Monday, 31 October 2011


THESE ARE TYPICAL TORCHONS (TOWELS OR CLOTHS) used in French kitchens  to dry, clean and wrap, china, cutlery, glass, iron pots and pans, as well as preserve bread, meat and fish, and keep flies off .  Most kitchens in old France had open fires for cooking, with hobs and chains to fix the saucepans at different heights as well as spits for roasting and any ovens were mostly used for bread baking.  For the Sunday roasts, the pans were often carried down to the bakers' ovens which were still hot and were empty - Frequently without hot water, no handy detergents and dim lighting, it must have been a hard and awful job to get the pots and pans clean.   The Pot au Feu was a staple with bits of meat and any veggies being thrown in to make a hot nourishing dish and of course, all kinds of casserole were popular, economical and filling. The first course was often soup taken in a bowl, and supped, with plenty of bread,  and the next was the more solid bits fished out and put on a flat plate.  Washing up was done in big flat stone sinks and of course the soft, creamy pottery soon became cracked and chipped.  The drying cloths came in many weights and patterns - coarse and dark hemp for black pots, lighter linen for china and and very fine for glasses - with special ones for cutlery as well.   They were hung to dry from rows of hooks and sometimes you find enamel racks with the different labels printed on them.  Hemp, linen and cotton were used in varying mixes and amounts, depending on local crops and weavers, and you can still find masses of them at any good linen stand at antique fairs and brocantes.  Most have initials neatly embroidered and they come in large sets - I would not bother with any that are worn or stained!

Sunday, 30 October 2011


strips of hand dyed linen on old hemp sheet
to make a smart shopping tote

ticking scraps left over from cushion-making

long narrow strips gathered and hand-sewn make good non-slip hangers
ticking and provencal print scraps

more ticking squares added to a n old coarse-woven sheet for a contemporary look cushion
  It's always nice when someone you know gives you a mention, especially if it is favourable - and Kaari Meng, my old friend (but she is actually quite young) has written a skittish Blog about my frugal ways.  She is quite right, I never throw anything away and that does not mean that I have awful piles of useless rags cluttering up the place!  What I actually do is much more interesting for me - it's a form of sieving, rather like a granite quarry where all the stone has to pass a certain size and be bagged up in separate  packs and sacks  The biggest pieces, which are often the cut-off bottoms of too long curtains, often slightly weather- marked from the open French windows of French country chateaux, are cut into wide strips and mixed with toning plains to create cushions, using up the old braids and trims to make a pleasing frame.  The smaller pieces are cut into long strips about 6" wide and then cut again into lengths up to 12" long and joined together with short seams into strips in two or three different patterns (they could be all blue, or multicoloured tickings with the stripes placed in alternative directions, or mixes of plain and pattern).  They will make more cushions and tote bags;  and other oddments will make a band across the bib of aprons with pockets to match, and the final scraps, especially pretty printed 19c. cottons, are bagged in  new poly. display envelopes and sold to quilters and toy makers who love all vintage bits and can use the tiniest scraps for faces and paws.   .No problems getting rid of buttons which I remove from all throw-away items and I have three friends who will always dispose of them to keen collectors.  My scheme is to join up with like-minded friends and start the merry-go-round spinning.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

An Apron for every Occasion

   I confess that aprons and all 'work wear' have a special appeal for me and in France they come in a very wide variety of material, size and shape for both men and women. Many are for specific jobs and to me, are a sort of link with the daily work and lives of past generations. My collection includes indigo linen, straight, long ones for cooks and gardeners with large pockets at the front; womens' everyday cream linen and hemp on a waistband for general wear, usually with neat cross stitch initials and two pockets; then there are the housemaids' in whitest lawn with bibs and ties and pretty circular pockets at the front. Butchers and chefs have big sturdy affairs with one side higher than the other to make a good wrap, and a protective patch across the midriff, often in a hemp and cotton herringbone weave. Bistro waiters' gear are not much more than a short square across the front, with pocket for cash. The final group are the girls' dark printed cotton and serge traditional costume wear, sometimes gathered and frilled with interesting stitched detail round the waist. The most impressive (and difficult to track down) is the sommelier's (wine waiter's) apron worn in restaurants, indigo or black heavy linen with leather straps, and pockets for the corkscrews, napkin and other tools of the trade.   Since typing this blog, I have sold some of the above to an opera company, so stock is very low - all now on my shopping list!

