Friday, 27 May 2011

Kelsches, quilts and covers

  Bedding in France has always been a very important part of the household goods  In early times there were feather beds which were downproof bags, the size of the bed, not hanging over the edge like our duvets, and there were often two to soften the feel of the hard wooden slats of the primitive beds and placed under the sleeper.  Next came the sheets which were usually hand-woven, consisting of two lengths of linen or hemp woven on the narrow wooden looms of every village and many convents and priories.  They were handstitched, the best were edge to edge with tiny close stitches which avoided the hard -edged line of sewing made by whipping both edges together.  Initials were added in one corner, usually red cross-stitch and all seams were also handworked.     Over the top was another feather bed which acted like a tea cosy locking  in the warmth all round the body.  In addition you sometimes come across a very small and soft eiderdown, also known as an edredon, which was specifically placed over your feet to keep them extra warm.On top of that was a quilt, handmade with scraps from clothes and curtains, sometimes quite a work of art., others just a jumble of scraps from the rag bag. The best, often used in Provence, and called Boutis, were made from printed calicos which had Indian or Persian small designs and floral  motifs, often dyed and printed in the town of Mulhouse near the German border,  where there were highly skilled manufacturers, who led the way in dyeing and printing, dress fabrics, pretty foulards and fichus  and other fabrics for decorating interiors.  Otherwise covers were made with coloured plain throws and also thick white cotton sheets (called Marcella - an obvious contraction of the port of Marseille which imported cotton from Egypt  India and the Far East.) I have written elsewhere of the linen Kelsches peculiar to Alsace Loraine. The feather bags were known as coutils, but that is a word almost forgotten.    See post about pillows and bolsters for more bedtime stories.  CUSHIONS DOWN AND OUT FROM EIDERDOWNS.

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