Once-in-a-lifetime Estate Sale Shopping Spree

“Almost 20 years ago, they  (the lace portraits shown below) were purchased at an estate sale,  where they were pinned to a sheet of cardboard.  If any interest is expressed, I’ll write a post about that once-in-a-lifetime textile shopping spree.  Occasionally, I still dream about it!” 



This quote is from an earlier post about these antique lace portraits. Readers did ask for the story.  So let me tell you………

This was the most amazing estate sale I had ever seen, or ever will again.  It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime shopping opportunity to acquire beautiful things.

First, a few details about one of my finds at that sale, a set of 6 placemats and napkins with a matching table runner.


blueSW placematw napkin

Shadow embroidered placemat with surface embroidery and hemstitching.


The shadow embroidery on this luncheon set is absolutely flawless.  Worked in two shades of blue, the stitches are so tiny and so regularly spaced that it’s hard to believe this is handwork.


blue SWplacemat Lcorner


The surface embroidery is equally remarkable.


blueSW placemat


The set of six placemats and napkins includes a table runner.  With my Blue Willow china,  it makes a pretty setting for lunch.  For tea, flow blue cups are elegant.  My 7 yo granddaughter Laurel and I enjoy having tea on the breakfast porch with these cups.  Robert, 6, sometimes joins us but prefers a no-nonsense Gator mug.


blue flow cup stand


So here is the story about how this all came about.  My mother’s friend, Marybelle, had a daughter who did estate sales and auctions in New England.  She didn’t liquidate little Ma & Pa farms or cottages but rather huge estates with names like Rockefeller or DuPont.  Mind you, I don’t know the surnames, but the implication was that they were of this status, rich and/or famous.


Suzanne bought these, then duplicated the technique. The article is featured in Creative Needle magazine.


The story goes that the 4 or 5 adult children had already stripped the house of  everything that interested them, which apparently was the bulk of the mansion’s  contents.   Then, at the auction, more than $5 million worth of items were sold.  The leftovers were sent to Marybelle, a well-connected Southern lady, who was to offer them to her friends.  Fortunately for me, my mother was one of her friends.


2 xhems ur flr BR

cross stitch and Madeira applique’ tea napkins


Having been told by my mother that I had a consuming interest  in lace and fine textiles, Marybelle called and we arranged for me to come see the goods.    With my like-minded sewing pal, Suzanne Sawko, I arrived at Marybelle’s lovely, sprawling riverfront home hoping to find some treasures.

Ambling up the walk to the front door, we had to step aside for two ladies, grinning-ear-to-ear and toting armloads of bounty.  It looked as if all the good stuff was already gone.

But as we walked in, we gasped!  The huge dining room table, buffet and sideboard were heavy laden with spectacular table linens, including the luncheon set shown above. Small tables lined the walls with more neat stacks.

Table linens of every imaginable variety were displayed.  Bridge sets,


coral bridge cloth

Suzanne bought this beautifully embroidered linen cloth with 4 matching napkins.


cocktail napkins,  luncheon sets,


3 pretties BR

Each of these napkins is one of a set of 4-6, with a matching luncheon size table cloth.


tea napkins,


tiny fil tire

Fil tire, drawnthread work, surface embroidery, cutwork edge–there is so much detail in this tiny napkin.


lunch size napkins,


pink damask border all

damask lunch size napkin with monogram


dinner napkins,


needle lace and cutwork

needle lace and cutwork


table cloths, bread cloths,


bread cloth

fine linen with finely tatted edge

needle lace and cutwork  centerpieces, table runners…..the list goes on and on.  If you can think of any table linens not on this list, you can be assured that they were there.

After we had gawked a while, Marybelle led us into the kitchen which was overflowing with beautiful porcelain, including English flow blue.  The two cups mentioned above went in my stack.

At this point, Suzanne whispered to me that it was a good thing we had come in my minivan, rather than her Buick sedan.  I said a silent prayer of thanks for our dumb good luck.  We needed plenty of space to haul our beauties home.

Then it occurred to us and Marybelle that we had not yet seen any lace.  She led us to the living room where lace and other textiles were displayed on the furniture.  My oh my!

Apparently, the family had a resident seamstress.  Bolts and bolts of spectacular heirloom lace were scattered on sofas and chairs.  Many of the blue banded “Made in France” cards bore notations scrawled in pencil, “5 yds for Mary’s pinafore, May 1944” and “12 yds for Louise’s dress, July 1945.”   For many years, I kept those cards, but threw them away in a regrettable purging spell.  I wish I could have shown them to you.

When we saw the lace portraits, I knew it would have to be an eeny-meeney-miney-moe decision as to who would get them and I was hoping I would win.  Marybelle intervened to show that there were TWO identical sets!!  Two?  Who has two of such a unique, handmade item?  And why?

So Suzanne and I each have a set.  Mine was featured at the beginning of this post as well as in this blog.  Suzanne’s are shown below.


But these are not the only remarkable duplicates.  We each purchased a linen, banquet size, shrimpy pink tablecloth embroidered with dogwood blossoms.  Organdy of the exactly the same shade  creates a 10″ hem on all four sides.  Twelve napkins came with each set!

This post is already waaaaaay tooooo lonnnnng.  So I’ll conclude by saying this day was one of those memories I have stored away.  When I reach  the age when all my time is spent rocking in my chair, reminiscing, I’ll be smiling when I recall this magical shopping spree with Suzanne.

But there is so much more to show you, like the wedding banquet napkins  (scroll down), an elaborate fil tire’ and drawn thread work towel, quilted heirloom baby bib, bullion crochet baby bonnet, ancient Assissi embroidery.   The list goes on and on.

If you readers express an interest, I’ll share more photos and information in another post.  Otherwise, I’ll move on to those other topics I mentioned some time ago.

7 responses to “Once-in-a-lifetime Estate Sale Shopping Spree

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.