At the flea market

As many of you know, I live in Stockholm. There are lots of antique stores, but no good flea markets. By good I mean flea markets where I can find textiles and textile tools. These kind of flea markets do exist, you just need to go to the countryside to find them. For the last five years we have rented a cabin at a sheep farm in the beginning of August. Not far from the farm there is a three storey flea market in an old spinning mill. Couldn’t be better.

The market is open every Sunday all year round. Of course we made a day of it! So far I am disappointed in the range of textile tools, but there is one table at the flea market I can spend the whole day at.

The textile table

The sellers keep their table for as long as they rent them, so I know exactly where to go. My first stop is always the textile table. A woman collects textiles from around the countryside, not seldom from estates. Picture an old lady who once cherished her linen closet and filled it with hand woven gems. Picture the next generation unaware of the treasure hidden behind a squeaky cabinet door. The local super heroine, the Textile Lady, comes to the rescue and saves all the textiles from oblivion.

A table full of folded textiles.
The textile table at the flea market. Filled with old textiles that someone has cherished, another thrown away and a third has saved from extinction.

The table is filled with sheets, towels, table cloths and lots of haberdashery (oh, how I love this word!). Bobbin lace, name bands, needles and every colour of buttons you can imagine.

Hooks, pins and sewing thread.
Flea market treasures – hooks, pins and sewing thread.

The old packages are just exquisite. The pin box above right says “First class brass pins, solid heads”. Isn’t it to die for?

Boxes of lace and name bands.
Lace and name bands for every occasion.

I stayed for a long while at the lace box, just taking in all the lace beauty and the  hours upon hours of (women’s) work invested in them.

I bought three embroidery hoops from the haberdashery corner (I just had to write this sweet word again!). The two bigger ones look like most embroidery hoops I have seen (see also featured image). But the smallest one is just so exquisitely made! The locking mechanism seems different and the inner hoop has a band meticulously wrapped around it. When I look at the label and the logo I’m thinking the 1020’s.

Save the sheets!

My heart aches for all the sheets, towels and table cloths at the flea market and I want to rescue them all. I can’t, but we always end up buying more than we intended to. There is a lot of women’s history in these textiles, but also a story of industrialism and contemporary consumption patterns.

When my parents got married in 1965 they got lots of household textiles for their new home – sheets, kitchen towels, table cloths etc. They still sleep on those sheets and dry their hands on those linen towels. If I should buy new sheets today, they would be threadbare in under a year. The pressure to buy more and new clothes every turn of the season has led to a pressure on the cotton industry. The cotton fibers are shorter to make way for more harvests. The yarn is more loosely spun and the sheets are woven at a wider sett to save fiber.

We bought four old sheets at the market. Last year we bought six. These are wonderfully thick and strong, some of them hand woven. They will probably last longer than a lifetime.

Four folded sheets with lace borders
Old sheets, a treasure

Look at the sheet below with the beautiful monogram. This sheet was made with love and pride. Probably also various amounts of blood, sweat and tears. However, the loom was too narrow to weave a whole sheet’s width. Thus, the sheet was woven in two lengths and joined in the middle. If you look closely, you can see a very fine seam between the letters in the monogram and above the crocheted lace. Just look at that join! Imagine the hours it took to sew it in bad lighting and sore eyes in a tiny country cottage. I sleep on these sheets with joy and the knowledge that someone has put their skill, love and hours and hours of work into my sleep comfort.

A sheet with a lace border and monogram. A tiny seam between the letters.
Can you see the join of the two sheet halves?

The sheets cost €4 each.


While the Textile Lady has heroically saved the textiles, we bought the workings of another textile heroine. Someone had bought four hand woven fancy kitchen towels and joined them together with a crocheted lace ribbon. Such a smart and thrifty way to upcycle old textiles.

A table cloth made of four kitchen towels joined together with lace ribbons
Kitchen towels made into a table cloth

In my textile rescuing frenzy, I bought five hand woven kitchen towels. Some of them were beautifully monogrammed.

Five white towels, two monogrammed in red
Handwoven kitchen towels

I put them away in the linen cabinet, but the other day I took them out again. My plan was to sew drawstring spindle bags. When I looked closer at them, I saw that they were woven in twill with a linen warp and cotton weft.

Close-up of a white twill textile
Twill towels in linen warp and cotton weft.

If you look closely, you can see it. The horizontal weft is matte while the vertical warp is shiny. I pulled out a warp thread and my theory was confirmed – long and shiny fibers. And then I realized that the linen thread was most likely handspun. You can see in the close-up above that the thread is not industrially even. You can also see some remaining cellulose from the flax processing.

I bought the five towels for €15. Talk about unappreciated women’s labour. Now, however, they are greatly appreciated, by me. And I have turned them into beautiful drawstring bags, ready to host spindles and new yarn for future textiles. The circle is complete.

Enamel necessities

The last thing we bought was an enamel washbasin. Actually, it was my husband who found it. ” I figured you would need this to wash yarn in!”. Indeed I did. This is a very typical kitchen utensil from the beginning of the last century by Kockums enamelware.  They were very popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s but they stopped making them in the 1960’s. I have bought several Kockums utensils from Swedish e-bay – colanders, 5 and 10 deciliter measures and funnels. My favorites are the milk fetcher and the cream fetcher. The fetchers are lidded buckets to fetch the milk (2 l) and cream (5 dl) from the milk store in. We use the milk fetcher for compost and the cream fetcher for tea.

Anyway, the washbasin is doing its job very well and when I don’t use it for soaking yarn in it is the proud home of my cards and combs. We also bought a potty for my husband’s niece who was born two months ago.

A washbasin and potty in enameled tin
Enamel basin for various handspun related purposes

What about the textile tools?

Well, I looked for textile tools and found none. You might expect the odd scutching knife, flax hackle or weasel, but nothing. A couple of modern umbrella swifts and a the ugliest sewing table you have ever seen. Well, we’ll come again next year. Maybe we will save some more textiles or spot a whole range of flax processing tools, who knows!

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