Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (2023)

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Kate Miller-Wilson

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Updated June 23, 2022

Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (1)

Vintage linens are some of the most collectible and fascinating items you will find at antique stores and flea markets. From hand-embroidered tablecloths to curtains made from beautiful old fabric, these vintage and antique textiles can add history and charm to any home. In some cases, they are very affordable, but some antique linens can be worth hundreds. Learn how to spot vintage textiles and what to look for when you shop.

How Can You Tell if Linens Are Vintage?

Identifying vintage linens is easier than you may think. Many pieces feature incredible handmade details that simply don't exist in modern textiles. You'll also see fabrics that don't appear in modern linens. Here are some specific qualities to help you identify vintage lines:

  • Embroidery - Delicate hand embroidery is a feature on many vintage pillowcases, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, and more. Look on the back of the piece for small knots made by hand.
  • Natural fabrics - Although some vintage textiles from the 1940s and after are made of synthetics and synthetic blends, most vintage and antique linens are made from cotton, linen, and other natural fabrics.
  • Hand stitching - Some antique linens feature hand stitching, rather than machine sewing. Look for stitches that are small but not uniform and are made with a single thread.
  • Monograms - Pillow cases, sheets, tea towels, handkerchiefs, and other linens sometimes have embroidered monograms. These stylized initials can be very collectible.
  • Handmade lace - Examine the edge of linens to determine whether the lace was added by hand. Tatting and lace making were popular hobbies, and many women worked handmade lace borders on everything from pillow cases to tablecloths. Additionally, some pieces like doilies are made entirely of handmade lace.
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Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (2)

Types of Vintage Linens

If you're shopping in a flea market or antique store, there are a number of different antique and vintage linens you might encounter. These are some of the pieces you may find.

Vintage Bed Linens

The bedroom was and still is a great place to display special linens. In some cases, girls would spend years creating items for a hope chest, and many of these pieces were bed linens. These handworked items are exceptionally beautiful as accents in a modern bedroom.

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  • Pillowcases - Embroidering pillowcases was a popular hobby throughout the early 1900s, and you'll find many special designs. Look for handmade lace edges, delicate embroidery with flowers and other pretty designs, and good quality cotton fabric.
  • Coverlets and bedspreads - Machine-made vintage coverlets can be a stylish and fun choice, especially if they are emblematic of a specific era. Also look for handmade lace bedspreads.
  • Quilts - Antique quilts are especially beautiful, and you can find them in good condition if you look carefully. Some of the best examples are entirely stitched by hand.
Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (3)

Vintage Table Linens

The table is another place vintage linens really shine. These items are often beautifully preserved, since previous owners may have saved them for use only on special occasions.

  • Antique tablecloths - Vintage and antique tablecloths come in all shapes and sizes to fit various tables. You'll also see table runners. Either way, these vintage tablecloths have special touches like hand embroidery, handmade lace, monograms, and more.
  • Vintage napkins - Vintage napkins can be a bit more difficult to find in good condition, especially if you're looking for a matched set. They are often made of linen or printed cotton fabric, and it's common to find embroidered details and monograms.
  • Vintage tea towels - Vintage tea towels come in all different styles and patterns, and they are absolutely full of charm. Look for adorable embroidered designs and simple fabrics like linen or cotton.
Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (4)

Other Vintage Linens

Many women used linens in other places in the home as well. These include vintage handkerchiefs, which feature wonderful embroidery and handmade lace. You'll also see handmade doilies and dresser scarves, designed to decorate the surfaces of wood and upholstered furniture.

Vintage Linens: Identifying Textile Treasures of the Past | LoveToKnow (5)

How Valuable Are Old Linens?

Vintage linens can range in value from under five dollars to hundreds of dollars. They can be an affordable item to collect if you're just starting out, but you can also invest in special pieces for a high-end collection.