Monday, 24 October 2011


    It's great when you have a successful Fair and both buyers and sellers are happy.   I have recently had two very good fairs in a row and am glad that both were such fun and worthwhile.  The American Museum fair was quite hard work but it was wonderfully busy and the atmosphere was so lively and cheerful - many of our old friends and customers made the effort (some we had not seen for several years) and had a really good day out with their friends.  Everyone seemed to find something to buy that pleased them
 and as they all got in for free with our invitation, they may have had a little pocket money to spend!  They also got to see the beautiful features of the Museum and its estate, with gardens and arboretum so I do hope they will go back there when they have special friends to stay and want to take them out for the day.  Sitting on the long terrace with tea and a cookie from the coffee shop with that fabulous view across the wooded valley is quite a treat!     
My next Fair date was at the delightful Meeting House in Ilminster - a lovely small market town with the famous Dyers draper's shop complete with most of the original fittings - quite a period gem!
   There I sold the pretty cherry fabric illustrated on my recent Blog, several lengths of the Hungarian sack cloth for covering chairs, stools and ottomans, and I must now work through this winter to find new and exciting textiles for my next season of fairs which will start in March.  All the people on my mailing list will get invitations then (March 2012) listing our programme of fairs and I think I may have an exciting Country House venue in line.  Sellers and buyers take note !

Saturday, 22 October 2011


   It's strange how some of my weeks seem to follow a pattern - - last week was all about large shipments of natural and coarse linen and my buyers were not interested in the pretty, the decorative and the finer weaves.  One big lot of hand-woven  matched linen sheets (25 from the same household - which is so rare to find) has gone, as I prophesied, to the US, another big lot of rolls of Ukranian roughest weave is leaving for New Mexico, for film costumes, and the third lot of coarse natural 'taupe' sheets will be used to dress up a cottage near here, lined and interlined, to keep out the cold winds of winter.  I think the original weavers and gatherers of these fibre crops, hemp and flax, would be very surprised to know how far their wares are travelling, and how very pleased the customers for this coarse stuff are and how keen they are to find it.      The Flemish finer linen sleeping-bag liners (I had a hundred in July), have all gone and I was pleased that so many were bought by people who sew and make things and I do hope they all turned out o.k.  My own efforts got bogged down with the wrong needle in my machine, taken on holiday with me to France!!! but I am now ready to go full steam ahead and will publish results (if they are worth it, which I doubt).

Saturday, 15 October 2011


These, oh so pretty, French bed hangings, do, I think, come into the category of just 'ravishing'. I spotted them spilling out of a cardboard box at the big French textile/antiques fair at Montpelier last week. They looked so tired, so dirty, so crumpled, that I was suspicious they would fall to bits if I pulled them out to inspect. They were yellow with old tobacco fumes(the French will smoke in bed) smelly and weighed down with heavy metal curtain rings, but I decided to risk the lot and staggered to my car with all in a plastic sack to keep the car's air nicotine-free. Later, back home, to my delight, a couple of days in three changes of cold water, some oxygen powder and mild soap, they have come up to something very near their original beauty and are now very bright and usable with original colours and patterns seen at their best.See later BLOG Any Connection and Pretty Good.  The big long soak is my secret for removing the dinginess of old cotton fabrics with white backgrounds - it does most of the work for you as it is soaking the inner core of the woven threads and the oxygen powder will then release the grease and dirt that is trapped deep in the material which your washing machine is unlikely to reach in a short wash.  See later BLOG Any Connection? and Pretty Good, for more about the curtains.
I use the same process for our own hankies, pillow cases and underwear that are losing their sparkle!(SORRY TO MENTION THIS DIRTY WASHING IN PUBLIC!)
  I really like this delicate Spring flower design with its ribbon twirly borders - so easy to complement with either blue or pink accessories in a bedroom with a few touches of green if you must! All for sale - four very deep PELMET bed curtains and a good big full length one, and a canopy, all lined, interlined and in good used condition but with several poor patches on the linings.  A real challenge for the home do- it -yourselfer!  The touches of mauve are so typical of French flowery patterns and I love it all! A bigger (photo) shot is to follow.

Can  anyone please date this print for me?


Modern repro Braquenie
   On my last buying trip to France I bought a very large quantity of printed cotton, all made up into four- poster bed hangings, and thought that the pattern of little bunches of flowers and twisted ribbons in an alternate blue and red ribbon trellis, was one of the very prettiest I have seen - so simple and fresh;  I wondered if it might be a Braquenie (one of the best and most famous of the pattern printers from the 18C. onwards until Pierre Frey took them over).  So I was rather excited when I saw a very similar pattern (by Braq. and Pierre Frey repro) in a magazine feature this week.    The cost is £156 per metre, a bit more than I paid for my shabby chic bundle!  I would love to know whether my attribution could be correct?  What think ye?  Has anyone ever seen this pattern before??  Do copy, if there is no copyright; I think it is a winner as you could go with the blue ribbon, or with the pinky red for your room decoration.  See BLOG Ravissante

