French Linens

January 16, 2013

By Gabrielle.

Mind if I do a little show-and-tell? I finally snapped photos of these this morning and they are still making me grin. Eight antique French kitchen towels!

These have been on my list as the number one souvenir I want to bring home from France so you can guess how happy I was when I spotted a basket of them at a brocante (sort of an odds and ends antique shop) for 5 euros each. I’ve shopped around and that’s a good price — and really, pretty similar to what a new dish towel might cost. I quickly went through the basket, picked out my favorite eight (4 of them have embroidered initials!), and asked Ben Blair to give them to me for Christmas. : )

They are not a matching set, but they all have a distinctive red stripe in common. And although these would still function very well as regular old useful dish towels, my intention is to use them as a set of dinner napkins. They’re not a typical square napkin shape — in fact, several are quite long, and all are definitely rectangular. But I think they’ll make wonderful napkins all the same.

Some are a bit spotty, so the next step will be a good soak in the laundry to see how clean I can get them.

What do you think? Do they appeal to you like they do to me? And do you think I need more? What sort of souvenirs would you bring home?

P.S. — I first mentioned seeing linens like these here.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Margie Di Croce January 16, 2013 at 8:35 am

You need more … Lots more. :)


2 Yicke January 16, 2013 at 8:35 am

Ha… The red-striped towels.

I love them as well and was very lucky to have a grandmother who inherited several of her aunts linnen-suplies but never used them all, so I have a huge amount of dishtowels like that. They ARE wonderful as towels, after a few uses they get super-absorbent, unbeatable.

They used to come in big rolls of fabric. Each housewife bought several meters and started sewing her towels. Given the frugality of my great-great-aunts and my grandmother, I even have one that is table-clothsized!

I pair them with red Hema towels and pot-handlers. Looks super-cute in my black and metal kitchen.

They are coming back in style. I think hema had some, not to long ago?


3 Design Mom January 16, 2013 at 11:17 am

Maybe I need more — enough for dishtowels and napkins. : )


4 Miggy January 16, 2013 at 8:37 am

I have a weakness for dish towels…and I would want those in a heartbeat. And they’re perfect for napkins too.


5 Lori H January 16, 2013 at 8:42 am

Love those linens! I think Eddie Ross recommends Lestoil to get spots out of linens.


6 Design Mom January 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

I’ve never heard of Lestoil. Thanks for the tip!


7 Linda K. January 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

Gabby, this is EXACTLY what I would bring home as souvenirs. Along with consumables like gorgeous pots of fleur de sel that remind you of the elegance of daily life in France. On one of my visits to Paris, I literally gasped when I walked into a tiny shop (maybe in Le Marais?) that was filled floor to rafters with shelves of antique bed and table linens that had been dyed in all the shades of the rainbow. It was breathtaking and all these years laters I regret not purchasing some.

And to be a tad cheesy here, of course the best souvenirs of your time in France will be the manifestation of it as your children carry it forward in their expanded world view!


8 Design Mom January 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

Not cheesy at all, Linda. That is, of course, the real reason we moved abroad.


9 Tricia January 16, 2013 at 8:51 am

I love the elegance of everyday things like this.


10 Tricia Rose January 16, 2013 at 9:04 am

What a wonderful find, perfect souvenir!


11 Sarah heat January 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

when I was in Paris this year I visited a fabric shop that sells linen for towels and napkins by the meter. buying that material was one of my favorite things and the rough linen that I use for my table runner is my favorite souvenir.


12 Marielle January 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Great idea. A few years ago I bought 2 meters of fabric in Antibes thinking throw pillows, tablecloth… I actually used the fabric to upholster the inside top of the French dining chairs we found on eBay.

For those not traveling to Paris soon–I found some French-look, red-striped napkin/table runner fabric at a local fabric shop.


13 heather January 16, 2013 at 9:21 am

I can go a bit crazy for paper, the texture, the image, print or the crinkle.


