Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vintage Kitchen Linens

In the 1930s, when the world was in the midst of the Great Depression, I guess it was hard to find the silver lining through the clouds. Every household, rich or poor, was affected by hard times. Economic woes kept people closer to home, meaning more "made-from-scratch" meals and more time spent hovering over hot stoves and soapy dishwater. Leave it to the savvy homemakers of the day to make the most of a bad situation. They found a way to bring a bit of cheer into the kitchen with merry designs and colorful patterns on everyday linens ranging from dishtowels to tablecloths to aprons.

Flowers, fruit, kewpies, and cats adorn the linens from this era. The pieces were made to be used daily, not hidden away in storage.

Though linens needed to be sturdy enough to stand up to all the work required of them, their true worth lay in the joy they brought into Depression-era kitchens. They injected a bit of whimsy and added a certain measure of femininity.

A variety of fabrics was used. Cotton was an readily available and an excellent choice. Our foremothers knew the sensibility of recycling. The resourceful homemakers of the time often made over cotton feed sacks to use as kitchen towels. The fabrics were resistant to fading and bleeding and could be laundered again and again.

Fortunately for us, antique stores and flea markets abound with lovely pieces still in pretty good condition to admire. They speak of generations past with many stories to tell. To me, they're works of art.

Dishtowels: My grandmother used dishtowels, but my mother simply used a drainer to dry the dishes. She never owned a dishwasher, so there was always dishes drying on the counter. As for me, my dishwasher does the drying. But if I handwash items, I use papertowels. Not very "green" I suppose. My friend Sharon is the opposite, she only uses dishtowels.

Tablecloths: I own a few tablecloths, but frankly, I rarely use them. Maybe on a holiday I'll pull one out, otherwise I don't use tablecloths. Growing up, we never did use them either. There were six kids and mother prepared three meals a day, so it was easier to simply wash the tabletop down than to mess with tablecloths. This was also true for my grandmothers.

Aprons: By the way, my own mother never wore an apron. Instead, she would wear a "housecoat." However, my maternal grandmother did wear aprons, nothing fancy, just something to keep her own clothes clean from spills and splatter. As for myself, I wear an apron half the time, thus I stain my clothes on a regular basis. I never learn! Reward: New clothes!

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