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BUYING ANTIQUE FRENCH LINENS

One of the highlights of our last buying trip was an appointment with a linen dealer.

 

OH! Those of you who have been with me a while know I go weak at the knees for a pile of antique linens.

 

 

 

 

One of my biggest thrills is if I find a whole collection of linens from one family, piles of napkins, towels and sheets neatly bundled together in packets tied with faded ribbons. Carefully labeled, many never used, for whatever reason.

 

 

 

This trip, I hit the jack pot! A dealer let me know that she bought “the entire linen closet” from an old stately petit chateau {castle} once belonging to three never-married sisters of noble birth.

 

Was I interested in seeing some of them?

 

 

 

The linens were made for each of the young ladies in 1900-1908, when they became of marriageable age. The best families {and theirs certainly was!} had their own live-in seamstress who created the trousseau with incredible skill and patience. Each napkin, each towel, each tablecloth and linen nightdress was embroidered by hand with the initials of the bride-to-be to use when she got married.

 

For these three ladies, that day never came.

 

Whether they suffered from a loss of eligible men because their beaus died in the Great War, or they were just too finicky to find a suitable husband, we’ll never know.

 

 

They lived together until their late 90’s, then a great-great nephew inherited their land, their stately petit chateau, and everything else when the last of the sisters passed away. Sadly, he decided to sell the whole thing, contents and all, last year, he didn’t want it.

 

I know, it’s sad and painful, isn’t it?

 

 

I tried my best to wrangle the name of this noble family from the lips of the dealer, but in Europe, they do their best to protect the “honor” of the old families.

 

Even when you buy things at auction, the auctioneer will list something as belonging to “Madame X” or “Monsieur G”.  So the photos above are not of their actual home, I just chose a photo that was the kind of home they would have lived in. {there are many of those all over Europe – we stayed in one converted to a Hotel you read about here >}

 

 

So that is the story of my recent purchase of the most  beautiful linens.

 

 

The tea towels, never used, so carefully hemmed and monogrammed, over a century old and never used, not once.

 

Each little stack labeled with the year they were made.  These exclusif blue and yellow tea towels, with the most amazing quality linen and design, for instance, were made in 1900.

 

 

I bought the most unusual ones I could afford, in the blue and golden yellow colors. Their damask patterns are beyond stunning! And bought an extra suitcase to take them home with me on the plane, since I didn’t want us to have to wait for the other shipments to come in later in November.

 

 

 

I bought mostly towels of the “exlusif grande luxe” class, {there are apparently two different “classes” of tea towels,  the exclusif grand luxe  and the more plain every day ones. I used to think that the more country style plainer towels came from less monied homes, but the dealer educated me and said, non, they are from the same home. The exclusif are for use with the family’s finest crystals and porcelains.

 

 

 

I’m not sure exactly how cook and the kitchen maids were to decide which class of towel to use, but I’m pretty sure they dried the dishes for the family with the luxury cloths and used the others for drying their own dishes.

 

 

 

There is definitely a difference in the two kinds of towels, the designs and “hand” of the luxury cloths are of a finer quality. Their lesser thought of country cousins are to my eye just as lovely, but I can see that they are less intricate in pattern and design.

 

 

 

 

 

The tablecloths are in one word…amazing!  Tiny precise embroidery designs on printing white or cream heavy linen cloth, so beautiful I almost cried when the dealer unpacked them.

 

 

 

 

Many were made in France, but some, like the Cantu Lace Runners below, were bought from Italy for the trousseau of the brides.

 

 

The linens I bought are between 100 and 150 years old and made of homespun linen, or metis {linen and cotton} with hand embroidered monograms and/or designs and meticulously hand stitched hems.

 

 

 

Before I go, I want to share this towel with you. At first I wasn’t going to buy these, because they cost the earth. Apparently all white or cream woven towels with figures in them are exceptionally rare.

 

Of course, once I’d looked at that face a few times, I fell for her. Who wouldn’t?

 

 

The woven in patterns are so exquisite, it really is a lost art. No one does this anymore.

 

 

No matter how beautiful they are, I love to use my antique tablecloths for my special dinners.  The napkins look perfection on a plate and the cloths just fall perfectly.  These linens were meant to be used, and enjoyed. If you have or buy antique linens like this, I hope that you use them every day, or once in a while at least, to relish in their quality and beauty!

