Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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The Book of Fine Linen


Amazon Books

I’ve been thinking about linen lately.

Ok, what’s new? I think about linen a lot! I thought about linen here (different types of linen for hand embroidery and where to find them), and I thought about it here (5 things you need to know about hand embroidery fabric), and I thought about it some more here (when I was considering embroidering on antique linens).

So this is just another post about linen, right? Because, after all, I think about it a lot.

No, no! Wait! That’s not it! Let me differentiate: Linen as opposed to linens. Linen The Fabric vs. Household Linen. See? There’s a difference! And today, I’m thinking of the latter linens.

My mind has turned towards monogramming lately, and before I ever embark upon a Big Project in any particular technique – especially if I’m planning the project for the website, or for teaching, or for a kit – I like to study up on the various aspects of it: social history, background of techniques, materials involved, and so forth.

Which brings me to this book:

The Book of Fine Linen

The Book of Fine Linen by Françoise de Bonneville is a big book. It’s a beautiful book. And it is all about fine linen. I would call it a social history of household linens, more than anything else.

The Book of Fine Linen

Yes, it’s full of pictures, but it’s even fuller of text – so it isn’t strictly a picture book! The photos throughout the book are sumptuous and stunning. But the text – the text is where the meat of the matter is. Linen, traced through history, through art, through literature – linen as a mark of social status, the decoration of linen, the importance of linen in commerce and in industry and in matrimony, the evolution of linens, the care of linens, and on and on and on. It’s all in here.

This is not a how-to book. It isn’t a book that will show you how to monogram a sheet or how to wash and dry it, either! But it will tell you how, when, why, where, and by whom these things were done throughout history.

The Book of Fine Linen

And it will show you little interesting bits, like the fact that, even before our “ready-made” era, monograms could be bought pre-made and applied to linens.

The Book of Fine Linen

When I first came across this book (in a used book store) this is the photo that sold me on buying the book. I opened it to this page. And my heart melted into a heap of happy Linen Bliss. But amazingly, I never read the book! I looked at the pictures, read a few captions, and put the book on my shelf among all those other “I’ll Read You Someday” books.

The Book of Fine Linen

If you had seen this monogram, wouldn’t you have bought the book?

The Book of Fine Linen

But there is a time and a place for everything. Some things (and some people – like me!) need time to age and mature. Once upon a time, I bought a book for its pictures. Today, I appreciate the book for its words.

What kid doesn’t go through that?

The Book of Fine Linen

I’m learning a lot about linen. And what I am learning will help me to be a better embroiderer.

The Book of Fine Linen

And by linen, I’m not talking about just linen. The Book of Fine Linens brings us all the way up to the age of cotton household linens and terry cloth towels. It’s not a stuffy book. It’s an appreciative book.

The Book of Fine Linen

And it has a fantastic glossary in the back.

If you’re a lover of linen, of textile history & social history, of monogramming, of beautiful fabric and knowing where it came from, you may very well enjoy this book – and for much more than just the photos! It’s great reading.

The Book of Fine Linen is no longer in print. If you’d like to own it, try your favorite used book sources!


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(15) Comments

  1. Oh, thank you so much for this information! I am definitely going to look for the book. I am a beginner (but enthusiastic) sewist and am also teaching myself embroidery. I am also lucky enough to have a stash of beautiful French household linens, all with monograms, from the late 19th or early 20th century, thanks to my French inlaws. Some I am trying to preserve and use, others have been too shabby and I’ve recycled them into clothes or accessories. The fabrics and ornamentation are just amazing.

  2. Hi Mary — About ten years ago I bought a linen hand towel which was made circa 1800, with a turkey red monogram (simple but beautiful stitching) that happened to be my daughter’s monogram. I still can’t get over this thing. Heavy, substantial, silky to the touch 200+ years after the flax was sowed, harvested, laboriously turned into the fiber that was then woven on a loom, and finally embroidered. Not a weak spot on it. The history of the thing overwhelms me. I am so caught up in the story behind linen that I get lost in thinking about it. In fact, I wrote a novel about a woman who lives and breathes fine linen — The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square. Next time you’re at the library, you might have a look.


  3. Hi! It must be very interesting book!
    What is the difference between needlework linen and household linen?
    For a cross stitch I have to buy Zweigart, like Cashel or Belfast. But it’s very expensive. I can’t buy them for whitework tablecloth.

    Do you know some good producers in Europe?

  4. Hi Mary,

    It appears that this book is due for republishing. Both Amazon.com and chapters.ca have it listed to be re-released on October 18, 2011. How serendipitous!

    Now to put it on my wish list.


  5. Mary, I have this book and I totally agree. It is beautiful and full of inspiration. Love it, the explanations and, of course, the wonderful pictures.

  6. Maybe if I had picked up this book that opened at this page, I might not have had to buy it, but then my name doesn’t begin with an ‘M’. On the other hand, had I done all that and the book opened at the page with a ‘C’ monogram that was as beautiful as the ‘M’ I definitely would have had to buy it.

    Go Mary! I shall wait for a couple of weeks and have a look for it.

  7. That looks like a really gorgeous book.

    Thanks for sharing it with us who don;t have the opportunity/ resources / access to books like this.

    I love white embroidery and am working on patience!! One day I’m going to do a lovely BIG linen project…slowly!

  8. Hi Mary
    Many thanks to allow me to know a book which was published in french too.Unfortunately this book is out of print in France …It seems so interesting,sure,I will find it !!

  9. Wow… hours of happiness!

    Speaking of linen, but linen fabric, not just linens, I was looking at the Restoration Hardware catalog, and they have high-quality Belgian linen curtains. Some of them are extremely long, and they come in a wide range of weaves, too! They seem expensive, but viewed as embroidery fabric, they’re probably very cost-effective. I don’t think they’d be my first choice for curtains, but as a source for fabric… all you’d have to do is take out the hems and iron!!

  10. hi,

    our national library has this book for loan – i brought it home once with an ulterior motive, to block my tattings 🙂 but it’s a very good read. i only do ribbon embroidery and so tempted..

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