Amy Harper may keep many of the antique linens she collects tucked neatly in a chest of drawers, but their stories spill out.
Imagine a family gathered in the parlor on a Sunday afternoon. The sofa is draped with lacy antimacassars, pretty and practical at the time. Macassar was a brand of hair oil popular with men in the early 19th Century and the cloth coverings protected furniture should a man lean back.
Today, the linens are no longer used. Hair oil has fallen out of favor and besides, we have products that can clean our furniture.
But many of the lovely linens are still around, often relegated to thrift stores or flea markets.
Harper finds them, along with crocheted doilies, cutwork table linens, embroidered dresser scarves and colorful aprons. She loves the stories they tell, of women who never had idle hands. When chores were finished and they could sit down, they picked up needlework, putting their personal mark on practical things for the home.
"This was your way of expressing yourself. Your job was (keeping) your home and comforting your family," she said.
Dresser scarves had a practical purpose. The furniture could be dusted less frequently when protected. But practical became pretty when women embroidered flowers on them and added colorful crochet trim.
Dishwashing requires towels, and women liked to display pretty ones, sometimes having one labeled for each day of the week.
An apron protected a woman's clothing while she baked bread or prepared meals and she wore it like any other accessory, choosing colors and patterns she liked.
Harper said when a woman was entertaining guests, she might change into a frillier apron.
When she has presented a program she calls "Vintage Linens 101" at area libraries, Harper said participants have questions about how certain linens were used and how to care for them. They tell the most stories about aprons - memories of Mom or Grandma and what she wore.
Harper, who lives in Sissonville, finds most of the linens she buys at area thrift stores, antique shops and flea markets.
She also has a collection of vintage magazines, catalogs and even patterns that help her date items.
A vintage tablecloth with a fruit or vegetable motif likely dates to the World War II era, when people were encouraged to grow so-called Victory Gardens.
"You carried that idea into your tablecloth," she said.
Harper likes to use her linens, which include family heirlooms.
"I do encourage people to keep separate the ones that have come through the family," she said.
"If it's an inherited piece, I would be more protective of it, but I still use it," she said. "I'm not going to hold it to the fire, though."
A family tablecloth may come out once or twice a year for special occasions, for example.
Other linens find regular use in her Sissonville home. The dining table is draped in linens and covered with protective Plexiglas. Doilies and handkerchiefs are tucked under serving pieces or displayed on shelves. Hot pads, sewn or crocheted, are hung like artwork.
Harper's husband, Mike, is supportive of her frilly habit and has his own family room space. Sort of.