I host many people here in Normandy who come to shop antiques and brocante with me. Some are first time buyers, some are already experienced, they nearly all arrive with a wish list, and linens generally come pretty high up the list!
One of the questions that I get asked the most often is what to look for when buying antique french linens. In the fairs and at the dealers here, we often come across piles of linen sheets or baskets of pillow cases and other antique textiles, but unless you are used to handling these old textiles, it is very difficult to gauge the quality.
You need to know that up to the 18th and 19th century, many homes would have their own loom working to weave their house linens. This is why there is such a diversity of texture and quality. From the quality of the flax, to the thickness of the spun thread, to the choice in mixing the linen with cotton, or using it pure …. all these elements make for a very different feel to the fabric.
If you were here beside me, I would walk you to one of the armoires that I have filled with linens, and show you samples of embroidery, of monograms and ladder work edging. But most of all I would ask you to hold the sheets in your arms to feel their weight.
Linen sheets are way heavier than cotton, and it is this weight and supple thread that makes them so delicious to sleep in. “Cool in the summer, warm in the winter”. The perfect thread. I always use linen sheets on the beds in our guest cottage and most of our guests comment on them, or ask where they can find some to take home .
So to come back to the questions about what to look out for when buying, here is what I say:
- always unfold a sheet before buying, it’s a shame to get it home and find a tear or a stain in the centre
- look for heavy weight, smooth supple almost silk-like texture
- don’t worry if there is a centre seam running the length of the sheet. This isn’t a repair, but simply a sign that it was old enough to be made before the wider looms were prevalent
- remember that if the sheet is quite beige in colour, it will certainly get whiter each time you wash it
- there are products to remove small rust stains, but a yellow line that has formed on the fold of a sheet that has been stored for too long, is in my experience, practically impossible to get rid of. Personally unless the sheet would look good dyed, I never buy any with a fold mark.
This weekend I shall give you some tips for taking care of your antique linens. Until then, thank you for reading me, you are the best.