Friday, 30 December 2011


Christmas luncheon with Her Grace!  This is the Grand Dining Room at Chatsworth, home of the Cavendish family and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire  A beautifully arranged table, chairs lined up for dozens of guests, trees laden with baubles, it is a feast for the eyes with dashing red walls, golden ceiling and huge crescents of lights and candles - what more could you want?? just a jolly good ironing of the tablecloth and a tweak to get it straight,  sorry,  I wish I hadn't noticed it!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


  In the last three blogs I have tried to describe the differences between the three kinds of fabric woven to make sheets in France;  fine linen,  fil, and hemp.  If you are buying any of these, you might find it useful to run through these pro.s and con.s to get good value:
Good points deserve better prices:
Perfect or almost unused condition.
Very fine linen lawn, even and white with no faults.
Really large sizes.  Anything over 7' wide is good and anything over 9' long is exceptionally long.  Old 
French beds were usually only 4' wide and the sheets were not tucked in but hung down the sides.
Best handwork on top border including Richelieu, ladder stitch and other drawn thread work, and other 
hand- made lace  in perfect condition.  Retours are the continuation of the main border pattern, worked a short length down the sides of the sheet - always a sign of good quality bed linen.
Distinguish between slightly uneven home-made family needlework and the professional evenly worked
  designs.  The latter will stand up to laundering much the best.  Perfectly shaped large elaborate initials, often infilled with French knots (skilled work).
Crowns and coats of arms (usually worked perfectly in the convents by the nuns) on extra large finest 
  lawn linen, rare to find and commanding very high prices, they are fragile, need careful hand-washing and 
  often only suitable for display rather than daily use.
Extra large fine linen sheet with hand-made lace and good initials in a pretty frame
Lower prices for the following:
Metis in soft shades of beige is a bastard mix of linen/cotton, useful but not valuable like pure linen.
Sheets that have been turned side-to-middle, where the small initials (about 1" high) are one side of central  
   seam  Those that have large initials, one each side of central seam are o.k. but you should always check   
   side seams and the long central 19c. seam for gaps in stitching and worn or frayed bits.   Central seams that
   are oversewn with strong thread  with a whipping stitch can make a ridge that is not so comfortable to
   sleep on - best central seams are stitched very finely edge to edge.
Hemp sheets that are very loosely woven and will stretch and sag with machine washing.
Frayed edges denote heavy wear, also torn centre seam.  Pin holes in finer linen where sheet has been
  folded and pressed too often.  Avoid patches, darns and stains.
Sometimes there is a rent or tear where a metal spring from the bed has pierced the sheet, if the rest is in
  good order, it can be worth repairing the rent with a neat patch.
Cloudy colour usually means that the sheet was very stained and bleach has been used.
Elsewhere I have recommended products for cleaning and removing stains such as ironmould, etc.See Blog Clean Sweep.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


A good hemp sheet with hand-sewn hems
     I have written a few notes on the differences between the kinds of linen you might find and buy in France.  Hemp sheets are rarer and much sought after and only occasionally to be found in good condition.   This is because the plant was grown by the poorest peasants for their own use for clothing and bed linen and these were used until they fell to bits.  It grew like a weed and used little water and no chemicals in the growing and preparation of the fibre so it was extremely economical.  It was immensely useful on the farms and the boats for fishing lines and nets, for tyeing up crops and weaving sacks, for harnessing animals and carts and every kind of domestic cloth.  The weave is usually a little looser than linen and though it starts off in quite a dark shade of fawn, and is a bit string-like,  it bleaches with washing to a beautiful cream and the cloth gets much softer so that it falls in loose folds.  Hence it is now much used for curtains and for upholstery on furniture.    In certain areas of Brittany they wove the very coarsest cloth which is of blanket weight and is very nubbly with a porage colour and texture.  This is highly prized by many top decorators, and is rare and expensive to find in good condition.  There are also some coarse herringbone 'rugs', very heavy and rustic, which I have been told, were placed under beds (maybe the truckle beds which were stowed during the day under the big beds) to stop the damp rising from the tiled floors.   These look wonderful on stone floors and in really ancient buildings.   Although the weave of the sheets is rather thick and coarse, it is extremely healthy to sleep in as the hollow fibres of the thread wick away moisture from the body, and the friction of a slightly uneven weave is good for warmth and circulation.  Expect to pay over £60 for good hemp sheets and more if they are larger than 6' wide., but there is always the chance of a bargain at a small country Brocante.

