Grandma’s death was expected, yet it left me empty when it came about. All her affairs were dealt with systematically; papers were in order, so everything went smoothly. However, her house was left for me to manage. Each room had a story of its own, and while most of the furniture was already sold off, some little things were still scattered around the house that needed attention.
These included a set of white vintage linens that smelled of my childhood. It can be universally agreed that the scent of fresh linens is very well-liked. However, the smell of vintage linens is also a delicacy that many people have come to appreciate. The dark fragrance of decades woven together has increasingly become a prized possession.
If you have become interested in these articles or want to know more about them, you have come to the right place. Based on my research and experience, I have compiled a guide for like-minded individuals to benefit from. Read on for a complete compendium on vintage linens.
Table of Contents
Linen – A Brief History
Linen is one of the oldest fabrics present in the world. Linen dates back nearly 10,000 years from when the cloth was a luxury item due to the time it took to refine and weave the materials. Before cotton, linen was the widely used fabric, and all articles of clothing were made of linen, especially everyday items used like undergarments and household items like curtains and bedding.
After the 1700s, when the cotton gin was produced at a larger scale and was observed to be more cost-effective, people shifted to using this as the new regular fabric. Linen then became prized for its uniqueness and reserved for the rich who could afford its production. The now vintage linens originated from them – from the richly designed bedspreads to fancy tablecloths and intricately designed napkins.
Linen is created from the flax plant. The cellulose fibers of the inner bark are processed to turn it into cloth. This is done through a lengthy procedure requiring the dinghy to go through multiple steps of soaking, drying, separating, and spinning.
The linen fibers are called ‘bast fibers,’ also found in plants other than flax. These include jute, hemp, ramie, etc. The quality of these fibers that allowed them to be used vastly in the olden times in the form of ropes, sails, and clothes was drying quickly and becoming stronger when wet. This quality has also made linen survive decades of use and become special vintage items.
Vintage Linen Identification
Vintage linen can be recognized based on multiple factors, as they grandly differ from the more modernistic designs. The hand-sewn details are a characteristic of the olden times, as the machine-made designs are more simplistic and less intricate, which is much more suitable for mass production and unif9ormity purposes. Features that may categorize linen as vintage are as follows:
This may be an indicator of a vintage linen sheet. These stitches are tiny and made with a single thread. However, unlike machine stitches, hand stitches are not standardized.
Intricate hand-sewn designs also show that linen is vintage. The embroidered designs are usually spread on pillowcases, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, etc.
The fabric of the olden times differs from the modern-day synthetic blends. Vintage linens were usually made from natural materials of cotton and linens etc. Therefore, the type of fabric can be a major giveaway for vintage linens.
This labeling hand sewn on various articles ranging from sheet ends, quilts, pillowcases, and every other cloth piece gave a unique identification, prized for its vintage aesthetic.
Handmade lace was a popular hobby adopted by women, which led to all parts of cloth being lined with detailed laces, making them fanciful. What really added to the historical significance was that the lace was added through stitches made by hand.
Types of Vintage Linens:
It is unknown to many that there is not just one type of vintage linen. While many, when hearing this phrase, consider it synonymous with bed sheets, and that too for a good reason, as this is a significant vintage article. However, it is not the only linen item that exists.
- Bedspreads: These vary as per the decade they were made in multiple types of fabrics with tatted laces and embroidered designs.
- Pillowcases:Custom-made pillowcases were highly famous in the mid-1900s. They were primarily made with high-quality cotton, refined edges, motifs, and delicately woven details of plants, animals, and fruits.
- Quilts: Possibly one of the more prized linen materials, as this product is known not only for its beauty but also for the warmth and longevity of its structure.
- Tablecloths: The articles are usually found in much better states than bed linens, as the owners would keep them for use only on special occasions. This cloth is much like others, with delicate embroidery but much cleaner stitching.
- Napkins:Vintage napkins are another type of sought-out linen. These were used alongside beautifully handcrafted table runners and are a rare find due to their usage, especially if you require a matched set. These were mainly made of cotton and damask.
