Vintage Wedding Napkins

F35~06brideor 37 years now the 8 women who make up PlayGroup Mamas have served as a sisterhood/support system that has enriched each of our lives.  The group also hosts bridal and baby showers for each of our 23 children and does the heavy lifting for their weddings.

Sweet Melissa, the youngest of the PlayGroup Kids, is getting married this weekend.



PGM's host a baby shower for my daughter-in-law Shelly, the young one in the center with the long hair

Here we are, minus one who was out of town.  PGM’s hosted a baby shower for my daughter-in-law, Shelly, the young lady in the center with the long hair. The group includes a university media specialist, veterinary assistant (to her husband), assistant manager of a major airport, four teachers and one passionate needleworker (that’s me).

The troops have been called up to active duty, having already pulled threads for  24 burlap table runners and worked on centerpieces.  Friday and Saturday we will gather at the reception site to set up.

My major responsibility is decorating and I always start with the table settings. As you may already know, I love, love, love textiles and have an extensive “resource center” of household items.

The past few days, many hours have been spent ironing 150 napkins and once again enjoying the beauty and workmanship of these vintage treasures. Some are family pieces, though most were purchased but never bought new.  Each had served on many a  table before it moved to my house.   And of course, they do not all match.  I think that is an advantage as the variety adds interest and elegance to the overall appearance of the dining room.

I spent a lot of my ironing time speculating and daydreaming a biography for them.  Here are a few of my favorite napkins and a bit of their histories, some true and some not.


wed nap set


These lovelies just scream WEDDING!!!  to me.  Each measures only 17″, a tad short of the average dinner napkin size of 20″.  But I don’t care.  I always use them for weddings.


wed nap close


It’s likely that the paleness of the blue thread is a result of repeated laundering.  The linen is exquisite.  I like to think that a maiden aunt stitched these for a beloved niece.  Yes, rocking on her front porch. Humming hymns. Who but a maiden aunt would have time for the intricate embroidery?  Or maybe they were made in China.  I’m not sure.


needle lace set


I love the needle lace on these ecru linen napkins.  Again, I wonder, who made these?


nedle lace close


I wouldn’t speculate on the number of hours it took to create one, let alone 4.     I have only 4, though probably there were more.  Or not.  Maybe after 4 she went blind.


ABS set


Purchased at an estate sale, these 8  fine damask serviettes are 24″ square. The embroidery thread for the beautiful monogram is so fine that it looks like 80 wt. was used.  The 2″ ABS is worked at the center of one side in a woven contrasting border band just 2″ above the hem, instead of a corner.


ABSt close


After my dear friend Suzanne Sawko and I finished shopping at the incredible sale, we speculated that the napkins belonged to one Anna Belle Stonewater.  She, we have heard, broke her parents’ hearts when she skipped town with a biker the night before her wedding to a respectable young attorney. Then, according to the rumors, she got a tattoo!


norma set

In 1935, a set of  these napkins and a matching  tablecloth were given as a wedding gift.


The intricate cutwork on these 18″ napkins make ironing a real challenge.  Along with a matching large tablecloth, the set was a wedding gift to an elegant, gracious, elderly lady in our church.  After her personal laundress retired, Norma sent the set to the cleaners after Thanksgiving dinner.  She was so distressed that the linens were simply smashed flat in a commercial mangle that she donated them to the church bazaar.


norma close


Big score for me!  That gift set came to live at my house 40 years ago.  And I use it for Thanksgiving dinner, even without the blessing of a personal laundress.


cutwork white close



Aren’t these pretty?  A full 20″ square, these 4 are made of fine cotton and embroidered with a large and lovely cutwork design.  It looks like they were made by someone who studied in Madeira.  Oh yes….in fact they were!  I’m pretty sure that Cuban Magdelena made these after she moved into a Spanish convent.   The napkins  were sent to her sister in Miami for her wedding.  Uh-huh.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.


ft lily set


I’ve always like brown.  It looks so rich on linen. There are so many vintage textiles, particularly cutwork, stitched in brown that it must have been popular for many years.


ft lily close


On this 18″  set, the heavily padded embroidery presents dramatic texture which contrasts nicely with the smooth linen.  The fil tire’ at the design center adds a delicate touch to an otherwise bold design.