14 ean January 16, 2013 at 9:21 am

I just got 10 of these from IKEA (TEKLA), they are great.


15 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity January 16, 2013 at 9:31 am

What a lovely souvenir. I would get a few more for guests and in case they get ruined. What about a set with blue stripes so you could mix and match.


16 Charlotte Coleman January 16, 2013 at 9:32 am

You might want to consider buying some more to list on ebay. After I read your post, I looked on ebay and 5 towels like yours were listed at $99. I think you have chosen a wonderful souvenir!


17 Lucy Mitchell January 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

My mother in law found these long floor standing baskets that were traditionally used to stand bread in. She has them in her bathrooms for toilet rolls and towels. They’re a handy shape! She got them in a French second hand shop. Love the towels.


18 Margaret January 16, 2013 at 9:55 am

These are so lovely! Like ean, I bought a great stack of the lookalike dishtowels they carry at Ikea (though I don’t think I’ll be able to pass *those* down as heirlooms…), and I planned to cut them down to use as napkins, too — though I never got around to it. They still work for pretty much any occasion. Sounds like you found the perfect souvenir!


19 Azra January 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

They are so lovely. What a good find!


20 Marielle January 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

The towels/napkins are great.
Recently, I’ve been collecting the reusable shopping bags on our travels to use as constant reminders of all the places I love–Vienna, Bratislava, Paris (BHV), Cannes (from 2€ shop), Antibes (from kitchenware shop), etc.
Also, I have some great tin bag clips (chips, cereal, etc.) I found at BHV in kitchenware.
I appreciate the everyday-thing souvenirs because they afford me a tiny flash-back to pleasurable memories amidst an ordinary day.


21 Design Mom January 16, 2013 at 11:19 am

What a fun souvenir idea, Marielle!


22 Stella January 16, 2013 at 10:23 am

oh I love these! I just got a white one with pink stripes on the sides, from a 2nd hand shop in Stockholm for 2€! I told my mom I was on the hunt for some, and she told me not to buy any and then opened a drawer and gave me a big stack! :) Those I got are white and a pale green stripe on the side – i love them! You wont find this kind of quality and work these days… I love the monogram on them too, and if I find some without, I want to do my initials!


23 Design Mom January 16, 2013 at 11:20 am

A big stack? Love that!


24 Lauren January 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

I would want to buy a bunch to stitch up into all kinds of projects- pillows, curtains, tote bags, or maybe even an apron :)


25 susan January 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

a FANTASTTIC score at $5 each! super excited for you. i would have tackled you to get to them first! :)


26 kv barn January 16, 2013 at 11:58 am

so simple-pretty!


27 Pamela January 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

i’m collecting them too! and that is a good price! i use mine as napkins, dishtowels and am sewing some into aprons!


28 Design Mom January 17, 2013 at 8:29 am

Thanks for the confirmation that it’s a good price. I thought so too!


29 nicole i January 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

you need more!!!


30 Megan M January 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I love these – what a great souvenir that is very useful, too. This reminds me of a wonderful post from Apartment Therapy a few years ago about French napkin traditions – here’s a link to the original blog post – it’s really very interesting!


31 Design Mom January 17, 2013 at 8:29 am

Can’t wait to read it! Thank you, Megan.


32 Carly January 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Love them! And that red stripe definitely makes them look like a ragtag set.


33 Margo, Thrift at Home January 16, 2013 at 7:59 pm

oh YES, this is my kind of souvenir! These are gorgeous towels and I love how you’re going to use them (so GLAD you’re going to use them and not display them or cut them up).
I am inevitably attracted to the practical items in another culture and I want to go to the shops with the people and handle the things they use every day. My other weakness is paper goods like cards and postcards and notebooks. I’m afraid to look how many notebooks I actually have!


34 Design Mom January 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

Oh for sure. I definitely favor souvenirs I can really use. I’m like you, I want to walk through hardware stores and buy cleaning brushes and tools. In Venice, we kept stopping in boat stores so I could look for rope — we found some great stuff that we’ll turn into bracelets.


