Wednesday, 17 September 2014


This post will be very boring, all about the shirts of France, so do skip it unless you are a collector of these attractive costume items or deal in them.    French rustic shirts were made in their thousands for wear by the working people of France for well over 100 years.   The material was usually linen, often home grown, hemp which was also grown for making into textiles, sometimes mixed with cotton, not homegrown, from overseas., and known as metis (mix)  The earliest shirts seem to have been very simple and plain, with bone(mutton) buttons at the neck opening and various different kinds of pleating down the front to allow for movement.  All were made with square shaped pieces of cloth, for economy and curved seams were not known - just as with English smocks.
They were however, amply fitted with folded square gussets to give space and movement while working - the gussets in different sizes were placed under the arm, at the joint of the tails, at the wrists, and at the neck.
The main body and the arms were fairly standard, also the yokes, but the fronts had several different treatments,   - flat pleats, gathers or stitched pin tucking (rare), all from the yokes. There were no waist seams but when pleated, the fronts often ended in a straight short bar of material applied just above the waist.  Others had a 'plastron' or triangular bib shaped piece applied over the chest,     Two or three buttons sometimes m.o.p. or ceramic and hand stitched holes completed the garment and there was usually a single button and hole at the sleeve cuff.   The back was always gathered into the yoke piece and secured with very strong fine stitching.  The collar was one of the main differences, possibly varying from one district or department and also from one convent, or another,  where most of the sewing was done.  I always found the most attractive were large, slightly floppy square collars with big points, rather like Puritan dresses, whereas the low-cut, stand-up collars were more difficult to wear for most women.  And, yes, it was the modern women who bought these becoming, hand sewn garments, from the eighties onwards.   They bought them as leisure wear, for cooking, gardening, safari wear, tropical wear, for music, for art, for sculpture and every kind of activity - they were everlasting and could be boiled clean in a day.  I sold hundreds and their friends came back for more - they were £8 or £12 each and I could buy them then in France by the dozen, thrown out of the linen stores in the old farmhouses and vineyards, once  I GOT TO KNOW THE GOOD SOURCES.  They were part of every girl's marriage dowry, so there were thousands beautifully stitched!

  I have told the story of how the fashion editor of Vogue found herself trying one on which had her two initials correctly embroidered on the tail.  Another good story was how a very leading socialite client of mine went on holiday to a most exclusive Mediterranean resort and simply dyed 7 shirts in 7 different colours in her washing machine and wore a different one every night which impressed her house party mightily.

Saturday, 13 September 2014


      Our Talent for Textiles Fair here at Bradford on Avon last Saturday went very well and lots of old friends going back to the first events twenty years or so ago, all came, and they all bought something, even if it was only a cup of coffee and a home-made Devonshire  cake!  Thank Caroline Bushell for those!
     As I have almost finished my business  in the wine vaults of my own house, next door, it has made me recall those early days when you could go to France and fill a van with Brocante and textiles, just driving to Paris from Calais for a weekend and stopping on the way, wherever the chair stood outside on the pavement, with an old shed stuffed with junk behind and an old man with a hat smoking his pipe.
      Since then, things have changed a lot, the old dealers have packed up because the new by-passes steer the traffic away from the village streets and you are more likely to find big old barns near the towns with parking for lorries and vans and keen traders who want the last Franc out of you.  It's the same with the wonderful roadside cafes where all the tradesmen and commercial travellers stopped for a whopping lunch of three major courses of excellent home cooked peasant fare and free bottles of local plonk free for all on the table, and stout ladies beamed across the crowded dining rooms, wiping the tables down with a flick of the torchon tea towel.  They are now few and far between and many drivers go for the quick and easy supermarkets that have massive parking areas and big choice of food outlets.
      Dealing with the wily old antique dealers in rural areas (la France Profonde), I soon discovered that it was best to ask casually for a price on any likely item, and then go on to enquire about the more desirable lots, one by one, till the dealer got a bit anxious that he had failed and would make no sales to this difficult- to-please English lady!  Then, having chatted in general, I would ask the leading question, 'how much for that lot over there? i.e. usually a big pile of linen and laundry in a dishevelled stage.  The next round of the game was for me to hold one or two pieces up, tut-tutting at the holes, repairs and dirt, and surprise the seller by saying I would probably take the lot and would sort it out later - this disarmed the seller, completely, who was expecting me to choose the best and leave the faulty, which would be very unsaleable and so much dross, and in the excitement of selling the whole lot (men dealers hated textiles and household linens anyway) they would quote me a very give-away price, bundle it all into black refuse sacks and say good riddance to a shameful lot which destroyed the beauty of their untidy sheds.  I did the same at the very big commercial fairs, trade only, where dealers would arrive with a van or pick-up with the contents from a farm or vineyard, often from dusty sheds and chicken houses and wanting to shift several hundred linen pieces going back to the last century, and despised by the young people who inherited the contents of the old farms and couldn't wait to clear " poor old Granny's peasant stuff" - they were, sadly, ashamed of the rustic look and the hand-sewn finish of shirts and sheets and preferred cheap poly-cotton and nylon from  Spain and Portugal.    
   The many convents and priories which were the sources for a lot of the flax and hemp, the growing, the weaving and the sewing of it all, were disbanding, with their laundries and workshops and hospitals, and I used to see whole heaps of their work piled high on the stone floors of the local market halls - sad and unwanted by the French, though eagerly sought by the English and Americans when washed, repaired and properly presented.  It was quite a lot of hard work, but I have always been super-economical and a great re-cycler and it really did give me huge satisfaction when many very well-known and fashionable women
used my stock for their wardrobes and linen rooms.
Washday at Freshford

