I try to travel light. I don’t like a lot of luggage and I don’t bring a lot home with me. In fact, most of my souvenirs tend to be things for my children. But my weakness gets me every time. Textiles. I love fabrics, especially vintage fabrics.
I recently spent a week in Iceland. I was on my own and had no itinerary or agenda. I wandered the streets in any direction I chose.
On one street, just off the main shopping district in Reykjavik, I noticed a small red building, decorated with a red cross. I could see the words, in English, “Second Hand.”
My kind of place.
I opened the door and walked in. The tiny shop was full of locals looking through the racks of hand-knitted Icelandic wool sweaters. The sweaters were beautiful but what caught my eye was a bundle of fabric in the window.
I tried to get the attention of the two women working in the store but neither spoke English. Finally, a young woman realized I needed help and translated for me. She had the women bring out the fabric so I could get a closer look.They were four old woven flax or linen curtain panels in a soft, golden, natural color. They were clean, soft (obviously laundered many times) and in wonderful condition.
“How much?” I asked.
The young woman asked the two older women.
We finally determined that there were four curtain panels at $8 U.S dollars each.
“Not much, eh?” the young woman asked with a smile.
“No,” I said. “Not much at all.”
I measured the panels and realized that there were at least 8 yards of wonderful fabric selling for much less than it all would have cost in an American shop. Vintage European fabrics are very popular now and can command high prices in antique shops or at flea markets.
“I’ll take it,” I said, gesturing to the women.
They wrapped the fabric in paper and I carried it out of the store.
Of course, when it was time to leave my luggage was considerably fatter. Not only two bulky Icelandic sweaters (one purchased later at the same shop) crammed in, but eight yards of fabric, as well.
The remarkable thing? When I got home I discovered the curtain panels were exactly right for the two large windows in my living room and dining room.
I haven’t hung them yet. I don’t know if I will. I may repurpose the fabric in some way. But simply looking at the material gives me pleasure. Every time I see it I remember my adventure in Iceland and how I brought home a suitcase full of vintage gold.
(To see a photo of the fabric, click Continue Reading)
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com