You can spend a lot on heirloom linens (just poke around this website for a while and you'll see). I try to be a little creative with my sources. I'm not finding precious French or Italian linens, but I can often find Irish linens in excellent condition at these places:
1. Lower-Tier Antique Shops
I hesitated to use the term "lower-tier" there, but I think that conveys my message. Antique shops that aren't carrying high end pieces will often have bins of linens. They're rarely organized and sometimes there are items that aren't in the best condition, but I've been able to find nice sets of linen napkins several times.
Heirloom style monogram on vintage, Irish linen
I have to admit that I'm not really a Goodwill shopper, but the manager of one of the antique stores in the area swears by Goodwill when it comes to linens. Your mileage may vary, obviously.
3. Estate Sales
There was a time when many households had heaps of cloth napkins, runners, and place mats. These days, it seems more people are into disposable items and only use cloth table linens for special occasions (if at all). While I do pick up pretty cloth napkins at home stores, I can also find nice sets at estate sales.
Last weekend, Marc and I stopped at a sale and once I told the woman that I liked cloth napkins, she dragged a massive bag out of a closet and we found a few good sets for me to buy. I even got one very lovely and delicate handkerchief.
By the way, do you know what the buttonhole is for in the white napkin with the blue border above? I guessed that it was so I man could attach the napkin to his shirt while eating something super messy. I was right!
I hope to share another update from the office/studio tomorrow!