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Gorgeous European linens from the 1930s

Whilst my main collecting interest has always been Irish Linen, I sometimes just cannot resist indulging in linens from elsewhere.

A month or so ago I was fortunate enough to acquire 2 huge bags full of bedlinen, which had been the trousseau of a Czechoslovakian lady. Just prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 she was studying in Switzerland and her parents, who were Jewish and could see what the future held, told her not to come home but to go to friends in England and they arranged to send on her belongings. Included in the parcels were these beautiful embroidered and monogrammed linens.

It is a real privilege to handle and examine these treasured pieces, which found their way to join their owner as she began her new life. Tragically she was never to see her parents again. She married in London and spent the rest of her days here, but had no family to whom she could pass on these heirlooms.

The quality of the linen is exceptional. It is fine and very very smooth. As for the embroidery – it too is the finest quality and has been meticulously hand sewn to each piece. Extravagant scrolls and dainty flower heads are intertwined to shape the monograms and some have the tiniest seed stitches. Appenzell work is featured in some of the decoration together with fine drawn thread work. It would have taken many hours to complete such exquisite designs. The French seams are the narrowest I have ever seen, just 3 millimetres deep!

Of course the European bedlinen tradition is quite different to ours and the sizes of the pillowcases are unusual – one style measures 80 x 95 cms! There are also what I believe to be blanket covers. At first glance they seemed like a single duvet cover with a fold down flap or return at the top where we find the embroidery and monogram. On closer inspection however, it is clear that there is no top to the cover, just a series of buttonholes all around a deep folded border with mitred corners to one end. A German friend tells me that a blanket would have been inserted and then the linen would be buttoned to it to form the bedcover – most unusual, but how lovely to have it finished with the embroidered return to the top. Apologies for the creases in these images, the blanket covers haven't been through the laundry process yet!

The pillowcases were closed in the old fashioned manner. A strip of linen with buttons attached was placed beneath the opening and both sides were then buttoned onto the strip, which would be removed before laundering. Quite a practical idea I think. Unfortunately few of the strips remain.

One set is finished with an edging of Irish Crochet, all intact and quite lovely. Sadly some of the linen is badly marked and is beyond saving, but the embroidery simply has to be salvaged. I have started soaking and laundering and it is a delight to see some of the storage marks disappear and the linen come up fresh and crisp. It makes a wonderful rustling sound!

As to how I will use the rescued embroideries I am not sure, but I have to find a way to give a new life to this stunning work.

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