A roll of hemp cloth with initial F,  tied with natural linen tape
 I usually have a small stock of  all these sheets, but at present none of the rugs.  I only buy sheets in good condition, but I have a pile of good smaller pieces ready for embroidery, cushion backing and for other small
confections from £15 to £35.  Enquire at  for sizes and prices.

Thursday, 22 December 2011


If you would like advance notice of all our Talent for Textile Fairs for 2012 and have not already informed me of any change in your Email address, please send it to and you will be Emailed by me by the end of January.   The full list of events will be sent by the usual Mail-out by post in March 2012 with the forms to apply for invitations. Regards Elizabeth

The wreath was made with tickings from Ian Mankin.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

METIS is very French!

  The word means 'mix' and that is exactly what it is - usually 35%cotton and 65% linen - the reverse of our English union which is our cheap and hard wearing sheet fabric, where there is much less linen and ours feels softer and more like calico.  Metis came on to the French nmarket in the early 1900s and was hailed as an easy wash and iron bedding material, much less heavy than pure linen.  It was a very popular wedding present and part of the dowry and that is why you often see pairs still wrapped up in the original cello.
They were considered by some as being rather low-grade and cheap and lay in the back of the linen cupboard.   Some dealers try and charge the full linen price for them - but no French housewife would pay that -  45 Euros is plenty.  The material is a very pleasant creamy shade and I have used it a lot for curtain linings, bed ends, valances and small accessories - it sews and tailors very well and you can get a good sharp look with it.  The sheets are usually larger than the hand woven 19c. linen sheets as they were commercially spun and woven in big factories which had the big looms.  The two previous Blogs try to explain the difference in value and cost of three main types of linen sheets in France

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


  'Fil' linen sheets are the good common linen sheets that were in every-day use in France right up to the invention of nylon, polyester and polycotton.  'Fil' is usually coarser than percale (fine cotton) and a sturdy material with slight ridges and uneveness when it has been hand-spun and woven on narrow wooden looms, mostly 19C.  It is just off-white and feels cooler than cotton.  It is quite heavy to wash and iron but can be boiled, washed and hung on a line or dried in the old fashioned way flat on the grass in sunshine - the more it is washed the tighter the weave interlocks with itself.  It needs a hot iron to press or can be simply folded while very slightly damp with others piled on top and it comes out pretty well; if you can get someone to hold two corners and you have two and you pull against each other, this is the trad. way to get the edges and corners aligned when you fold.  There are usually a pair of initials in red cotton cross-stitch in one corner - not very large, but if  in the centre, then it is likely the sheet has been 'side to middled' for longer wear.  If, however, there is a large pair of initials, each side of the centre seam (which is quite usual because of the narrow loom widths) then you can be sure the two sides have not been reversed, so you need to check the two outer sides for wear.  The initials vary a lot - some people make a feature of them on cushions and curtains, others remove them if the sheets are very long  and make them up into patchwork, etc.   Most dealers add a little to the price if they are elaborate - but if they are rather amateur it may detract from the value and you can say so to the seller!  The very best initials (see example below) are usually early 20th. C  and more expensive.  The most usual fault with these heavy linen sheets is that they have been stained with fold marks while lying on old chestnut shelves which mark them and these are quite difficult to remove - I do not recommend bleach. but a lot of washing will make them fade.

Top quality embroidered initials, showing fine centre seam.SOLD

Professional work with many different stitches. SOLD.

Prices will be between £50 - £150 depending on size, condition and how elaborate and expert the embroidery is. Check that the width is enough for your bed - French beds are much narrower than ours and I would not buy one under 6ft wide.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


  Buying linen from abroad, and antique as well, can make you a little uncertain what to go for, so with experience of buying in France for 25 years or more I will give a few hints on the good, and not so good buys.  Much depends on the quality you need, but condition is almost more important!

