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Dec 072010

Most people agree that linen was the original woven textile. Remains of primitive linen production have been found that date back 36,000 years. The piece in this picture is said to be 7,000 years old, and the oldest piece of textile to exist. Visit any major museum and you will find ancient linen garments. The point is: linen has a long life span.

Before the wide use of cotton, most clothing was made from linen. In my mind, it remains one of the best and most versatile textiles for clothing and home use.

Why did linen fall out of favor? I have my own theories. One is that linen was more expensive than cotton. Another is the introduction of polyester in the 1950’s. Prior to that, we washed and ironed our clothing and home textiles. Suddenly, you could throw everything into a washing machine and dryer, and everything came out ‘ready-to wear. We developed a collective rejection of wrinkles! Linen wrinkled. Wrinkles were not “modern”.

In my mind, we gave up a lot when polyester was introduced.

1. We moved away from natural fibers to ones that were produced with petroleum based products.

2. We lost the knowledge of how to clean and care for natural fibers. This “tribal knowledge” was handed down over the centuries and was lost in 2 generations. One of the most common questions we are asked is “can I wash this?” We have forgotten that EVERYTHING was once washed! There was no drip dry and there were no dry cleaners.

3. The top on my list: we gave up the human satisfaction that comes from living with and wearing natural fibers. Natural fibers do not hold odors, stains can be removed more easily, they last longer, BUT they take more care. The last 50 years has been dedicated to doing things faster but not better.

Back to linen. The manufacturing of raw cotton into cotton yarn is a tremendous global pollution problem. The production uses enormous amounts of water. The chemicals employed for most cotton production poisons the land and water supplies. Linen production, on the other hand, is relatively low tech. In addition, linen is naturally anti microbial, which means that it does not “sour” like cotton. If you have a linen towel and a cotton towel in your bathroom, the linen one will smell fresh for a very long time. The same goes for linen clothing. Linen is particularly well suited for hot and humid climates.

Linen has a very long life span. It is more difficult to tear or rip than cotton.

However, we are experiencing a shift in recent times.

It started in fashion with 100% linen fabrics and a deconstructed point of view which turned seams inside out to expose fibers and threads as something to be admired. The modern consumer became attracted to the aesthetic of natural fibers and inherent wrinkling, or at the very least, a “non artificially smooth” look. The result is that Anichini is receiving more and more requests for linen sheeting, linen towels and linen decorative fabrics. Fortunately, I have long been a fan of linen, we have many offerings in our collection.

Iconic items made from linen:
The Shroud of Turin
The Tablecloth at the Last Supper
Great Gatsby’s Trousers
King Tut’s entombment wrapping
Alexander the Great’s laminated linen armor

Nov 182010

I have been waiting to communicate these thoughts for a very long time. Before House and Garden shut its lovely doors, Dominique Browning and I conversed together about  publishing this piece. But now is the age of the blog. So rather than using a print magazine, I will push this forward for all to read and contemplate.

The discussion of thread count in the bedding world is largely specious. The term “thread count” was originally developed in the USA to differentiate percale from muslin. A thread count is the measurement of threads per square inch. A thread count  that was 200 and over was considered to be a percale. Anything under 200 was considered to be muslin. This nomenclature was never meant to apply to sateens, jaquards and other European manufactured sheeting which are not constructed using the simple “over and under” weave of a percale. For example, to achieve a sateen, threads are “floated” on the surface.

When European sheeting made a serious entrance into the marketplace 25 years ago, Americans continued to ask this question because the packaging was not marked with thread counts, as this standard  of measurement had no meaning in Europe. Europeans measured some qualities by grams per square centimeters. Lest I state the obvious, they do not use inches in Europe.

Within a short time, the meme had been created. “What is the thread count? What is the thread count?” chanted the eager luxury consumers. It was meant to project an intelligent question; a question that reflected the knowledge of the consumer. After all, European sheeting was far more expensive than American percale.  And if American percale listed thread counts, then so should the rest of the world.

It snowballed. European manufacturers were forced into declaring thread counts. Anichini was included in this charade, which I refer to as “The Emperor with No Threads” Companies were afraid NOT to give the consumer a response, so they loosely created an answer to a question that should never have been asked in the first place.

We at Anichini resisted for a very long time; attempting to educate the public. But eventually, even we caved in. Every time I had to answer this question and neglected to give this full explanation, I would experience an internal cringe.  However, in all these years, we never marked thread counts on any packaging other than percales.