- Kitchen towels and tea towels:Kitchen towels were used in day-to-day activities but were also finely decorated with fruits, vegetables, and cutlery designs. However, tea towels were used to dry china and glass, as they were made of thin material. It was not absorbent, usually 100% linen, but it polished the silverware with finesse.
- Vintage handkerchiefs:This piece has had profound historical importance as many would attach sentimental value to this garment. It is a very eco-friendly product and can help you reduce your reliance on hundreds of tissue paper per week. Thus, you can, too, find a pretty white square with a meaning, which shall come in handy over and over again.
Although, when buying any of these vintage linens, ensure a thorough inspection to avoid being scammed or purchasing non-usable linens.
Vintage Linen Valuation
Considering you are an avid collector of all things vintage, including linens, you would like to know in detail the reasons that give rise to the value of vintage linen. Similarly, you may have inherited a large closet full of linens you have no use for and would prefer to sell out on some excellent cash.
The collectability of vintage linens stems from the piece’s historical importance, such that each comes with a story of its own. The origin and history of the item cause it to have a higher value in the market. For example, items made in England, Italy, or France by great designs and artisans will likely fetch a higher price. At the same time, products from China are not as frequently demanded unless they were created before the 1900s.
A decorative allure is the main component that will decide how significant your valuable or collectible linen is. One-of-a-kind material, high-quality bands, fine knits, and weaving can be essential if they stay in great shape for a high price.
Many other factors determine the value of vintage linen: condition, age, material, size, and functionality.
Condition – The state of linen affects the price as marked, stained, torn, or loose thread depreciates the item’s value.
Age – The older the item, the higher its price will yield.
Material – The quality of the fabric also adds to the value as this, in turn, reflects the life of the linen item. The worth of the article is raised when the materials used are pure and work with higher craftsmanship.
Functionality – The utility of an item, meaning the usage of linen in the modern-day, also affects price, such as napkins will not be worth as much as a bedspread or a tablecloth.
Specifically, White Linen and Damask Tablecloths and Napkins do not have much demand leading to a lower selling price as these were mass produced in the mid-twentieth century formal dinners or Sunday mass causing almost everyone to own some articles of these products.
Although these can be sold off to churches or caterers as they are still in the business of using these linen items, the price may not be as high as for vintage printed tablecloths, napkins, or linen.
Similarly, crocheted tablecloths are also unlikely to sell off for a more excellent price, as is observed on eBay and Etsy, even though the time involved in their making is much larger than what is reflected in their price. This also is due to the lack of demand for this item.
Unless made by incredible craftsmen with the finest quality materials, Embroidered Tablecloths and Linens do not sell at higher prices. Vintage linen of this form is easy to discover at flea markets, consignment stores, inherited in their grandmother’s things, etc., causing it also not to have a significant amount of demand in the market.
Taking Care of Vintage Linen
This particular piece of cloth is compassionate and needs to be taken care of. To capitalize on your vintage linens, you need to know how to care for and store them.
Caring for your linens requires special attention. These historical pieces can sometimes be fragile and lost to circumstances if not correctly taken care of. When cleaning this material, it is pertinent to check on the condition of your linen. A vital linen piece can easily withstand a tumble in the washing machine or a sturdy hand wash.
When cleaning vintage napkins, tablecloths, and pillowcases, the whiteness of the material is the main focus. Although, it should be noted that vintage linens’ original color may not be the sheer white we are used to seeing in modern-day articles. This is due to the manufacture of materials in the olden times, which resulted in cloth being dull off-white instead.
Thus, when caring for vintage linens, bleach is entirely out of the question. The chemicals in a bleach dye can weaken the fibers and change the original color of the linen as well. The best alternative suggested is the 15-minute dipping process in soft phosphate-free soap and giving the linens a gentle mix. After this, it is recommended that the linens be air dried rather than a trip to the machine.
