Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sheet music in a wash tub

A really fine linen sheet with fillet lace insertion and a Princess' crown (exquisite hand embroidery!)I have one left for sale,having sold over a dozen very similar. 
   Two of my overseas buyers have sent chatty emails to me, and both said something rather nice!  They said that they think of me every day (I think they meant every night) as they sleep in beautiful fine linen sheets from France and I suppose they enjoy that cool silky feel as they slip into bed every bedtime!  It's so good to know that they use the very best on their beds and enjoy them, rather than keeping them  'for best' or putting them away in a drawer to be handed on,  perhaps to a member of their family who may not want, after all, the slight extra work of laundering and looking after the delicate rows of hand embroidery, stitching and (sometimes) lace.  I always feel that the original workers who reaped the flax, spun the threads and wove the cloth, and then decorated it with finest stitches, would be so happy to know that their handiwork is still appreciated  a century later and gives pleasure to 'ladies' all over the world!
     The ideal way to wash a delicate sheet is to soak it in a bath of cold or tepid water for several hours, then pull the plug, drain,  and fill up with warm water (40 deg. or so)and a mild soap powder,  push the linen up and down till it is clean, letting the suds carry the dirt away, then pulling the plug once more and filling up with plenty of cold clear water, and drain again.  Lift gently up and down with your hands pushing remaining water out and lift gently into a large container, then hang up to drip and dry.  Drying on a sloping lawn is a traditional way for this job, but worm casts and mud are not a clever mix.  Otherwise,  a careful short 'delicates'  wash once a week on a gentle programme with a good (non bio) soap powder is alright but if there is any sort of lace, then avoid all the spinning cycles of a washing machine which twist the fine threads and break them,  and hang it up on a long line to dry, folded in half. - don't use a tumble dryer- maybe you have a garage or utility room where you can put up an old fashioned ceiling rack (lazy Susan) which does not strain the seams and hang over a couple of the poles) and then fold it all in four layers thick while still slightly damp and press all down with the rest of your larger items on top, then air well,  that will all help to give longer life to the fabric - I am lucky to have a large press iron which means I can do the job in 12 minutes, sitting down.   Elna and Blanca Presses (see Google)are two possibilities, but I have to say that the Blanca (not cheap, but very efficient) is my first choice as it has a regular square shape;   the Hotpoint is shaped for shirt pressing, so not quite so good for square sheets and pillow cases.  It is quite difficult to put a sheet into a suitable washing bag to save wear on lace and embroidery and the sheet does not get properly rinsed and comes out very crumpled!  Do not use bleach unless it is for small individual stains, applied diluted with a cotton bud, as bleach rots the fabric and often leaves cloudy marks.  Sunshine or moonshine is much more reliable!   Almost all stains will eventual fade, all except black marking ink and rust spots - see another Blog for removing rust, even the multi-coloured mildew spots will fade a bit in the end after several soaks and washes.  In France the  process of soaking ('tremper') is considered to be almost more important than actual scrubbing and washing, by the skilled old washerwomen).


I always thought I had the longest washing line in Somerset when I lived at Freshford, near the homes in Sharpstone of the washerwomen who did the washing of linen from Bath in the days of Jane Austen.  My line was stretched between two trees and I had three tall props  so that I could hang out eight double linen sheets to dry.   These sheets were the 19thC hand-spun, hand-woven rough peasant sheets;  I used to soak eight at a time , then wash them in my extra heavy duty Hotpoint machine and then stagger down the sloping lawn to the line and hang them up securely fastened with wooden pegs.   They were extremely heavy when wet.   My load of almost dry linen was much lighter when I carried it up the slope to my iron press and luckily,  I could sit at it doing the work while I got my breath back.   It was only when I went to visit my friend Polly Lyster who does all the dyeing of linen at her Dyeworks nr. Stroud  that I saw she had a line as long as mine but with several strands of wire, supported with lots of heavy wooden posts that I realised her capacity for drying was ten times mine and I was very impressed.  All the indigo-dyed linen and hemp of which she is a very specialist dyer, has to be hung out in bright light or sunshine to change from the sludgey- greeny shade when dyed,  to the brilliant blue that we recognise in indigo blue.  It looks like magic, and in a way it is!  Polly now dies linen, hemp. cotton in over 100 shades and is very well known in decorating circles!
A pile of French hand-woven coarse hemp sheets and torchons, 19C.

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