Saturday, 2 July 2011


Toulouse, S.W.France
This is the enticing title of an article in this latest issue of Selvedge the fabric and design bi-monthly magazine.  The article takes you into the intriguing world of WOAD - you may have thought it was only used by Bodicia (I did for many years) used to frighten the people she fought - and maybe frighten the horses too - but there was a major industry in the area round Cologne, using the clear waters of the Rhine which gave the plants good growth, and the dyeing of linen and cotton, at which the Germans were always very expert and in advance of other countries, with their chemists and scientists.   It also tells us that the name Kelsch is a contraction of the description Kolnisch Blau (Cologne blue) and the French word for Woad is 'pastel'. Anyway. it certainly adds to our knowledge of the Kelsches about which I have written a few notes in recent BLOGS, as I had some for sale and there was good interest and lively sales.  I still have three good ones available now, all red and white checks, and I was intrigued to learn that the weavers never used any other colours except red, blue and the natural creamy linen.  The edited extract was taken from a book by Sandrine Banessy Le Pastel en Pays d'Oc,which is the Department near Toulouse,  and you may have heard of the couple there,  the Lamberts, who have restored an old dyeing mill and dye the old linen and hemp sheets with the WOAD dyes, very successfully.   Not cheap! because for these you need large quantities of deep dye to colour the highly absorbent thick fibres of a hand-woven sheet, and the sheet itself has to be a very good one without any worn parts or discolour.  Dyes do not cover up colour faults and the final result can be very patchy.  There's more to dye than meets the eye.   The term  bleu de travail  refers to the blue working clothes of France, trousers, shirts, blousons,smocks,
often in denim, but also in every kind of cotton from rough and scratchy to smooth and polished (till it looks like satin).       It is a top fashion for the young in London and even conservative middle-aged men are finding it ideal for country wear, working and relaxing - you do not have to own a vineyard to wear dark blue denim.  Women love the finer shirts and  costume smocks  which make ideal cover-ups but these are extremely hard to find, and fetch a high price.  French people have special saints days on which they now often turn out in local costume and the finer items disappear quickly from the markets as do coifs, bonnets, fichus, shawls and other accessories.

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