This weekend, there’s a big 35% off summer whites sale going on in the shop. Any item that contains the color white is automatically eligible for the discount, which means almost everything is on sale! From linens…
and much more! There will only be two big shop sales like this a year, so if you have a treasure you’ve been eyeing now’s your chance to treat yourself to a little piece of history. The sale runs through tomorrow night (Sunday, July 29th). Use coupon code: SUMMERSALE18 upon checkout to receive 35% off your order.
Chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your kitchen linens. You’ve got them tucked away in a drawer somewhere that you access only when you have a party, a holiday or a big giant spill to clean up. They sit in those drawers in an assortment of sizes from small to large. Place mats, tablecloths, towels, drink coasters, napkins, tray coverings either plain and functional or decorative and delicate. They are hand-me-downs your grandmother made back in 1920 or they are ones you bought last week on sale at Target. They are in pristine condition because you barely use them or they are spotted and shabby because that one celebration that one time was the wildest party of the year.
You haven’t thought about them much because they are always there – new and old and reliable. You use them to impress and inspire and make an impact on a bread basket or a tea tray or the handle of your oven. They sit under drinks and dessert plates, line the cocktail cart and add some color to the picnic basket. You gift them and grab them in a last minute flurry of preparations and like any good coat of paint, they instantly brighten up the atmosphere, and you think to yourself… why don’t I use these more?
Designed to sit pretty and decorate and then clean up afterwards, kitchen cloths are the unsung heroes of cook spaces around the globe. In today’s post we discuss the colorful world of mid-century kitchen linens with Cindy from Neatokeen, the internet’s best-kept vintage linen shop and discover her passion for mid-century tea towels. This is a bright and whimsical slice of the vintage kitchen that showcases the creative, quirky styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that have evolved with charm and individuality to fit modern day appeal.
Iconic American chair designer Charles Eames once said…”The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is particularly true of the bold graphics and jaunty sentiments of mid-century fabrics. Today, Cindy explains her favorites, what she looks for when stocking her shop and why these vintage kitchen helpers are still so compelling to our modern sense of style.
What are some common misconceptions about vintage linens?
Linens were mass-produced in the mid-century and there is an assumption that they are plentiful and easy to find. If you look on Etsy and Ebay, that appears to be the case; however, it is extremely difficult to find them in excellent or mint condition. Most of them that saw heavy kitchen duty were relegated to the rag pile. Many linens that you see today are flawed with spots and holes. The real trick is to find those that were unused and stored away in a drawer or cupboard for 50 years. I am super picky about the linens I buy and probably pass by 99.9% of those I see.
Do you have a favorite designer?
It’s difficult to choose one! I will name my top three:
I also have to give a shout-out to all of the uncredited artists and in-house designers who created amazing designs but were not able to sign their work.
Is there a type of linen or a specific company that you prize most and, if so, which and why?
I began collecting all types of vintage linens: tablecloths, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs and table runners. Storage space for my collection was at a premium, so I had to make a difficult decision. I decided to hang onto my tea towels. I love the compact printed designs. I am particularly fond of the cheeky designs from the Dunmoy Linen Company and the detailed designs of the Ulster Company.
Tell us a little bit about caring for vintage linens. Do you have to store them differently or use special washing procedures?
I learned early on that I was rubbish at removing spots in spite of the copious amount of stain removal advice and tips on the internet. This is what lead me to collect linens in near mint or perfect condition. I typically do not wash my linens and simply press them gently, if needed. I store them in a closet with open shelving covered by white cotton cloths. I know a lot of people store them in plastic bins, but I’m a bit skeptical of contact with plastic over time.
Which are the top three favorite items in your shop right now?
I love the London People towel – the characterization of 55 people and animals is charming. Another favorite is the “Wine & Spirits” towel by George Wright for the interesting composition and bold color choice. I really enjoy Hilary Knight’s angel towel. He was the illustrator of Eloise and I believe it’s the only towel he ever designed.
Why are vintage linens so appealing to people?
They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the printed designs can be gorgeous, whimsical, striking or even comical.
In your shop bio you mention that you sell to a wide variety of customers from gift-givers to celebrities to collectors. What is a fun buyer story that you can share?
