The Linens Which Should Fill the Linen Closet

This is the second article in March of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Mar 12, 1905, and is a longer article with advice to housewives on what types of linens they should keep in their homes.

School for Housewives – The Linens Which Should Fill the Linen Closet

Household Supplies Which Make the Latter-Day Housewife’s Lot a Happy One

From force of habit I had nearly written “Linen closet.” If your house is a suburban cottage, I hope you can boast of such a linen pantry as is my delight for seven months of the year. A tiny room, but large enough to allow one the privilege of turning freely from side to side when the door is closed. It is lighted by a window, through which the sunshine pours all day. Summer airs enter freely to sweeten piles of clean, smooth sheets, pillow cases, counterpanes, towels, and such “things” as a prospective bride, whose letter I published last week, writes she would fain be making up in the hours that would otherwise hang heavy upon her hands.


If you are a flat-dweller, you content yourself with shelves, and in nine cases out of ten conceal their contents by a literary looking curtain. Other flat-dwellers are not deceived by the plausibly drapery. Most of them, if pressed to candor, would confess to as much and as lively interest in what they know – and you know that they know – is arranged “in beauteous order” upon the veiled shelves, as they would feel in rows of library bindings or artistically shabby “first editions.”

But to our linens-technically so-called. The fact that half of them are cotton does not modify the term. In our grandmother’s day the sheets used by gentlefolk were always linen. Two summers ago, on two hot June nights spent in a Colonial homestead in Delaware, I slept between linen cambric sheets eighty years old, trimmed with real lace, and sheer and fine as my best pocket handkerchief.

If you can afford it, have a few pairs of linen sheets. Our bride that is to be asked me for a list of “the commoner” housewifely properties requisite for her outfit. Let her watch the advertisements of linen sales in reputable department stores, and buy enough for a pair or two at a time, then make them up herself. She says she has abundance of time, and is eager for employment. Cut each sheet three yards long. Long sheets last far better than short. Stretching and straining and tight tucking in at head and foot in time wear the fabric, not to mention the discomfort of sheets that cannot be coaxed to cover one’s shoulders without uncovering one’s feet. Have a hem of equal width at top and bottom. That is another economical device, since they can be turned upside down at will, and made to wear evenly throughout. I do not advise hemstitched sheets to those who buy linen but seldom and wish to keep it long. The threads in the drawn work break sooner than in the plain hem. Hem by hand, rather than on the machine. The hem is neater and more durable. The machine needle cuts the threads the hand needle goes between them. Make your handsewed sheets elegant by embroidering your initials in one corner.

You must have cotton sheets for winter and for daily use. It is far cheaper to buy them in the piece than to get them ready made in the shops. Select what is known as a “close weave.” That is, an even thread of gold texture. Too little attention is given to this by purchasing housewives. Uneven weaving – where coarse threads break the web into roughness – injures the durability of the fabric. Heavy sheeting wears no better than one lighter in weight and finer in quality; is no more comfortable in winter, and the finer quality is incomparably pleasanter for the rest of the year.

Linen pillow-slips are more luxurious and more wholesome the year round. One who is accustomed to them find cotton heating to the cheeks and head. Buy the linen by the yard and hem or hemstitch them by hand. Here, again, the touch of daintiness is imparted by embroidered letter or initials or monogram.


Hem table cloths and napkins by hand always. It is cheaper here, also, to buy by the yard, but far less elegant. Except for the kitchen, buy “the set,” that is, tablecloth and napkins, woven in a pattern running all around the square or oblong. Breakfast and luncheon cloths and dollies “come” fringed on the four sides, from time to time, fashions varying in this respect as in others. “Whip” the raw edges where the fringe is joined to the linen to prevent raveling. Four long tablecloths for dinner, and three breakfast cloths, with napkins to match each, would be a fair beginning for two people. I take it for granted you have a fair supply of tray-cloths and center pieces for the table linens, together with luncheon squares. If you work initials upon napkins, set them in one corner, if upon tablecloths, near the outer edge of the central design, and in two places diagonally opposite to one another. They give a “style” to a damask nothing else imparts.

Be liberal in the matter of towels. Good housewives will tell you that “you cannot have too many.” If you do not mind work – and you intimate that you do not – get a good quality of wide huckaback and plain damask by the yard, cut into generous lengths; lay wide hems and hem stitch them neatly. Then work a small initial about four inches above the hem on one end. At a cost of 50 cents each you will thus secure towels you could not buy for $1 apiece.

You can buy chamoisine for dusters also by the yard. They are admirable in their way and not expensive. Yet many prefer cheesecloth for this purpose. They take up the dust readily, may be washed again and again, and last well. Stitch the hems with turkey red cotton, and outline a big “D” in the middle with the same, as a precaution against the misuse of them for dishcloths and floorwipers. The red is a flag of warning.

Carry the same principle of generous provision into the purchase of dish-towels. Have three qualities – one very stout for pots and kettles, a medium-weight for china, very fine for glass and silver. Hem and mark each kind with red cotton “K” for kitchen use, “C” for china, “G” for glass, and be conscientious in holding each to its work. Hem squares of the different qualities for dishcloths.

For facecloths for chambers and bathroom buy white Turkish toweling, cut into squares and hem with stout cotton very securely, as they will ravel with the using.

Next week’s “Talk” will be upon “Kitchen Plenishing.”

Marion Harland

The Extra Linens
Household Talks with Members of the Housewives’ Council
Recipes Contributed by Readers
Setting the Table for a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

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