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Factors Affecting the Value of Vintage Linens

There are several factors that can affect the value of vintage linens:

  • Condition - Stains, tears, pulls, loose threads, and other damage will lower the value of vintage textiles.
  • Quality - Linens made of high-quality materials and featuring gorgeous craftsmanship will always be worth more than those of lower quality.
  • Scale - Large, high-quality pieces tend to be worth more than smaller items.
  • Age - In general, the older a piece is, the more it is worth - all other factors being equal.
  • Usefulness - Items like bedspreads that have a use in today's homes are often worth more than less useful items like doilies.
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Sample Values for Antique and Vintage Linens

As with all antique values, the key to understanding how much vintage textiles are worth is comparing them to recently sold items that are similar. Here are some sample values of vintage linens from recent sales:

What Can You Do With Old Linens?

Just like other collectibles, there are lots of ways to incorporate vintage textiles into your decor. Decorating with antique linens is fun, and it offers lots of possibilities:

  • You can use bed linens and table linens as they were designed, making sure to display them prominently.
  • You can also repurpose old textiles into new things, such as pillow covers for your couch.
  • Create window treatments with antique linens by carefully sewing smaller pieces together or backing larger items like tablecloths with new fabric linings.
  • Use vintage linens as framed accents on your wall, especially if they feature pretty embroidery or decoration.
  • Make a table runner out of several vintage napkins sewn together.

Antique Linens Add a Sense of History

Antique textiles can be the perfect touch if you're creating a vintage farmhouse interior or simply want to add a sense of history to your home. They're also beautiful to collect and can be valuable heirlooms to pass on to future generations.

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Do old linens have any value? ›

How Valuable Are Old Linens? Vintage linens can range in value from under five dollars to hundreds of dollars. They can be an affordable item to collect if you're just starting out, but you can also invest in special pieces for a high-end collection.

How can you tell Madeira linen? ›

Look for a small tag on the linen.

Even vintage Madeira linen came with a tag proving its authenticity. You may see a metal or paper tag. The metal tag is small, rounded, and lettered. The paper tags are pinned to the linens and have the company name printed on them.

What can you do with heirloom linens? ›

Heirloom linen that's been handed down generation after generation can be repurposed as gifts for grandkids, nieces, and nephews. Create a sewing project that utilizes heirloom linen for toys or comfort gifts to help younger members of the family remember relatives that are no longer with us.

What can I do with vintage tablecloths? ›

Here are a few of our favorite ways to turn old tablecloths into treasures.
  1. Fashion a Cross-Back Apron. Photo: ...
  2. Recover a Torn Card Table. Photo: ...
  3. Picnic Blanket. Photo: ...
  4. Handkerchief. Photo: ...
  5. Market Bag. Photo: ...
  6. Circle Skirt. Photo: ...
  7. Custom Dog Bed. ...
  8. Holiday Napkins.
May 26, 2022

What can I do with grandma's linens? ›

10 Ways to Repurpose Vintage Linens
  1. Number One | Turn Doilies into Appliques.
  2. Number Two | Create Beautiful Bunting.
  3. Number Three | Add detailed accents to curtains & drapes.
  4. Number Four | Use the Material for Other Sewing Projects.
  5. Number Five | Create Pillowcase Nighties for gifts.
  6. Number Six | Use Dust Ruffles as Curtains.

How can you tell if linen is good? ›

Higher-quality linens are opaque as opposed to flimsy and gauzy. The lines and edges look smooth and free from stains. Colored linens should have a rich, even color with no signs of fading or discoloration on any part of the linen.

Can you identify the origin of linen fabric? ›

Linen is the most ancient of fabrics, with a rich and romantic heritage. Its widely accepted birth as a textile was in Egypt some 10,000 years ago but there is evidence found in pre-historic caves in Georgia that suggests it might have been used as a textile some 36,000 years ago.

