Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Examining the Table Linen & "Table Talk" ~ Odds and Ends Series

"Fourth. Examine the trunk or closet of family linen,
and see what needs to be repaired and renewed."
~ Catharine Beecher & Harriet Stowe, The New Housekeeper's Manual, 1873

Welcome to the fifth installment of our monthly home maintenance series where we are continuing to follow some old fashioned, Victorian Era advice. This step involved examining the linen closet. Today we will be looking at the "table linen". It was once a source of pride and care for a homemaker. Perhaps we can nurture some love back into our linens?

"'Now for the table-linen."

This was in another drawer, and Margaret exclaimed when she saw how beautiful it was. The cloths were like satin, the napkins which matched lay in dozens by them; the every-day cloths and napkins were by themselves, and the small lunch-cloths had a pile of their own. The doilies were in a smaller drawer, all in piles, too, and the pretty centrepieces were fastened around stiff paper made into rolls.

"If you ever have lovely table-linen you will want to keep it nicely," said the aunt. "I think it is high time you had some, too. I believe in the old German custom of making a linen-chest for each girl... Perhaps a lunch-cloth or some embroidered napkins!"

~ A Little Housekeeping Book by Caroline French Benton, 1906

"She was mending a large long table-cloth of the finest texture, holding it up against the light occasionally to discover thin places, which required her delicate care."
~ Elizabeth Gaskell, North & South

For our monthly maintenance of "table linens", we first sorted through our tablecloths and examined them for any tears or holes that would require mending. Next, we re-arranged them into piles based on sizes (square verses rectangular). Then we placed the last season's prints at the bottom and kept the new seasonal colors on top (earth tones for fall and winter, pastels for summer and spring). 

To be honest, we don't use our fabric tablecloths often as it isn't practical when you eat three meals a day at home. These are reserved for company and special occasions (so they are used once every few weeks or so).

For our daily meals at the kitchen table we always use oil-cloth tablecloths because of its slick surface. These make it easy to wipe up spills, protects the wood or painted surface on your table, lessens your laundry load while being pretty at the same time (you can see our red/white pattern in the picture above). You can find oilcloth at your local fabric store.

Finally, we placed both piles of tablecloths in our linen area which is basically a cottage style bench with storage inside (which doubles as extra seating).

We will call it our linen "chest" to make it sound more romantic. Our home doesn't have any closets so we have to utilize every opportunity for space that we can. 

Next, we sorted through our inventory of napkins. We placed everything in appropriate piles by pattern (any worn-out napkins can made for outdoor use or if really poor, can be discarded into the rag pile). We keep our napkins in a large white, wicker basket on the lowest shelf of our baker's rack. This makes for easy access when setting the table and is convenient when constantly putting fresh linens away. 

If you have an abundance of napkins, now would be the time to go through seasonal colors and patterns and to put all the summer/spring prints away.

While we are on the subject of napkins, considering removing disposable paper napkins/paper towels from your grocery list. It is much funner (and economical) to purchase a pretty set of napkins for the price of a warehouse bulk purchase of napkins. Every year I splurge on an attractive set (around $20-25 at discount home stores) which ends up paying for itself in a few months. Not only is your table more of a joy to set, the grocery bill is lowered and good stewardship is being practiced. This yearly addition of napkins also allows for more "grace" in our laundering routine. We don't have to worry about having fresh table linens when there is plenty of stock to rotate. If you are going to start a system, I recommend having at least 3 - 4 sets to start with (we don't ever use a dryer so a decent inventory is necessary).

Homemaking Hints and History:

If constant washing of linens is a concern, consider utilizing the Victorian Era technique of using individual napkin rings. Each person should have something to distinguish theirs from all the rest (perhaps a different color per person or another form of identification) so that each person can reuse their own napkin for all the meals in a day (the Victorians would make it stretch until wash day attempting to change them at least 2 - 3 times per week). Though modern day napkin rings are more for show, you can see there was once a purpose beyond a beautiful display and that was the beauty of less laundry!

