[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: XLII | By Viveka Hansen]

To own a substantial number of unbleached or white linen tablecloths in a Swedish nobility home, was a tradition with its roots in Medieval times. This group of interior textiles also represented an important part of the family linen storage and as a valuable heirloom – a practice continuing for several hundreds of years. My aim with this text is to describe a well preserved six metre long linen tablecloth dated “1789”, where the original owners belonged to families of barons and counts. Unfortunately there are no clues to by who or where this tablecloth once was woven, but possibly at one of the leading linen weaving manufacturers in Sweden as Flor, Vadstena or in one of the early factories for such goods in Stockholm.  

One of the corners is added with ‘CCB 1789’ in small cross stitches using grey-blue linen thread, the letters refer to Charlotta Catharina Bielke (1765-1793). She married the year before the dating of this tablecloth – 29 January in 1788 – with Louis de Geer af Leufsta (1759-1830). (Private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

One of the corners is added with ‘CCB 1789’ in small cross stitches using grey-blue linen thread, the letters refer to Charlotta Catharina Bielke (1765-1793). She married the year before the dating of this tablecloth – 29 January in 1788 – with Louis de Geer af Leufsta (1759-1830). (Private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

This fine tablecloth is woven in twill diaper with hand spun linen thread in both the warp and weft, the regular pattern of the fabric was designed with an eleven centimetres wide contrasting border. As with all hand-loom or half-mechanised manufacturing of the time in Sweden, a table-cloth consisted of two widths and these pieces of fabrics were sewn together with a middle seam. It must also be emphasised that a tablecloth of this size becomes heavy; which would lead to strenuous work for several of the servants employed to do the laundering of such a large linen.

A contemporary painting depicting how a linen tablecloth of this standard was used. One can reflect that the extensive width as well as length of the fabric was necessary for the tablecloth to reach the floor at all four sides of the elegantly laid table. Oil on canvas by Pehr Hilleström – ‘Stockholm Palace New Year’s Eve 1779’. Courtesy of: The National Museum, Sweden (Wikimedia Commons).

A contemporary painting depicting how a linen tablecloth of this standard was used. One can reflect that the extensive width as well as length of the fabric was necessary for the tablecloth to reach the floor at all four sides of the elegantly laid table. Oil on canvas by Pehr Hilleström – ‘Stockholm Palace New Year’s Eve 1779’. Courtesy of: The National Museum, Sweden (Wikimedia Commons).

A comparative study of linen tablecloths from the higher nobility of the period, can for example be observed in my earlier research of a document originating from Christinehof Mansion in southernmost Sweden 1758 (see sources). This inventory included 41 linen tablecloths in various qualities, together with 539 napkins. The most complex design described as ‘His Excellency’s Arms woven into…’ in ‘Damask diaper with 24 napkins’. Furthermore ‘3 tablecloths and 18 napkins’ were registered of the same weaving technique. Additionally it can be noted that the majority of the linen fabrics were marked with ‘C’ and the years ’54’, ’57’ or ’58’ [in the 1750s] referring to the tenant in tail, who at the time was Carl Fredrik Piper (1700-1770). Listed patterns in the inventory included ‘Night and Day motif ’, ‘The French rose’ and ‘Fortification pattern’ – all woven in variations of diaper or damask with geometric patterning and a wide border with contrasting designs. Just like the tablecloth dating from 1789 as discussed in this text. [Quotes in this section are translated from Swedish into English]

Compared to many other tablecloths of the time woven in the advanced damask technique, this cloth of twill diaper was less demanding, even if a lot of knowledge in weaving was required to reach a perfect result. At a closer study it is easy to conclude that a trained female or male weaver once produced this cloth, the weave is uniformly and exact in every detail, woven on a loom width of at least 1,35 m (2 widths = 2,66m) with a warp density of circa 20 threads/cm. (Private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

Compared to many other tablecloths of the time woven in the advanced damask technique, this cloth of twill diaper was less demanding, even if a lot of knowledge in weaving was required to reach a perfect result. At a closer study it is easy to conclude that a trained female or male weaver once produced this cloth, the weave is uniformly and exact in every detail, woven on a loom width of at least 1,35 m (2 widths = 2,66m) with a warp density of circa 20 threads/cm. (Private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

It is unusual for this sort of large size linen tablecloth to have been preserved for so long without being shortened, adjusted or laundered in an unsuitable way. On this close-up it is also possible to study how beautifully the middle seam is finished off – both on the front and back. The tablecloth measuring exactly 6,00 x 2,66 meters and is quite heavy too, weighing just over five kilos or 11 pounds! (private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

It is unusual for this sort of large size linen tablecloth to have been preserved for so long without being shortened, adjusted or laundered in an unsuitable way. On this close-up it is also possible to study how beautifully the middle seam is finished off – both on the front and back. The tablecloth measuring exactly 6,00 x 2,66 meters and is quite heavy too, weighing just over five kilos or 11 pounds! (private ownership) Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

Gift from my friend the Ex-chief inspector for historical buildings & monuments, former Director of the IK Foundation Carl-Filip Mannerstråle (1924-2002), Araslöv 1992 (the tablecloth was inherited through several generations in his family).

Sources.

  • Hansen, Viveka, Inventariüm uppå meübler och allehanda hüüsgeråd sid Christinehofs Herregård upprättade åhr 1758, 2004. (in Swedish only)
  • Oral information about the origin of the tablecloth in 1992, from Carl-Filip Mannerstråle.

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘The History of a Linen Tablecloth – dated 1789 (F 3) ‘, TEXTILIS , (June 11, 2015); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)