Hand-worked sheets, table linens and duvets were once part of a bride's trousseau, including items handed down and cherished from generation to generation. While ironed sheets and monogrammed linen napkins may strike modern families as relics from a bygone era, that doesn't have to be the case.
"We create everything so you can live in it," says Jane Scott Hodges, owner of Leontine Linens (3806 Magazine St., 504-899-7833; www.leontinelinens.com). "You don't have to iron [bed linens] — only you know if your sheets are ironed. And everything is better off in the washing machine."
As more people realize the value of reusing napkins and investing in long-wearing items, quality linens seem like a sound, eco-friendly investment. "These things do tend to last a long time," Scott says. "A nice pair of sheets won't pill; the towels won't shred. Absolutely, people do hand them down. It's green."
Still, diving into the world of fine textiles can be intimidating, Scott admits. To that end, she has authored Linens: For Every Room and Occasion (Rizzoli), which offers a comprehensive look at fine linens. Lavishly photographed by Paul Costello, the hefty volume touches on everything from the history of linens to their care, storage and use in situations ranging from daily baths to dinner parties. There's even a section on monogram etiquette.
"[The book] demystifies the concept that living with linen is hard," she says.
Scott was approached to write the book by Charlotte Moss, an interior designer and author published by Rizzoli New York. "There had not been a book [about linens] in the marketplace in some time," Scott says. "It was Charlotte Moss who said it was time."
Scott shares her history with linens in the book. She fell in love with handcrafted, monogrammed linens when she found a collection in the attic of her family home in the 1990s. "I discovered a treasure trove of linens that belonged to my ancestors, coupled with diaries," she says. On the cusp of marriage, Scott was on the hunt for monogrammed items, which at the time were not readily available.
"I happened upon a historic company started in the 1930s by Eleanor Beard," she says. "They were making these beautiful, handcrafted, monogrammed linens. After I got married and came back to New Orleans, I thought it would be fun to represent the company here."
In 1995, Scott launched Leontine Linens from her cottage on Leontine Street. The company makes every piece to order in the Eleanor Beard workroom in Kentucky. "We take the bolt and cut it and then we embellish it," Scott says. "The embroidery is done by hand-guided machine. The sketches are done by hand, and that sets us apart."
But the oversized monograms are what really put Leontine Linens on the national radar. "I blasted [the monograms] bigger and put them in fun colors, and that started getting me recognized," says Scott, whose business boomed after it was featured in Martha Stewart Living in 2003. Since then, it has been featured in dozens of national publications ranging from Elle Decor to The New York Times Magazine. But what Scott appreciates most is bonding with clients over pieces that will be with them for years to come.
"The beauty of this business...is getting to know people, earning their trust and selling them things they will cherish," she says. "We make one piece at a time, and it is custom, and we have conversations. I don't want to sell anybody something they don't want. I want you to enjoy this."
With its lavender chandeliers, butterfly murals and scented candles, Leontine Linens' 1,400-square-foot showroom feels as fresh as a clean sheet. There are cloud-soft towels made of 700-gram Turkish terry on display alongside monogrammed duvets. While the thought of outfitting an entire home in fine linens is daunting, in the shop it's easy to imagine starting small, with a robe or set of Egyptian cotton sheets, and building from there.
"These are things that can bring us pleasure that aren't huge investments," Scott says. "[Linens] are the most intimate items in your life. You bathe, sleep and entertain your friends and family with them. It's all about your personal life and how to feel comfortable using them."
How to start a fine linen collection
1. Start small. Even something as simple as a doily on your dressing table can enhance a room's decor.
2. For vintage finds, shop at estate sales, flea markets or on eBay and Etsy.
3. You can find nice sheets at Overstock.com or in department stores. Custom sheets at Leontine Linens start at $800 for a set of four pillowcases and fitted and flat sheets.
4. Thread count can be confusing. A lot of companies advertise extravagant thread counts, but since this is unregulated, a better indicator of quality is the way the sheet feels in your hand. You can tell if it feels like sandpaper.
5. Experiment by mixing prints with white sheets. Scott loves to mix different brands and pop in a monogram.
6. Sheets get better with care. Launder linens frequently in the washing machine to prevent dirt-induced pilling. Don't use bleach, tumble dry and remove the linens from the dryer right before they're completely dry to prevent wrinkles.