Thursday, 26 December 2013


Thank you for all the interest, the purchases and the reader comments - always welcome:

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Curtains Up!

25 years ago we moved from Essex to a rambling old house near Bath. House prices were very high then, and when I realised that I had 40+ windows to dress, I was glad to remember the piles of interesting old fabrics I had seen lying around the Brocante sheds and barns in France. The dealers were very surprised when I dragged them out of the black bin liners and measured them up.  They were then considered to be just rags,  chiffons, in French, so I came home several times with large loads and found a skilled seamstress who loved re-creating new hangings for my windows, removing the tattered old linings, keeping the heavy interlining 'bump', and chopping off the worn edges, and attaching new pastel coloured linings of glazed cotton VERY CHEAP STUFF FROM KNICKERBEAN, a very discounted fabric shop in Bath, alas! now gone, WHICH SOON FADED NICELY TO MATCH THE FRONT. I found another clever lady who was able to cover my battered antique French sofas and easy chairs with old velvets and prints, and by sticking to a colour scheme of old rose, was able to make my drawing room warm and inviting. French people used to be very careful and economical and re-used their beautiful old curtains, but I'm afraid the modern generation regard them as old stuff from Granny and very uncool!  So occasionally I still come across a big lot of shabby chic and pass it on to people with big windows and a Credit Crunch problem!   The picture shows my secondhand Biedemeier settee covered with two pairs of curtains, one lot alpaca and Lyon silk velvet for the main part, the other lot borders of canvas work from a pair of completely 'shot' silk curtains that were in ribbons. It was a happy 'arranged' marriage of special 19c. textiles and my grandchildren say the velvet is as soft as a pussy cat! Sofa cost me £90, curtains £150 and upholstery a bit more - compares quite well with D.F.S.  Curtains for 5 big windows cost £500 plus lining £50, plus labour for re-vamp, £200, and this is the second house they have graced for me.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


These totes have been made by me with off-cuts from chair covers, curtains and patchwork bedspreads, all early 19c. bedding fabrics, mostly hand-woven coarse linen checks and flamme, the good ikat weave furnishing linen the French copied from the Far East. The strange double holes on far right bag are the ventilation holes they used to embroider in buttonhole stitch to give ventilation for the mattress contents, which otherwise tended to go mouldy! I once made a door curtain out of this stuff and threaded little scarlet ribbon bows through the holes - this indigo blue goes very well with a bright red - many of the blue bed pelmets of the last century had the scallops edged with a narrow red trim, and the red/white large Vichy check was used for linings.
The fine cotton Vichy with a blue selvedge is usually late 19thc. (the coloured selvedge indicated that it was French manufacture and not imported from England's cotton mills.) The competition was fierce, and there were heavy fines for importing 'foreign stuff'' . The Vichy fabric was more common in a very pretty pale raspberry red (rose madder dye) and was much used with Toile de Jouy on the backs of chairs and to line the quilted bed and window pelmets. I always keep a good supply as it is very useful for extending and widening too narrowcurtains and bed covers.A very similar large check was much used in Sweden, always looks good, and it combines well with ticking stripes.
Mixed linen bands of blue on old natural unbleached linen pieces
If you love old fabrics as much as I do, and you have spent many days travelling round France, getting up early to get to a Fair for the opening rush at 8 a.m., dashing round hundreds of stalls, hoping you have not missed that amazing bargain, or you have arrived just too late, only to see it disappearing into someone else's bag, then you will know that any waste of the fabric you do buy will seem rather wicked ! Of course, buying in a hurry can also be a great disappointment - the sellers are quick to show you the best bits and hide the damaged, the light may be very poor so that stains and fading do not show up - and there is always the chance that the seller will tell you that all the stains will wash out - pas de probleme! - until you try, and curse the paint, ironmould and ink which, you as an honest dealer will have to show your clients when you have failed to move them or worn out the material trying to scrub the marks away!
In that case you might well ask why the sellers did not attend to their stock themselves and chances are that most stains will not disappear in soap and water.... . and don't forget that the French used to live in a haze of cigarette smoke which stains and rots even the best materials. They have the same carefree attitude with moth and worm damage to furniture and you must always check the castors when buying easy chairs which seem so cheap over there, as good new brass ones will cost about £40 per set of 4.
Severe fading by the sun leaving curtains paper thin and pale brown, can mean that the fabric
collapses when washed and you are left with a useless rag. On the other hand, you can sometimes buy remnants, remainders, and odd shapes which can be usefully re-invented, for very low prices. If of good patterns and colours, they will appeal to quilters, as at the moment there is a new craze for quilting and piecing interesting old patterns. Larger pieces will make good cushions, and you can back them with old linen and plain colours to suit a colour scheme. If you are handy with a sewing machine, make tote bags, say using some bits of striped ticking or different checks - if you join several pieces in long strips you can then cut all the outer edges in a straight line for a patchwork effect, or applique 5 or six strips to make a useful and colourful beach or picnic bag as above. Line the bag with faded material and this will hide all the joins, and put on two straps for handles.You may be surprised how smart this looks and it will be as unique as a Gucci bag!

