Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Loveliness of Owning & Ironing Vintage Linens

During my appointed time last week for fulfilling and completing my laundry ironing duties, the hangers filled with my husband's work shirts and other assorted items were the first to be tackled. They were first because as I am not a fanatic about ironing per se, BUT..... I washed many linens all due resting in a heap and ready to be pressed. There is nothing quite so wonderful as pressing vintage, embroidery or beautiful linens. I have a few photographed here from my ironing pile for you to view.

Each time I guide my iron over such exquisitely detailed linen and lace pretties which are lovingly placed over my ironing board and gently pressed, I understand clearly the elegance of each cotton thread woven together to create these beautiful items, whether only a mere pillow case, the laced edge of a damask bed sheet, several assorted doilies gathered for a gentle cleanse, those which are sweetly sprinkled around my home, or even be it a fancy dining room tablecloth.

My mother will forever remain ingrained in my memory as a Titus 2 woman who spent many hours in front of her ironing board, happily tending to the family's freshly laundered garments each week. She is one of those woman who never procrastinated with her ironing pile, solely her own delegated duty each week. When there was ironing, it was done. Always. Still is.

When our older children still resided at home, my mother would visit and if I was busy with the children or a task at hand, she would quietly find a way to assist me however possible, usually firstly just slipping into my laundry room to see what lurked in there for her to help out with. Most often she would pull out my ironing board if she noted anything on the hangers above awaiting pressing, and knowing it wasn't a favorite chore for me she usually immersed herself in blessing everyone without being prompted.

Our older children loved when their grandmother was on task with this ironing or laundry folding love offering, often slipping in a few clothing items of their own requiring a quick pressing to include in her kindness loot load. :)

Sometimes it was their lucky day because if presently it just happened to be their laundry day and it was located inside of the washer and dryer when she had arrived, all was soon completed and folded by her. I can still see their smiles today! :)

When I first learned to sew my own clothing at a very young age (my mother registered me for sewing lessons and I was in a fashion show with the dress I made at age ten), it was actually the very first time I was exposed to ironing on my own, eventually becoming something I tended to appreciate during the sewing process. At least it made sewing seams and other stitching detailing easier if a precise pressing precluded a next step at the machine.

Still, even with my sewing and limited ironing experience at a young age, when I married I hadn't been exposed to pressing men's shirts for instance, something I've had to learn and do for many years since my husband wears a suit and tie to work every day. It is suffice to say; I'm really good at pressing them now as I've had much practice in this field.

I've learned that a good iron counts!

I've always owned cheap and sometimes substandard one myself, perhaps this is why through the years mine have never completely been able to "glide" easily and happily across the fabrics along my ironing board highway.

As I stood this week with my steamy cotton pressing task on my ironing board, I took a really keen observation of my iron and all of its components, remembering this one was actually a cast off, a hand me down likely over forty years old, you know, the good and ultra HEAVY kind, the type that never fell apart. I have opted to keep it over the years, replacing only the electrical cord once. Likely because it works just fine and offers plenty of steam to maximize all of my ironing needs with all those shirts of my husbands, it easily wins a working horse award from me. It's just heavier and bulkier than I would like, without a pointed nose to steer into crevices requiring attention, but it works fine.

Someday my dream to own a
"professional quality - Rowenta Iron: (see it here) will be fulfilled, one of those items to purchase when I have nothing better to do with my money. I've been to upteen sewing conventions and fairs, always drawn and magnetized into the "Rowenta" booths to browse and test another model, glancing discreetly at the price hoping for a big bargain "special convention price tag". I bet you never do that, do you?

My friend Sarah bought herself a "Rowenta" many years ago at one of those sewing fairs we went to, she'd been saving all year for it. She declared it made sewing of any sort a pleasurable experience for her with its 400 plus microsteam holes on the stainless steel plate (mine has many less than that? 350 or more? ), even her husband enjoys having to use it when he requiring a freshly washed but not yet pressed shirt. this is still on my list - for
"my someday splurge"... just not sure which model yet. Oh yes, there are several models now to choose from since the early days when only one type existed.

I've also learned a well padded ironing board helps

In fact it assists greatly to offer an extra thick padding where the fabric can literally float across the top of the ironing board surface without becoming dented as the iron passes over to create more wrinkles. With a well padded ironing board cover, a steam iron can penetrate its heat source and not become guilty of merely heating up the metal below, rather it induces heat into the padding, offering a quicker ironing job.

