Above: Image from The Book of Fine Linens by Francoise de Bonneville, Published by Flammarion in 1994. This was the linen designed for Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina and embroidered by the famous linen firm Porthault. It depicts the splendor of marine life and the execution is so perfect one can hardly tell the difference from the watercolour design in top left of image.
I think as one gets older, you gain more respect for old traditions and you want your home to have more of history in it than just a bunch of brand new things. I grew up in house where we each had our own individual cloth napkins, that were kept in a napkin ring after each meal and then washed at the end of the week. They weren't linen or even even embroidered but they were napkins we'd used for years in the family. For special occasions my mother would bring out the white linen napkins for Easter or Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and I believe these had been passed down through the family and were monogrammed with a 'W'.
I liked this tradition so as I made my own home, I wanted to create that sense of history but instead of inheriting family linens I went out to buy my own at flea markets and antique shows. The history of a woman having a true trousseau has long been outdated but modern women can create a sense of history and traditions in their own ways. There are wonderful antique bedspreads, sheets and pillowcases along with beautiful tablecloths and napkins. With a bit of searching you may even find your own monogram but you could always have that embroidered onto an antique piece. Then perhaps, you can start a new tradition in your family and pass it along to your children when it is time.
Above: Traditionally family linen cupboards would be piled high with beautiful embroidered masterpieces. Here one can take a look at three hundred years of tradition by looking at all the decorative techniques such as intwined initials in bourdon embroidery, needlework in satin-stitch and seed stitch, Venetian, ladder and looped drawnwork, broderie anglaise and Renaissance lace. Taken from The Book of Fine Linens.
I guess I'm old-fashioned at heart but I do think that mixing in old and new into a home adds a sense of history, it adds a story and when you bring out a tablecloth or napkins and guests ask you about it you can say well, my family didn't have linens but I wanted to start the tradition again so I found them on EBay at an antique show or where-ever and now we use them on a regular basis.
Above: An old linen bedspread in unbleached linen has an over-embroidered mesh. Taken from The Book of Fine Linens.
Above: A selection of vintage bedspreads from the June 2003 issue of Martha Stewart Living. Photograph by Victoria Pearson.
Some pieces from my own collection, above a tablecloth embroidered with a simple floral design.
A set of cocktail napkins I found at an antique show in New York with shamrocks and a lucky horseshoe along with an embroidered towel for a guest bathroom.
So, I'm just curious - do any of you have antique linens? If so, where did they come from? Do you use them and enjoy them? Or are they collecting dust in some cupboard somewhere? Leave me a comment and let me know!