Hunting for vintage

textile treasures


Whether you are a veteran textile collector or just looking for a few pieces to sell - hunting for vintage kitchen textiles in good condition can be a challenge. Most tablecloths were loved and used and then tossed away when damaged so the quantity and quality of good vintage tablecloths on the market today is diminishing. But take heart, as the population ages and downsizes their homes many of these wonderful examples of kitchen textiles past make it out into the market today.

Flea markets, estate sales, second-hand stores, and your local thrift stores are veritable treasure chests just waiting to be opened filled with vintage textiles. Vintage linens, such as floral hankies, crocheted doilies and tablecloths, printed tablecloths, aprons, curtains and more can be found in good quantity if you are lucky. It doesn't matter if the linens are a bit yellowed, or perhaps have a stain or two. Even the "Shabby chic linens" with small holes and stains are desirable and add vintage charm to a contemporary home. A vintage tablecloth printed with whimsical characters or bold 40's fruit prints in desirable colors can be a hot seller, or treasured keepsake, even if it does have a couple of stains or a tiny hole or two. Here are some tips for buying vintage textiles -

Inspect the item completely! open it up and look for wear holes or weak spots - these may become bigger holes after washing if the cloth had be improperly washed or stored in the past.

Watch for fugitive dyes and significant fading - Early kitchen textile dyes can be unstable and will fade unevenly. Hold the cloth up to the light to see if there is evidence of missing colors or a faded pattern - this will reduce the value of the cloth.

Measure- most vintage tablecloths were 50" or 54" wide and varying lengths- sometime you will find a 38" wide BBQ or patio tablecloth. Anything 36" wide is most likely a vintage fabric piece and not a tablecloth. 60" x 60" wide cloths most likely will be reproduction tablecloths so it pays to measure all cloths in the store.

Vintage tablecloths with large holes or significant fading are still fun to have -They can be used many different ways; as craft projects -they can be cut apart to make pillows, curtain valances, table runners and more or used as an everyday tablecloth for a family with children or a picnic cloth.

Keep an open mind, and eye, when treasure hunting for kitchen textiles at large estate sales and flea markets. Remembering a few helpful tips can make the hunt easier and more rewarding.

Maps, Directions, Phone numbers, and Hours– Assemble the information on your stops. Call ahead to get tips on parking, admission fees (if any), hours, and availability of food and drinks. Take a water bottle, especially on a hot day.

Prepare yourself Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Consider clothing with lots of pockets (for sunglasses, lip balm, pens, maps, etc.) Take a light jacket, hat, umbrella, sunscreen, or whatever will help you be comfortable. Take a shoulder tote so your hands are free. Pare down your wallet to the bare necessities -- no need for your airline or library cards today.

Do research - Take a few minutes to research the market for vintage kitchen textiles on Ebay and other on-line sources, get a feel for the average selling prices - Make sure you are well informed about the reproduction "vintage" tablecloths that are flooding the market. A $50 price tag on a vintage tablecloth can be a bargain if it's a hard to find or rare pattern.

Tools Travel with a small tape measure, pencil, and notepad. Take a cell phone to keep in contact with others about your schedule or about items you see that someone else may be looking for. Dedicated shoppers will want to read these detailed shopping tips and tool list.

Rolling along Consider taking a rolling basket cart to hold your purchases if visiting a large flea market. Line the bottom with cardboard or a sturdy bag so small items can't fall out. Throw in a generous handful of plastic grocery bags to hold items as well as cushion them. For fragile items you might want to throw in a small bag of bubble wrap, foam sheets, or tissue.

Be Prepared with Cash Have cash with you -- lots of it, in small bills. Also take a checkbook with plenty of checks and proper ID.

Make friends in the right places - Make sure you "know" the people who work in your local thrift stores - they will hold items for you and be your eyes and ears for potential treasures. Don't be afraid to ask the person who just bought the mint Wilendur that was in line ahead of you if they'd sell it to you - you never know! Print up little buisness cards on your home computer with your contact information and pass them out to people who may be a future source of treasures for you - don't be afraid to ask if the people holding the estate sale if they have any vintage linens.

Two flea market guidebooks that should be available in most bookstores are the Official Directory to U.S. Flea Markets (House of Collectibles; $10) and the U.S. Flea Market Directory (St. Martin's Griffin; $15.95), by Albert LaFarge. A good online resource for finding flea markets is the Web site Happy hunting!


copyright Pamela Glasell, 2003 and the Vintage Tablecloth Lover's club -