(This is my very first set of cloth napkins that I purchased. You can see the wear but they are still charming to me.)

Another idea I learned from this frugal living book was to invert your "used" napkin for the next meal so that you have a clean surface to start with. If you are really thrifty, you can get away with folding one way, then the other way for the next meal and then finally place the napkin inside out. I personally wouldn't recommend going that far if you are serving sticky meals such as ribs or any other greasy food which would be less than desirable to reuse.

If you are somewhat handy with a sewing machine, you can purchase inexpensive sheets with pretty prints and sew them into napkins. I have found beautiful floral (Ralph Lauren) bedding for $1-2 at a second-hand store that I have such plans for.

This one is a king-sized fitted sheet (all that needs to be done is simply cut off the elastic and you have a large piece of workable fabric in which to fashion some napkins).

This other fabric is a flat twin sheet (I do believe they were purchased at the Salvation Army Store where I find the best bargains). Many people donate odd and end bedding and these would make fine table linens (just wash in hot water and follow with a nice strong vinegar rinse)! 

For extra savings, consider hanging out your lovely linens to dry instead of using a dryer. They look so beautiful flying on the line and there are many benefits to using a clothesline. Just don't leave them out all day when very hot and sunny because the sun does bleach (which is good to some extent because it disinfects your linens)!

How do you organize your "table linens"? Do you have any tips or frugal ideas in this area that you would like to share with us?

And lastly dear reader, it is not about whether or not you use cloth napkins or if you use disposable. The important part is that you are preparing a table for your loved ones each night, not only nourishing them with food, but with precious prayers and family fellowship. The "breaking of bread" together in the home was a significant part of the Lord's ministry and should be just as important in the ministry to your family as "keeper of the home".

"And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying,
This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me."
~ Luke 22:19

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
~ Acts 2:42 (ESV)

"Wisdom has built her house...
she has also set her table...."
~ Proverbs 9:1a, 9:2b

Here is what we have accomplished thus far on our "Odds and Ends" Monthly Home Maintenance Series (note that some steps were placed together and altered to make for modern day needs):

Are you ready to begin your monthly home maintenance?


  1. Hello, my name is___, and I'm sorry I won't be able to participate in this series as the job is just too stressful for me to handle right now. You see, I'm a linen hoarder. We have a king-size bed (we had 2 until last year) with too many changes for it because I can't resist a lovely new sheet set with a color or pattern I don't have. And the same is true for table linens. I was doing okay in that department with only 3 sets of place mats, 20-something tablecloths and countless napkins, but there were so many estate and tag sales this year where I found many that were still new in the package... Well anyway, I hope you understand, and it's not because I don't want them to be sorted better and placed neatly on their shelves - the real reason I can't take part in straightening them up is ... well, I may discover there is yet a color or pattern that I'm lacking. *sigh*
    Ha! The above is true about my linen stash, but I've determined that a serious purging is coming. This is the one area where I really need to get busy. Thank you for this beautiful, encouraging post. It's truly inspiring me to clean up that linen closet, soon. :)
    p.s. Love those napkins with the embroidery and crocheted edges. Do you have any extras you'd like to sell? I don't have any like them. O.O See what I mean?

    1. You are funny! :) I love linens too!! So many beautiful ones from estate sales that I picked up too! Keep in mind though, I never said to "purge linens"... I don't have the heart to do that myself! I do put a lot of my stuff to work though... I have a vintage tablecloth covering the table that this computer is on... One is used as a curtain in our bathroom, one is a "door" leading into the school-room, one is sitting under my brewing kombucha jugs. So you see, I have more than meets the eye too :) Have a wonderful week Toni!! and thanks for the smile :)

  2. Hi Jes,
    What a beautiful post. Maybe when Magnoliasntea is done practicing on her stash and becomes very proficient at sorting and organizing them, she can come tackle mine:) Actually, my usable stash is pretty well organized. My vintage stash on the other hand..... uuuuhhhhh, wellllll, you seeee....:)

    1. Thanks for sharing your linen dilemmas... I am guessing it can't be that bad :) Have a wonderful week!

  3. I have found that thrifted cotton kitchen curtains are very durable and make lovely tablecloths and napkin sets! They are often cheerful prints quite suitable for family dining linens. I sometimes rip them into napkin squares and then "fringe" the edges. Quick and easy and casual.