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Stool cover by Peta Smyth. Antique Toile by Christopher Moore

   There are two problems with decorating a room with old toile - you could call it bedroom logistics. First, French beds were much narrower than the average English one, and secondly, some of the cloth is usually worn and faded (after all, the best is 18th Century and does wear a bit over time and you won't find much that is perfect all the way). I have found these good pictures of solutions created by Diane Berger, a decorator and textile academic. In the picture of her lovely four-poster bed she has inserted a band of white hemp (Pierre Frey) but it could have as easily been one of my hemp sheets (!) to extend a too -narrow bed cover. The pretty French chairs have toile on the seats but are backed with the checked Toile de Vichy which was often used for lining pelmets, and for extra curtains. The pinky red is a true Rose Madder shade and gives a little relief to the busy all -over toile pictorial designs. The curtains are in a repro. rosy design but have period pelmets. You will notice the dome of the shower has been decorated to match, as well as the luscious blooms and pinky satin bows for the pictures. This is an interesting example of classic decoration in the 90s - a far cry from the minimalistic fashions that followed.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


When I was buying a lot of French brocante, or bric-a-brac, mostly from wayside dealers in Normandy, I found a lot of large dinner services from the twenties and thirties, often in perfect unused condition. They were obviously wedding presents that had been carefully kept in the armoires and cabinets, their owners had passed away and the next generation thought them far too old-fashioned to use. Some of the designs were really pretty and original and were often hand-painted or decorated with stencils in excellent colours, mostly flowers and fruit.

The services usually had 12 each of soup and dinner plates, several meat plates, 2 sauce boats, two very large veg. dishes with lids and a large bowl for salad - hardly ever any pudding or side plates. I could buy these for about 150 - 200 Francs (take a nought off to convert to pounds) and always took one set to every fair and English buyers were so very pleased with them - and occasionally I eat off them at friends' houses - now rather in fashion! The circular metal stencil templates with openwork for the flowers and fruit, all from the art studio of a pottery, were a particularly good find one day and sold immediately at a London fair - wish I had kept a few!

One of the customs (and there are many) at le dejeuner which included a first course with veg and meat gravy. was le chabrol . The rule was that you should not start drinking the wine on the table until you got to the main course - so the thirsty peasants slaked their thirst by pouring a dash of wine into their soup plates and supping with a large spoon. Cunning!

Sunday, 1 December 2013


These portraits are made by fine stitching and vintage  fabrics
I went to a most interesting selling exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery  in Bath and thought stitchers and artists might also enjoy looking at the attractive and original works by Mick Weinberg, a Swedish artist who has worked in fashion as model, designer, in photography, and now shows her artistic skills in these patchwork pictures.  They are large and graphic and if I had a big blank wall I would be delighted to have one to look at and savour every day.  You might recognise some of the fabrics, often French, and their use may inspire you as well -   the one, titled the fortune teller's daughter, has pieces of German ticking which Mick bought at our recent Rag Market here in Bradford on Avon!.  Note that these are not just scrapbook images, they are beautifully crafted with finest hand stitching and are definitely works of art!  I've just heard that there are a couple of new 'people in patchwork'  (my title) at the Gallery, so do go along and have a look!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Re-using a pretty piece

This is a typical flowery chintzy bedroom of the last century. The curtains are old hemp sheets, lined and interlined, with an old re-used pom-pom fringe set well back to make a good silhouette against the light. The wallpaper is a trad. 18thc. design by Zoffany now out of production, and the piece of applique work using flowers from old chintzes was the centre-piece of the bedspread, also made from old hemp sheets, with similar valances.

