Caring For and Laundering Your White Antique Linens
This instructions are for white linens only and if you are in doubt at all over the rarity or strength of an item, please consult a textile conservator. Museum quality pieces are certainly best left unwashed and will retain their value better that way anyway with no risk of damage to the tissue-like fibres.
For Vintage linens with coloured dyes, embroidery and prints, the colours red and black run the most readily and their cleaning is not covered here.
Laundry of White Linens
1. For delicate & small items fill a bowl or laundry tub, with warm water. Cover to retain heat. Soak a couple of items in a small amount of borax (or Woolite-type gentle laundry detergent, Restoration or even Quilt Cleaner) for minutes to hours depending on soiling. Use a wooden stirrer to carefully swish and distribute the detergent.
2. For less fragile items such as Damask Irish Linen Tablecloths (or finer items in mesh laundry pouches) use your washing machine on gentlest hand wash cycle with the highest water level. Just wash a couple of items together, do not overload as this may lead to trapping and tearing of the linens on agitation & spinning.
3. Rinsing can be by "partial" washing machine (only let agitate a second or two, spin until linens just stop swirling with water, and all extra water is gone-NO longer). Linens will still be quite wet. For finer items rinse by hand with a bathtub, or large tub. If the water is not clear enough to drink, rinse again. Take care not to poke fragile items with fingertips. The more detergent used, the more water and rinsing required to clean!
4. When handling wet linens, support on cloth not lace, with the flat of the hand or arm not fingertips. Many items are torn on rinsing.
5. Remove excess water by careful compression, or gently roll in a towel. No twisting and wringing, it tears the cloth fibers and breaks embroidery threads.
6. For very wet fragile linens, lay flat (thick clean grass that never gets cut is ideal if you have it) or hang half over each side of your laundry line and drip dry. Do not hang all on one side, as entire weight of wet item may tear the pegged areas.
7. If drying on an old wood clothes horse in the house, beware of the wood oils soaking into the wet linens where it touches.
8. Line drying in the sunshine fades pale remaining spots and lends a unique fresh air scent to linens. Works well in icy weather too! Table linens are never sprayed with lavender linen water, just bed linens.
Safe Antique Linen Cleaners
1. It’s best to iron only when you are ready to use your linens. If you plan to store them for a long time, just loosely roll (un-ironed) or fold with acid free tissue to pad folds.
2. For great results, iron when linens are slightly damp. Spritz with water from a spray bottle. Use your iron dry unless it’s a high quality steam iron, to avoid spitting. If you make a mistake spritz over the crease and re-iron.
3. For the ultimate ironing results, iron linens when very wet, and your finish will be flawless. French laundresses used to do this. It’s very time consuming!
4. Iron the backs of your linens only, as it raises the design. With embroidered pieces, the more padded the board, the more the embroidery “sits on top of the cloth”.
5. When ironing, go over the item until no more steam rises from the cloth. By ironing until very dry, you won’t get mysterious wrinkling later. If beige marks appear when nearly dry, most likely the item has not been fully rinsed, and more rinsing will remove the residue.
6. Do not iron folds to get sharp creases. This makes the folds permanent and cracks the fibers along the line, making holes and ruining the cloth.
7. Linens can be frozen in sealed plastic to iron later. This prevents mildew forming. Give them plenty of time to thaw when you want to iron.
8. Hang on a drying rack to ”air-out” after ironing to avoid dampness and mildew on storage.
9. You may starch if immediately using your linens. Follow manufacturers instructions. Starching is a personal preference. Do not store linens starched.
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Gift Ideas for the Antique Linen & Lace collector
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