Through the years my mother has made occasional remarks about the chintzy quality of my ironing pads and in most instances, she was right on the mark with her observations. On the cheap, I bought covers every time that were either on sale or ridiculously pretty but obviously not functional.

Years ago my mother instantly solved my ironing board topper cheapness by placing one of my bath towels underneath for a firmer and thicker padding. (Somehow it remained and hovers there still today.) She knew it was a necessity to own a well padded board cover for performing a less tedious task, transforming it instead into an much more enjoyable experience.

A few years ago I splurged at a sewing fair and purchased a very "non-lovely or pretty" iron board cover, rather a functional one with measurements noted in red from side to side to assist in performing my sewing, quilting and heirloom creations. That same towel now lost forever from my bathroom all those years ago which my mother placed under my ironing board padding is still there, despite the good pad quality the new cover came with, it required yet even more than that. My mother was right, its helps to have good padding.

Okay, go ahead and laugh.
Here's my extra padding peaking out just for this photo.

Brown towel? Uh-oh - decade now revealed!

Mothers out there who are reading my blog ... my best advice to you is to please consider training your children to iron young and be very sure when they are grown and ready to leave your nest, they can perform this task if required independently. Our much older four all knew how to iron and can if required still today. Our boys were required to wear men's shirts during their ice hockey rep team days, and even during early jobs as managers for establishments and if their mother was off and supremely busy having another baby (snicker), they were confident and could look after themselves before leaving our nest.

Meanwhile, back to my topic here.... having a love of linens. I love special linens, those items that are a vintage quality, embroidered or even perhaps with a lacey edge. I look for something appealing to the senses; the feel, the smell and usages. I always wonder "who" used to own them, offering an Ave for them after my purchase and more for a long time afterward. Yep, I do.

I have quite a sweet and slow growing collection, not a lot, but just enough. A few of my pillowcases might have the wrong "monogrammed letter" on them, not personalized for anyone in particular here, but we sincerely enjoy them just the same.

Linens always seem to evoke an honest appreciation for their intrinsic beauty, almost simplistic in nature but always surpassing the test of time for those generations before us who used to use them with their own families, and those yet to be blessed by them. That same feeling of elegance in my midst revisits me during my ironing sessions, clearly due to these types of fabric not frequently seen on the mass market within stores today.

Vintage and heritage fabrics and linens aren't normally made in Taiwan or China either, a rarity these days. Rather they were created by delicate processes and loving hands from days gone by, made with special strokes of a needle or clicking of a treadle sewing machine, one small piece at a time.
It becomes a tangible and tragic fact to admit this type of womanly art which used to be every women's pleasurable pastime has clearly almost completely vanished in today's modern times.

As we are a larger family, our options for obtaining elegant linens can't include shopping in super prestigious shops and boutiques,those who mark up their prices to unaffordable reaches, rather we are driven (and enjoy) the hunt to locate (quality) previously owned linens or pay a tidy sum for copycat vintage quality linens of days gone by, obviously not even comparable. Quality always surpasses quantity! Stores today can never replace past original and beloved linens our forefathers once preserved for their own families, no not ever.

For now another option we have is that of creating "new" and future soon-to-be heirloom quality items for passing through our own family's generations to come. That's what I've done over the years. Discovering heirloom sewing was one of the very best things I did for "me", taking in a speaker at my very first sewing show had me hooked after her first show and tell.

Over the years I've created elegant and delicately feminine items using batiste cottons, swiss embroidery insertion ribbons, yards and yards of entredeux, exquisite french laces and other imported heirloom quality fabrics and laces.

Heritage sewing provides an instant love for all things vintage!

My first item was fashioned for our second daughter when I created a First Holy Communion dress for her holy sacrament year. With many in our home and little ones under foot by day, my evening sewing pleasure usually began after 9pm. Crazy I know, but I still have warm and beautiful memories of taking tea with my sewing machine, never feeling a sense of urgency to complete this very first project of heirloom sewing...AND silly me, I just had to pick something like a dress instead of a baby bonnet for my very first project!

My evening sewing was spent in peaceful solitude with a quiet household while I multitasked in a simple way by listening to uplifting conference tapes (not cds, they weren't out yet!), always marveling and eagerly delighting in the feel of the delicate woven sheer fabrics and french laces under my fingertips.