N willow set


My very elderly, very, very proper and extremely dear friend Nell Marion sold me these napkins.   She was breaking up housekeeping in order to move into an assisted living facility and it was breaking her 88 year old  heart.   She did not want to leave her home and her enormous, priceless Meissen collection.   In fact, the sale was Saturday and she was to move to the assisted living place on Wed.  She died on Tuesday.

Her linen napkins are a generous 26″ square and  embroidered with a large,  formal “N.”  This led me to assume the monogram  stood for “Nell”  and that she had embroidered them.


N close


“Certainly not!” she exclaimed indignantly.  “I was a business woman (she was an executive for Worldbook Encyclopedia in the 40’s and ’50’s), NOT an embroideress!  These were made by my Aunt Neva who had nothing better to do with her time.”  Okay, then.  Nell Marion was a bit imperious.  But delightful.

This is probably enough about old napkins.  If you are interested, many other vintage textiles are posted on this blog.  I’ve assembled a variety of pieces in almost every category of household linens.    Exquisite handkerchiefs, tablecloths,, more tablecloths, table runners, placemats, more placemats,   guest towels, lace portraits, tabletoppers and napkins have called out my name so many times that I am a wee bit ashamed (but not too much).

Do you have a favorite vintage textile?  Please share photos and information about the importance of such items.

I’ve got to get back to the sewing room.  The mother of the bride just called with an urgent request for a bow tie for her 2 1/2 year old grandson.  He will be arriving in a few days to add the special joy that comes from the new life in the family.  Happy sewing to all of you!

11 responses to “Vintage Wedding Napkins

  1. Loved seeing your beautiful napkins…ironed and ready!

  2. How exquisite! I’m sure the wedding will be lovely and such a labor of love. The ones with the bobbin lace corner remind me of handkerchiefs I bought in Burano, Italy last November for the bridesmaids, aunts and grandmothers for my daughter’s wedding in May. I hope that one day a granddaughter or great-granddaughter makes up stories about them, too. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Janice, I also love old linens but have only a small collection. I gave away much of mine years ago when we moved to a very small house. That house didn’t suit us and we now live in a larger one which has space for all those lost linens. I love hankies and napkins best but also have a few tablecloths. My best finds have been in Sarasota where my sister lives. There is a large elderly population and as they moved into assisted living or died, their beautiful linens were sent to consignment shops. I’ve also found some wonderful vintage kitchen towels there. Sadly, the population from the period of fine linens is dying off and many of the retired are now from the late 50s and 60s when using fine linens began to become a thing of the past. So the price of the ones that do exist has gone up but there are still wonderful finds. I so enjoyed your post and think it is amazing that you and your friends have supported each other through the births and marriages of your children and now grandchildren. A true testament to the loveliness of friendship.

  4. Oh, Chere, I am sorry for the loss of your antique textiles! But the good news is that you can justify replacing them when you rescue a treasure from Goodwill or a yard sale. The St,Pete, Clearwater area is as good a source as Sarasota for the textiles we love. Finding a beauty is like finding gold. I get so excited–I bet you do too! Keep on hunting and share pictures of your finds when you get a chance. I’d love to see them.

  5. from Martha Pullen forum: Those napkins are beautiful. I have never seen napkins like them. Thanks for sharing…

  6. Jeannie B. I thought about you as I was writing this post. I just knew you would like it.

  7. Janice, I enjoyed the stories of the linen napkins. There’s something so elegant about linen. I would someday like to learn to do the embroidery and cutwork…….just for the fun and beauty of it.

  8. Connie, I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the linen napkins. They added a real touch of elegance to the wedding reception. I too would like to stitch some of those techniques but until I’m out of granddaughters and family projects, I doubt I will. I can’t imagine how you do so much with 6 children to love and nurture. P.S. I love the hat Lydia knitted (See Blumenkinder Heirlooms but can’t manage to get my comments posted.

  9. STUNNING!!!! Every one of them! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you, Barbara. I love laundering and pressing and using them. So few young people want heirlooms like this–it seems like the end of an era.

  11. Janice I am so glad I ran across this today. It has so inspired me to keep looking for these lost linens that I love so much. The friendship you ladies have saved is so inspiring. You were such a blessing to me during my surgery and down time and I am still looking through the wonderful magazines you so graciously sent me

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