Wednesday, 25 January 2012


If you followed my recent Blog about a Friendship Quilt 1850's with many names inscribed, including lots of different Dillinghams, you could be surprised to know that within 10 days it has been claimed by a modern Dillingham and will be winging its way to US shortly - what a chance that someone noticed it - and I only have 100 regular followers and few in the States of course.   The power of advertising!
Talking of quilts - I do recommend you to go and visit Jen Jones' wonderful Museum and huge collection of Welsh quilts and blankets in Lampeter - click on Jen Jones Quilts for details.  She is one of my oldest textile friends and has built her business up from very small beginnings and become the world expert - and she is American by birth.  The American Museum near here has a fabulous collection, a best one from each State, and lots of books, classes and info.  Try Linda Clift for quilts - she is a very good source for all kinds, from quite cheap chicken feed 30's ones suitable for children - to the very elaborate and early print ones.
 from France.  She attends all the Talent for Textile Fairs and also has some very original FairIsle knit woollen ones which are unique.

Garments for Ghosts?

The creamy shirts on my drying ground have a very deja vu look - but they are sturdy, hand -made shirts as worn by many generations of hard-working French peasants. This lot, all of a similar shape and design, all came to me done up with hemp string, in lots of 5 and wrapped in blue 'sugar' paper. They had obviously been made for some girl's dowry -the women brought such things, including grain sacks, seed bags and much else, to the marriage contract. All was stored in special cupboards (armoires) and the marriage documents kept with the bridal crown (a very pretty affair of pearls, wax orange blossom flowers and fine metal decorations). I used to find similar parcels of unused linen nightgowns all beautifully initialled, but often in rather scratchy, coarse linen. I once bought 72 identical unused nighties from an old lady, and she told me that very often the brides put on weight and were continually pregnant or nursing babies, so the gowns were too small and slim and were hardly used. The same thing happened with the men's shirts - the workers grew large muscles, broad backs and maybe large bellies and the clothes stayed in the armoires too small to work in. I don't suppose the nuns who usually made these garments had much idea of sizing and just copied the original pattern which Mother Superior told them to copy. Look at the tiny gussets (triangular insertions for 'give') at vital stress points, sleeve openings, shoulder seams, underarms and tail seams and you must marvel at the skill and industry of those bygone needlewomen.

Monday, 16 January 2012


     The top bobble fringe is one I have used on my own ticking loose covers round the hem - I no longer have 'skirts' on my covers.   Second is a cotton 'string' fringe which comes in pure white, and blue and white, and is very useful if you want a simple finish to cushions and curtains.  The third is a pretty gimp for finishing chair seats and the last is a lovely 'pom pom' fringe which I have used on my best chintz cushions (It does go 'bald' after a time but it is one of my favourites so I renew it from time to time. 
    Passementerie  is one of the glories of French vintage decoration, whether it is the finishing touch on a cushion, the leading edge of fine curtains, the final trim on silken lampshades or round the hem of the easy chairs known as 'crapauds'.  The variety seems unending, the colour range immense and the ingenuity and skill of the workers making these intricate designs is amazing!   Once upon a time you could buy them, so much per card,  in long lengths, left-overs from decorating jobs done by the seamstresses and sold by the boxful,- now, you sometimes find the odd length all priced per yard and not much discount for the whole card! so it has all become very expensive.  Similarly the tie-backs for curtains with their plaited silk cords, tassels and fringes, rare and rich, go for over £80 each and if you have 3 windows in your best room, this is quite an addition to all the other costs of dressing a big window in vintage style.   Most of this work is still done in France, Spain and Italy, but there are a couple of English firms that can copy and and supply these quality decorations.  I was surprised to see that one of them of long standing, Brian Turner,  is based in Sawbridgeworth, nr. Bishops Stortford, where I used to live a long time ago when I had not discovered the fascinating world of old textiles.   I could have been a nuisance and watched them make this highly skilled and intricate stuff!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


