"Fourth. Examine the trunk or closet of family linen,
and see what needs to be repaired and renewed."
~ Catharine Beecher & Harriet Stowe, The New Housekeeper's Manual, 1873
Welcome to the sixth installment of our monthly home maintenance series where we are continuing to follow some old fashioned, Victorian Era advice. This step involved examining the linen closet. Our last post discussed the "table linens" and today we will be looking at the "bed linens". We will also be offering some suggestions to make this area of your home pleasant while sharing a bit of nostalgic charm.
"...listening respectfully to the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forth upon the all absorbing subject of house keeping. "Do you know I like this room most of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minute after, as they went upstairs and she looked into her well-stored linen closet. Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelves and exulting over the goodly array."
The term "linen closet" evokes a sense of romance to me. I think of what my dream one would be! A tall, white and distressed, French carved cabinet with glass doors and crystal knobs. You could see all the contents folded up lovingly through the clear panes. Floral sheets would be lined up inside featuring an array of pastel prints. And like a cottage garden, when you would open the armoir, the scent of lavender would fill the air!
"This little room is the one good housekeepers are especially fond of," she began. "Clean, white linen, polished and beautiful, is a joy to look at and handle, and every woman is proud if she has a quantity, all nicely kept. Let us begin with the shelves, taking them in order, and see what is on each."
The top one held blankets, each pair folded together smoothly and pinned up in a clean, strong piece of white cotton cloth, and labelled. The first label read, "Guest-room blankets," and when they were opened there lay a fresh, soft, fleecy pair, with a lovely border of pale pink, and edges of broad pink ribbon.
The next two or three bundles, you see, are clean, washed blankets, in pairs, laid away till they are needed. All blankets have to be put on the line in the sunshine frequently whether they are washed or not, or they may be eaten by moths...
"Here are a few clean comfortables next, on this second shelf, done up like the blankets. These have to be washed, too, and are more difficult to manage than blankets, because they are so heavy; they have to be aired often to keep them sweet, for the cotton holds odors easily. Then come the white spreads, the heavy Marseilles in one pile, the lighter ones in another, and the single ones and double ones kept separate.
"The sheets and pillow-cases are in these deep drawers. This top one has the double sheets and the best linen ones; notice how they lie in piles, each kind by itself... You must be sure when you have a washing to put away that you do not put the clean things on top of each pile, and then take them off again to use at once; put things on top and take them off the bottom of the pile, so they will all be used in turn."
~ A Little Housekeeping Book by Caroline French Benton, 1906
But alas, I have a confession to make. I do not have a linen closet, just a romantic dream of one. In fact, our old farmhouse doesn't have any such storage at all. My "linen closet" has been reduced to three plastic storage containers (which I must store above a shelf in the bedroom for lack of space while keeping our seasonal blankets in the attic). There is nothing pretty about them. My goal however, is to maintain them with love using my very best beautifying efforts. With this in mind, we affixed some labels which share the contents of each box; king, queen and twin. If you are interested in our "linen box" bedding labels, visit here for the free printable.
For the monthly maintenance of our "bed linens", we began by sorting through our bedding and examining them for any tears or holes that would require mending. Unfortunately, one such place was found.
Next, we aired out our larger blankets and comforters on the clothesline. The sun bleaches and sanitizes so very sweetly. This is a wonderful way to keep your bulky items fresher if they do not fit in your washer and/or you can not afford to take them to the cleaners for a routine washing. Fold them up neatly and stash them away until the weather calls them back into service.
We also re-arranged the sheets and our duvet covers into piles based on sizes (king, queen, twin). Then we placed the last season's bedding at the bottom and kept the new seasonal sheets on top.
For example, the earth tones and flannel sheets are for fall and winter while the soft cotton pastels claim summer and spring.
For a romantic homemaking touch, my daughter and I sewed up little sachets filled with moth-repellent herbs (I will share details on this another day). The scent was lovely and gave us a glimpse of that linen closet vision. It is always best to make do and smile at the little things you can create, than to make no attempt at all!
These were tucked in between the sheets with care. I am looking forward to the next bedding update to unleash the herbal aroma. An alternative to sewing sachets is to make up some quick versions with essential oils and fabric scraps (inspiration follows) or try these paper crafted versions.
"Essential oils can be left to infuse the clothes while they are in the drawer or closet. Put a drop on little pieces of natural material or cotton-wool balls and place them between the clothes... To keep moths away... use 2– 3 drops of one of the following oils. These are particularly useful when coats and woolens are stored away during the summer months:
~ Valerie Ann Worwood, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
"... then out came the four little work baskets,
and the needles flew as the girls made sheets for Aunt March."
Homemaking Hints and History:
In the days of old, women were required to make up their own sheets. As the prices are extremely high in the bedding department, many of us may be considering this notion ourselves! However, you would be surprised at what one could find at thrift stores.
I was able to purchase the king-sized striped sheets (shown above) which are from Pottery Barn for only $2 at a Salvation Army Store. They are simple enough to blend with my floral bedding and the quality alone was certainly worth it. There was nothing wrong with them whatsoever and a wash in soapy, hot water with a splash of lemon essential oil (a wonderful disinfectant) wiped out all traces of its former life.
The floral blue bedding (shown below) is a queen-sized set of Ralph Lauren sheets which I found on another trip. These were purchased for $4. Though they are a bit faded, I think it adds to their cottage charm.
To fashion inexpensive duvet covers, sew two same-sized flat sheets (in coordinating fabrics) together. You can use the duvets to cover old and stained comforters and blankets that are no longer attractive and/or matching your decor. This is a very frugal way to update the look of your bedroom!
Thus this gentle reminder, second-hand stores are an excellent place to scour if you are trying to build up a nice collection of bed linens on a budget.
"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see. I had a young friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets..." said Mrs. March, patting the damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation of their fineness.
How do you organize your linen closet? Do you have any tips or frugal ideas in this area that you would like to share with us? Do you have a "truly feminine appreciation of their fineness" like our dear Marmee? Remember, it is not the fancy new sheets that make the difference, but the clean bedding piled on a neatly made bed which creates cozy dreams and peaceful sleeping. Everything makes a difference when mother manages her home with heaps of fresh linen and lots of love.
"The sleep of a labouring man is sweet..."
Here is what we have accomplished thus far in our "Odds and Ends" Monthly Home Maintenance Series (note that some steps were placed together and altered to make for modern day needs):
Complete Steps in Series:
Step #1 ~ What Needs to Be Done in Your Home?
Step #2 ~ Restocking the Cleaning Closet
Step #2, 3, 5, 6 ~ Examining the Store-Closet, Pantry, Cellar and Such
Step #4 ~ Examining the "Table Linens"
Step #4 ~ Examining the "Bed Linens"
Checklist for Preparing Your Own Maintenance:
Are you ready to begin your monthly home maintenance?
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