Monday, 28 July 2014


     French romantic Toile, roller printed cotton France 1927.   It is not attributed to the famous factory at Jouy not far from Paris where Mr. Oberkampf produced a huge amount of figurative designs as well as hundreds of smaller diaper and classic geometric patterns.   So many of the fine lengths of printed linen, hemp and fine cotton of the late 18th and early 19th C. were in the same style and came from other areas of France.  Exquisite printing, classic decorations and a delightful pastoral scene with delicately drawn figures makes this design typical of the most elaborate type of Toile de Jouy patterns.  The colour is also typically French - mauves and purples give a richness not usually seen in English designs and the pastoral elements of waterfall,  lambs, even a birdcage on the tree, are all elements of a very idealised sort of landscape hardly copied from real life but a splendid escape to a romantic view of the countryside and charmingly dressed country folk!  There is a lot going on in this view:  two love birds on the fence and on the bucket nearby, the lambs and a ram with a dog on the right foreground, a lake with a cottage beyond, and the figure on the right appears to be holding two pipes for music, although I first mistook them for the boney legs of a lamb!  They seem to have sent the resting figure behind off to sleep.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


   Can  you guess what these pretty , flimsy fruit decorated borders were used for?  When I first saw them in their hundreds on a French  brocante stall, I bought the lot, thinking I could use them as a
wallpaper border in a cottage kitchen I was doing up.  Half were in this lovely bluey/green shade and the rest, more formal, in a classic swagged design, were in a strong orangey- red colour.  So when I looked at them properly, I realised the paper was so delicate that it would not take paste and was rather useless for my project.  Oh dear! had I made a  another very silly purchase?   Anyway, I put them out at my next fair at a low price for a set of three and they disappeared within hours.  People bought them to decorate their kitchen dresser shelves and larders, to trim bathroom shelves, wardrobes and display units,for etsy style groups,  and reckoned they were so cheap that it did not matter if they were just ephemera, looking pretty for a period and then to throw away.   I discovered that these borders were used by fruit growers selling cherries, plums and currants in France to decorate their boxes going to the big food markets - hence the fruit motifs - and I rather wished that we could see something like them again in the fruit aisles of Tesco and Asda!   It would make me buy the box-full and then I would have to make lots of jam with the contents and there would be jam for every day!   The French really have a genius for display and packaging which continues to this day if you look at their confectionery boxes, their beauty products and  gift presentations. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014


Mixed Toile cushions, all sold.

Dainty linen tea napkins made these  £20 ea.
Normandy stools complete with Pyreneese oxen coat-covered cushions £55 ea.
Pr.Edwardian upright neat armchairs with casters and new covers £250 each.These are all reduced prices as I am retiring and clearing my showrooms.  Contact me by Email at

Making cushions:  Use curled duck feathers - chicken feathers have an unpleasant smell and soon go flat if much used.  When you put them into the inner pad (it really is worth buying proper feather-proof cotton as feathers always work themselves through ordinary untreated cotton or linen) push a handful of feathers right into each corner, because they take a long time to find their way there.  I like to have my cushion 'plump' but not rigid with stuffing.  If you have family who are allergic to feathers, be sure to buy the best foam, otherwise it can look and feel quite lumpy with use.
     If the top material is rather old, flimsy, or worn, back it with plain white cotton (old sheet material is fine).   Tack the two materials together round the edges and use as one bit of cloth, when stitching and piping.  If you can manage to put matching zips neatly under the piping, this will make cleaning or washing much easier
    Remember that scatter cushions are not much use for supporting your back, and cushions in one suitable colour or pattern are far more effective than oddments, unless you are lucky to have good old tapestry or embroidered fronts which usually blend happily.  

