review: Caroline Z. Hurley's block-print linen Hannah throw

Caroline Z. Hurley's block-print linen "Hannah" throw, black with gold triangles

Something I'd been wanting lately was a washable lightweight throw for my couch, a restored vintage chocolate mohair tuxedo sofa bought on a whim last fall—a true splurge. And I love it. It's long, narrow, sexy, and brown—like the best legs. The perfect couch for one person, it's too shallow for cuddling, but I don't have to worry about that since it's just me and the cat. Anna's favorite perch is on the wall end of the couch atop the left arm, where she watches me typing when not napping. But, covered in fur, she sheds bits of hair and litter and has horizontal-scratching habits upholstered furniture needs protection from.

restored vintage chocolate-brown mohair tuxedo sofa via Hawthorne Vintage, October 2013

This winter, I'd been using a large, machine-washable grey wool blanket picked up a couple years ago from Goodwill. After spring warmed things up and the wool was folded away, I shook out one of my striped cotton picnic blankets and spread it along the length of the couch, thinking that would do the trick. But Anna kept catching her claws in the loose weave, making little snags. I happen to like those two striped mystery blankets, which were only $7 each, and don't intend to destroy them. So I started researching linen throws.

If you read the blog, you know linen is my absolute favorite fabric. It's superior to cotton in more ways that I can count: longevity, sheen, texture, durability, and more. These block-printed linen blankets stood out on Etsy, handmade in Wisconsin, but the available patterns and colors were limited. I remembered a block-printed linen throw first seen somewhere else on the Web that I couldn't get out of my mind, though the price had at first given me sticker shock. See, I'm used to buying secondhand wool or cotton blankets at Goodwill for $7, but you'd have to have very lucky stars to find anything made of linen or modern-block-printed or even Turkish-striped without holes or stains at the thrift store. It's possible but, like finding a four-leaf clover, unlikely since machine-washable blankets are things people tend to keep for a long time and wear out.

The remembered blanket was Caroline Z. Hurley's strawberries-and-cream "Jules" linen throw, a hand-printed block pattern of lipstick smiles on a light background, perfect for summer. (You may already know how much I adore hot-pink sweet peas.) And then I made the connection between that throw and an artist's apartment tour highlighted in Rue Magazine issue 25. Everything clicked.

salmon rhododendrons

Hurley is one of the It-girls of the independent textile design world, spreading across the Web via profiles at fashion and decor sites like Rue, DuJour, Of A Kind, and Domino. According to one interview, there's been a New York apartment in her family since 1990, she studied at the RISD, and her sister's an architect, so she's likely not exactly poor; but the girl teaches art part-time to preschoolers, so how sweet is that? Unlike so many interiors seen on the Web, Hurley's apartment doesn't contain famous mid-century designer originals (or even their copies) or trends like chevron stripes or mounted animal heads. Her place in NYC looks more humble, bohemian artsy yet classic, with neutral basics like a school-desk-as-TV-stand and a couple round flaking-metal flea-market chairs, with small pops of color from native textiles hung on the wall and her own pretty bright pastel-y paintings and the oversized throw pillows and bedding made from her own graphic block-printed linen fabrics.

In case the $125-$200 price tag of Hurley's blankets throws you off, consider that many boutiques sell much blander linen throws for $200 and up. But if you like to sew, by all means go ahead and DIY yourself a knock-off, a truly one-of-a-kind handmade block-printed linen throw with or without contrast-stitched edges. Sewing, however, is something I personally hate, and I don't have floor space for large-scale block printing. Plus, bolts of linen fabric and paint supplies are also not exactly cheap materials in themselves. (If buying linen, I would recommend waiting for out-of-season fall/winter sales or finding a fabric discounter.) So for me, a quality purchase like this made by an actual artist is worth the occasional splurge since I couldn't thrift such a thing or make it easily myself.

black linen Caroline Z. Hurley throw

The black-and-gold block-print Hannah throw I ended up buying at the lowest end of Hurley's price range ($125 plus shipping) is an edition made exclusively for Of A Kind, an online shop promoting U.S. designers. The blanket was compactly folded into a small thin box, much smaller packaging with no wasted space compared to most things bought online (it helped that it wasn't breakable). It took over a week to get here from the East Coast, but I wasn't in any rush. (Impatience is expensive.)

black linen Caroline Z. Hurley "Hannah" throw

All of Hurley's throws and napkins are made from 100% linen, a mid-weight fabric that feels crisp and sturdy, woven to last. The fine flax and sophisticated black-gold color combination feel quite luxe, and the stitching and finishing are well done, but the black sadly does highlight cat hair. (I sort of forgot that my cat's belly hair is white. Doh.) As my friend Jeff said, if I'd really wanted something that didn't show cat hair, I'd have bought something that matched my cat. And since she's a black, white, silver, and tan tabby, that pretty much means gray. On the plus side, she loves this blanket, even crazy-batting at the gold triangles on occasion. Also, since this blanket appeared, Anna's for some reason stopped sleeping at the end of the couch and mashing down the end cushion, at least when I'm home, and instead curls on the blanket around my legs or hides under the blanket in the corner when napping. I do like this elegant black blanket a lot, even with all the wrinkles and cat hair, but I still have a mad crush on Hurley's Jules throw with its hot-pink half-moons; that's the one that makes my heart skip, so maybe it will become a summer birthday splurge.

It's okay to spend our precious free time doing the things we're best at—and the things we like doing the best. For some, that kind of craft means sewing or knitting, for others weaving or woodworking, for yet others making pottery or shoes or jewelry. These are all human trades, human skills people have been engaged in for thousands of years—hands upon hands at work, making something useful piece by piece. Let's celebrate that history and use our own hands for something other than typing e-mails or steering a car along a freeway or thumbing through our iPhones. Plus, if no one ever bought anything new, we'd have nothing like-new to thrift. Not everything must be bought secondhand, but it can at least be beautifully handmade.

What do you choose to buy new versus secondhand?

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