  I bought this Friendship Quilt a long time ago without knowing any more than its name - these quilts were made by groups of friends who got together to sew and work on such quilts, enjoying the chat and company and making warm and cosy quilted covers that decorated their beds and kept them warm, but I do not know where it was made - It has few clues but most of the squares have names written in a fine hand in Indian ink and they include 7 different Dillinghams, 2 Waldorfs, and  a dozen others, also the addresses,  Saratoga, Galway and Washington Co, and the dates 1840 and 1848.   I am inclined to think it is therefore an American quilt and maybe there is a town somewhere where the surname Dillingham is still around - I should be so interested to hear.   The quilt is very, very worn but still complete - it hangs over my banisters looking very pretty, and is still good enough to hang in a prominent position, but not for use on a bed.    Price £130. or a special price to any Dillingham around!
NEXT DAY I've already had one query so the hunt is on!The following names are on the quilt: Dillinghams: Betsey D. Punicus, Ruth  H., Catharine L., David V. ,Elizabeth, Sylvia, Retory(?), Margaret, Amy D. ~Washington Co.  Other names are Hannah Tubbs Galway, Francis Sheldon, Rebecca Habron, Ann Sheldon,   Lawrence, B. Downs, Diana Houster, Lucy Bennett, Ruth Hallett, Mary Parnall, Margaret Waldorf, Amelia Ann Sheldon 1840, Jane Perkins Saratoga, Sylvia Leary. Some names are difficult to decipher, the ink has faded and the cotton is thin
More details from Elizabeth

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Two  examples of  large fine linen sheets with decorative embroidery and openwork borders.  Both in first class condition - probably kept on one side for 'best' and little used.
Upper sheet measures   10'2"  X 7"4  with initial T.B. or J.B  price £165
Lower sheet 10' X7'8" initial M.R. elaborate border with retours, openwork diamonds, squares, triangles  and poix £160.  contact Elizabeth Baer at retours are the extra emb. parts down the sides of the sheet and a mark of good quality linen!  Poix (peas)are the large polka dots emb. typical of 20s and 30s designs.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


My linen stores                              

   When you have done all the work of washing and ironing your linen, it is good to add the final touches to a well-ordered linen cupboard, so that when you open the door, you can see neat piles stacked up ready for use.   The rule of three applies to all small articles that have initials in the centre - they should be folded in three parts so the initial is at the centre and then they can be folded again to make the item shorter to fit on a shelf.  This applies to face towels, napkins, table cloths and sheets where the initials are an important feature of the design.  Pillow cases and hankies usually have the initial in one corner, and you can still use the rule of three but ensure that the initial stays prominent and that all similar items are pressed into the same size and shape so they can be piled up.    This may all sound too fussy, but it means you can find and identify 'best' from 'everyday' when you are in a hurry with guests arriving, and keep track of numbers very easily.  If you have read my Blog on Napery earlier you will know this is an honourable art and if you style yourself  Mistress of Napery it will make you proud of your linen cupboard or room.    French women have many conventions for folding including a very special one for sheets known as 'a l'ancienne' which means that all the edges are hidden within and the resulting long slim shape fits onto narrow shelves in their armoires.

Monday, 2 January 2012


A view of the linen cupboard at Freshford, Avon
   If you are the proud owner of fine French linen and there are just one or two little things that bother you, perhaps the following might help, gained after renovating and restoring hundreds of old French sheets, possibly even thousands, but who's counting?
  When you get your sheets home and before washing, you may want to remove any stains and/or ironmould marks.  There are several good chemical solvents  that work well, but I find the best are in the supermarket shelves in France  next to the detergents - they seem stronger and are more specific.  Rubigine anti-rouille  rust stain remover is brilliant, but be careful,as it does not harm the linen but is actually a very powerful and toxic acid.   
   Old discoloured linen needs a good long soak in several changes of plain cold water over several days  to soften the inner core of the fibres and to remove the tobacco stains that seem to invade all French fabrics and soft furnishings.  After this, give the linen a good hot wash with an oxygen based powder  (bleach is not recommended unless you are desperate).   If there is delicate embroidery or fine lace, wash on gentle programme in a pillow case or by hand in a bath - do not spin or twist, and hang out to dry on a line in the sun and wind or flat on the grass.   Use a light starch for a crisp glossy finish but remember that this does yellow in storage.  I would never send precious lace and embroidery to an ordinary laundry - fine decorations can be ruined and you may not even get your own linen back as some of the staff have a good idea of the value of the finest items and several of my clients have had unfortunate losses.