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Where to find vintage doilies and linens

Tips on finding and caring for vintage linens from Charles "The Butler" MacPherson

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Roberto Caruso for Chatelaine

In the April issue of Chatelaine, we shared some beautiful and creative crafts to try using vintage doilies (see the article here) and it inspired me to seek out some more of these golden oldies.

I got in touch with domestic guru Charles “The  Butler” MacPherson who has over 24 years experience in household management, working for some of Canada’s most prominent families for help. Charles is a veritable authority on all things domestic and he was happy to share some of his personal tips and tricks on finding and caring for vintage linens:

Charles’ favourite sources for vintage linens:

1. Ebay: with the French eBay site being the best for especially rare and delicate pieces.

2. Finevintagelinens.com has a beautiful selection for both tabletops and bedrooms.

3. Local auctions or estate sales – some real gems turn up here – so keep your eyes open!

What to look for

1. Avoid pieces with obvious stains and yellowing. These are often difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

2. Wear and tear. Due to the delicate nature of these linens, be sure to thoroughly inspect each piece for damages.

3. Look at the whole piece. If part of the piece has been damaged or stained, don’t immediately disregard it. You may be able to cut out and save embroidered parts to use as accents on a duvet cover or to make bolsters or pillows.

How to care for them

1. Be sure to thoroughly wash the pieces first, using the hottest water your machine will allow.

2. Less is more when it comes to soap (Charles recommends using a specialty detergent like Woolite), use about 1/4 of the amount recommended for your load.

3. If you use spray starch, apply it only just before using the linens and launder them immediately after using them. If the starch stays on the linens for too long it can cause irreparable yellowing.

4. Due to the delicate nature of these pieces, when ironing them, place a damp towel on top to avoid scorching the piece.

4. Store your linens in a breathable container (think cardboard, wood or wicker – never plastic!) and if possible, take the extra step to preserve them by wrapping each piece in acid-free tissue paper. 

Learn more about Charles MacPherson at his website.