Curtains   For most decorating experts, curtains must hang down to the carpet or floor, exactly!  For cottages and small windows , of course, there is not much point in having long trailing curtains.  But I would say there are exceptions, for instance, where you have a vinyl or lino floor in a kitchen or bathroom, that is mopped,  the hem will soon become stained with the dirty water and I would cut them off a bit higher.  The same could apply for flag-stoned rooms which are cleaned with water..  Some people like the effect of over-long curtains which 'puddle' in a train of extra material on the carpet, but I think this is mostly suitable for a rather grand room and can be a bit of a  'show off',  though sometimes necessary in a very cold, draughty room or to hide uneven skirting boards.
      There are plenty of books to tell you how to make curtains and they are really not very difficult as long as you have peace and quiet and double check all measurement before cutting.    Allow generous hems, they will hang much better!   Do not machine down the front and back hems,   hand stitching is essential for the right look.   You will need plenty of long sharp pins, a tape measure in inches and/or mm, sharp cutting out scissors,  and a good big surface to lay the different layers, using bulldog clips to hold the layers together.  A ping-pong table is perfect and some people use market stall tarpaulin clips which are very strong and heavy enough to keep the materials taut.   You can do it on the floor but that is tiring on the back and can get in the way of passing family traffic!  When you buy material for big curtains, make sure that you can join widths together, with pattern repeats exactly matching - this takes time and extra material, but 1/2 a bouquet of roses does not look very professional if the basket is  4 or 5 inches above or below!  Also remember that the pattern runs one way and I remember seeing one curtain maker weep because her sewing lady had reversed one panel so that all the little birds in the bamboos were upside down and all the bamboo leaves were drooping in the wrong direction, and there was no more material to put it right!  The client was not amused!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


  Mother of Pearl is a very Victorian kind of decoration and I have to say I have loved it ever since my Welsh grandmother, who also loved and collected it, gave me a little black lacquered sewing box with lots of m.o.p. tools and cotton reels inside, for my tenth birthday, saying that it had been hers when she was little and she felt I was now old enough to care for it!  Inside were some little treasures, a tiny Regency reading book about a naughty little girl stolen by the gypsies - very moral - with cut out pictures where you had to insert the head of a child each time you turned the page, a valentine folded card with lots of proverbs, verses and little flower paintings, and a dance programme - no names - perhaps she was a wall-flower?  Nain (Welsh granny) later gave me a little blotter with more m.o.p. flowers inlaid and from then on I was a lacquer and m.o.p. collector, mostly made with papier mache where the shell layers could be applied, making a smooth finish.  There were stationery boxes, glove boxes, fan boxes  stamp boxes, waste p.b.s, scissor and crumb trays, spill vases, visiting card trays, wine coasters, big serving trays and a myriad more useful adjuncts to the complicated niceties of Victorian domestic life! and plenty of them and cheap enough!  Those  with the name Clay and  Jennens & Betteridge impressed  underneath were much sought after and those with good gilding were also prized.  In my enthusiasm, I bought an armchair where the shell-shaped back and sides were paper mache, mounted on wooden lacquered legs and with a romantic portrait painted on inner side and very heavy gilding on the other, a bit of a rarity and not to everyone's taste!

Treasures of the Sea

    I think I could have been quite happy with an upbringing in a Victorian household, where there were servants to do all the menial tasks of carrying hot water, lighting fires and lamps, and scrubbing and polishing miles of flooring,  and where the ladies were encouraged to show their varying skills in making their 'amusements'  and stitching a fine seam!   The ladies' magazines of the period were full of examples of craft work as well as all the sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery works and designs, and some of them were quite popular so good examples can still be found in the sale rooms and antique shops.  I guess that some, like the feather pictures and the sand pictures, were so expert that they must have been produced by small fairly professional workshops, but they are hardly ever dated or signed so they are somewhat difficult to identify - I know some of the feather bird pictures were done in Denmark and Germany - but how did they get here?
    It was in Regency days when there was great interest in nature, the world beyond the windows of the parlour, that birds, butterflies, ferns, flowers, both dried and simulated in other materials, became the vogue and some of the young ladies became very proficient and their work is very attractive for decorating small rooms and choice corners.   If you can group three or four together in their original frames (often Holbein, in black and gilt,) they add some charm and interest to your decorations.   Amongst my favourite examples are the little shell boxes and ornaments with pearly tints, which you can often find in seaside towns in bricabrac shops or fairings collections.  The very best examples of shell work were to be found in the romantic shell grottos which were added to gardens in the late 18c. with elaborate designs of hundreds of similar shells arranged in complicated patterns.  These 'rooms' were furnished with grotto chairs, often silvery or golden painted elaborate armchairs with dolphins and ribbed seats and backs waiting for Neptune to take his place!  There was one on Ebay the other day and it fetched many hundreds - they are rare as they often rotted in the damp surroundings of cave-like retreats.  Most collected and valuable,  are the 'Sailors Valentines' which were made by the natives of Barbados and other tropical islands with their local shells and made in various sizes in mahogany framed boxes with matching lids, to be traded with the sailors who wanted pretty souvenirs to take home to their wives and sweethearts, so you find quite a lot with very sentimental messages in the centre.    They open out to make a very pretty wall hanging and are now quite rare and very collectable.  Princess Margaret had quite a collection in her house in the Caribbean which her friend  Colin Tennant gave her as a wedding present and that of course upped all the prices.
                                                               A Sailor's Valentine
         A small hinged double box of shells, hung from two scallop shells (the clasps for a ladies dress belt).