This magnificent extra large sheet(14' X 9') has everything,  finest lawn, several feet of wonderful satin stitch
 embroidery showing water lilies, grand initials, splendid coronet, hand worked lace,  and is in perfect almost
unused condition. P.o.A. On Offer.(Dec.2011), now SOLD, but I have another exactly similar but with Iris flowers
 and foliage at the centre and on the revers (down the sides of the sheet) and also immaculate condition.  The
 designs are very reminiscent of the Monet paintings and date from 1890 or so.   These are very rare it known as
 Birthing Sheets and measure a huge 14ft X 9ft excluding Valenciennes lace frills.  P.O A Scan
available and a bit more history!
     The very best and the most expensive are the big sheets, over 7ft wide and 9 ft long, in fine smooth lawn, with no bumps or irregularities in the weave, hand sewn hems, with fine hand-embroidered decoration, flowers scrolls and large initials often with infill of French knots, and coats of arms or coronets denoting previous aristocratic owners (la noblesse).  The finest may have insertions and/or frills of best hand-made lace and all will be in perfect order - repairs to embroidery and lace are extremely difficult.   When held up to the light, there will be no weak areas, or rows of fine pinholes where the linen has worn through ironing and folding, and no cloudy patches where bleach has been used.  These may cost over £500 in the current market.
My next Blog will cover the more ordinary, everyday fil linen sheets which are available in most decent antique fairs and are a more practical buy.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Mother of Pearl Buttons and others

Mother of pearl buttons are my favourites -the French used a great many on their linen and clothes after the bone toggles and buttons of the early 19c. There are special double-thick with tiny holes for men's shirts that look almost like pearl studs and there are delicate pastel shades, all attractively packaged to catch the eye of the seamstress. I bought a huge lot of them from the attics of an old lady who had retired to Burgundy to bring up a handicapped child and she told me that she had sold her buttons from a factory at Sees to C.Dior, Schiaparelli and all the couturiers in Paris of the 30s and 40s.
   The factory, the biggest in France, made every kind of button, m.o.p., tortoiseshell, turtle,leather, papier mache boot buttons (I still have lots for Steiff teddy bear eyes - NOW SOLD OUT) casein, black metal , etc. etc. Almost all are gone but I have a couple of hundred left, all from 1926 or earlier. Picture of the factory, closed late twenties. Boot buttons, bottom right.
  I recently sold the last of my teddy bear eyes to a French lady, Nicolette Pede who has set up a new business in Tremolat, Dordogne, hand -making teddies and their wardrobes in trad. old French fabrics. They are very lovable! THESE PAPIER MACHE BOOT BUTTONS WERE IDEAL AS THEY HAD A METAL LOOP AT THE BACK WHICH COULD BE JOINED TO ANOTHER BUTTON EYE WITH WIRE AND THEY WERE THEN UNAVAILABLE TO HUNGRY CHILDREN!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

It's good to be in the Red

If you can get hold of the stylish and enthralling bi-monthly textile orientated magazine Selvedge, you would find in the last March/April copy two double spreads showing the brilliant red and white tickings that I collected from France in a wonderful scoop-up near the Loire. After hunting for tickings for over 2 years and being told that they had all been burnt or used up as rags to clean machinery, one day I climbed up a rickety ladder into the roof space of a huge old hay barn, and there I found hundreds, all tied up in bundles ready to go to the rag merchants, but long forgotten. They lay there, rotting under a leaky roof, nibbled by rats and mice who enjoyed the grains left by the old straw fillings, but glowing with rich reds and vibrant pinks, all in stripes, and I knew I had found my golden fleece! See my Blog 'Ticking all the Boxes' and 'French Affairs' and others! I can't stop loving them.
Kaari Meng has now got my archive of samples - about 150 of them, that I saved before selling them all -and has done a bit of research and so they have become part of textile history. Kaari is a clever and inspirational author, designer and shopkeeper in Hollywood, contact her and check her excellent blog. It's full of good news!