What is the difference between Irish and Italian linen? ›

Irish linen is often densely woven, chalky in the hand and surprisingly heavy for a warm-weather material, though very satisfying to wear in the spring. Italian linen, on the other hand, is softer, lighter and smoother to the touch. And prince among all makers of Italian linen is Solbiati.

How can you tell Irish linen? ›

Irish linen has a finer and denser weave, a softer feel, and fewer slubs and corrections than average linens. This is due to the skills and expertise that have been passed down from generation to generation, with technical refinements made along the way – creating a linen product that cannot be matched elsewhere.

How do you get the yellow out of old linens? ›

Prepare Linens

If linens are yellowed, add 1/2 cup oxygen bleach to 2 to 3 gallons of water (do not use chlorine bleach, which can weaken fibers). Gently agitate by hand, then let soak until the cloth appears white (this may take several hours). Rinse with cold water.

How do you wash 100 year old clothes? ›

Remove Old Stains

Before laundering, try soaking the fabric in an enzyme textile cleaner diluted with water, or add a non-chlorine bleach to the wash water. Sometimes an old-fashioned method for bleaching white fabrics can be a gentle yet effective technique: Rub lemon juice and salt over the stain.

How do you clean vintage linen? ›

Washing vintage linens

Firstly, soak the linen in distilled water for several hours. Then place it in a large sink or container full of hot water and a gentle detergent. Agitate but don't scrub or pummel. Leave to soak again, then rinse with distilled water.

What is the best way to store vintage linens? ›

The best place to store antique fabrics is on top in a drawer. Storing them at the bottom of a drawer under heavy items can cause sharp folds, which may be difficult to remove and which may cause splits in the cloth.

What were old tablecloths made of? ›

Until the mid-1930s, white linen was the standard for a tablecloth. In the years that followed, new colours were added such as pink, yellow and green. Until the 1960s, linen belonged to the precious belongings of a family. Cheaper synthetics and cotton meant that there was less interest in linen for a while.

What can I make out of vintage sheets? ›

Here are 15 different ways to repurpose or use sheets:
  1. Bunting and Garland. I made a lot of vintage sheet bunting for my wedding. ...
  2. Cover a Lampshade. I covered these thrift store lamps with $2 vintage fabric. ...
  3. Curtains. ...
  4. Quilt Squares. ...
  5. Throw Pillows. ...
  6. Display as Decoration.
Mar 1, 2023

What can you do with old embroidery? ›

There are many ways you can "recycle" old embroidered items. If there are small enough sections, use them on covered buttons for a pillow, curtain tie backs, or even garments. You can use slightly bigger pieces for jar toppers or clothing and quilting appliques, or the front of a greeting card.

What is the highest quality linen fabric? ›

Belgian Linen is protected under international law, and widely known as the highest quality linen in the world. When your linen has the Belgian Linen logo, it guarantees: The linen has been grown, woven and made in Belgium using only the highest quality materials.

What are three characteristics of a good linen? ›

Main characteristics of linen
  • It is a very strong and durable material, which is why it lasts for so many years. ...
  • It protects the skin from ultraviolet rays.
  • It is a lightweight material.
  • It evaporates water, including sweat.
  • It is antibacterial and fungicidal, and neutralises bad odours.
Jan 27, 2022

What color is pure linen? ›

The natural color of undyed linen is known as 'linen gray'. This isn't a uniform tone, however, as the color will vary according to how the flax crop has been grown and processed. In its natural state, woven linen fabric tones range from ivory, beige, oatmeal and ecru.

What is the oldest linen cloth? ›

Linen in Ancient Times

Flax was the first textile produced by man—the oldest scraps of flax linen were found in prehistoric cave dwellings in the Caucasus and are estimated to be 38,000 years old!

Why is linen rare? ›

Linen fabric is sold at a higher price than cotton or jute because it's difficult to manufacture and has a lower availability. More than 85% of the world's production of flax fibers are originated from Europe. And flax remains a rare product as it represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.