 

Their fabric is no longer being produced, they are beautiful remnants of a time past. Savor them as the treasures they are, maybe you will pass along a love for old textiles to your children, grandchildren, or perhaps a niece, as heirloom treasures that they may someday use in their own households.

 

 

The old houses in Europe are still being emptied out, and the contents sold off, but the supply of linens of this quality and history is not endless, it is coming to an end. Sooner rather than later the supply will run out, so if you get the chance to add even just one exceptional linen like these to your collection, do it!

 

DO YOU USE YOUR ANTIQUE LINENS OR JUST DISPLAY THEM IN YOUR LINEN CUPBOARD?

SHOP FRENCH ANTIQUES

à bientôt

 

If you want to romance your Home and Garden with antique and vintage treasures to make you smile each time you come home, visit our shop FrenchGardenHouse.

37 Responses to BUYING ANTIQUE FRENCH LINENS

  1. Wow, wow oh wow Lidy. These linens are fabulous! The one with the young women is breathtaking. I use many of my vintage linens often . My favourite is a white cutwork tablecloth that my mother made. She even crocheted the lace edging with 12 napkins to match. I love the fact it was something she held and created with her own hands. The embroideries on your finds are exquisite. I am always drawn to the linens in an antique shop first.

  2. Julie, what a treasure you have that your Mother made! I hope that you enjoy this cloth with people you love often, your mother would love that!

  3. My step-grandmother learned to crochet, tat and embroider in a convent school in Italy before the turn of the 20th century. . Soon after she emigrated to America with her husband and four children, she was widowed. From 1910-1960, she made trousseaus for rich Italian families to support herself and her children. When she passed away in 1970 at 96 years of age, I inherited 16 extremely large steamer trunks of linens of all types. My younger stepsisters didn’t want anything that they had to iron! As a small child,i used to watch Angelina crochet, tat and embroider. She taught me how to embroider when I was about four years old. She never learned to speak English and communicated to me with just her hands. It was fascinating to watch her tiny, knarled and wrinkled hands move so fast and create such beautiful things. I kept most of the linens for years but eventually became an antique linen and lace dealer and sold off most of her wonderful items. I kept several pieces that I use all the time and donated many pieces to our local community museums. To this day, I cannot pick up a piece of fine lace and not think of her. She was one of the greatest gifts in my life.

  4. Nancy, what a beautiful memory you shared with us. It is amazing that a piece of lace can bring back this wonderful woman to your heart immediately. It is so heartwarming to hear that she was such a gift to you. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  5. Be still my heart…these linens are exquisite..and LOVE the story behind the ones from the 3 sisters…sounds like a movie waiting to happen to me! It must have been so wonderful to choose linens from their collection….and cannot imagine having a personal seamstress…I would love to have one! 🙂

  6. Dear Lidy,

    We have a home in Beaune and spend our summers there. && I spend my summers looking for beautiful French linens….but I never have the luck to find the treasures that you find! Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing all this information and beautiful photos…a plus,

  7. Patricia, I have never found linens like these either! Their quality is unsurpassed, and then there are those blue and yellow colors, so unusual. I would have bought the entire trousseau if I could have afforded it, but I’m more than thrilled with what I did buy, it is the creme de la creme!

  8. Pam, wouldn’t that be something , a personal seamstress? Of course a family like that would have many servants to do everything else too. I’d be happy with a butler! 🙂

  9. Hi Lidy, my heart skipped a beat as I read through your post today. There is just something so precious about hand made linens or anything for that matter that is hand made. All of that time spent on a beautiful item is a great feat. I do hand work and know just how much time and effort goes into a project. I have passed down my skills to my children and now I’m working with my grandchildren I want them to learn to appreciate the past and see the beauty in it. It’s to bad that you weren’t able to know more about the sisters I found that very fascinating it’s just one of the many things that excite me about antiquity. Thank you and have a very lovely day!
    xoxo Jo

  10. Jo, I love that you are passing both your love for hand work and your skills on to your children and grand children! Believe me, I tried in every way possible to get the family name from the dealer, but she wouldn’t budge! It is what I love about antiques too, not just their beauty, but their stories. Happy Friday, friend.

  11. You know I am in seventh haven looking at these. I will take a closer look. Maybe some new Old linens are in my future.

  12. Gloria,

    You would have LOVED the whole collection!! I had such a difficult time chosing the pieces I would bring back, they were all so beautiful and unused!

