Bold, Vibrant Vintage Wilendur Tablecloths and Kitchen Linens
by Lynda Kolski (03/26/09).
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Wilendur’s popular dogwood pattern came with several different colored backgrounds, including dark green and white. The Begonia pattern is typical of the bright colors found on Wilendur tablecloths. This one still bears the original tag.
An early Wilendur paper tag, which, if still attached, adds value to the piece.
Wilendur tablecloths can still be occasionally found with its matching napkins.
Some of the most popular items in collectible linens today are the brightly colored printed tablecloths of the 1930s-1960s. These vintage table linens take us back to a simpler time, often evoking fond memories. Perhaps the best-known of printed table linens is the Wilendur brand produced by the Weil and Durrse Company from 1938-1984.
Weil and Durrse actually produced several lines of table linens, but Wilendur is the most popular and most sought-after. The company first began manufacturing table linens in 1924 with its “Pride of Flanders” table linens, made of fine European linen, primarily from Belgium. When importing products from Europe became difficult during the run-up to World War II, the company shifted to a heavy cotton or sailcloth fabric, and in 1938 introduced Wilendur tablecloths.
When most people think of vintage tablecloths, the heavy, durable cotton fabric for which Wilendur and other early brands are known is what comes to mind. Decades later, however, Wilendur tablecloths were actually made from a variety of fabrics, including lighter cotton, synthetic blends, terrycloth and even plastic.
There are hundreds of Wilendur designs, but the name is closely associated with the classic repeating patterns of 14-inch- and 16-inch-squares of design. This is sometimes referred to as the “array design” or “three-across.” Typically, there were three squares of the same design repeated across the tablecloth. The number of rows depended on the length of the cloth. Wilendur also made traditional border patterns, in which the design formed a border around the cloth or a solid color bordered the design.
Wilendur’s American Beauty pattern was one of several rose patterns offered. After 1958, Weil and Durrse added an e to the end of the Wilendur name. Royal Rose was yet another example of the popular Wilendur rose pattern. An early Wilendur fabric tag. Not all Wilendur tablecloths had fabric tags.
Few of the Wilendur designs were patented, so they were often copied by other companies. Sometimes Wilendur linens had a cloth label attached, but not always. It’s not unusual to find a classic Wilendur “American Beauty” rose pattern on a tablecloth bearing the label from another company. Wilendur patterns were often used on other brands made by Weil and Durrse, such as Setting Pretty, America’s Pride and Oppa Tunity. Although design can be one clue to identifying the maker of a tablecloth, because so many designs were copied, it is not a definitive identifier.
Wilendur tablecloths are commonly found in smaller sizes, such as 54-inches square or 54 inches by 72 inches. Like other printed cloths of the time period, they were meant to be used on the kitchen table, which seated four to six people. I often have customers looking for larger sizes to accommodate farm tables or today’s larger tables. However, during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, kitchen tables were much smaller. It’s difficult to find a vintage printed tablecloth longer than 72 inches. There are some reproductions made from vintage designs that are sized for today’s larger tables. A vintage tablecloth can work on a larger table, however. Often people will lay the tablecloth at an angle, allowing the wood corners of the table to show. Another way is to cover the table with a larger solid color cloth and drape the vintage cloth over top of it.
This Wilendur Aster tablecloth has the original tag and has never been used, but has significant storage soiling. Wilendur did a number of fruit prints, including this handprinted strawberry design. The tag on a Wilendur handprinted strawberry print design. This is an early Wilendur paper tag that was used only on towels.
Besides tablecloths, Weil and Durrse also produced placemats, napkins, runners, towels and aprons in matching patterns for their Wilendur tablecloths. Luncheon sets or tea sets, consisting of a small (usually about 34- or 35-inch-square) tablecloth and four napkins, were also available. The company also sold its fabric from bolts. Housewives could buy any length of fabric and make tablecloths, napkins, placemats, towels or curtains. The bolt fabric was either 44- or 54-inches wide with two selvage sides. All the lady of the house had to do was hem the two ends.
Wilendur tablecloths always had two selvage and two hemmed sides. This provides an easy way to spot Wilendur reproductions, as most are hemmed on all four sides. Also, reproductions are usually 60-inches square; a size that Wilendur never manufactured.
Although Wilendur is known for its vibrant and colorful floral designs, it also had patterns with fruit and vegetables, Christmas, southwestern motifs, stripes and solids, home décor, and barnyard themes. A number of classic Wilendur patterns came in several different colors. For instance “Dogwood,” a 1950s pattern, came in at least eight different color backgrounds that showcased a white and gray flower. While several of the colors—such as pink, green and red—are readily available, finding the Dogwood pattern with the black background is difficult. There were a number of rose patterns, which also were available in several colors. Roses were very popular, so this design was used widely among many of the tablecloth manufacturers. Wilendur’s “American Beauty” came out in the 1940s and was one of their best-selling designs. Red rose patterns are still abundantly available.
The back of the Wilendur label declares the company’s commitment to quality. A Wilendur yellow rose towel with an early paper label still attached. This southwest design is another example of the vibrant colors used by Wilendur. Towels manufactured by Wilendur will sometimes have a sewn-in tag. In 1958, Wilendur added an “e” to the end of its name on all its labels. Finding a tablecloth with Wilendure on the tag will date the cloth to 1958 or later.
There are many variables that affect the price of Wilendur tablecloths—condition, design, color, size and fabric are the most important. Unused tablecloths that still have their original paper tags attached command a higher price, even with minor storage soiling, which many will have. Certain designs or patterns, such as Wilendur’s 1950s lobster and clam pattern—which is hard to find and still very popular—will bring higher prices. Prices can range from $30 to $150 or higher for a pristine, unused, hard-to-find pattern. Towels generally sell for $10-25.
The bold, vibrant colors of Wilendur tablecloths and kitchen linens are still quite popular today. And thanks to the exceptional quality of the fabric used, there are many cloths still available in good condition despite the fact that they are anywhere from 30-70 years old.
Lynda Kolski is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage textiles.