Shells in formal floral arrangements in glass domes, Sailors valentine, small double, still hinged,
 a seaweed arrangement in a basket under shelf, and half of a large Valentine below.
The other half is under the matching bracket the other side of the atrium window together with another matching seaweed picture.  That's plenty!  I was so lucky to find my valentines at a reasonable price;  the little double case was offered to me by a doll's house collector who wanted to buy some new items for her collection and needed a bit of cash, and the other larger pair I found in a back room of an Aberystwyth dealer where it had not been appreciated by the local townsfolk and was under £100 - quite a bargain!
Seaweed pictures are often rather tatty but these were a matching pair which were just right for my display.

Monday, 14 July 2014


Bobbine side table with two shelves, tramp-work border, made with linen bobbins and endive market boxes.
    Bobbine furniture and shelves used to be quite common and featured in many Brocante Fairs.  They consisted of useful little shelves, small book cases and stands of all kinds,  small tables and  storage units.   They were made around 1900 and the name bobbine describes the material used -  large linen thread reels which were available in huge quantities from all the convents, workshops and factories where hand sewing was universal and everything was stitched with needle and linen thread.  These large reels were threaded on to fine metal rods, secured with little metal bolts each end and producing a barley-sugar twist look framework for shelves.   When I was buying all over France I found many different versions and there were no set patterns - obviously handymen were able to assemble them without much trouble and the results were universally useful.  There were probably small workshops who regularly worked on the shelves and they were probably very cheap like the slightly similar bamboo furniture produced in a huge quantities at that time.  They have great strength and are quite steady due to the metal supports.
   I always bought these handy little accessories, often painted in blue-greys and greens and they sold almost immediately for bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens and I used them myself for displaying pretty bits of china, books and bathroom impedimenta.
  The example I show here is the one of two items of bobbine furniture I have now - first my phone office - it is painted a most lovely faded shade of greeny-blue,  has some tramp-work edging to the shelves and the shelves themselves are made from crates used for storing chicory - the name is just visible where the paint has worn a bit -  It holds telephone, diary, printer, directories and other vital equipment - always admired by Francophiles!  A perfect bit of French re-cycling.  The other example is much more elaborate with different sizes of bobbins, now hung in my new spare room bathroom.  Some have been turned into slimmer shapes - are they spools?  From a distance it looks quite like the bamboo that was so popular in early 20C.
  I will describe the special French china on the shelves in another Blog - AH MON AMOUR!   it's very collectable!
 I was much amused on one occasion at a London Fair when the 'vetters' there to check the authenticity of goods offered, decided to ban the bobbine items because they said there were so many at the fair, they must be repro. copies and therefore should not be on sale!   I don't suppose they knew that such bobbines for linen thread were not to be found anywhere since before the first world war.! Tant pis!

Saturday, 12 July 2014


  The little pieces of French porcelain, cups, saucers, bowls and plates all decorated with moss roses and often displaying little mottoes, are very sweet and pretty, baby pink, and a bit of lustre and rich sentiment to provide a charming momento of love, friendship and marriage, probably destined for a cabinet in the parlour!   I started collecting this china a long time ago and was soon able to find enough to decorate my bobbine shelves in a pink and white new bathroom.  These were often displayed together with the bridal headdress which was a lacy, net affair with wax and paper orange blossom and sparkly sprays in a sort of tiara, later mounted on a stand and cased in a glass dome, a presentoire sometimes with 'Mes Noces ' (my wedding) inscribed.   More about bobbine furniture in BLOG  Bobbin' along.