    {I even asked Mr. FGH if I could sell my car at home to finance buying the rest of the linens…but he said no. spoiler}

    They are amazing. I’ve never seen linens like this, in these colors of yellow and blue, ever.

    I hope you are well and enjoying fall!

  13. Shirley, I love the story too. Darn that European reserve, push as I might, her lips were sealed about disclosing the family name and/or the name of their house that was sold, contents and all. Oh! I wish I could have gone to THAT estate sale. She said dealers camped out and spent the night, in the rain, to be amongst the first there. {not sure about doing that, it’s bitter cold in Europe when it rains!} Wouldn’t it be fun to have a seamstress {and all those other servants? not sure about that…what in the world would WE do?!} xo

  14. What a wonderful post! I always learn so much from you. We are just back from a month in France and I did a little antique linen shopping myself, including a few of what you describe as everyday towels and some embroidered, heavy damask napkins that may never have been used. (They are truly special!) Like you I find it very hard to pass up cloth or handwork like these. I have done enough sewing and stitching myself to understand the time and artistry that goes into each piece. The quality of the antique materials is so wonderful, though.
    Have a wonderful weekend Lidy!

  15. Janet, what a joy it must have been to be able to spend a whole month! Such a treat….we were there for just 10 days but it was glorious. I agree, the quality of the antique textiles is unsurpassed.

  16. Oh, Lidy, I so enjoyed this post, such beautiful linens! I love my antique family linens – they are so precious to me. One of the things I have is the most beautiful pale blue large tablecloth with matching napkins. It was a wedding gift to my parents in 1937, young by antique standards, but so lovely and is used every holiday with sweet memories attached. Thanks for sharing!

  17. What a sweet thing to have, Sharon, a set your parents received as a gift and used. I love that! Thanks for sharing that with us,
    I’m sure every time you use it, you are filled with special memories.

  18. The linens are quite lovely. I too wish I knew more about the family, the three sisters in particular. Appears they lived a long life in a beautiful surrounding. Good for them. I can’t imagine having all of those beautiful linens and not using them though.?

  19. Joy, I think that, because the sisters shared a home, a home that probably already CAME with a billion gorgeous linens,
    they may have used very little of the linens made especially for them, when they got married. Because that time,
    when they got married and had their own individual homes, never came.

  20. Oh my goodness Lidy — I have goose bumps just looking at all the beautiful linens! You know how much I love them!!!! I’ll be right over!

  21. Thank you Alice. Me too! It’s been a difficult decision what to keep and what to share with others.

  22. Hi, Lidy,
    Wow what a find, they are just beautiful and I loved the stories that went with them. That last towel all in cream with the sweet and haunting lady was lovely, lovely! I have some antique towels, some I have used but I display them as well for their beauty. How grand it must of been in those days the way they set the tables with all the silver and crystal. What a great trip you had and THANK YOU FOR SHARING, I always look forward to your goodies and stories.~Jean (Happy Halloween, you already got your TREAT’S)

  23. Jean, I agree, they are just so beautiful. And to think ladies of means had hundreds of hand made linens..boggles our mind, doesn’t it? I would love to attend a fancy dinner with tables filled to overflowing with silver and crystal and porcelain. {and butlers or wait persons who served it all and especially cleaned up!}

  24. Hi Lidy! You saved the best til last. I love that towel with the figure woven into it. Sigh. Welcome back. Hugs, Pat

  25. My word are these gorgeous linens. So many to choose from. The plaid With the initials may be my favorite. How fun to imagine the ones that used them

    Cindy

  26. Lynda, thank you so much for your visit and taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you will join us here on a regular basis. Welcome!

  27. I certainly did not come from a grand family so we just had ordinary linens but my mother did have some damask tablecloths.Not the quality of these but they were nice all the same. So lovely to see these ones from France.

  28. Nancy, the ordinary linens were probably beautiful, and your mom used the damask for Sundays or holidays, those tablecloths were so beautifully made back then!

  29. Thanks so much for your visit today Mary Ann! I love having you visit, and sharing our love for antiques
    together.

  30. Oh Lidy! Just wow! I’ve always loved linens and admired the work and talent that someone put into each piece. You give us so much history and background. I’m going to look at my collection with new admiration, and dream of adding to it.

  31. Candi,

    Thank you so much for visiting, and taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you use your beautiful collected linens, too!

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