I’m fiercely protective of my customer’s privacy, but I’ve sold linens to several movie and theater companies. They always need the items “yesterday” and have requested express shipping every time. In fact, the shipping has been a lot more expensive than the items themselves!
If you could invite any person to luncheon (living or dead) and serve them on one of the tea towels currently offered in your shop which would you choose and why?
I would invite my late father and serve him dinner on the amazing Calder-esque mobile tablecloth that is in my shop. We would talk about the abstract design and then we’d discuss the act of collecting. My dad was an inveterate collector of many things and I never collected anything while he was alive. I’m fairly certain the collecting gene was transferred to me when he passed away. I now completely understand his compulsion to find the next best thing, the perpetual upgrading of a collection and the quest for a holy grail. He would get a big kick out of my passion for linens.
Were linens a prized possession in your family growing up?
My mother sets a beautiful table and has some lovely lace tablecloths, but printed linens were something I discovered much later in life.
Would you prefer to see one of your vintage tea towels in active daily use or framed behind glass?
When I started selling my linens on Etsy, I was taken aback at what people did with perfectly good linens; however, I have really mellowed and now enjoy learning about the creative ways my linens are used. I’ve seen pillows, children’s clothing, tote bags, quilts and even copies printed on canvas. Most people buy them to collect or use and I’m happy they are being enjoyed and not languishing in a forgotten drawer. Framed behind glass is good too!
Which types of linens are your bestsellers? And what makes them a bestseller – is it fabric, color, graphic appeal, size, age etc.?
I’ve sold 99% of my tablecloths and hankies and steer away from buying more because there are so many sellers that carry them. I specialize in vintage tea towels which is a more unusual category. Tea towels are my bestsellers. I think the colors and graphic appeal of the designs are what attract people initially.
Other than traditional serving/entertaining purposes, framing and gift wrapping have you come across any non-traditional ways in which we could use vintage linens in our modern-day lives?
I mentioned a few above, but the most inventive use of linens I’ve seen is a winged armchair upholstered with vintage souvenir tea towels from London. The effect is a feast for the eyes.
When you are sourcing your materials for your shop do you generally find them one at a time or do you uncover treasure troves of personal collections?
I usually find them one at a time or occasionally in pairs. I’ve actually never found a big collection of linens which is the stuff of my dreams; hence, the hunt continues. I look high and low from estate sales to flea markets, near and far from coast to coast and I will continue to seek linens as long as it remains fun!
One of the things I like about vintage linens is that each and every one seems so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the same design twice (matching sets not included of course!). Have you seen a lot of repeat patterns come through your shop?
I primarily sell duplicates of towels that I have in my own collection. Some designs are relatively easy to source e.g. the Tammis Keefe angel towel is common, but there are several designs that I’ve run across exactly one time in my 12 years of collecting. Since I’ve been collecting a relatively long time, it’s become easy for me to tell if the design is rare or fairly commonplace.
Are there any types of vintage linens that don’t appeal to you and if so, why?
I like all types of linen, but I’m partial to printed linens. I steer clear of damask, lace and embroidered linens. There are plenty of experts in those categories. Also, I think floral linens are lovely, but my eye tends toward unusual or quirky designs. Thankfully, they are often the ones left behind.
According to the school of thought that one thing always leads to another – have you discovered any new interests or passions (or collections!) that have stemmed as a direct result from your pursuit of seeking out vintage linens?
Yes! I really like the kitschy mid-century graphics found on vintage wrapping paper and novelty fabrics. I felt myself slipping down the collecting rabbit hole again but was literally saved by Pinterest. I started “pinning” items to designated boards. Pinterest feels like having an organized collection but without spending a dime…brilliant!
I don’t know about you dear readers, but I’d be fine following Cindy along on her trail of discovering vintage wrapping paper and more vintage fabrics. She has a wonderful eye for the lighthearted unusual – the fun side – of finding old artistic illustrations that still seem so relevant today. Perhaps in the future we’ll be lucky to see more along those avenues. In the meantime I hope this post encourages you to take a look at your own kitchen linen drawer and march all those retro patterns out into everyday use regardless of their age. Don’t save them for a special occasion or a holiday, give your kitchen space a happy exclamation point by incorporating your tea towels and tablecloths, napkins and tray liners into everyday life. If you have yet to own any vintage kitchen linens, I hope this post inspires a new collection.
