top of page

LOVELY LINEN (& How to Take Care of It)

Walking through a French flea market you will notice heaps of beautifully embroidered vintage and antique sheets, kitchen towels, and table napkins, in linen or cotton. Many with intricate monograms, embroidery, and detailing that is not seen that often anymore.

So much to choose from! If you feel a bit intimidated, are tempted to take a plunge, but are unsure how to take care of these textiles, I will try to explain in this post how easy, and rewarding, it is! (I am concentrating more on linen fabric here, although a lot of the observations can be applied to almost any vintage textile.)

At a flea market I sift through these lovely stacks, looking for the prettiest embroidery, and for possibilities for future use. I look for pieces in good to great condition for my clients at My French Maison, and for myself. I am not discouraged by a little hole here and there, or a few stains. If the rest of the piece is solid, it has many more years to give, and be treasured. It is an easy investment, because unlike silks, linen is very easy to take care of, and keeps on giving.

Disclosure - I am no expert in vintage linen, but I know a good thing when we see it. I use linen torchons in my kitchen, and I love the feel of this cool fabric on my bed.

However - why would anyone want to use old fabric sheets and towels, you might ask. It's easy to go to a shop and get a new set of perfectly good ones.

To me, nothing modern rivals the quality, texture, and feel of antique and vintage fabric. Most of the time it was homespun, and is linen, which has been a fabric of choice in Europe for centuries. If you travel through French countryside and see a field of tiny light blue flowers, most likely it is flax plant blooming, to be harvested and made into fabric.

Old linen usually has the beautiful off white hue, with variations in texture, but you can also find it in other hues - from white, through eggshell, ivory, to almost beige. Sometimes it was mixed with cotton (this is called "métis" cloth). It is sturdy, absorbent, and a true work horse. I use antique linen torchons in our kitchen and they are almost indestructible.

How to take care of it? It is very easy, one just have to keep in mind a few things - old textiles do not like modern washing machines and dryers. Nor do they like being dry cleaned, which can actually do damage.

It does not mean that you need to wash everything by hand! But it does mean, that it's better to set your spinning cycle on low, and to not to dry your linen towels and sheets in the dryer. The heat may damage the fibers.

Linen loves to be air dried, especially in the hot sun, which has the disinfecting properties as well. If you like the look of pressed linen, a hot iron is OK.

You may spray the fabric surface with water for an easier job and a smoother look. If there is embroidery, iron on the reverse side.

I mentioned stains - and there will be some on these beautiful old sheets and napkins. Some of them can be gotten out, some of them won't budge... It is up to you if you can live with them, possibly by using them for a sewing or decorating project.

To get the stains out avoid bleaching the old fabric. Use the natural products when possible, such as lemon juice. I heard that baking soda also works very well. It's better for the environment too!

Here are a few tips on what to look for and how to take of vintage linen (which can be applied to vintage cotton as well):

- when buying vintage linen at a flea market, unfold it completely and check for stains and holes, as well as general condition; consider if you can live with small imperfections (if there are any - sometimes linens were kept as dowry, and never used, and it means you are very lucky to have found something in unused condition!)

- if the piece is in poor condition, but you love the embroidery, it can be cut up and used in a decorating project - made into cushions, for example

- wash linen in a washing machine (or by hand, if you prefer), separately, with hot water

- use a gentle detergent

- line dry, or flat dry, if you prefer to tumble dry do it on a delicate setting

- drying your linen sheets in the sun will brighten them

- linen looks lovely with its natural creases not smoothed by an iron, but if you prefer a creaseless look, iron when the fabric is still damp; iron on the hottest setting and use a steam iron; after hang the items up until completely dry, before storing

- storing your linen in a cool, dry, well ventilated space is best. Better not to store in plastic bags, linen loves to breath. And if you add lavender sachets in between the linen pieces, every time you open the armoire you will get a delicious whiff of aroma... I like organic lavender sachets from Provence, especially when they come form my favorite L'Auguste Provence.

Enjoy your linen sheets, towels, and napkins - the fabric is easy to love, and only gets better with age!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page