Once that started, the race for higher and higher thread counts took off. Because, after all, higher had to be better! Higher thread counts on packaging became a marketing tool. For the record, in weaving typical long staple cotton yarns, you cannot achieve much over 500 thread counts.  However, if you use twisted yarns or double yarns, you simply multiply times 2 and you get 600, 800, etc. In my opinion, if you have a sheet with a 1000 thread count, you may as well wear a raincoat to bed.  The weaving is so dense, it does not breathe. VERY recently, I have seen super high thread count sheets created with yarns meant for clothing.  They are beautiful and very pricey. But this is an exception to the rule.

A textile lover should be able to touch the fabric and feel it’s “hand”. How does it feel to you?  In reality, the quality of the yarn or threads is more important than any superficially applied description.

You may prefer one hand and not another. For instance, you may like linen sheets in the summer and cotton in winter. Linen has a natural coolness to the hand. You may prefer silk sheets or mist lino sheets (50 cotton/50 linen). None of this personal attraction to a specific hand has anything to do with thread count.

There are fabulous sheets produced with low thread counts. Cotton voile is a perfect example; linen is another.

A loose analogy could be purchasing wine.  Do you buy a bottle of wine because it has a higher alcohol content?  No! You know that a Riesling has a different alcohol content than a Pinot Noir, but you purchase the wine because you like the taste.  In the same way that different seasons suggest a different wine, the same is true with sheeting.

Bottom line: Have faith in your sensibilities. Open the package.  Remove the sheet and feel it.  Look at your hand through it.  Is it sheer enough to your liking?  Is it heavy enough to your liking? Is it smooth enough? Is it crisp enough?  Is the sewing perfect.  Are the stitches small and even? Are the hems even? There should be no puckering. Think of it in the way you would buy good clothing!

Nov 162010

Everyone close to me knows that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. On that day we celebrate Gratitude with family, food and no other distractions. In my mind, that’s as good as it gets.

On the topic of Gratitude, I remain hugely grateful to Zainab Salbi for her unflagging dedication to women in this world who have become victims of war. Anichini continues to support 6 women through this program.  Their letters and pictures, which come to us through the mail, are a constant and uplifting reminder of our own good fortune. They also offer us a window into the world of these remarkable women who are thankful beyond words for the assistance they receive.

To express our gratitude this Thanksgiving Anichini will donate $1 for every new blog subscriber this season to Women for Women International.

Zainab Salbi photo credit

Oct 292010

I am domestic by nature.  Household chores can be a pleasure for me if I am not rushed. Dishes, laundry, ironing, mending, cooking, garden work….all lovely and fulfilling if I have the precious time to be present for the tasks at hand.

This weekend I read the new John Stefanidis book An Island Sanctuary.  Here is what he has to say on the same subject: “A house and a garden need constant nurturing. Towels go gray or fray, cushions tear, carpets fade, plants die and must be replaced, trees grow too close together and need to be cut down – it is not dreary maintenance that is necessary but the celebration of life itself”


Aug 112010

This is Mark Twain's Monogram

Monograms have been around for a very long time. They have been traced back to the Greeks who used them on coins. After that, artists and guilds used them as a creative signature or authorized mark.

Then royalty got a hold of the idea, and finally individuals. I founded Anichini sourcing and selling antique textiles, and my collection of old monograms (all done by hand) are dear to me. There is a genuine feeling of history being handed down with these items -which is exactly why they are dear!

Recently we had a party in our L.A. store. Monogrammed napkins were then presented to the honored guest after the event as a keepsake. The date was also embroidered (very small) into the corner.

I am now designing a series of monograms based on the Illuminated Manuscripts.

Check back!

Aug 092010

CB2 Marta glass. The ‘real deal’ for two bucks.

When I was 18 years old, I walked into a new store in Old Town Chicago called Crate and Barrel. It changed my life forever.

I am an avid admirer of Gordon Segal, the founder, and have a picture of him in my office with a quote that says: “Stay nervous. Stay Humble”.

Very recently on a trip to LA, I stopped into a CB2, which is a younger and hipper version of it’s parent. How refreshing to find a company designing beautiful, functional products with affordable pricing.

I know a lot about glass.  That explanation is for a different time.  The Marta glass at CB2 pictured here is glorious in design and weight. Priced at only $2.00, this glass gets the Anichini ‘real deal’ vote.

Dec 152009

My twin girls will tell you that I have a personal credo regarding interior decorating and they will quote me on cue:

“All you need is one good rug!!”.

