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.     


Thursday, 10 July 2014


  Re-furnishing my old textile showroom as a guest bedroom has been fun and I have tried to be very economical and use all spare bits in my house to furnish it.  Luckily I seem to have quite a lot of odd bits of red fabric (French always went for red as it was the earliest and cheapest effective dye for fabric and it did not run when washed carefully).  So, with a cushion in the window recess covered in red/cream ticking, pinky red toile curtains and a toile bed, all shades of pink and red seemed an obvious choice.  I found out long ago that a number of different shades of one colour mix and match very well in one room - if you have just two they often jar!  I discovered this for myself when I visited USA and saw the small piles of indigo dyed quilts  in many shades of blue, in Connecticut,  that were rescued from the early settlers and were neatly folded in pretty piles on sideboards, chests and shelves, to be treasured and admired by visitors!    
   The tall Edwardian wardrobe (purchased cheap via an Ebay auction) needs to be brightened up, so I am lining the inside with some crisp pin stripe red/white cotton ( a free gift at our recent Rag market) which I will first cut to size for the inner panels and door, fixed on with my handy staple gun and I will then trim all raw edges with a little braid kept from old soft furnishing covers which will cover the staples, and which I can fix with my little glue gun - two easy targets, not as dangerous as it sounds, and I hope the effect will be a nice surprise when you open the door!  Final touch will be some mixed stripey coat hangers (see Blog Hang it All) made with ticking remnants, and a red tassel on the key if I can find a good one in my key collection box!  You might think all this a bit of a waste of time, but I enjoy doing it and it reminds me of the spotless cupboards and wardrobes where my grandmother kept all her lovely evening gowns of pre-war years when ladies dressed for dinner. Wait for it!  Aiming to have it done before my next birthday in Sept.
    The chair is covered in strong toile furnishing cotton with a print of flowers and branches in soft purplish pink shades, a little faded, formerly a frilly-edged curtain, 1890s or so.  The cushions are smart white cotton pique in a diagonal weave ( rescued from old metal baby cots where they served as linings)and the trims are also washable in red and white cotton, once available by the card at Brocante sales.   The side chair is covered in some old ticking and the wallpaper which has been up for 12 years is a Zoffany design, now out of print sadly, as lots of people have seen it and wanted it!
A postscript  thank you to all my Post friends who are kind enough to make good comments on my house decorating efforts - all are welcome to call here and see, and there is still one wine-vault full of surplus stuff(s) waiting for bargain hunters.  Dealing in textiles is not all about buying and selling - much of the pleasure is in planning and inventing and sharing ideas with other keen home-makers.!


There are a charming pair of French prints circa 18c. titled the 'slumbering' and 'awakening', of a very prettily dressed young woman in a very fancy bed, all embellished with frills and flounces, and behind her is a little mountain of pillows and bolsters - this harks back to the tradition amongst the gentry of sleeping in an upright sitting position because they thought it unhealthy to lie flat on the bed. I have been told that this went back to a very ancient medieval superstition that if you were prone and snoring with your mouth open, this would let the Devil into your body - but if you were upright with your trap closed, you were safe!

Anyway, French bolsters seem to be a very important part of bed-making; the best are stuffed with goose feathers which are stiffer and stronger than chickens', and they are packed tight to make a rigid platform for the head, covered in those lovely dark blue indigo and white striped tickings with ovals or circles of stripes each end. The loose linen  covers, known as 'traversins' are usually simple tubes of white linen, open each end and the flaps can hang or be tucked under the mattress.  I have had sheets 14ft long, enough to cover a  pile of many bolsters and pillows.
The best pillows are filled with curled duck feathers and down, and are firmer and less liable to lumps than chicken feathers which often have a disagreeable smell and are liable to shatter and become very dusty with long use. You can wash both pillows and cushions pads, feathers and all, in a gentle bath dip and mild detergent, adding borax which keeps the feathers from sticking in a ball, and hanging outside on a windy day, shaking frequently, or using a hot cupboard and tumble dryer for the last stages. Make sure there are no tiny faults in fabric or sewing, or you will have a real mess to clear up! but frankly, when they have got to that stage you are much better off with new fillings.  The trouble is that the  cover of the pillow gets stained with the wet mass of feathers inside and it is almost impossible to get it Persil white! Even the new synthetic fillings, which are good for those with dust, feather and dust-mite allergies, eventually discolour and start to crumble. I always use an under-pillow case, of heavy linen or flanelette, and this greatly improves their appearance and lifespan. I am told you can sterilize feathers by putting them overnight in the lower warm oven of an Aga or Rayburn.    In pre-war years department stores sold gift boxes of two pillow cases and a bolster case with matching embroidery (often machine work) in Irish linen or fine cotton, SEE PICTURE ABOVE. It made a good 'minor' wedding present.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

We meet again!

Natural Flemish linen trimmed withl linen tape         
    I wrote a BLOG about some interesting, unused, natural taupe linen sleeping bag liners, ex-French army issue, some time ago(see my BLOG 'And no birds sing') and only yesterday met a charming lady from Tennessee traveling with a party to visit Bath and local friends, who had bought two of the linings from me (I had 100, now all gone all over USA), and she told me what wonderful quality stuff it is - there is great interest in hemp, hand-woven linen and rough sacking and other rustic materials both in the States and in this country,- it's interesting what a long way the fashion has gone from the silks, cotton chintzes and gauzes and frilly trimmings of the 80s and 90s. to the contemporary  simple appeal of texture and good wearing qualities, both in clothing and furnishing.  I think this is partly due to our general feeling that quality is important, waste and extravagant over-spending are not liked and as we are all so busy, that efficient and long lasting products are popular and can be such good value.  If you are eco.- and conservation-minded, hemp needs no fertilizer and very little water to grow,  linen needs more, and needs intensive labour;  but cotton is actually the worst, demanding huge amounts of water,  grown in areas where the water is very precious, and the processes used to produce the final fibres are full of  toxic chemicals.  My local, rather sporty shop, (in B.o A,) PIHA sells hemp smocks and shirts and has already sold out!  They are popular as they absorb moisture from the body and stay cool, so are very healthy - bed sheets of hemp have the same quality, and are useful in preventing bed sores and rashes for those confined to bed for a long time.   I believe I was almost the first to use the now quite common, striped, Hungarian hemp grain sacks with bright red and royal blue stripes and often with large initials in cross stitch as well,  and a photo of them on two French armchairs I had covered, featured in a magazine may have started the vogue.   They are quite attractive and extremely hard wearing - but personally I prefer the Ukraine grain sacks which are closer woven and have gentler shades of brown for their signature stripes.  I was amused, and pleased, that my clever and economical upholstery lady even used the string on the sacks for tieing them up when full of corn, to make little bows on each corner of the cushion.  Nothing wasted!  This chair and cushion took up two sacks (cost £35 each) and I covered the back of the chair with a salvaged piece of plain hemp sheet that had a hole in it and had two arm caps and head-rest made, so I could wash them when they got marked.    More economy!  I have plenty of these Ukraine sacks, all unused, for sale.   Email dbaer@onetel.com

Armchair  and an extra cushion covered with two Ukrainian hemp sacks