Before Peter's Mum died some years back -- before she went into the hospital -- she and I were sitting around together in her little back-of-the-house sitting room, and she was complaining to me about the state of her attic. "It's full of linen," she said.
It took some explanation of Morwood family history to discover exactly what this meant. Peter's Dad worked for Lindustries, the biggest of the Northern Irish linen companies, as their chief accountant: and when he married Peter's Mum, a lot of people chose to give them Irish linen as wedding gifts. (This strikes me as a little Coals-To-Newcastle-ish, but doubtless they had their reasons.)
What I didn't have at the time was any real sense of how much linen this implied. They were given such heaps of the stuff, in every possible permutation, that P's Mum had not only never gotten around to using it all, but in many cases the stuff had never even been removed from its original gift packaging. There it all sat piled up in the attic -- having been up there for the guts of fifty years -- and Peter's Mum just kind of shrugged at me and said, "Do you want some?"
Do I want some? I remember thinking. Are you off your head, woman? Do I want vintage Irish linen better than anything in the shops these days? (For I'd long since got used to Peter's muttering under his breath as we visited quite high-end department stores in Dublin and he saw what was on sale there as Best Quality Irish Linen, at truly hysterical prices. "My Dad would never have let this crap out of the factory," was the kindest of the things he'd usually say, and then there would be endless discussion of thread counts and ... well, never mind, this is You Get Used To This When You're Married territory.)
At any rate, I agreed, oh with a modest (and probably completely unconvincing) show of reluctance, to take some of it off Peter's Mum's hands. And what she gave us was the cream of what was stored up in the Attic of Wonders. Tablecloths with a weave so tight you could use them to carry water in. Wonderful bed linens. Much other similar stuff. Then, alas, Mum left us, and the house was emptied preparatory to being sold: and Peter's sister said, "Here..." and gave us all the rest of the linen.
She wasn't kidding about the state of the attic... really. Because for the last four years, all that linen has been in our house... and it's just too much. We don't have enough places in our little cottage to even start using it all. And even storing the stuff is a chore. Among other things, I want my closet back. So I've opened up a linen store on Ebay, so I can make at least an attempt to get it all out of here. This is just a heads-up for those who might be interested.
A definition: when I say "linens" I mostly don't mean bed linens (though there are some of those, and believe me, they're choice: I'd keep them if we had beds of the right size, but we don't -- the linens are all standard doubles or singles, and our bed's a king). The majority of what we're looking to pass on to those who want them are solid-linen and linen/lace runners, bureau covers, table linens, placemats, tablecloths, napkins, handkerchieves... that kind of thing. There are also bolster covers, doilies, and some pieces that might have been samplers -- because I genuinely can't figure out what else they might have been. All of these are of the best quality vintage Irish linen, heavy and solid (where it's not meant to be delicate), much of it beautifully hand-embroidered, any lace all hand-tatted, everything dating back to circa 1950, all never used, and all in excellent shape.
The only caveat: The vast majority of these pieces were unpackaged, and some have over fifty years of storage picked up wrinkles, and the occasional smudge or age spot. I emphasize the "occasional" -- we wouldn't let anything out of the house that was at all seriously damaged. The answer to these problems -- at least the one Peter's Mum gave me -- was simply to wash the linen on the highest possible heat until the spot or smudge came out: which it always would. (Actually, her language was rather more robust. "Boil it," she said.) In my experience this strategy has always worked. If anyone buying finds they don't like the condition of a given item when they get their hands on it, naturally we'll refund the purchase price. I just wanted to be clear about the condition of these pieces right up front. (ETA: There should also be another category here: Perfectly Grimy. These are pieces that are undamaged and in most places are so perfectly untouched that you can still see the sheen of the sizing on the fabric, and in other places are just spotty or grimed. I know they'll be just fine after they've been put through a hot wash, but I can't bring myself to put them up on Ebay: I suppose I'll just offer those privately either here or on the Tumblr.)
Anyway, the store is now up, and we'll start putting things into it over the weekend. So consider this an early warning. :) (ETA for the moment: the first of the pieces has just been Ebay-listed so we can start Peter's seller account going: it's over here -- a centerpiece cloth.)