Friday, December 11, 2009

Laundering your linens for Christmas

- or - perhaps more to the point -laundering your linens after Christmas, when somebody has spilled a glass or a bottle of red wine, or when your lovely damask tablecloth is a warzone of turkey fat, squashed sprouts and Christmas pudding stains.
Actually, the old linen damask cloths can be very forgiving, as I've found over the years. It's possible to persuade even fifty year old stains to fade. I favour a UK product called Vanish. For most immediate marks, you can simply add some to your wash, and launder in the usual way - though for linens, I've also found that a hot, but not boiling, cotton wash is best. A boil wash is supposedly possible, but I've always found it a bit too harsh and it will result in creases that are very hard to get out.
There are other versions of the same product on the market which will allow you to target localised stains - you spray on, and then leave for a little while before washing. For the worst cases, I soak in a solution of the same product, and change the water occasionally, before washing in the machine in the usual way. The trick is to make sure that the tablecloths are well rinsed - which a machine will probably take care of for you! And handle them very carefully when they are wet.
I don't starch the cloths for storage - the starch goes a bit sour, and doesn't seem to do the cloths a lot of good - but for special occasions, I will use a spray starch as I'm ironing.
Frost is good for whitening these old linens, as is sunshine. Outdoor air - if you can peg them outside in the old fashioned way - will freshen them. And I'm told that, in big houses, the damask banqueting cloths were stored wound around broom handles, so that they wouldn't be creased.
Anything more delicate - of course - has to be handled with extreme care. When in doubt, please do ask the experts. If you decide that you must launder old lacy cloths (and the dust and dirt can be very damaging) then please don't wring them, or use chemicals. Use a dedicated soap solution of some sort, and rinse them with warm water from a shower head. Gently, gently. Dry flat between soft towels, press (gently again!) on the wrong side, preferably with some kind of cotton cloth on top - and store away from sunlight in acid free tissue paper. I wash almost everything, because I have a great many textiles through my hands, and many of them are, literally, filthy with age and dust. But I have had one or two disasters. Very few though. Handle everything with care, think before you act, remember that old dyes are probably not colourfast and will most likely run - and watch out for candlewax! You can press most of it off with a hot iron, with blotting paper underneath, but it will still leave marks. Best to sit your candles on a Christmas plate or tray of some sort!


Scottish Nanna said...

Hi Catherine. Thanks for your tips on how to care for our linen We do not have vanish here in Australia. We use nappy san It works good.I hope you and your Family Have A Merry Xmas And A Happy New Year.
Hugs Mary.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Hi Mary, yes, forgot to mention that one. Thank-you for reminding me. We have it here too, and it works very well!