Monday, 8 September 2014


       When I was a child, my mother told me that the huge; flat, rosewood box in her bedroom under the spinet (both there for safekeeping from a family of curious children ), was to be mine, as it had been a wedding present  to her from an elderly Professor in the nearby town of Bangor who had a connection with our family.  When I was finally allowed to open this treasure box, it contained a truly wonderful collection of shells all carefully sorted into blue velvet-covered compartments,  I was allowed to sort them into their different groups and I loved the pale mother of pearl linings of the big ones and the exquisite mouldings of the little ones.   I wanted to add to the collection so we went to Trearddur Bay on Anglesea to pick up cowrie shells on the beach there and I was fascinated to learn that they were used as money in faraway foreign islands.
  When I started furnishing my own house, I left the big box behind to stay in the Welsh family house and tried to find my own shell treasures - they were still around in the more junky antique shops.  I found a pair of decorations made of hundreds of shells to look like a bouquet of flowers under a glass dome and then hunted for the sailors' valentines which were made with a pair of octagonal, hinged, walnut -framed display boxes with wonderful, multi-coloured, mosaic designs and mottoes in the centre saying 'love mee' sic
                                                    Sailor's Valentine from Barbados
 or 'home sweet home' and were sold in Barbados to returning sailors for their wives and sweethearts.   I saw some in smart shops in Sloane Street, London, because by this time it was known that Princess Margaret collected them for her wedding present house in Barbados!  So I rather gave up because they were now several hundred pounds each.  However, by chance, I found a pair in Aberystwyth where the news had not spread, and I was also offered a pair at an antique fair by a visitor who wanted some cash to buy a dolls house and was happy to part with  "these old shells - would anybody want them?" I did, my good luck!  Since then I have added a couple of charming sea-weed pictures from the Isle of Wight and my shell corner is complete.  I don't believe in mass buying and collection, as I like to make a nice arrangement and then leave a few examples for other people to acquire!
"I do like to be beside the sea-side" - two  decorative vases of shell flowers up top, a sea-weed basket from the Isle of Wight and a large Sailor's Valentine with heart centre and a small hinged pair (Home Again) hung from scallop shell hooks which were originally clasps for a dress.  A pair of bracket shelves I found in France already painted in a good gray colour and I found, at a junky bricabrac stall, two small pressed brass scallop shell plaques to stick on them and finish the ensemble.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


Rack with 36 rails

Wooden rack with 6 rails

French wall rack

Double bin for bulky items

French standing rack

See the following pictures showing shop fittings.  I have got to the last stages of my stock clearance and next week when my colleagues, now running T4T Fairs, hold one in the Masonic Hall, Church Street, Bradford on Avon, Sat.Sept.6th. 10 - 4pm., I am opening my old wine vaults next door to clear ALL REMAINING STOCK AT HALF PRICE so I will have some good bargains for the early birds.
   I will have a number of SHOP FITTINGS  also for sale, particularly useful for people who sell textiles and costume and which are now surplus:
 Chrome heavy duty RACK with 35 stove enamelled rails with clips, for display of quilts, shawls, tickings, sheets, all fabrics etc. (this has been my prime sales aid to display my large stock and has sold many hundreds of items for me).   This is a bespoke professionally made fitting, originally extremely expensive.   .It is counter-ballanced so it cannot tip over with heavy weight. Perfect condition.                                                                                                     £140      Chrome large and very strong basket type double bin wire fitting for display of cushions, blankets,
and bulky  items,  v.g.c.                                                                                                                  £55                                                                                                                                              .
 Lightweight white clothes rail, useful to take to fairs, takes apart with butterfly nuts, well used             £10                                                                                                                                                     
White painted wooden wall fitting, three double rails, approx 3' wide for smaller items v.g.c.               £75       Set bamboo shelves, painted aqua, folding flat, 4 shelves,  light and mobile for fairs, well used      £45                                                            
French brown painted hanging kitchen rack with hooks, good display for small items, bags, hats,        £45
  kitchenalia,  good condition                                                                                                                         another, floor standing, painted aqua, ideal for brocante stuff    v.g.c.                                                  £35

small decorative set of shelves, chestnut wood, tramp work carving                                                    £75 ~

Sundry French curtain rails (over 5' wide) and ormulu bracket fittings and lots of rings and clips, all sizes                                                                                                                                               
Quantity of immaculate large and small cello bags for selling and posting linen; sheets and pillow case                                                                                                                             30 per pack   £3

plastic storage trays ex textile mill
Quantity of gray plastic trays, mesh bases, stacking, ideal wool and sundries storage,                                                     £1 each