35 Jenn January 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I love the linen napkins.
How will you clean them?
I have had linen towels and sheets both wear out sooner than I expected.
It was so sad, I hope you have a brilliant way to care for linen that I don’t know of.


36 Design Mom January 17, 2013 at 8:32 am

The shop owner assured me they were sturdy and washable, but we shall see. Wish me luck!


37 Jenn January 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

Good luck!
I also haven’t stopped buying Linen, It is still my favorite fiber..
(I am just more wary when buying expensive sheets made of it)


38 Mandy January 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I love those! I have been looking for some just like that. Wouldn’t they make wonderful pillows and chair covers! Another great souvenir I keep from all the places we visit is tablecloths and little ceramic houses (if I can find them).


39 Béa January 17, 2013 at 12:37 am

hahaa! Ours are virtually our family tree! From my side as well as my significant’s other side. From two, three or four generations ago. A funny map of France as well.


40 Meg H January 17, 2013 at 12:42 am

I love the revamped and repurposed towels. We just moved back to the states from France and I covet my wooden hand carved bread trays and antique city view of where we lived in France. Are you heading back home soon? We thoroughly enjoyed our yrs in France but love being back stateside. We plan to live abroad again in the near future. Possibly a Spanish speaking country this next adventure abroad. Best of luck and happy shopping!


41 Design Mom January 17, 2013 at 8:33 am

We head back in July. I keep getting emotional when I think about it.


42 Kohana January 17, 2013 at 2:22 am

As an American living in Australia, I am collecting current and vintage napkins, tea towels, and other linens feature Australia’s distinct native flowers and birds and animals. When I was a girl and my family lived in Russia, my mother amassed various collectibles that she has gifted to us over the years. I hope to do the same thing for my children to help them treasure little memories from our years abroad.


43 Sue January 17, 2013 at 11:43 am

I have a friend who had an antique stall and collected/sold many vintage linens. She swore by denture cleaner to get spots out. Hope you have an extra to try out different products and techniques. Good luck!


44 Andrea January 17, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I love French linens. I think I would also be on the look out for vintage china. Maybe a tea set.


45 Brigitte January 18, 2013 at 7:04 am

Interesting you should mention this. I recently dug out from my cupboard some old linens that I believe are French. They are incredibly soft and no holes, and amazingly have my monogram on them even though I think they date from before my birth. I had a French grandmother who died when I was one year old and I think they came from her. Anyway, my goal is to start using them. The napkins are huge by US standards. I love them, as I am a big cloth napkin user. And the tablecloth is generous also. On my trip to France I bought a little white teapot at a restaurant supply store just like the ones i had my tea in everyday. Kitchen stuff is a great souvenir.


46 barbara wendell January 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

I have loved reading about your “French finds” that you’ll be bringing home when you return.
I am going to Paris in September to celebrate my 70th birthday together with a sister who has never been to France who will celebrate her 60th. I hope you will blog about about other special souvenirs.
I continue to be amazed at how much you do!


47 JenG January 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Quick question…we’ve used white cotton napkins in the past but stopped because I could never get them clean enough!! Bleach, oxi-spray, it never totally did the job, plus I hate going through so much laundry product. Any hints or suggestions? I’m wondering if linen launders better? Hmmm…


48 Mary T January 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm

MORE! I am also drawn to any European linen. They look amazing, feel incredible and you can’t help but wonder what their history is….Who held them? How we’re they used? Did the stripes on them make them as happy as us? Do you know whether the stripes on them represent the family that owned them? I recently bought a Czechoslovakian grain sack, (my family pretends to understand how happy it makes me, which is very kind of them!) and I was told the stripes were used to identify the individual families when they would come and fetch their grain. I use it for a body size pillow cover and it sits in my window seat. Every time I walk into the kitchen I can’t help but smile….and wonder?


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