    1. Thanks for sharing Gill! I love tips and ideas of these sorts! :)

  4. Such beautiful linens, I love old linen, so strong & its seen such a lot.
    Another great post.
    Fondly Michelle

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share Michelle :) Products made in the old days seemed to have lasted a lot longer! And they sure made them beautiful too!

  5. What a lovely fabrics! I love them!

    1. Ah, thank you Carolien! I think we both just love roses! :)

  6. Really enjoyed this post :-)--I especially liked your words in closing--"The important part is that you are preparing a table for your loved ones each night, not only nourishing them with food, but with precious prayers and family fellowship. The "breaking of bread" together in the home was a significant part of the Lord's ministry and should be just as important in the ministry to your family as "keeper of the home". A good reminder for me; thank you :-).

    1. Hi Rebekah, Thank you for taking the time to visit and share :)

  7. Very interesting and practical tips on taking care of table linens, and yours are pretty, especially hanging out in the sun to dry. Thanks for sharing.


  8. Dear Jes, I savored this post! I have always loved linen cloths and napkins myself. I liked how you place the napkins in a basket and use them on your table. I have been inspired by this to now clean out my drawer with also many place mats which I use on my table daily.I have a friend who also makes and uses the napkins. I also enjoyed seeing them flapping in the breeze hanging on the line.
    Blessings, Roxy

    1. Thank you Roxy, I think we were visiting each other since I was just at your place :) Have a lovely week!

    2. Too many questions I have. . .
      First, do you use the pretty embroidered and edged napkins, or are they just for looking nice?
      Second, do you have any ideas about finding larger tablecloths for our large table?
      Third, (and this now seems out of order) how do you clean such pretty napkins?
      Fourth, (and this isn't a question) my grandmother had several embroidered tablecloths that she used for company. She asked each new guest to sign the tablecloth, and she later embroidered it on. It was always so fun to read each signature or find yours and remember friends and loved ones.

    3. Hi Jody! The last two pictures of the pretty edged embroidered napkins were purchased on clearance for "display" and an occasional tea party with my daughter. Definitely not an everyday napkin! Thanks for asking (I should have clarified that)! Regarding larger tablecloths, I used to have a huge table and was able to find the larger sizes at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Cost Plus or Home Goods. Also my favorite place is online at April Cornell. They have seasonal sales at huge discounts (look under their "Attic Sales")! They sell the extra large tablecloths and are beautiful. Regarding the cleaning of my napkins, I just wash (I never treat for stains) in warm water and hang to dry. I try and purchase vibrant prints that won't show every little spot. I wouldn't recommend solids for that reason. And your grandmother's tablecloth idea sounds so special! Especially with her hand embroidery on it! Thank you for sharing that idea with me :) Hope I was able to answer your questions adequately and have a lovely week!

  9. Good Afternoon, Jes!

    This was such a sweet post. I love the thought of the table clothes and napkins, but since I have nothing but boys in my house, I choose not to use all these at the table. My laundry would double and I all ready have too much as it is. :-) I think the next tea party I have for my girlfriends, I'll have to pull some of my pretties out.

    I hope you have a wonderful day!
    Blessings, Amy

    1. I understand :) I think the ladies would appreciate the lovely linens at a tea party a bit more! But there are always those special occasions...

  10. Hi Jes! These linens are beautiful! I've not seen most of the patterns before; I think I may start looking around at op-shops for some napkins and table clothes. Hopefully I won't become addicted ... yeah right! :)

    1. Hopefully :) but I can't make any promises ;o Have a wonderful week!

  11. Oh wow you have some great linens! Thanks for sharing!