If your linens are already stained or have been compromised during an event, it does not mean the end of their era. Instead, natural bleaching techniques of employing lemon and soapy water along with a long sunbath for the linens may yet save your vintage heirlooms. The process goes on with lemon juice and salt on the stain and then taking the linen to dry up in the air.
Next, proceed with a wash in warm water to push out the hard marks, and then dry again. This should help lighten the stains by a lot, if not complete removal. Moreover, do not be afraid to try store-bought materials if the stains are stubborn. If this does not work, it may be in your favor to get help from a professional so your linens can be saved.
Storage in a wooden drawer sounds like the go-to option for vintage linen. However, that is not the case. Wood releases toxins that can seep into your linens and leave them scarred. Polypropylene plastic, another seemingly sound option, is one you should not try either, as this emits gas, causing the sheets to become sticky over time.
The perfect place to store your vintage linens is in a dark, cool, and dry place. If wooden cabinets and plastic boxes are your only options, line them with acid-free tissue paper to avoid stickiness and acid markings. A step further in protection is to wrap your linens in a cotton cloth to prevent direct contact with the storage container.
Lastly, an essential step in care and storage is keeping checks on your linen every few weeks. Refolding and releasing stress on the linens by airing them can help maintain a longer life.
Lastly, an important step in care and storage is to retain checks on your linen every few weeks. The process of refolding and releasing stress on the linens by airing them can help in maintaining a longer life.
Foremost, you should use your linens parsimoniously, which means that you should not use them daily. It would help if you used your linens for simple yet special occasions. At larger gatherings, the risk of stains increases by much more, and it would be better suited to use vintage linens when the people invited are fewer but mean more to you.
Vintage linens can add beauty and esteem to their place of use for their distinctiveness. Such as mounting and framing the linen as art, remaking/mending it into a table cloth, etc. Lacey vintage linens can also be turned into a valance, curtains, baby quilts, embroidered hand towels, pillow covers for the couch, bedspreads, or as a table runner by combining smaller and larger pieces of vintage cloth.
Vintage linens are now back in fashion, as they have started to appeal to the younger generations for the mystery they hold simply through their existence. The aesthetic these products provide is now the new fashion being followed worldwide.
They are an excellent touch if you want to introduce a more historical touch to your house and can also simultaneously be used as a valuable heirloom to pass down to your successors.
Vintage Linen – Buying and Selling
Vintage linens are being sold on multiple online and physically live markets. The online sellers are eBay, Etsy, Facebook groups, Fine Vintage Linens & Quilts, French Garden House, etc. These sellers have readily made it easy for vintage admirers to attain vintage linens conveniently.
While mostly the linens on these sites are sold between $25 – $50, based on authenticity, collector’s choice, and other factors mentioned earlier; these prices can go up to $16,000.
Usually, products sold on Facebook groups are worth much less, so if you have a profile as a seller on other online platforms such as eBay and Etsy, it may prove to be more beneficial in terms of the monetary value your linen’s linen shall return.
Consignment stores are another avenue to sell your vintage linens, as collectors or enthusiastic antique dealers often buy many linen products to resell or add to their collections. Also, thrift stores and goodwill shops are always available for donations if you want to get your hands off the products without any financial compensation.
Vintage linens have increasingly become a sought-out product. It has largely become a delicacy appreciated by many. The intricate design, the material, the history, and a thinking shift towards the olden times have caused people to treat vintage linens as collectible products.
The value is determined by many factors, all of which have been discussed, and also, it is important to note that this item may not be getting fair compensation due to the lack of demand for the largely available yet highly prized pieces.
The places to sell off your wares and buy unique wares are the popular online platforms that have made trade easier in today’s world. These include Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and online websites. However, vintage linens are also found at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and consignment stores for you to physically peruse the products for your liking.
Therefore, the next time you have any queries regarding any aspect of vintage linens, read this article to get all the answers you need. When buying or selling or just wanting to get an idea of how to use your vintage linen items, this is the place to see.