Dear Martha: What causes age spots to develop on antique linen sheets and tablecloths? Can the spots be removed or the fabric repurposed?
Answer: Linen is made from flax, which is one of the strongest and most lustrous of all fibers. Its use in fabric dates at least as far back as ancient Egypt. Because linen is so durable, it can survive for generations if cared for correctly (hence the abundance of heirlooms). The material can yellow over time, however. To prevent this from happening, wrap your linens in acid-free paper and store them in acid- and lignin-free boxes; never keep the fabrics in cedar chests, as the fumes emitted by this wood are harmful to cellulose fibers.
Once they set, age spots can be stubborn. As a general rule, you should never wash or bleach old, delicate linens. Instead, take them to a professional textile cleaner or restorer. For newer, less precious linen, you can soak the fabric for 30 minutes in a solution of lukewarm water and a mild, neutral detergent. Always rinse thoroughly, as detergent residue is another cause of yellowing. For light-colored linen, dyeing is an option, and it's relatively easy to do if you use one of the products that can be added to the wash cycle of your washing machine. Dark colors are best at masking age spots; avoid blue dyes, however, which can actually highlight age spots.
If cleaning or dyeing the linen isn't a good option, consider turning unaffected sections into household accessories. Flat sheets and tablecloths yield plenty of yardage for napkins, coasters and tea towels, or even a table runner. Simply cut the fabric to the desired size, allowing enough excess material for a hem. If the linen has a monogram or colored trim, try incorporating it into the accessory to preserve and showcase the fabric's history and character.
Dear Martha: What grain do you recommend for making rice pudding?
Answer: This classic, creamy dessert is all about consistency. It is typically made by cooking rice in milk and then adding some combination of cream, eggs, sugar and spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. You can use long-grain white rice when making the pudding, but it won't deliver the same consistency as a shorter, plumper grain. For the best texture and taste, Arborio, a medium-grain white rice, is recommended.
When Arborio is prepared properly, its center remains firm and chewy while the outer coating softens, adding creaminess to rice pudding or risotto, for which Arborio also is the choice grain. The fact that the rice can absorb up to five times its weight in liquid, as well as its ability to take on a variety of flavors, also makes it ideal for a pudding. Lastly, puddings made with Arborio rice should require less cream or fewer egg yolks than those made with other grains, so you can reduce calories without compromising the consistency and flavor.
Traditionally grown in Italy, Arborio rice is now harvested in California and Texas. It is available in many supermarkets and Italian specialty shops, at prices comparable with other grains'.
Dear Martha: Are there any helpful guidelines for determining how large an area rug should be for a room?
Answer: When sizing up a rug, it's more important to think about the role it will play than the dimensions of the room. As the name implies, area rugs are meant to demarcate specific areas within a larger space. For example, they're often used to anchor dining room tables, in which case they should be 3 feet to 4 feet wider and longer than the table to provide ample coverage for the chairs. Living rooms are a little less straightforward because they often contain multiple seating areas, which can be served by one or more area rugs.
The goal is to strike a balance between the rug, the furniture and the exposed hardwood floors. Arrange your furnishings (or plot them out on a sheet of graph paper if you're redecorating), and then size the rug or rugs accordingly.That said, try not to get too hung up on dimensions. As long as you choose a rug you love, you will be happy with the decision.
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