Ironing Antique Tablecloths

Getting ready for a special dinner by ironing your heirloom dining tablecloth can be a pleasant ritual if it is not rushed or hurried.  If you can wait, iron a few days before you want to use your antique linens.

Certainly you want a nice roomy setup for ironing and some great music playing, be it your favourite modern music or holiday tunes!  Christmas carols are always nice for Christmas preparations and can add a surprising amount of pleasure to the ironing process, by linking it with tradition and past holidays.

How to Iron Antique Tablecloths and Napkins

Swiss Appenzell Embroidery and Punchwork AntiqueTablecloth ironed on the back to raise the design.Credit: Skeffling Lavender Farm

Swiss Appenzell Embroidery Antique Tablecloth - Ironed on the back

Generally, if you plan to store your linens for a long time, after laundering, just loosely roll un-ironed line-dried linens or fold with acid free tissue to pad folds.  Storing the antique tablecloths unironed is less harsh and damaging on the old fabric fibres.

Most people don't realize antique linens can be frozen plastic to iron later. Freezing prevents mildew forming on the damp linen.  Allow lots of time for thawing when you want to iron.

Use your iron dry and very hot for Irish and other linens, and also percale and muslin cotton.  Antique laces like Alencon can be ironed at a lower temperature, but many of the Italian needlelace banquet cloths are made of linen anyway.  Only the highest quality steam irons will make steam without spitting, some will even release it under pressure for the ironing the quickest and best.  They are a necessity if you will be ironing heavily embroidered or thick linen lace tablecloths.

For the ultimate in ironing results, iron linens when they are very wet, like French laundresses used to.  It gives a flawless finish, but is very time-consuming to evaporate all the water out of the linen.  The lighter antique laces are much quicker.

For most people, ironing when linens are slightly damp gives a good result.  If you can take your tablecloth and napkins off the washing line when they are 3/4 dry, that works well.  If they are drier, spritzing with distilled water or lavender water from a spray bottle gives enough moisture to iron the threads.  If you iron a crease into the tablecloth or napkins, spritz over it and re-iron.

On damask linen and embroidered antique linens and napkins with fancy corner deisgns, iron the back only to raise the design, making it stand out.  The thicker the embroidery, the more padded the board you need.  You can use a towel to temporarily add extra padding to your ironing board.  The thicker the padding, the more the embroidery “sits on top of the cloth” which was an old standard for presentation. 

Make sure when ironing that you keep ironing until no more steam rises out of the cloth.  This means it is dry.  Any water left in the cloth may lead to spontaneous wrinkling later.   Linen holds a tremendous amount of water, so makes great tea towels.

Occasionally, when the cloth is nearly dry, irritating beige marks can appear.  This is from the item has not being rinsed adequately.  The solution is more rinsing, then re-iron.

Never iron folds to get sharp creases, in linen and rice linen especially, this make the folds permanent, cracking the fibers along the line.  Eventually this will make holes and ruin the antique tablecloth.

Try to hang ironed linens on a drying rack to ”air-out” after ironing.  This avoids any dampness remaining and reduces the chance of mildew on storage and spontaneous wrinkling.

Only starch if immediately using your linens. Follow manufacturers instructions. Starching is a personal preference and really not necessary if the linens were ironed well.  Too much starch will cause brown scorch marks on the linens and a stickiness and scorching on the underside of the iron.  Do not store linens starched as it can attract pests.

Antique Tablecloth and Napkins Freshly IronedCredit: Skeffling Lavender Farm

Enjoy your quiet hour, creating a wonderful canvas for an enjoyable dinner party or happy Chrismas or Thanksgiving holiday dinner.