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Grain sack from the Ukraine with initials and with pouring lip

French easy chair (one of a pair) covered in Ukrainian sack cloth,
note  the 'lumbar swell' back support feature, so comfy!There is a small elegant sofa to match - if you have room!
These original furniture items are very reasonable  as I like to turn this sort of stock over quickly and go to France and find more.
 This post will be more picture than print - a grain sack  showing one of the lovely shades that were introduced to these humdrum articles in daily use on the farms of distant Ukraine - beautifully hand-sewn with strong hemp twine, they are grain-proof and often have a pouring lip at the top end for avoiding spillage and waste and a piece of strong hemp cord to tie round the neck of the sack, with two buttonhole stitched eyelets.  The stripes denote the village or farm from which the grain came so the empty sack could be returned to its owner or possibly filled with the milled flour, and some of them have large initials embroidered in big cross stitch half-way down the sack.   I used to buy similar sacks from Hungary and my first sale of them was to a very top designer who used them to cover some easy chairs and the upholsterer made the covers with the initials bang in the middle of the back, which was  a really good touch and a talking point..  I gave up the Hungarian sacks as they seemed to be everywhere, no longer exclusive, and the colours of the stripes were very strong in blue and red;  and I now prefer the softer more natural shades of caramel and soft blues and creams produced further East and in Northern Europe.  They are so much easier to blend with existing furnishings and more closely woven for good shape and long wear;  covering chairs is costly so go for the best!

Saturday, 8 October 2011


    A new Exhibition on October 20 - 23,  2011, 10.00 - 4 pm. at West Barn, Barton Grange, Pound Lane
   This is an Exhibition of Creative Textiles worked and shown by a group of local embroiderers;  some have been studying together on a course at Missenden Abbey, Bucks.   If you are interested in machine embroidery, this will be something to enjoy.   Their last year's efforts were a great success and this year they will be even better!  The Barn itself is a most delightful venue,  recently fully restored and adapted, and is well -warmed and lit.    Nearest easy parking is in the Station Car Park and the Barns are a short walk away along the river.  Small gift items for sale.  Free entry, 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

PETROL price GONE up?

Is this the future for lowly Brocante dealers ?- Fresh air and pedal power are all very well, but they might run out of puff as well - and what would the rain do to all those cardboard boxes?  I have to say this is a French joke in a women's glossy. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

From the UKRAINE to the UK

  A cartload of sacks has arrived here all the way from the Ukraine, near Russia, and I am absolutely delighted with both the quality of the weaving and, even more, with the soft natural shades of the stripes on them.  They are all in pale earthy shades which blend with any decor and look particularly good  in a relaxed, comfy room where there is not too much pattern - they go well with sea-grass carpeting and somehow seem very much at home with both antique and contemporary furnishings -  - like most hand-made materials they are classic and good quality and it shows! and will last a lifetime.!  They are mostly about 50 years old, unused, and cost around £45 for a large sized grain sack. - two will cover a small armchair.  I have covered and sold about ten pairs of such chairs during the last few years and the customers are delighted with them!


 I have been chasing the new top fashion shades of taupe, pewter, porage, fawn, putty, beige, nude or whatever you like to christen them and I have just acquired a lovely batch of unbleached linen sheets in a perfect shade which should please those who are able to follow the fashions of house decoration.  I found this lovely picture of a French (painted?) bed which is exactly the same shade, now in the newly decorated home, Ven House, deep in the South West, of Jasper Conran.   I love its simplicity (see W.O.I. current magazine)
  My sheets will probably go to L.A. where they may be used to cover bespoke easy chairs and sofas often bought by the Hollywood crowd who are always wanting the latest must-have.  Recently it was deep leather chairs for the 'den', before that it was white linen, a luxury fashion that took a lot of washing and dry-cleaning, now it is linen and hemp in unbleached shades and next I hope it will be my wonderful striped sackcloth in bumpy texture woven in the Ukraine, and now piled high in my wine vault stores.   Here in England, decorators have been using hemp and linen in natural colours for ages but it takes the U.S. a little longer to get used to these rough and rustic vintage stuffs and, quite honestly , they are now a bit late on the scene - Hemp is almost finished and linens are going the same way, and the new, sold by top fabric design firms, are so very expensive and really not quite in the same class, as they cannot be hand-woven any more.   The Ukrainian coloured stripes are all in soft earthy shades which blend with any colour scheme and are a good choice for hard wear and a sturdy country house look.  I am very happy in my newly covered upright armchair covered with two Ukrainian grain sacks, and I don't think I will wear it out.  I have had two extra arm-pieces made which are easily washable and take up the dirt from my grubby gardening hands and if I have visitors I can whip them off in a trice!

