The French Laundry…..

My lavender-scented laundry starch clouds, thickens and then just as quickly clears as I stir in the hot and then the cold water. And like a modern day alchemist, I submerge each item of vintage linen into the soft, glutinous liquid which will transform the fabric from limp, everyday Damask to sharp, crisp, glamorous linen, fit for a table rich with roses, sparkling glass and pretty candle light.

Special linen requires select treatment and this linen is truly special for it is French, monogrammed trousseau linen; linen fit for a princess.

Timing is everything when starching linen. Trying to iron it when it is too wet is impossible; too dry and the iron will not remove the creases without damping the fabric again. And if the iron is too hot it will burn the starch. But get it right and the linen is glazed and stiffened, sharpening the folds and totally enhancing the beauty of the cloth and its detail.

In everyday life, the ironing board and I are happy to be estranged. But once the warm iron and my hands begin to work instinctively together, smoothing out wrinkles from this beautiful, pure white, embellished cloth, I am suddenly totally at peace. But as I move each carefully laundered item onto the rail of my Sheila Maid to air, it is not without paying silent and respectful homage to my Great Grandmother, Lydia for whom washing was not a relaxing indulgence, but a form of income. For, like many other women in the early 1900’s, taking in washing and making use of the copper boiler and mangle which every woman possessed, was the only way to earn a little extra money when there were many young children at home.

I think of her as I pack away the Damask into a tissue lined box and realise that despite the years which lie between us and all our differences that this hardworking woman and I share a bond and connection  which is palpable as I  wash, starch and iron as she too would have done so many years ago.


15 thoughts on “The French Laundry…..

  1. There is nothing better than crisp vintage linen to transport me back to an elegant age. Thank you Karen for that warm soft floating feeling. Xxx

    • I am going to sell them at the Cowslip Christmas Fair on my Karen B Vintage stand. It’s going to be hard to part with them- the napkins are divine and HUGE; made for proper dining. xx

  2. Wash day would have been such hard work and took all day on Monday which is why it was always a cold meal of meat which was left over from the Sunday roast which was served on Mondays.
    Such routine actually feels very comforting to me.

  3. The linens look exquisite. They are so perfectly starched and ironed. You put my ironing skills to shame. I would need a hot mangle and I doubt that no matter how hard I tried my linens would not look like those in that photo.Lydia would be proud of your skill.
    I have to admit that there is nothing like sleeping in fresh starch pressed sheet. Linens are going up in value and are popular with those of us who love to buy vintage. Good Luck at the Cow Slip!

  4. Thank you for saying that you think Lydia would be proud of me- that means a lot. Sometime, I must launder and photograph the baby clothes which My Grandmother, Dora, made for my Mother. They are exquisite. All cotton, all made with tiny, tiny stitches, pin-tucks and lace.

  5. Well, i guess you knew that my heart would skip a beat when I saw this post! Your linens are just fabulous and you described the whole process so beautifully and captured that feeling of transforming the fabric into something special. Do be careful with storing away starched linens, though–little critters and bugs just see that starch as a food source and, when they nibble on the starch, they damage the fabric. And, PS, my grandmother was a Lydia, too–I love that old-fashioned name!

  6. Thank you so much for the tip about storing starched linens. Sadly, I have to part with these as I am having a stand at a Christmas Fair very soon and hope to sell them.
    I too love the name Lydia, especially as I also love H.E Bates book, Love for Lydia. Have you read it? Lydia was my Great Grandmother’s name, Dora was my Grandmother’s.
    I have something I would like to send to you. It is tiny, vintage and something to make you smile!
    Please would you go to my blog where you will find my email address on my “about” page, so that you might send me your postal address?

  7. I am a lazy woman and hate ironing, but you make it sound so beautiful. I remember my mother and grandmother doing these things + I have to admit I never appreciated these things-until now. My mother tells me stories and makes lace -even today with her 70 year old hands.. My grandmother was gifted in hand + needle things, but I never could sit still long enough to complete a project…but my oldest daughter has this “gift” and she is good with roses + orchids, too! It just skipped a generation:-)
    I have a lot of linens handmade by my fathers mother,too + I treasure them. I am afraid to even bring them out and put them on a table for fear of ruining them…but your post makes me realize I do need to bring them out and share them with others + connects….beautiful post:-)

    • This was like no other ironing I have ever done. I could not wait to do it and it was 3 days of bliss. Like you, I never iron anything.
      My Grandma and her sisters all made lace and could crochet, knit, embroider, sew and garden. I am proud that I can do some of those things. Please say hello to your Mother for me, I bet we could all have a good old talk about sewing and washing. My Grandma used to have her hair curled by having it put in rags. She looked so sweet in her apron for school with her ringlets cascading down and her buttoned up boots.
      Please get the linen out, it does not matter if you stain it, you will get the marks out.
      So glad that your daughter is carrying on the skills.


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