Collecting Madeira Linens

Madeira Linens Collecting Madeira Linens

Work roughened hands produced some of the most delicate, sought after linens in the world on this temperate island. Discovered in the 15th century, the Portuguese Island of Madeira is best known for its wine and its exotic embroidery. Export of the beautiful linens to Europe began around 1850 and soon became sought after by nobility and found their way into the trousseau of princesses. A true cottage industry was born.

Madeira linen is worked on only the finest linen, organdy or batiste. The designs are worked in highly complex stitches such as eyelet stitching, Richelieu cut work, and heavy padded satin stitches. Eyelet stitching and cut-work are the most heavily used techniques in Madeira work, giving the fabric a lacy, delicate appearance. This type of work was used heavily on wedding gowns, christening gowns and tablecloths. In true Madeira work, the stitching around the eyelets and cut work was extremely neat, completely covering the cut edges with fine stitches. Linens with ragged eyelet work should be regarded suspiciously.

The most highly prized Madeira linens are identified as Marghab linens, produced by Marghab Linens, Ltd, founded in 1933 by Emile and Vera Marghab. Worked on linens specially made in Ireland or a crisp, transparent fabric known as Margandie from Switzerland with floss dyed in England and France, these lines were considered the "Tiffany of linens" because of their unerring perfection and attention to detail. A native of South Dakota, Vera Marghab designed the linens that her embroiderers made and was not reluctant to send back a piece several times until it met her strict definition of perfection.

Some of the "Authentic" Marghab linens can be found and identified according to pattern. Although not all of these can be found by pattern names. Many of the older handkerchiefs were never listed with pattern names. There are still other "unknown patterns" out there that we do not have a list of.

Several books are available with descriptions and pictures of Madeira and Marghab patterns, such as The Embroidery of Madeira by Carolyn Walker and Kathy Holman, which limits itself to Madeira embroidery alone. Vintage White Linens A to Z and Antique Linens from the Kitchen to the Boudoir by Marsha Manchester are two excellent sources of pictures and descriptions of both Marghab and Madeira linens.

Identifying authentic Madeira and Marghab linens can be very difficult. With the rising popularity of the linens, thousands of inexpensive fakes were created in Asia and marketed as authentic. Telling the difference can be very difficult to the unpracticed eye. The best advice to new collectors is to collect Madeira and Marghab linens that still have the original label attached if you can. Read some of the books listed, and do the research that is out there in identification of pattern listings and comparisons to what you may have.

Alana Morgaine
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