Sunday, 2 October 2011


  Cornelli were one of the most delightful discoveries I made in France.  They seem to be unknown in this country so I will try and describe them - they can still be found very occasionally with quality linen dealers in France.   They are long, elegant curtains, usually 8 - 9ft long, made with fine cotton muslin.  The muslin is embroidered with a machine (a Cornelli) that follows the design drawn with blue lines; I do not know how these were drawn or were they stencils or iron-on transfers?   The stitch is always chain stitch and is similar to the bed covers made with net and a crochet type tool  stretched over a circular drum, called tambour lace;  the patterns vary from the most dainty and elaborate floral designs often loosely joined with scrolls and curls, to others (probably later in period), in elaborate geometric patterns, greek key, borders in straight lines with boxes, angles and corners and have an Edwardian classic Adam revival look.     

see tiny pin holes at top near the flower

    Almost all had shell scalloped borders in a vandyke or scrolling edging, along the leading edge and base. They were usually to be found in pairs, occasionally in larger groups, and I have never seen the same pattern again.  It seems they were made in many small workshops and factories from 1860 or so until the turn of the century.   They were considered essential for shielding the furnishings in the best rooms, from light and sun, and helped to filter the dirt that came in through the windows from the dusty unmade roads and driveways as the horse-drawn traffic rumbled by.   The most common (new) use for the cornelli is to decorate four poster beds in a light feminine style which is elegant and pretty to look at, without stiffling the sleepers within - it can make a welcome change from all those yards of expensive chintz which festooned the bedrooms of the 80s and 90s, lining the pockets of the fabric firms and the decorators and causing some husbands to wince at the cost!   If you buy them (they are no longer cheap as the decorators have dug them out) you need to check them very carefully for small pin holes and wear half way down where they have been gripped by hands or tied back with 'embrasses' (tie-backs) and suffer damage.  Very few are quite perfect and slight damage is to be expected if they were used over 100 years ago.  Pairs usually cost about £200 or more, in good condition.  Only hand wash (can be risky if they are fragile!) and a very light bath of starch can help them if they are a bit floppy.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Fine cotton with cherries
Dainty Indienne pattern

  These little treasures,  short lengths of very fine cotton, were raked out of a mixed-up stall in France recently and are so typically French - cherries were grown there in huge quantities and the sight of a cherry orchard is  very delightful - they hang neatly in pairs and decorate so much of  French kitchen ware.  They are embroidered on the linen pelmets for windows, shelves and mantelpiece, appear on aprons, tea towels and even sheets (often worked into the initials of the owner) a'plenty on china and enamelware and the combination of green and red is a well known stimulator for your appetite -I hardly need it when enjoying my French meals!   The other little cotton piece is another type of design which I like very much, much more boudoir than kitchen, and the chain of medallions with little roses is an adaptation of the Indienne patterns so popular at the turn of the century (1900s).  This would have been used for discreet little shelves and cupboards, work baskets,  cushions and 'necessaires' known as cartonnage which the inventive sewing ladies were so good at.   They covered blotters, booklets, letter racks, glove and fan boxes with great skill and were just so neat!


   I was wondering the other day just how some clothing firms are able to justify extremely high prices for some fashion garments that you can buy on the High Street for so much less.  So the other day |I bought a shirt-blouse with the Tommy Hilfiger label in it at my local Dorothy House charity shop.- I knew the label came from a much loved and expensive US couturier.  I like having a striped red shirt in my wardrobe for winter wear with tweed and plaid trousers and have several red pullovers with v necks to put over.   I had just said a final goodbye to a very favourite red striped poplin shirt that I bought 50 years ago which I wore quite regularly every winter, and I'm wearing it in my Profile Blog portrait from the 70's seen above. The poplin was the very best fine cotton shirting and it had attractive pie-crust frilling at the neck and cuffs - you may remember Princess Di had a very similar one later on.  I had endless compliments on how fresh and jolly it looked and when the frilling edges finally frayed it was a sad day. It cost about £5  which was plenty in the 50's!  and it was from Rowland's classic and country wear shop in Bath.  Here in Bradford on Avon we have their bargain factory outlet shop just by the Station, which is a mecca for many well dressed ladies!
  My new second-hand model from Tommy H. was in a similar quality fine cotton, with slight stretch in it and the detail was very interesting - extra neat button holes,  a fine red piping line round the inner edge of the collar visible at the open neck and a V shaped tab with all the labels stitched on it, an extra embroidered Hilfiger logo elsewhere, short sleeves with proper button-up cuffs, bias-frilled with picot edges, and a rather low-cut neck line with no buttons, ready to show off some great bit of bling!  It only cost £4.50 so it was quite a bargain and I'm wearing it as I write just now.  Plus ca change........