I met Susan Gomersall of Kea Kilim over 20 years ago.  My entire tribal rug collection has been purchased from her over these years. I would not think of buying one somewhere else.

In the early days, I could not afford them and would have to make payments over time.  I adore living with these rugs in my home; sometimes changing them out for the season; dark ones in winter and light ones in summer. My collection brings me a deep satisfaction and sense of well- being. I know that each and every one was handmade and often dream about the creator.  In my dining room, I layer them, one over the other, Bedouin style.

Each one is unique.  Each one was woven with an individual vision, although the cultural and stylistic traditions are very apparent.

Rugs are a currency.  Given the state of the investment world, I can tell you that my rug collection has appreciated for more consistently than any stock or bond.  Imagine that you actually live with these beauties at hand in your home while they appreciate in value every year. How can you beat that?

Susan is British but left England in 1971. She was studying ancient stone carvings in the Middle East. Living with Kurdish nomads, she never returned home. Instead she traveled throughout Asia buying and trading rugs for the next 15 years. Let’s cut to the chase: she’s an expert with a passion that is evident the moment she begins to speak on the subject.

Her partner in life and crime is Azy Schecter. They met around 2001 and went into business together. Azy is a contemporary rug designer and works with architects and designers on private and corporate projects. Her water color drawings of new designs are collectible in and of themselves.

The combination of these two women, as well as the combination of old and new, is unbeatable and totally unique in this world.  Their store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is the best of the best; I cannot visit there without sticking around for hours, many times leaving with a new rug.

Unlike most rug galleries, you will not feel in the least bit intimidated. Both women are generous of heart and spirit and take great pleasure in introducing you to their world.

Jul 302009
Lee and Ricardo, Ariels Restaurant, Brookfield VT

Ariel’s Restaurant, Brookfield VT

Even though I live in the middle of nowhere, I am beyond blessed to have a world class restaurant a short 20 minute drive from my home in Vermont. It is called Ariel’s, and the owners, Lee and Richard, have become close friends to me and my family.

The atmosphere in Ariel’s is very reminiscent of old-style European eateries. The chef and maitre d’ live upstairs with their beautiful children and the Catahoola dog. The pristine setting in Brookfield on the pond (with a floating bridge) is primo, but it cannot hold a candle to the food itself.

With a serious emphasis on fresh, local food (long before it became so popular) and exceptional, affordable wines, Richard and Lee have set the bar so high that very, very few restaurateurs can achieve it consistently.

Lee can be glimpsed as you walk through the door working in her small but efficient kitchen. She prepares all the food. Richard is the wine and spirits expert, having had his own radio program called The Wine Guy.

Last night I went to a fabulous Farmers’ Dinner at Ariel’s honoring the local farmers and cheesemakers that supply their restaurant. I had the total pleasure of sitting with Craig and Angela Russell from Brotherly Farm (who raise beef and pork) and Allison Hooper (founder of Vermont Butter and Cheese).

I feel so fortunate to be a part of the remarkable food revolution that is taking place. Richard has also taught me how to forage mushrooms…and the chanterelles are out right now!

Jul 292009
W4W Sisters in Nigeria

A W4W sister in Nigeria

About 3 years ago I was visiting my daughter, Ivy, at Bennington College. She had a remarkable friend named Galla Stambuk. Galla is Croatian and a devout Muslim.

Galla asked if she could send me some books. One of them was called Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing up in the shadow of Saddam by Zainab Salbi.

It is one of the best books I have ever read and taught me so much about Iraq and its culture, and it answered many questions I had about Hussein. The book is an autobiography and ends with Ms. Salbi’s desire to help women in the world who have suffered from war or occupation. Here at Anichini, we now support 6 women in this program. The program is called Women for Women International.

The picture you see here is from one of our W4W Sisters in Nigeria.

Jul 152009
A clothes line - savior of textiles

Textile savior?

Who would ever think that having a clothes line would become a rare and coveted thing? At Anichini, we know well that the clothes dryer is a textile killer. The last 5 minutes overheats the fibers and causes them to deteriorate.

If you have the opportunity, never dry anything 100% unless you don’t care about the lifespan.

You can also purchase a drying rack. I use one from Best of New England. It is collapsible and you can take it outside on a sunny day. I hang up everything—even T-shirts! It is better for the environment and better for the life of any fabric or textile.

And clothes lines are making a comeback – even in Manhattan.