Family Linens

This week I had the privilege of writing a guest post for Leslie at goodbye house! HELLO, HOME! I hope you’ll stop by HERE to read it. If, however, you’re stopping by from over there, WELCOME to My Place to Yours! Whether you’re a new visitor or a familiar face, I’m glad you’re here … and I hope you’ll come back often!

Click pic to read a post about these linens.

Since Leslie and I both love vintage linens, I thought it would be fun to write my guest post about family linens.  So I did — and included lots of pics for her to share with her readers. But guess what? With one exception, I didn’t include any of my own family linens. I saved those to show you here. There’s nothing wrong with a little special treatment for my blog readers, is there?

Here’s my family linen story … I did not grow up in a “trunks full of linens” family. In fact, there wasn’t much to inherit, but what there was came with LOTS of love and cherished memories.  I’ll show you a few of the pieces I have from family who paved the path for me …

This small dresser square was made by my Mother’s paternal grandmother (my great-grandmother).

Click any picture to enlarge

My Mother’s maternal grandmother (Nannie, my great-grandmother) owned this beautiful whitework hankie …


… and she made this embroidered linen tablecloth with all-over flowers …

… and this linen Christmas tablecloth with crocheted trim. It’s one of my seasonal favorites, and I still can’t believe it didn’t make into a tablescape this year!

My Dad’s mother (my Grandma) knitted and did macrame, but she didn’t do any of what I consider “delicate” handwork, although she did make my treasured childhood Christmas stocking from a kit!  We don’t remember her having any special linens to speak of; a couple of tablecloths — nothing handmade — but that’s all.

On the other hand, my Mother’s mother (my Grandmother) was rarely seen without some kind of needle in her hand! Crochet, embroidery, quilting … she was a very talented woman. (I told you in THIS post about the crocheted snowflakes she made for me.) I don’t know how many quilts she made in her lifetime, but I do know that she made two for each of her six grandchildren and two for each of the oldest several of her great-grandchildren. I’ve used mine … a lot … and they need some repairs.

She also embroidered a pair of each of these pillowcases …


… and this crocheted doily — plus a similar larger tablecloth …

… and this piece I’m still trying to decide how to use …


I have a few baby things she crocheted, too, but I didn’t dig those out for you this time.

As for my own mother, she used to sew a lot and embroidered a little, but she was never into knitting or crocheting. In recent years, though, I talked her into helping me salvage some vintage linens … turning them into beautiful pillows like these. Still loving them, Mom!

Red velvet scraps with a vintage mosaicwork napkin folded and sewn to hide the small hole in the napkin’s center … Hmmm, it looks a bit wrinkled. I’ve been rumpling it every time I’ve made the bed — since Christmas! I love using this gorgeous velvet and whitework from Christmas ’til Springtime!

A scrap of navy taffeta with a vintage dresser piece hand-stitched to the front …

Me?  In years past, I did cross stitch — mostly to give away — and a little bit of embroidery — now long gone. Instead, it seems my role amidst the feminine arts has been to rescue vintage linens — reselling most, but saving some of my favorites to keep.  Now they are the newest members of my own family linens. Perhaps someday my daughters will want them. If not, I hope someone else will adopt them … and keep them in circulation.

Long before I ever started my “rescue” work, however, I picked up these two pieces at an estate sale. As best I recall, they were my first “keepsake” linens that didn’t come from my ancestors.  I loved how delicate they were.  Still do!

For years I’ve been drawn to whitework handkerchiefs. I wonder if it’s because of the special one I have from my Nannie …  I’ve sold many, but I’ve kept many, too!  I have both of my initials, of course, but I also try to keep examples of many different styles of handwork.

Come to think of it, while I love color and all sorts of linens, I’ve realized through the years that I’m especially drawn to whitework in general.  (Get ready to start seeing a pattern.)  These two doilies were found for virtually nothing at a thrift store in London. They’re the first pieces I acquired for myself that were really delicate embroidery.  The runner was purchased on Portobello Road in London and was made in the early 1900s. It is exquisite! You really should enlarge this picture twice if you want to see the detail!

I rescued this figural Appenzell-style embroidery piece from an antique mall. It had a significant ink stain on the front, but for $3 I decided it was worth trying to get it out. After a bit of work, I succeeded.

This fabulous banquet size tablecloth and 12 napkins were bought at auction.  There’s about a 12″ swath of unembellished linen down the center; the rest of the tablecloth looks like this — with gorgeous 1/4″ deep padded satin stitch grape clusters.

As you can see, sometimes I really do love that “over the top” look … This runner is encrusted with the most meticulous embroidery and cutwork. I bought it on eBay.

This vintage handmade Point de Venise banquet-size tablecloth and 12 napkins were found in an estate. You may remember seeing them in this tablescape …

Click picture to see tablescape post.

