Thursday, November 11, 2010

caring for vintage

now for the real thursday post: caring for vintage. today's topic: table linens.

if you're like me, you probably have a stack of vintage tablecloths somewhere. they're not all in perfect condition, some have holes, some have stains, but they are all awesome. the real question is how to keep them looking awesome.

now, i am by no means an expert on the subject, but i have had some training from my mother (as i was growing up), and there are some very good resources online. this is just a simple overview of how to care for table linens, but i am providing links so you can do more in-depth research if you want to.

the most important thing about taking care of your vintage tablecloths is learning to live with their past. you need to accept the fact that some stains will not come out. just because a tablecloth is stained, doesn't mean it's ruined. in a way, those stains tell the story of the linens.

the good news is, most stains will come out. it may take a little work, but even old stains can usually be lightened, if not removed altogether.

cleaning stains

for old stains:

squeeze the juice of two lemons into a dish. place the stained part of your tablecloth on top of a dry towel; spoon the juice onto the stain; cover with 1 tsp of salt and gently rub it in. let it sit half an hour, then rinse with vinegar, followed by warm water. (via good housekeeping)

for fresh stains:

if you can afford it, there is a great wash especially for vintage linens called, simply, linen wash. as soon as possible, pre-treat the stain with the linen wash, then follow the directions on the bottle to wash the tablecloth.

if you can't spend $30 on detergent for linens (like myself), there are several solutions for treating fresh stains.

if your tablecloth is relatively sturdy (most of mine are heavy cotton), presoak using oxy clean (it actually works really well) or biz and hot water. if your tap water isn't hot enough, heat water on the stove. it should be hot, but not boiling. soak your tablecloth or napkins in this mixture overnight. then machine wash using cold water on the delicate setting. it's best to wash vintage linens by themselves- don't overload the washing machine or they won't get clean.

if you're loathe to use chemical detergents, vinegar also works pretty well. soak the piece in vinegar for 2 hours, then rinse until the vinegar smell is gone.

drying vintage linens

sun drying:

if possible avoid using the dryer to dry vintage linens. if you're lucky enough to live somewhere sunny, it's best to dry dry linens in the sun. after washing your linens, fold them in between a towel and gently squeeze the water out. never ring vintage linens- it causes too much stress to the old fibers. then lay the linens on out on the grass. leave them out for several hours until they are dry. the bonus to sun drying is that the sun will also help bleach any stains that may have been left behind.

if, like me, you live somewhere where it rains most of the year, you have a couple of options.


if you use a dryer for vintage linens, make sure all stains have been removed first. if not, re-treat the stain before drying. only use the air dry setting and make sure to remove the linens before they are completely dry. after you take them out of the dryer, lay them flat (on towels on the bed is a good option) until they are completely dry.

air dry:

this option will take a while, especially if you live in a humid climate. after pressing the water out of the folded tablecloth, lay it out flat on a dry towel (or two). the floor is the best place for this option since the towel will become damp.

storing/displaying linens

there are several good ways to store and display vintage tablecloths, depending upon what kind of space you have available.


if you have some closet space or other hanging space available (i like this idea from the tparty blog, using a towel rack to both store and display tablecloths), this is a safe and space saving way to store vintage linens. em over at em's heart recommends folding a piece of acid free paper over the hanger, placing the tablecloth on top, then layering another piece of acid free paper on top to protect from dust. she even sells the paper on her website.


folding is a great way to show off your vintage table linen collection. mine are displayed in a large stack on a shelf in the kitchen (sorry i don't have photos, i forgot to take them when the sun was out!). there are so many different ways you can fold your linens and even more ways to display them once they are folded. i think this stack of tablecloths on a cake stand, from the red thread blog is a cute idea.

there are a few things to keep in mind when storing vintage linens this way. first-don't iron them before storing them, if they need to be ironed do it just before using them (or spray them with some distilled water after placing them on the table and they will hang out nicely). second- be mindful of where you keep them. a stack of tablecloths on a shelf near the stove may look cute, but grease, steam and cooking odors can ruin them! it's best to keep any vintage linens in a cool, dry place. if you keep them in the kitchen (like i do), just make sure they are as far away from the stove and sink (or dishwasher) as possible.

it's also a good idea to fold some acid free paper in with your linens, especially if you don't use your linens frequently. additionally, never store vintage linens in direct contact with wood or painted surfaces. if your shelf is wood, or you store them in a cupboard, kitchen queen, or pie safe, place a sheet of acid free paper down before stacking the linens up.

other things to keep in mind

always use distilled water in your iron when pressing vintage linens. this will prevent rust stains.

never machine wash vintage linens with hot water. the hot water can loosen rust and other minerals built up in your pipes and stain the linens.

don't starch your vintage linens. starch eventually breaks down and can yellow, as well as damage the structure of, the fibers.

if you iron your linens, iron them flat, without creases. ironing a crease can wear down the fibers in just that spot, which will become more noticeable in the future.

avoid using bleach if at all possible. if you must use bleach, rinse your piece (in the washer) twice, using 1/2 cup of vinegar in the 1st rinse cycle to neutralize the bleach.

i hope these tips on caring for vintage table linens has been helpful! if we all take care of our cool vintage table cloths, maybe our kids will be able to enjoy them too.

sommer designs has some great ideas on repurposing vintage tablecloths

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