Fine linen wants to be used, Uptown writer says

Locals may know the name “Leontine” as a street in the Rickerville section of Uptown, one block downriver from Jefferson Avenue. But the word has risen to interior design prominence nationally in recent years, thanks to Jane Scott Hodges and her business, Leontine Linens.

Now, a new book from Rizzoli — “Linens: For Every Room and Occasion” — showcases the artwork of Hodges’ hand-embellished linens and demonstrates how they can fit in with a wide variety of lifestyles and esthetic tastes.

“The book is about a lot more than Leontine Linens,” said the writer, speaking of her New Orleans business. “It’s about the tradition of using fine linens on a day to day basis, in bedding or tablescapes or wherever. I came across my great-great-grandmother’s stash of linens in the attic when I was about to get married years ago, and they sparked my interest.”

Hardly anyone talks about a bride’s trousseau anymore, but for hundreds of years, the trousseau was the collection of clothing and household items, especially linens, that a maiden took with her when she married and began a new life. The linen trousseau was expected to have everything in it that the young woman and her family would need — dish towels, napkins, table cloths, sheets, quilts, and more. Everything was hand-made, hand-embroidered and expected to last a lifetime.

“Society has changed a lot and now we live in a world of paper napkins,” said Hodges. “But I would much prefer my children grow up with the tradition of using cloth napkins. It’s greener and it’s something they will remember. And fine linens are something they can pass down when the time comes.”

Hodges says that just because fine linens are custom-made, they are not too fragile for everyday use.

“In fact, the fibers need to breathe, they crave use, they become more beautiful the more you use them,” she said. “You can wash them in the washing machine on warm using a very gentle soap, then tumble them dry on low. It’s true that they need to be pressed but there are no linen police. Use them the way you want.”

Hodges’ new book highlights an endless variety of ways to incorporate hand-embellished linens in your home. In the bedroom, everything from blanket covers (bedspreads or coverlets), pillow cases (including “French cases” and Euro shams), sheets and bed skirts can feature monograms, edging and appliqués.

In a “tablescape,” there are opportunities to utilize embroidered, appliquéd, edged and monogrammed linens as cocktail napkins, bar napkins, table cloths, and runners. Terrycloth towels and bath sheets as well as piqué hand towels are canvases for the same treatment in the bath.

“When people think of monogrammed linens, much of the time they pictured an elaborate pattern of letters in ivory on an ivory background,” said Hodges. “But that’s too narrow a perception. As the book shows, both the cloth and the embroidery can be colored, the monogram can be in two colors, or in any letter style you can imagine.

“Some of the designers whose rooms are shown in the book don’t use monograms at all, but appliqués in a vine or Greek key pattern in a bedroom. There are just so many possibilities.”

The book includes helpful advice and fresh ideas from Hodges and the many designers she works with.

There are guides on everything from how to set a table, which pillow size combinations work best on a twin bed, and how to ensure the proper drop of a tablecloth.

A glossary at the back of the book helps clarify terms like “trapunto,” “Swiss fill,” “huck,” and other terms that may not be part of everyday vocabulary. Included are a visual guide to various types of monograms (two letter, three letter, interlocking letters), and styles including geometric, simple, complex, and whimsical.

“People ask me all the time if they should stick to a single monogram style and I ask them why they would want to.” Hodges said. “I can’t even count how many I have.”