Collecting can be contagious. And when Paula’s dear friend, Savannah bakery owner Cheryl Day, showed off her collection of vintage table linens, Paula caught the bug and now has a number of these vintage beauties in her own collection.
Day’s colorful collection began as a family affair. With her mom and sister by her side, she browsed flea markets, yard sales and antique stores for bright, kitschy fruit and floral patterns to complement her retro-chic style. Together they found many textile treasures including Christmas linens and tablecloths imprinted with maps of California—Day’s home state.
It’s relatively easy to collect vintage linens like Day’s because rayon/cotton blends and four or more color combinations didn’t emerge until the 1940s. And in 1958, manufacturers made identification even easier by sewing in tags.
It’s more difficult to date textiles from earlier decades, but there are a number of characteristics that can help narrow it down. Victorian linens from the mid to late 1800s were often made from richly textured material, such as velvet and felt, and boasted deep colors like crimson and maroon. Crisp linen damasks emerged in the 1900s and sometimes included images of doves, hearts, ribbons and bows in deep wine and brown colors. By contrast, pastels and one-color stamped designs were produced during World War I. These linens often feature oriental patterns and images of longhaired girls. The 1920s saw an increase in the number of printed colors and by the ‘30s linens adopted bright repeating patterns that carried over into the ‘50s.
Collectors seek after souvenir linens featuring states or roadside attractions. Such designs first came onto the market in the 1920s, but became popular two decades later when the American car culture boomed, putting families on the wide-open road. At one point or another, every state was featured on a tablecloth and towel, but some are more difficult to find, such as Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, which can fetch over $575 at auction.
While some people store their vintage table linens safely away, others enjoy putting them to use. Day gives her table character by covering it with funky linens that are charming conversation pieces. But these whimsical textiles are more than a nostalgic walk into America’s past; for Day, they are personal. When her mother and sister passed away, she inherited their collections. Today, when she dresses her tables, Day has a special reminder of Saturday mornings she spent fingering fabrics with her two best friends and playfully fighting over their best finds.
With Day’s inspiration, Paula often sets a table with her ever growing collection. Her Design Director and dear friend, Brandon Branch, most recently used one of her strawberry laden favorites in this inspiring and silly Savannah Style table setting.