Memories of the pre-war years, when I was growing up

I wrote a Post about my Welsh upbringing and my Nain's (Welsh) interest in needlework and design and a bit about the old laundry wing in our home. I was therefore quite surprised to find another huge laundry (cottage) at my London Granny's country house which I visited near Harpenden when I was little. She had to entertain large house-parties in the big house and she told me that she used to have up to 15 people to stay for a week-end (Grampa was a well known City business man) and as they had to have clean napkins for every meal, 4 times a day, that meant that there had to be hundreds of them ready, white and starched, to put on the long dining room table. I know I wondered how I would manage when I grew up, little knowing that I, too, in my Granny mode, would be myself washing, bleaching, starching, several hundred each year, mostly for my overseas customers who adore the big old fashioned initialled napkins...... shades of the last Washerwoman of Freshford!  Two long sets at Christmas-time, 30 to USA and 18 to South Africa for large family parties. It's so good to think these beautifully woven linens will be enjoyed by so many.
By the time I saw much more of my London Granny, she had moved into a lovely flat in London and all the paraphenalia of entertaining had gone - the huge banqueting linen damask table cloths had been turned into gorgeous loose covers for easy chairs and sofas, dyed in very pretty pastel colours. and the patchwork quilt over the grand piano had been made into sweet cottage curtains for the old laundry in the country which was converted into the family's retreat during the war. I inherited a lot of her fine Egyptian cotton linen and have used it ever since - so soft and so easy to care for on my spare beds, and it dries in a trice - unlike my own heavy linen that is beautifully embroidered but takes an age to dry in the winter when it cannot blow in the wind.

I found this beautiful piece of applique work amongst my Grandmother's linen and have used it as a centre piece on a heavy creamy hemp bed cover and found some good old guilloche braid to encircle it and run a border along the edges to hang down over the sides. The colours of old chintz are always something special and they blend with an antique bed and the Zoffany wall paper very well.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


I have sold several of these French stools which are very useful when placed in front of the fireplace - for magazines, books, tea and coffee trays and even for toasting your toes. Originally many of them were made to go with large comfortable armchairs and could be literally hooked up with a couple of large metal hooks. You need to check the state of the webbing and stuffing (which can add a lot to the upholstery charges,) also that all 4 casters are working (again costing over £40 for a good new set) and to find a good strong fabric to re-cover. This one had the original striped velvet stuff but was too shabby and so I used up a remnant of Shaddow Rose from Bennison's which has a sort of ikat look ( very Victorian, like the stool itself) and added some long bullion fringe from an old chair, and it is now a very favourite perch when the fire is lit. This stool has two strong hooks on a slightly concave side and the opposite side curves outward and was a comfortable foot rest to go with its armchair in matching fabric. I don't know if it is called a pouf or if it is a tabouret or ottoman. American dealers and decorators are buying them and the price has gone up from about 50 Euros to 150, even in poor condition.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Working to a deadline

    House and Garden Magazine has been listing current designers, month by month, and I was not surprised to see one of my clients, Penny Morrison, described as a leading decorator with her own  workshop in Wales.  I remember her very clearly as she stopped at my outlet in Freshford and told me she had to completely re-style a boutique hotel in the Caribbean and had only a few weeks to get everything together.   She instantly approved and bought  a huge pile of coarse, creamy, hemp sheets for all the curtains and bed covers - she was looking for a very cool relaxed look, and then there was the question of how to trim the curtains and valances to give them some definition and style.  Everything had to stand up to strong sunlight, endless laundering, and frequent hoovering and brushing.  Looking round my sheet and linen stores, she spied the 8 inch wide webbing in bright blue, natural and cream strong cotton braiding I had used to cover the metal supports of the shelving there.   She intended  putting a border at floor level on all the bed valances, which would not get marked by shoes and the Hoovers, and a border line down each leading edge of the curtains;  very smart!  I had justbought some huge rolls of the braid, all in a rather mad moment at Francine's Boutique in  Isle sur la Sorgue, Provence, when she offered rolls at  give-away prices because she too had had a mad moment and bought  dozens of these braids in rolls of over 90 metres.  She kept on saying that she would never sell them all and she had wasted a lot of money.   Funnily enough,  I was able to sell mine with ease for all sorts of projects and I had to explain to my buyers that the braid was used to make the uppers of espadrilles, the colourful beach shoes of Spain and the Med. so would stand up to sun, salt and sand.  I went back to Francine for more and I found that she, too,  had sold out and gone back to the Pyreneese to buy massive more quantities from the old shoe factory.   This all helped to encourage me to start  buying larger quantities of interesting and original textiles that I really liked, and it paid many dividends when I became a supplier to various film wardrobes and their massive requirements for crowd scenes.

Last year House and Garden magazine listed 100 leading designers and I was not  surprised to see a client of mine, Penny Morrison, with a picture of a cool creamy bedroom.  I remember her well as she arrived with a list of window measurements and said she had to transform a very unattractive boutique hotel in the Carribean and wanted to convert to pale creamy curtains and matching bed dressing, but all had to be sewn and ready within weeks for transport in one lot to the island!   She was so pleased to find I had vast piles of good coarse linen sheets, ideal for both windows and bed covers and then the problem was to find something that was practical (to stand up to endless and possibly rather unskilled laundering, the constant rubbing of hoovers during the daily clean) that would bring colour and definition to each bedroom.