This set of 8 damask napkins was also bought at auction. They came from the estate of a former high-ranking member of the U.S. military. They are a fantastic 30″ square and monogrammed with his wife’s initials … CF

When Renaissance Man and I were restoring our old house, I knew I wanted antique lace curtains in my dining room. This picture shows one of a pair I found on eBay. They’re entirely handmade and over 100 years old.

I found this impressive piece at a local estate auction — already framed. Someday I’ll do a post about it…

Speaking of “someday” posts … I recently found this damask napkin in an auction box of linens. Do you see the royal monogram? There’s a story here … but I’m still working to figure it out. If anyone has connections with (or can suggest) a textile dating expert, I’d love to hear from you! I have reason to believe this piece may be at least 150 years old, but I really need to talk to someone who knows about things like this. For now, I’ve left it “as found.”

So what about you?  Are your family linens packed away, never to see the light of day … or do you use and enjoy them?  I know people who say they could never use their family treasures. What if something happened to them?  Well, what if?  My philosophy is this:  unless you depend on them for investment purposes — or they are extremely fragile (most things you think are fragile really aren’t) — enjoy them!

With a little common sense about when and how you use your vintage linens, they can be enjoyed — and should be! Go ahead and make memories with them. I suspect if we could talk to those people who put away their lovingly-created pieces for a “someday” that never came, they would tell us to go for it! If they wear out while pleasant and joyful memories are being made in their presence, so what?  Holes can be mended. (I’ve done that.) Vintage sheets with tears can be made into beautiful curtains. (I’ve done that, too.) Napkins and hand towels can be made into pillows and pouches. (Uh, huh.) The re-use options are virtually endless.

Have I convinced you yet? I hope so. I’ll make you a deal … When you pull yours out, if there’s anything that concerns you, email me. You can even send me pictures if you like. I’ll give you free advice. I also hope you’ll go HERE to my Etsy shop and purchase my all-time favorite linen cleaner. When I send it to you, I’ll include some tried-and-true tips!

Just think … Springtime is just around the corner — really. That’s a great time to decorate with brightly-colored embroidered pieces, vintage tablecloths, and bright whites …  Don’t you think so?

Thanks again for stopping by.
Please come back soon!


  1. WOW!
    Do you ever have a gorgeous assortment of linens!
    I thought I had a lot! 🙂
    The curtain in your dining room is simply breathtaking!
    What amazes me is that these women, “way back when”, took and had the time to design and hand make these items.
    Some days, I barely have time to cook, much less sew. By hand!
    I usually sell the more detailed linens I find and keep the simpler ones for myself 🙂
    I dunno why I do that.
    I should use more-perhaps after we move into a new old house like yours.
    Anyway, I just loved this post because Leslie Loves Linens, too!
    Have a beautiful, blessed day!

  2. Susan, I loved this post as I find myself rescuing linens all the time to save them from destruction and to preserve the artform that they are. I did want to mention that many laces and linens that look like they are hand made are not. Machine production of laces was developed very early in history. I have several books on old lace that talks about this. Even “Brugges” lace from Brussels the center of lace making in Europe was made on a very sophisticated machine. Some monograms were hand done and some not. Lace hankies, curtains, bedspreads and tablecloths are where you see the most machine work. I have examined the pieces extensively and when I think it was hand done it actually was not.
    My eye can now pick out “bobbin” lace made by hand and other tape laces such as tatting. I think they are all wonderful and I don’t care how they were made, I just want to cherish them all.

  3. swedecollection, you are so right! I have a magnifying glass that I use often when I find new pieces. Looks can certainly be deceiving… All of the pieces in this post happen to be made by hand, but I have other special pieces that aren’t. So glad you’re helping preserve the artforms. I’d love to see some of your treasures!

  4. I love that we have such a generous collection of gorgeous old linens from our grandmothers and mothers. I use them often. I enjoy finding additional linens at estate sales and in antique shops. One of my favorite textile treasures is a box filled with the 1920 Fortuny drapery panels that used to hang in Nana’s house. I have reconstructed some, and those are the drapes that you see in posts set in my dining room. I plan to do more using this fantastic old fabric. It remains in beautiful condition after nearly 100 years. Thanks for the tour throug your lovely jewels. Cherry Kay

  5. Oh my goodness! I can’t believe you own so many beautiful linens. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite. I’m leaning towards the white hankies, maybe because my grandma always carried one in her purse. Just can’t quit looking at all of your treasures. Gorgeous!

  6. Fantastic write up on linens…and such pretty selections too! I do have a few from my Grandma… a fun Christmas tablecloth and another very fancy tablecloth she wouldn’t take out of its original packaging (came from the Great depression era and wouldn’t use anything “too good!”)

    Great post.

    Bella Rosa Antiques

  7. What a lovely assortment of linens you have. I think I’m partial to the white on white designs as well.

    I don’t have many vintage linens but what I do have, I use.

  8. Beautiful! I was thinking of taking out my linens to air and to take photos, your post has been inspiring… Although I may take me a while to do it!

    I’ll follow you