Story: Tiffany Burgess Adams | Styling: Mandy Keener |
Vintage linens with fanciful embroidery and delicate details tell the story of generations past
Using cloth napkins at the dinner table, embroidered guest towels in the bath and wearing an apron in the kitchen all resonate with vintage linen collector Phyllis Anne Clark. She not only grew up with these practices, but also carries on the tradition today through her collection of beautiful household linens. “You want to use them because they are all so pretty,” she says. Everywhere she goes, Clark is gathering small pieces of the past in discarded heaps of linens from homes that are downsizing or from friends who know of her love. This includes everything from delicate lace guest towels to more whimsical pieces stitched with brightly hued thread.
As a retired interior designer, Clark has always had a passion for textiles. “I just love pretty linens and the history they have—and they don’t have to be fancy,” she says of her penchant for the preservation of these pieces of history. It’s not just the numerous types of linens that interest Clark. She is also very knowledgeable about the different practices used to embellish them, including cross-stitching, hand embroidery, machine embroidery and appliqué to name a few. It’s a piece of her family she has carried with her and that she enjoys sharing with others.
Clark relates the story of a time during the Depression era when women would use the most affordable cloth available to continue their artwork. Since resources were tight, they would paint, rather than stitch, the color for flowers or other colored embellishments, using the precious resource of thread to create the outlines only. She also recounts how linens were considered a special gift for young brides. A set of tea towels embroidered or stitched with the days of the week were a popular and meaningful gift. Linens embroidered with holiday themes were often crafted by talented women to give as a gift to the next generation.
Today, Clark keeps many of the linens she has amassed in her own personal collection. However, she feels it’s important to pass them down and share the history with new generations as well. As the art of embroidery and the popularity of stitched towels experiences a reemergence, Clark’s collection is a living reference book of sorts in regards to the linens’ past. Her booth in Fabulous Finds Antique Mall is brimming with tablecloths, handkerchiefs, aprons, pillowcases and, of course, tea towels all embellished with details reflective of their time period and origination—and all with a charm that transcends the decades.