How did you identify the type of fabric? ›

The fabric identification is done by the various fabric weaving machines. There are various machines like inspection machine, burn machine, fabric dying machine, fabric insulation machine and such others for carrying out the burn tests of fabrics.

What is world's best linen? ›

Belgian Linen is widely regarded as the highest quality linen fabric globally. Linen fabrics carrying the Belgian linen quality label contain a minimum of 85% European flax fibre and are woven in Belgium.

Where is the best linen in the world? ›

Historically, the best linen comes from Europe, specifically Belgium, Ireland, France, and Lithuania. Flax grows best in temperate climates (while cotton thrives in hotter places like Texas, Egypt, and Turkey). Belgium in particular is known for high-quality flax because of its climate and soil conditions.

What is a damask linen? ›

Damask linen fabric is woven on a jacquard loom, using a mix of plain and satin weaves. The fibers are usually flat and reversible, which gives damask fabric a smooth texture with a reversible pattern.

What is the difference between Belgium and French linen? ›

Flax is cultivated in many parts of the world, but the best flax grows along the famous Western Europe flax belt - a stretch of Europe that spans across Belgium, France and the Netherlands - so the main difference between Belgian and French linen is basically the country the flax originated from.

How can you tell flax linen? ›

Real flax linen will be easy to spot, thanks to its beautiful, natural creases throughout the fabric. This is because it does not have high elasticity and therefore does not spring back into shape. Instead, it holds its folded shape and any natural creases, giving it a soft, worn-in silhouette.

Does vinegar remove yellow stains? ›

Does white vinegar remove yellow stains? It does indeed! Mix it with equal parts water to create a great at-home spray to use on yellowed clothing.

Will OxiClean whiten yellowed sheets? ›

Removing Sweat Stains from Sheets & Bedding. If your sheets are crisp white and you end up with yellow or brown sweat stains on them, OxiClean™ White Revive™ Laundry Whitener + Stain Remover is your best bet for removing the stains and reviving whites.

Should you wash vintage clothes before selling? ›

Certain diseases like dermatitis and scabies can be transferred from wearing unwashed second-hand clothes. Bed bugs may also hitch a ride into your home on second-hand clothes, so It's always a good idea to wash your thrifted finds if you can.

Why can't you wash clothes on the first of the year? ›

According to folklore, if you wash clothes on New Years Day, youll be washing for the dead or washing a loved one away -- meaning someone in your household will die in the coming year. Get your laundry washed, dried, folded and put away by New Years Eve.

How often did people wash their clothes in the 1800s? ›

There were huge changes in domestic life between 1800 and 1900. Soap, starch, and other aids to washing at home became more abundant and more varied. Washing once a week on Monday or "washday" became the established norm.

Can I use OxiClean on linen? ›

If you do need to brighten up white linen, make sure you use an oxygenated bleach like OxiClean, which is a chlorine-free bleaching solution that brightens without damage.

Does vinegar whiten linen? ›

Distilled white vinegar.

Vinegar whitens, freshens, and softens fabrics. Add 1/2 to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar along with your regular laundry detergent. Don't worry about the vinegar scent- it will dissipate after drying.

Can you use vinegar to clean linen? ›

One of the best alternatives to commercial laundry detergents is probably in your pantry right now: vinegar. You can wash your laundry with distilled, white vinegar as well as apple cider vinegar. Vinegar has a number of benefits, both as a food and as a cleaning aid.

Can you use vinegar on linen? ›

Use White Vinegar to Soften Linen Items

When machine washing your linen, replace the chemical fabric softener by adding a mixed solution of ½ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of water. Before washing, first, rinse the linen sheets in the washing machine adding only ½ cup of pure vinegar instead of washing powder.

How do you get brown stains out of vintage linens? ›

When you have a lovely vintage linen with just one or two small, stubborn stains, try treating it with a few squirts of juice from a fresh lemon, followed by ordinary table salt. Let the mixture sit for a time, then rinse it with warm water, followed by white vinegar.

