Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vintage Linen Find

One of the wonderful things about living in France are the many opportunities one has to find vintage lace and linens. Every attic in France must be filled with the stuff and when it is time to clean out the attic, garage or basement, these precious pieces end up at rummage sales, second hand stores or flea markets.

Last weekend was one of my favorite flea markets. It was one of those flea markets that are for "just sewing". Everything from quilting, weaving, felting, embroidery etc... show up at this type of sale.

At one of the booths, a woman was selling old linen sheets the size for a single bed, She had a small box of them, maybe 7 sheets. They are too small to use on a bed I own but since they are linen or a linen blend, they are perfect for re-purposing. I bought the 3 of them that had embroidery on them. 

The  workwomanship on the embroidery is superb. The technical issue of how to end the embroidery however is less than elegant. But no matter. The third one I picked up, was very dirty and looked to be just a linen sheet with no embroidery. I was about to return it to the box when the sales woman folded it open. Inside was embroidery and, most surprisingly, a pattern.  She removed the pattern and was about to toss it in the trash bin behind her when she thought to ask, clearly in French, if I wanted it. The look on my face must have been priceless as if I was saying, Nooooooo! Don't throw that out! 

I of course said "yes please". 

To say the sheet was filthy is an understatement. This is what the sheet looked like when I bought it. As you can see, the sheet is pretty dirty, both dirt and water staining. The sheet has a nice mold smell as well but no mold spotting anywhere on the sheet.
The linen sheet turned out to be a work in progress that is close to being complete but never was. With all of the different linens I find, very seldom do I find a pattern that matches the work done. But, when I do what a treat!

So here is the part of the pattern sheet of interest:
Look closely at the picture and you can see the trace lines on the pattern.

Here it is on the linen sheet:
The pencil marks can be seen under the design as well as some sort of blue marks 

Here is the back of the sheet:
Beautiful work. The maker took liberty with the design as the border is different.

Here what a finished area looks like. There are additional nubbs on the edge. 
The blue marks are quite visible on this portion of the sheet. 

Lastly with all the work that was done this is how the embroidery was finished. I have never seen it done this way and I must say that it is not attractive.
Looking at it, it looks that the maker could have made each of the  curves just a little longer with a little more spacing between each eyelet designs. That way she would have been closer to the edge of the sheet.

One could argue that the end of the edging is the sheet's turn down point, and I agree, but the flower design goes beyond the end of the edging work. The other two, the design ends exactly at this point at the end of the edging work.

All 3 of the sheets are finished in this manner but have different embroideries. Missing on this sheet, but present on the other two are the initials BC
This is one of the other two sheets. Notice how this one has the pulled thread work along with the embroidery along the edge.

To clean the filthy sheet, first  it will be washed in water. Hopefully the blue is gone and the pencil fades, but I doubt it. If the blue is still there it will get soaked in water for a bit more. After that it will be washed with soap and, if need be, will take a soak in BIZ.

Back to the pattern. The pattern sheet is SupplĂ©ment number 323 from a French magazine called Madame. 

I had never heard of this magazine nor have I ever run across one anywhere, in all my wanderings in France. So I did some research. The magazine by the same name, "Madame" Figaro, or for that matter, Air France's magazine Madame are not the same magazine.

I found a few pictures of the covers of various 1920 through early 1950's Madame magazines on the internet and I found two issues for sale in the United States on eBay.  Click on eBay to the left if you are interested.
The Seller on eBay was nice enough to give me information on the two issues. The magazines for sale were published 4 February and 13 May 1926. (One begins to wonder how they got to the United States.)

Based on their issue numbers, I was able to figure out the magazine was published every other week. If that is true, my pattern was published the week of 9 May 1930. 

This date matches the sheets. From experience, and I am hardly a historian, but I do observe and ask a lot of questions when I buy old lace and linens. The sheets appear to be an older linen/cotton blend which tells me they are most likely pre-WWII. There is a difference in the feel of the sheets before the war. The pre-war sheet is thicker and have more unevenness in the weaving as well as thicker linen threads showing up in the weave. The older the sheet the worse this is. The sheet is cold to touch which is one of the ways to tell older linen. When it is dirty, it is really hard to tell if it is linen or a blend as the dirt gives it a linen appearance. Technology got better after the war and the cotton or cotton/linen blends are thinner and smoother. The salvage edges are also different. Smaller loom and dense woven edges. Many times in the past I have found two of this type of narrow sheet whip stitched together to make a larger sheet.

I will keep you posted on the sheet and it's cleaning process.


  1. Fascinating and beautiful Jean. Good luck with the cleaning

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.