The entredeux and french lace insertions were absolutely scrumptious, nothing I had ever experienced using as a seamstress before I made this heirloom dress. It turned out so pretty. ( I will detail my projects in another post as they deserve their very own place. For now the two photos above are snippets of this dress)

While my mother often insisted we visit yet another newly discovered thrift or antique store during our stolen moments out and alone together, (very rare times for us as my big beautiful family grew), the only two places within these establishments found me either in the linen and/or book booth areas where I would dwell over heritage and vintage linen pieces or out of print books. In fact, my personal family library, one of my most earthly prized possessions, was born during those rare and sweet escapes with my mother.

I especially appreciated sellers who had their linen items pressed well (without the scent of toxic bleach) and wrapped in ribbon, something that makes one drool over the eye candy affect of the senses. Once in a while I would find a set of embroidered or damask pillowcases tied in a ribbon as a pair with a sprig of lavender tucked inside. Those are ones I always wished I had my camera with me to snap a photo of, and now my camera is always with me...just in case of a moment such as this type before me in the future.

Because of that aesthetic experience with the surprise twig of lavender tucked into the pillowcase ribbons, I've chosen to always launder my "special" linens with a drop of lavender therapeutic essential oil in the water. The hint of fragrance is always welcomed here when all slip into bed and lay their head on their pillows shortly before falling into a deep and dreamy slumber.

I've had email inquiries about which lavender oil I use, a very potent and organic one from 'Young Living' (click HERE for more information), just in case you might like to know. I use only 1-2 drops per wash load as it is very concentrated and goes a long, long way. Of course there are zillions of other uses for my very favorite essential oil, I adore most myself including a drop in a warm bath to unwind.

Back to my ironing task here....again! :)

My bonus to any ironing session as I've mentioned is tackling the least enjoyed ironing and saving the best for last. I had laundered several of my linen pieces ever so gently which lay in need of pressing, a reward for completing the family clothing ironing first. Oh, how lovely they are and how I aways adore pressing every bit of them.

One piece in particular I have owned for years, one I used to have neatly across my dresser as a teen still living in my parent's home. I smiled as I remembered what used to lay on it, sometimes piles of stuff to make the beauty of its delicacy all but disappear. Wow, such a teen!

As I was passing the iron to and fro on this same piece, with one quick glance, it hit me all of a sudden. Another memory. A chance discovery from over 15 years ago after finding wee little smiley faces decorated on it with red pen! And a few words and a few other letters are also there which I haven't really made out real well to date.

Yes, this is the result of my now 18 year old son who enjoyed writing on things because he was a self professed artist after all, so why not offer mom and dad a few of his artistic endeavors permanently?

Several options for an instant remedy solution presented themselves when I first discovered the red ink doodles to make them all disappear quickly. How long had they been there anyway? I still have no recollection to the timing of the artistry and the discovery of such. Quite frankly, all these years later, it simply does not matter to me. :)

Rather than throw out the "ruined" item, instead I opted to maintain the memory of the episode and not lemon juice or bleach it away. I chose to allow it to serve as a continual reminder on how fast time flies, as this son is now on the threshold of adulthood and I have to look way, way up to his 6'2" height.

In fact, I'm so happy I never took action as I have actually grown quite fond of this doodle artistry (gasp) and just as in years passed, viewing it once again as it lay innocently on my ironing board pad warmed my heart and touched me in tender memorable ways during a quick flashback to the day when I first discovered it and confronting the culprit soon followed. Holding my breath, when I noticed my son's reaction, his big eyes wide open, looking up at me smiling proudly, all the while assuring me he was after all - an artist. How can anyone get mad at his wholesome innocence and beautiful spirit? Thankfully he soon discovered other mediums for his artwork.

Just wait a second.... until I took this photo
I forgot all about the doodle on my ironing pad!

Another child - RED ink again!

My son was right all those years ago, he is an accomplished artist, at least I think so after witnessing his talent as he grew.

Still today, even my bedroom lampshade offers me a revisit peak to his smiley faces located on the back side along the rim. I wasn't expecting a blessing during my ironing this week, in particular the linen piece shown above still brings a big smile to my face.

I can vividly recall his small cherub cheeked face, great big new eye glasses he was just prescribed to wear on his little face, a moment when time stood still (and still does) for just a precious moment, as if I have been afforded a walk to the past. It is there where I am reminded of the heavenly whisper graced upon me to offer a great big hug to this loving child and enjoy such a natural response to his declaration of artistry rather than become angry at this bold choice of artistic medium.

Our linen and lampshade artist

"Be quick to listen,
slow to speak,
and slow to get angry"

~ James 1:19