How do you get vintage linens white again? ›

Bleach your linens naturally

Start by rubbing lemon juice and salt on your linens and hang them outside to air dry. Once dry, rinse them with warm, clean water and air dry one more time. Your linens won't look new new, but they'll be whiter than before.

How do you brighten vintage fabric? ›

Overnight soaking agents—made for dingy vintage. Hydrogen peroxide—3% for mild bleaching or full strength for stain removal. White vinegar—an inexpensive way to brighten colors, banish underarm stains. Baking soda—remove mildew smells for dry-clean only fabrics.

Do antique linens have value? ›

How Valuable Are Old Linens? Vintage linens can range in value from under five dollars to hundreds of dollars. They can be an affordable item to collect if you're just starting out, but you can also invest in special pieces for a high-end collection.

Is it OK to store linens in plastic bags? ›

As practical as under the bed storage may seem, try to avoid storing your linens in plastic containers or boxes. The lack of breathability can cause your cotton linens to permanently yellow or streak. Linens should be wrapped in white cotton or muslin while they're being stored.

How do you fix a hole in vintage linens? ›

Repairing your Linen Garments
  1. Cut the patching scrap to be at least 0.5-1” bigger than the hole or area being patched.
  2. Turn the garment inside out, pin the patch over the hole or area to be patched, and sew the patch on. Remove pins.
  3. Turn the garment right side out. ...
  4. Trim any threads, and you are done!

What can I do with old vintage tablecloths? ›

10 Smart Ways to Upcycle Old Tablecloths
  1. Fashion a Cross-Back Apron. Photo: ...
  2. Recover a Torn Card Table. Photo: ...
  3. Picnic Blanket. Photo: ...
  4. Handkerchief. Photo: ...
  5. Market Bag. Photo: ...
  6. Circle Skirt. Photo: ...
  7. Custom Dog Bed. Photo: ...
  8. Holiday Napkins. Photo:
May 26, 2022

How does the old tablecloth trick work? ›

If the tablecloth is pulled slowly, friction (rubbing) between the beaker and tablecloth will cause the tablecloth to pull the beaker with it. But, if the tablecloth is pulled quickly, the beaker won't mover. Inertia keeps the beaker in place because friction is not as strong when you pull fast.

How do you get yellow out of vintage linens? ›

Prepare Linens

If linens are yellowed, add 1/2 cup oxygen bleach to 2 to 3 gallons of water (do not use chlorine bleach, which can weaken fibers). Gently agitate by hand, then let soak until the cloth appears white (this may take several hours). Rinse with cold water.

What is the best way to store antique linens? ›

The best place to store antique fabrics is on top in a drawer. Storing them at the bottom of a drawer under heavy items can cause sharp folds, which may be difficult to remove and which may cause splits in the cloth.

Does linen get better with age? ›

Linen gets better with age, and lasts 12 times longer than cotton. The softness and strength are refined by warmth, friction and tension on the fibers. It becomes more flexible, supple and durable with each passing day, reflecting new character as time goes on. Linen consists of flax plant fibres spun into thread.

How many years should linen sheets last? ›

And with linen, you'll get three to five years — sometimes more. If you switch your sheets out every other week or use an insulating set in the winter and cooling bedding in the summer, you can expect the fabric to last twice as long.

Why do old linens turn yellow? ›

Oxidation, nicotine, grease, bleach, sun exposure, improper rinsing, not using enough detergent, and aluminum-based deodorant can all cause yellow stains on clothing and linens. If you do not wash your clothing correctly, any chemicals or particles in the fabric will start to decompose and break down the fibers.

What goes on the top shelf of a linen closet? ›

Typically, you'll want to place more voluminous items like comforters and bath sheets on the bottom and lighter, smaller items like pillowcases and washcloths on top.


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