Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How can I tell if my sheets are vintage?

I'm certainly no expert in the area of vintage sheets, but I thought I'd address a question that I had a few months ago when I started finding vintage sheets. The question is this: How can I tell if a sheet is vintage?

First of all, let's define the word "vintage." According to the dictionary, vintage refers to "the high quality of a past time" or "old fashioned or obsolete".

When someone posts about "vintage sheets" online, most of the time they're referring to sheets from the 70s (possibly the 60s). The 80s were such a graphic, bold, in-your-face time of fashion, most people don't collect "vintage" sheets from that era unless they involve cute cartoon characters that they happened to love as a child. If you like the 80s look in sheets, by all means, collect them!

You've probably noticed that I buy quite a few non-vintage sheets, too. Depending on your tastes, you might find the Laura Ashley florals of the 90s as irresistible as I do. Maybe you're attracted to another non-vintage style. I pick up ginghams almost every time I find them. They're not vintage, but there's nothing wrong with using them as fabric yardage, either.

Since sheets don't generally come with dates on them, you have to be somewhat of a detective and pick up on some clues. Don't worry - these aren't hard to learn.

That's the front and back of the tag on a recent find. Here are the clues on this one:
  • a short, no-nonsense tag
  • It's only printed in English, not three other languages.
  • There aren't any laundering symbols (a new-fangled invention presumably for people who can't or just don't want to read laundering instructions).
  • Sears, Roebuck, and Co. (pay attention to company names that are no longer in operation)

Here's another one. This tag is still crisp and bright because it was likely never used on a bed, but you can see many of the same details on this one.

One of the unique clues on this one is the "wash-wear" cycle the instructions refer to. That particular cycle was before my laundering time! Now I think my washing machine just refers to it as "permanent press."

And here's one of the shortest ones I've found yet. They didn't have to mess around with all the legal mumbo-jumbo back then, so the labels could be short and to the point. Nobody was going to sue the company if they accidentally laundered it wrong. (Don't you wish we could go back to those days??)

Another clue on this one, is the fact that it's called a "Double" bed, instead of "Full/Double". Most recent sheets refer to this size as "Full" or "Full/Double".

Pay close attention to the font that lists the size of the sheet. It's very close to the blue tag at the top. They didn't mess around with fancy fonts much back then, either. On most of the sheets I've found, the size is printed in this same font (or a remarkably similar one), regardless of the manufacturer.

So ... what do you do if you find a sheet with no tag? Some people find those tags annoying and cut them off. How dare they! (Um, I think I've done it a time or two ... ) ;)

In that case, it pays to familiarize yourself with the vintage sheets people post online. Go to Etsy and do a search for "vintage sheets." After you've seen about 20 of them, you should be able to spot a vintage sheet as soon as you walk into a store, whether you've seen that particular pattern before or not. My husband can even do it now!

One last word about vintage sheets: Keep the tags if they have them. (I always pin mine to the folded sheet once it gets cut off.) If you ever want to join a swap, you'll need to know if your sheet is all-cotton or a 50/50 poly/cotton, since the swap generally specifies which one. (I've only run across two all-cotton vintage sheets to date, but I guess they are out there.) This information comes in handy when you're making a quilt, too, so you can match up fabrics with the same fiber content.

I hope this information helps if you're just getting started in this addiction, er, hobby!


Aimee said...

My grandmother just gave me a huge pile of sheets. My grandparents had separate twin beds so I am currently overwhelmed with the pile of sheets but this post makes me want to go through them. Some are worth keeping and some are probably not good specimens. I need a cool project do with some of them. The flat sheets might be big enough to make a blanket out of...I wonder if I could die for the look I'm going for. :: Hmmm, much to think about.

Sophia said...

I've seen several ladies do up quilts of sheets from their grandparents, and I think they're lovely! I'm not sure if my own grandmother has anything other than white. She always good high quality sheets, but they were always white. That was probably because they could be bleached, if I know my grandmother. :)

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