go ahead and turn me in to the eccentricity police. In the meantime, I will make a second confession: I think old linen has a sensual beauty almost unsurpassed in the modern world.

Unless you take a baseball bat to the master bath in my parents' home, you are stuck with those Eisenhower era pink-and-gray tiles. I painted everything white and soft gray, and then ...

... I found this old pink-and-gray tablecloth in my mother's rag bag. It had been so loved and used it had a big hole in the center. I cut it in half and hemmed it and used it in the pink-and-gray bath's window.

I have a friend who inherited some beautiful old linens from her great aunt. She has put some of the best pieces into framed shadow boxes and placed them on her walls, because, she says, she wants her children and grandchildren to know what old linens looked like.

I'm not ready to frame mine yet. I try to use them and live with them as much as I can. The way the light touches these fabrics, and the life in their fibers is a joy to the senses. They are also durable, usable, and nice to hold--whether in your hand as a handkerchief, or in your lap as a napkin.

Irish linen napkins I found in a re-sale shop.

Pink linen cocktail napkins that belonged to my mother.

I continue to put linen guest towels in the bathrooms: but I have only rare success in getting anyone to use them. Miss Manners suggests you put a wicker basket on the floor so people will know to use them and toss them into the basket. I've tried that too and still no one will use my linen guest towels! People are so afraid that you might be required to iron them again! Other than hire a washroom attendant for my next party, I'm not sure what to do.

Linen guest towels. Please use!

Ironing simple, flat things, like towels and napkins is not a hard job. On a rainy day, you can stay in your jammies, turn on the television and iron your linens while you watch classic movies. The movies take me back to a time when there were beautiful linens everywhere, and women wore hats and gloves when they went out, and men shared their handkerchiefs with women when they cried. And you could trace a women from the initials and the lace on her handkerchief.

The subtlety of linen damask. This has a pattern of Parma violets woven into the fabric.

Blue and white are a common color combination in old linen. I wonder why?

In Florida, where old people go to die, I found a wealth of old linens in second-hand stores. Sometimes, I would find a whole box of Irish linen napkins that had never been used, though the box was ancient and had suffered a little in storage. I'm now forcing myself to stop looking through the piles of linens at these shops.

I'm surrounded by beautiful linen and I'm using beautiful linen. It is recycleable, reusable, natural, green, practical, and best of all, it is the perfect combination of beauty in form and function.

But I have to stop buying it. I need to leave some of it for the rest of you to find and enjoy.

Linen from Portugal conjures up ancient traders with bolts of frabic and ships with holds full of spices: but Portugal still produces beautiful linens.

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Florida Beach Basics said...

your curtains are beautiful - and you're right - we should use those things instead of just keeping them in a drawer.

peretz said...

Perhaps you'll even find some hats and gloves in that nice old house. I'm sure that it would make a stunning picture.

Robin Chapman said...

Now I just need a gentleman with a freshly pressed handkerchief to hand me when I burst into tears.