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2005 Guide to Home Repair: Antique Linens

“Don’t think that if something looks dingy and yellow, it’s done for,” says Sarah Hill, owner of Curzon Hill Antiques in Alexandria, an antique-linen store and repair service.

Linen Lady: Sarah Hill, Curzon Hill Antiques

People often give up on pillowcases, tablecloths, and other linens they've inherited. "Getting those to look nice and bright again is one of the easiest things to do," Hill says. She soaks linens and hand cleans them with special archival soaps. When customers pick them up, "they can't believe it's the same thing," she says.

Hill, 33, also repairs fraying, tears, and holes. One customer brought in her childhood quilt, which was destroyed by her husband, who hadn't realized its value. "He was stuck in the mud and put it under the car's tire," Hill says. The spinning wheels burned holes in the quilt, and it was caked in mud. Hill cleaned it, cut out the burned patches, and sewed it back together as best as possible. All repairs are done by hand and arereversible.

The women in Hill's family have worked with textiles for generations. Her great-grandmother was a seamstress in Iowa; as a girl, her mother won ribbons in sewing contests in Omaha.

"I love history and material culture," she says. "I love learning about why and what people did with the things they had." One of Hill's favorite linens is a never-used hand towel with six inches of fringe created for the centennial of George Washington's inauguration.

Homeowner tips: To get red-wine stains out of a tablecloth, stretch it over the sink and pour boiling water through the side that was face down on the table. This can wait until the next morning, but not much longer, and won't work for wines that contain red dye. (If the cork is red, you're in trouble.)

To get undyed candle wax out of a tablecloth, gently scrape off as much as you can and then freeze the cloth. The wax will then flake off more easily.

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