In addition to decorating your own space, vintage kitchen linens also make great gifts. As we roll through the month of May with Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just around the corner, Cindy is offering readers of the blog an additional 20% off all orders using the coupon code VINTAGEKITCHEN. In her shop you’ll also find delightfully interesting mid-century (and earlier!) collectibles and paper ephemera with fantastic retro graphic appeal like the art deco bridge score pad above. Keep up with Cindy on Pinterest,Instagram and in her shop. You won’t regret any moment spent learning more about vintage linens.
If you have any additional questions or comments for Cindy or thoughts on vintage linens themselves please post a message below.
Remember when you were in grade school and you had to write a paper or a theme, as it as called in catholic school, about what did over your holiday break? Well for some reason, this sort of reminiscence has always stuck with Ms. Jeannie, and she finds herself mentally recapping after every holiday and every vacation. So to continue the tradition…
What did Ms. Jeannie do during her Christmas vacation?
She learned how to sew!
Thanks to her wonderful friend, Wendy, Ms. Jeannie got a crash course on Christmas Day that included all the sewing basics, while Mr. Jeannie Ology and Mr. Wendy cooked a magnificent turkey dinner. Yes, dear readers, the ladies sewed and the men cooked and then they all came together to feast! It was a splendid holiday, indeed.
Wendy taught Ms. Jeannie a pattern that she picked up in a British sewing book. With a few slight modifications, Wendy taught Ms. Jeannie all the sewing basics at once.
They started with converting centimeters to inches and then cutting the cloth with those fun little triangle edged scissors. Next it was off to the sewing machine to learn how to thread the sewer and work the pedal. Boy those first stitches were thrilling! The tricky part was trying to keep the fabric straight.
As you know from previous posts, Ms. Jeannie comes from a long line of sewers, and she thinks inherently, that she will one day make a great one herself. Two hours in, she was already starting to feel like a pro! When she attached the pockets she felt like she had built the Taj Mahal of aprons…
And then something scary happened. Wendy left the room. But wait, there was still more to do. The pockets had to be re-enforced and the apron ties had to be made, both of which Wendy had described in detail how to do but we had yet to practice.
“It’s sink or swim time,” she said as she left.
With nervous notions, Ms. Jeannie tried to remember all that she had learned. Keep it straight, keep it steady, don’t bunch and go slow. She tapped the pedal, she fed the fabric, and wouldn’t you know that sewer did exactly what ms. Jeannie intended. Her first triangle stitch was created in an instant!
Ms. Jeannie just about cried with joy. A feeling of pure excitement and accomplishment on just about the same level as when she first learned how to write her name, read a book, ride a bicycle and drive a car. A little wobbly to start, but Ms. Jeannie felt like she just opened the door to a whole new world of possibilities.
The ties came next – a piece of cake!
And there you have it! A five hour craft project involving fabric and thread, a machine and an iron, all to yield a useful household item. Ms. Jeannie is in love with her new found skills!
So much so that she is noticing and admiring all sorts of sewing handiwork about the house now… the duvet cover, the the lines of her new dress, the pleats in the couch pillows. Endlessly fascinating, they all are.
And of course Ms. Jeannie is eyeing all sorts of apron styles – now that she’s got this one under her belt, or tie, if you prefer. Here are some of her favorites on Etsy… (click on each photo for more information)
And with Mr. Jeannie Ology in mind…
Yes indeed – this is a whole new world and Ms. Jeannie has big plans! Summer skirts, throws, pillows, bed blankets, dresses and definitely more aprons!
On a side note:
January marks the one year anniversary of Ms. Jeannie’s Etsy shop and in celebration she is having a 24% off sale! Why 24%, you ask? Well it all started back on January 24th, 2012. Clearly that 24 is a good number! Use coupon code HAPPY2013 to receive your discount upon checkout.
As we get closer to the big day, Ms. Jeannie will be doing a little past year re-cap so stay tuned. In the meantime, stop by and have a peak at some of her new listings…