Fine linens: Everybody seems to have them, but no one wants them

Published 4:52 pm Friday, January 3, 2020


Personal Effects

Question: Jerry, I’ve got so many linens — linens that belonged to my grandmother and I just can’t see having the lifestyle to ever use them. What can I do with them? At one time, they were all laundered and starched but they have been stored for so long that some have light brown spots on them. Are there people who still buy such things and should I take them to the cleaners first? I know that you’ll tell me what to do with them. Thank you so much.

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Answer: I have to say, as I write this, I’m looking at two garbage bags and three totes of linens that were brought into the store to buy, consign or just donate — anything to get it out of their current home. 

Formal linens are a hard, hard sell in today’s marketplace. As beautiful as they are, as high quality as they are, linens are time consuming and expensive to maintain.

I’m assuming that your linens are like the linens I have here in the store — formal, fine and sadly useless.

I know there is a time and a place for fine linens, but today is not it. I call it the “Great Linen Purge.” It happened several years ago with furniture and then dinner sets and crystal sets and now it’s happening with fine linens.

I sum it up this way: Linens aren’t as bulky, as say, a service for 12 in Royal Doulton. They are easily tucked into a drawer or box, hoping that the kids will behave or a housekeeper will be employed or life will slow down.

We know that none of these things will happen, to full satisfaction anyway, and now the linens are taking up space that is needed for something else. So they go out the door with the realization that the new owners are never going to use them the way that Granny or Mother did. Or these are my findings anyway. So, that means that there is a glut on the market and it’s a BIG glut.

Will we ever have the lifestyle or even the desire for bridge cloths, banquet cloths and napkins that cover one’s lap? Will we have the time for linens that need more than a quick wash to use? Likely not. But I tell people every day to use them. Just wash them and use them, every day. Don’t worry about starching and pressing. Linen is amazingly tough and strong and will hold up to heavy wear. 

You said that you had brown spots on your linens? This leads me to think that they were starched and the starch is turning brown. You’ll have to wash them to see how much of the brown comes out, if any. It could be permanent. If you’re planning on diverging your linen collection, I’d let a future owner wash, starch and press them. 

You might consider donating them to your church rummage sale or a charity group. Who knows, you might find someone who relishes the thought of the work that fine linens take.

You could also reach out to someone who does crafting. They might be able to make them into other items. I’d steer clear of the dry cleaners, too. Dry cleaning is expensive and can be hard on the natural fibers of linen and fine cotton. 

I’ve not seen your linens, but unless you’re dealing with museum quality pieces, I would not expect much money to cross your palm. I know that this is a crossed up and vague

answer, and I hope that it helps some, but linens in this fast paced market is tricky. Thanks for a great question.