Caring for Vintage Linens and Textiles – Part Two

The Stains are Out – Now What Do I Do?

Now that they’ve been washed, the linens are clean and ready to use. The final touch that really brings them to life is a good pressing. I’ve heard people brag that they don’t even own an iron. I actually find ironing linens and textiles to be relaxing. Try ironing while watching TV or listening to your favorite music.

A good iron does make a difference. I prefer the Rowenta irons, which have a smooth stainless soleplate and easily regulated temperature settings. They are also heavier, which facilitates the ironing. The weight helps press out the wrinkles and leave a smooth finish.


Antique Cast Iron Sad Iron: This weighty iron build up the arm and shoulder muscles why finishing the laundry. Marked “U D X 5” on the top, this iron measures and weighs 4.5 pounds. Wow, what a job getting your laundry caught up! Offered by GoAntiques dealer Pieces of the Past.

Textiles are much easier to iron when they are still slightly damp. If something is completely dry, then dampen it with a spray bottle. If there is any embroidery or needlework on the piece, place it face down on a soft towel and iron the back. This prevents the stitching from getting smashed by the iron. Also, avoid ironing in creases. Repeatedly ironing along the same crease lines will eventually break down the fabric and cause weak areas.

Never iron fabric at too high a setting. If, by accident you get a light scorch mark (not a burn, but a light pale brown scorching), don’t worry the piece isn’t ruined. You can resoak the item to remove the scorch mark. Sometimes, if the iron is too hot and there’s any detergent residue left in the fabric from a poor rinsing, it will scorch easily.


Vintage Electric Iron and Storage Rack: This vintage General Electric steam iron comes with its own special holding, storage rack. Titled “True Heat” and sold by Betty Crocker, it has the steam attachment and is in working condition. Offered by GoAtniques dealer Globe Antiques and Collectibles.

I’m often asked by customers what kind of starch I use. Well, I don’t use any. I don’t like starch or the stiff roughness it gives to wonderful old linens. I prefer the soft natural feel of the fabric. A well-ironed tablecloth will lie on a table and fall beautifully over the edges eliminating any need for starch. Too much starch can take away from the natural feel and draping of the fabric.

If you absolutely must starch something, don’t starch it and then store it. Starch yellows over time, causing stains that can be difficult to remove. Some starches, particularly the older ones, attract bugs that eat the starch and the fabric along with it. Iron and starch an item just before using. Then be sure to wash it well after it’s been used and before putting it away.

In general, it’s best to store linens before they are ironed and then iron them before using. Never store linens or textiles where they will be in contact with wood. This will deteriorate the fabric and cause yellowing and brown staining, which can be very difficult to remove. Always wrap linens or textiles in acid-free paper or cotton to protect them. An old cotton sheet works great for this.

And never store textiles in plastic! Fabric consists of natural fibers that need to breathe. If you plan to store tablecloths, napkins or runner for a long time, roll then on a cardboard tube covered in acid free paper. This prevents fold line creases from setting in, which again may weaken the fabric.

Tablecloths and runners can be stored draped over a wide hanger to avoid creasing. Never use a wire hanger, unless it has a cardboard tube or something to protect the items from the metal. With any hanger, especially wooden ones, place either acid-free paper or a cotton sheet between the hanger and the tablecloth to protect it. If you don’t plan to use it for awhile, cover it with another piece of acid-free paper or sheet to keep the dust off.

With a little care and attention, your vintage and antique textiles and linens will last for many more generations, providing a wonderful keepsake to pass on to your family. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to use them and enjoy them as they were meant to be.

Lynda Kolski is a Worthologist who specializes in early linens and textiles.

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