Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Yvonne Barineau, a vintage textile author and collector, is our guest columnist.

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Massive pink roses anchor the corners of this vintage tablecloth by Royal Art. Roses are an eternally popular theme in vintage textiles and this one is exceptionally beautiful.

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Wilendur is a collector’s favorite, and with good reason ~ their slogan says it all:”Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, intelligent direction, and skillful execution.”

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

A chartreuse background makes an eye-popping statement on this fruity tablecloth.

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Amusing graphics on a towel signed by artist C.P.Meir. The opposite end of the towel features comical dogs.

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

A collector’s favorite ~ the pattern name is “What’s Cooking” and it was produced by Leacock.

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Close-up of “What’s Cooking” graphics. The verse anchoring the corners of the tablecloth reads: “When you’re busy as a bee, stop and have some toast and tea; Coffee and cake or beer and cheese, eat in the kitchen to relish these; The kitchen’s best for all of these, where folks relax and eat in ease”! A friend of mine recently lamented that her collection of vintage print tablecloths and tea towels is becoming a full blown obsession ~ boy, can I relate! As I write, I am surrounded by a profusion of glorious colors, patterns, and textures, all painstaking hand printed on a variety of fabrics.

It began innocently enough with a few faded garage sale purchases to toss across the breakfast table…but soon a full-fledged addiction was born. Baskets overflow, armoires are stuffed full, and I’ve even gone as far as making a whole-cloth quilt from my favorite tablecloth pattern! It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my mania ~ the number of people collecting vintage tablecloths and towels is a growing rapidly.

From whimsical, floral, fruity, risqué, or utterly elegant, the styles are wildly varied…it’s no wonder collectors can’t seem to get enough of them. No doubt our grandmothers would have laughed at our helpless textile addiction. They bought these bright cloths to be put to work in the kitchen…the heart of the home. Countless family dinners were shared over wonder tablecloth designs. Stories were told, laughter shared, victories celebrated, and losses were mourned while gathered around well dressed tables.

I imagine Grandmother would be shocked to learn of their rise in value over the years. In an increasingly complex world, we long for a simpler time when happy family meals were shared together. Vintage print tablecloths and towels bring back these memories with a flood of nostalgia. For the obsessed collector, it is easy to understand why these beauties are finally getting the attention they deserve. Vintage towels and tablecloths are small art canvasses ~ easily afforded, easily cleaned, and easily displayed.

Largely unknown Masters designed exquisite explosions of colors, which were then hand printed onto a variety of fabrics. While some designers signed their work, most of the artist’s names will never be known. The designer towels often command a greater price simply because of the signature, yet many collecto’s favorites will pass into perpetuity a mystery. Some previously unpublished textile designer information will be shared in my second book, Colorful Vintage Kitchen Towels, due out in the Spring of 2006.

So where can a collector go to build a collection? Antique stores, flea markets, estate sales, and reputable Internet dealers are a terrific place to start. Before you make your purchase, carefully assess the fabric for damage or stains, check hems & selvedges, and watch for dry rot along fold lines. The design should be bright with minimal fading. An obvious disadvantage to buying on-line is that you cannot visually inspect the cloth before purchasing.

If you choose a reputable dealer, this won’t be a problem as they’ve meticulously inspected the piece for you and painstakingly described any flaws. Many collectors cherish small imperfections on their tablecloths and towels as a sign on loving use, but keep in mind that damage or fading can significantly lower the value. Knowing your own level of perfection is important ~ only you know what flaws you can live with! Textile enthusiasts, beware! This is an addiction to be taken seriously. I’ve never known someone to stop at just one print tablecloth or tea towel, and soon you’ll find yourselves scouring the internet for the choicest quality dealers, or awakening at 5:00 a.m. to beat the rush to the flea market.

Welcome to my glorious obsession! About the author: Yvonne Barineau readily admits she needs a twelve-step program to overcome her textile obsession. Her first book, Colorful Tablecloths 1930s-1960s: Threads of the Past is available from Amazon.com and other internet dealers. Her second book, tentatively titled Colorful Vintage Kitchen Towels is due out in spring 2006.

Yvonne operates a successful internet web boutique offering quality vintage linens and quilts for the picky collector: www.FineVintageLinens.com. The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960.

To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.

Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.

Comments are closed.