If  you wish to reserve any of the above or discuss, 
phone 01225 866 136 (eves).  You can collect at the Fair!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


  When it comes to getting work done with my stock of  vintage French textiles, whether making cushions, hand-stitching fine curtains with linings and interlining, or restoring upholstery on antique chairs, I am, of course, very particular that my clients get the best of work from my band of skilled and helpful workers.
19C.French easy chairs with 'lumbar swell' support, all covered in old  hemp sacking
    Between them, they can tackle almost any job to do with decorating a house and I thought it would please them, and maybe interest you, to see some of the work they have done for my own houses - always using second-hand materials, sometimes in very original ways to get the job finished properly.   They are all keen, like me, on re-cycling and have put up with my scraps and remnants, making fine jobs with them.    In particular I would like to showcase Barbara Dicketts and her son, Matthew Jackson, master upholsterers, who, between them, have restored and re-made countless antiques pieces for me, some to be sold and others for my own pleasure and use;  three 19C.elegant French canape settees,  re-seating 6 Georgian dining room chairs in red damask, completely re-making the Biedemeier sofa with two pairs of grand French silk and velvet curtains plus extravagant bobble and tapestry borders! two large pouffes, several small button-back drawing room chairs, a Howard armchair, probably over 18 small padded hemp-covered easy chairs (with the lumbar swell !), a pair of Hepplewhite side chairs,  3 bedroom ottomans,  toile de jouy double bed heads, several stools and a Heals mattress;   so they are skilled in all branches of upholstery, and Barbara has worked for a museum, restoring furniture.  They use traditional materials and methods and their charges are reasonable.

Toile de Jouy bed-ends
ottoman converted from school trunk
French canape and bespoke cushions
stuffed seat and case cover
buttoned chair and footrest (mini ottoman)
Biedemeier alpacca and silk velvet sofa
  with canvaswork borders and tassel fringes
   with French pouffe with bullion fringe in front

Barbara Dicketts and Matthew  are looking for new business to keep going now that I am retiring - They live in Seaton, Devon and you can contact them on 01297 599 287. Email  They have good transport and work all over the West Country.    

Thursday, 21 August 2014


This is a detail of one of the palampores at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where they have a very fine collection and their book illustrating many called Chintz by Rosemary Crill their curator. This one is dated approx 1720 from the Coromandel Coast, India, and was made to be a bedcover or wall hanging. These designs have been famously copied by Braquenie (French fabric makers) and some of the details repeated and copied in our own Paisley shawls and other clothing and fabrics. Many of the flowers have petals with elaborate patterns taken from Persian and Chinese flower designs and these were adapted for sales to European countries via the Silk and Trade Routes, and sold in France, Holland and Britain where they were highly sought after and admired. Despite bans on their importation, to support home trade, they were even more highly prized for being illegal and subject to heavy fines! I have recently seen and handled three very different examples of these splendid works of art, and all have now been sold for very high prices. SEE earlier blog Palampore and another to follow, later!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Picture taken from THE BED by Alecia Beldegreen
    French beds come in all shapes and sizes and I am always amazed by the variety of decorations and curtains that were used to dress them. The traditional 4 poster was a very elaborate affair with curtains, swags and tails
, canopy and assorted tie-backs, ropes and ornaments at the four corners - plumes and coats of arms for the grandest.
Sometimes when I buy a big lot of curtains, I find one odd one, much longer and tightly gathered at the top with small hooks or little brass rings and with a shaped bottom seam. This is what is called the 'ciel de lit' or 'heavenly ceiling' and was attached to the corona or baldequin above the head of the bed, usually fixed with an arm from the wall behind the bed or hung from the ceiling like a chandelier. The coronas were often made of metal, engraved and decorative, but sometimes also of carved wood, and the baldequins were usually very heavy Victorian style carved and polished hard wood, in various shapes like a half-tester, a semi-circle, or shield shape and needed strong support from the rear wall. Usually the fabric matched the curtains of the room, and often were not lined - sadly many are somewhat tired and damaged where hands pulled them aside and/or they were held back with ropes and metal fittings. Also the base hem suffered from feet and maybe the little pet dogs that they seemed to allow in every room! Anyway, the extra material is always useful if you need pelmets, cushion or seat covers to finish off your colour scheme. Sometimes you will come across a strange piece of carved and polished pole that you think might be a towel rail AND IS OFTEN MIS-SOLD AS SUCH, - this is in fact a pole that was inserted directly into the wall centrally over a bed placed sideways against a blank space in the room, a long piece of fabric was hung over it and the two ends fell over the high bed ends. See the picture above of a bed draped for Napoleon at Malmaison. Very simple, most effective and easily done. Traditionally, many provincial beds were dressed with blue/white checked Vichy fabric or the lovely Ikat woven flamme toile. I buy both from time to time as it is still one of the decorators' favourite combinations for pretty beds. Both were woven, not printed, in 19C. and you can see examples in the remnants I use to make my tote bags; see Post Remnants and Remainders