Salt, lemon juice, and lying in the sun… Ahhh, the perfect recipe for... oh no, wait, something is missing. Where's the tequila? No, hmm, I guess we are not having margaritas? Oh right, I was going to talk about cleaning vintage tablecloths.
From the wonderful Kitschy heavy cotton "Lunch Cloths" to the most pristine whites, table linens of the Depression Era could be purchased for a mere pittance. Spending only a dollar or two, it was a great way for housewives to liven up their kitchens and raise the family's spirits. Today, the garish holiday themed patterns, large floral prints, and any one of the 50 States tablecloths (especially if found with the paper tag in place) are a collectors dream and could cost as much as two or three hundred dollars. A true collector would not dream of putting one of these finds on the table, but, for many of us, these colorful cloths tucked away in our servers are like time capsules from our childhoods.
There may be fond memories of helping set the table for dinner or spreading one on the picnic table for a summer supper outside on the patio. We may remember our Mother, Grandmother, or Aunt chastising cousin Tommy for knocking over the cranberry sauce while teasing the girls or clicking their tongues when Uncle Harry, after "just one more little sip", knocked over the best crystal goblet leaving the red wine in a puddle on Santa's face.
These Victory Women wasted no time at the end of the meal "clearing up", food wrapped and put away, dishes washed, dried and placed in the cupboards, and the tablecloth left to soak in the hottest possible water. With that, the blemished fabric could wait until the next day when they would agitate it gently with their hands so not to damage the threads (no need to knead, and they would never wring!).
Knowing that the best bleach is the most natural one, they employed the safest and most effective way of cleaning their textiles by using a centuries old method. A process that had been passed down to them through the generations. A little lemon juice mixed with salt on the stubborn stains, a clear rinse in extra hot water and then outside to lie stretched flat on the ground where sunlight combined with the water and grass would brighten and remove any stain naturally. Some refer to this age old technique as "crofting" or "grass bleaching".
What could be greener? You simply lay clean, damp linens out on a green, grassy lawn on a sunny day. A natural bleaching action occurs with the combination of sunlight, water, and grass that will whiten and remove stains. Make certain that you sun both sides equally and sprits with water periodically if necessary. Colorfast dyes were not used until after 1935 so you may want to test a spot first. When completely dry, use an acid free tissue to wrap it in before you stow it away for next time.
So, go get that wonderful, bright red, hibiscus tablecloth, with the flamingos on it, that your Mother got from your Great Aunt Mary's Cousin Fred's Wife and don’t be afraid to use it. And, let's see now, with the left over ingredients, you could always make yourself a margarita.