  Looking round my showroom  Penny spied the very unusual blue, gray and cream striped braid that I had used to cover the metal base for all the shelving there and asked me if I could supply 'really a lot' :  Luckily, only weeks before, in Isle sur la Sorge, I had bought a huge roll of about 100 metres of braid which Francine (owner) said had been used to make the open-toed Spanish espadrille beach shoes.  Francine said she had overdone it, it was ridiculous and no-one would ever buy this stuff - I thought I was mad to buy so much, though the price was only a few hundred francs for the lot, and yet it turned out to be exactly what Penny was looking for!  After that I bought a great deal still at the silly price and now it has all gone - Francine went on buying it and probably still has a stash in her huge stores!

  It is quite exciting and very rewarding to be able to supply someone's wants and necessities all on one big shopping expedition, and one has to remember that you have to have a decent stock, if it is available, on the day that desperate customer calls or telephones - huge advantage now that Email is so instant. - tomorrow or next week is not much use when deadlines have to be met.   This applies specially to film wardrobe ladies!


Thursday, 14 November 2013


Pretty  cool!  cool and pretty!
   At the end of the 'frilly knickers' period of decorating 80s-90s, when extravagant ruched looks for curtains, pelmets, sofas. chairs had peaked (this was after the cheap shabby-chic, rather dowdy- looking style fell out of favour,) suddenly cream, linen, and expensive simplicity came as a positive relief. Husbands thought those miles of chintz terribly extravagant, (and the designer bills were outrageous) and were fed up with the uber-feminine excess of it all and welcomed the cool classic calm of linen, cotton and pastel colours
    I have pictures from a Californian Home Magazine which shows models and celebs standing in white linen suits, with ditto sofas and chairs , white walls and one good blob of colour provided by a well chosen, rug, or clock or picture. All that white linen told you that they were not afraid of the laundry and dry cleaning bills and they could afford to change it all for another set, another day. This is where I came in with my white linen and creamy hemp sheets which I had collected by the hundred in France and was able to sell for a fraction of the price of of the new stuff and it had twice the character, weight and charm of the machine-woven from Pierre Frey and other designer firms.  My prices were very low, because I had good sources and I was not afraid to buy linen in bulk and sort it all out before selling it in good clean usable state, with no hidden faults and problems.  The seconds were snapped up by film companies to be converted into the togas, shifts, tunics, gowns of every century right up to Elizabethan times as they were historically correct and were sufficiently rough and  rustic to show that they were all hand-woven, in hand-spun weaves and could be safely dyed any shade, much to the delight of the wardrobe ladies.
   Californians were particularly keen on my linens as they stood up to the strong sunshine, and shops who used to use cheapest calico to cover their soft furnishing soon 'cottoned on' and could cover the sofas and chairs in nubbly, tactile hemp and make record sales. I found too that these wealthy buyers, usually smart decorator designers, were pleased to buy the finest linen embroidered and lace edged bed linen and lots of best 1900 large dinner party sets of table napkins, the more noble crowns, initials and coats of arms, the better, quite often for their own personal use - a good 'perk' !   They did not have to battle with the rather formidable linen ladies in the Paris Flea Market and preferrerd to deal in their own language and make one big container load.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Versailles and Marie Antoinette

< Marie Antoinette's Bed

Royal appartments at Versailles

Whatever we may think of the mad extravagance of 18th C. Royalty. their palaces and way of life, they gave employment to thousands of artisans who used their talents to produce some of the most exquisite furnishings and works of art ever produced.
In France, an army of cabinet makers, weavers and artists decorated the rooms with the finest and best materials available. The designs of furniture, mirrors and plasterwork were used and copied all over Europe. Despite the ravages of the Revolution, most French palaces have been preserved and are now all restored and thousands of tourists are able to enjoy and marvel. French designs have always been considered the richest and most elegant and I thought the two pictures I chose show their genius for comfort and luxury in a very decorative sort of way!

Friday, 8 November 2013


   If you look carefully at this picture you will see two rather original features in the top class upholstery -the gathering and little rosette on the side panels of the chair back, and other little button bows half-way down the kick pleats covering the legs, a very feminine comfy little boudoir chair. The fabric is interesting too - a reproduction of a classic Indienne (late 19c.)French cotton fabric, where the birds are a bit fierce with large beaks and claws.  Also note how carefully the bird has been centred in the middle panel of the back, the seat and the valance.  This takes more material, but I think this chair would have been pretty expensive anyway.
  I had a friend who had a little recess on a landing with a similar chair and she called it her 'sulking' room for when the family got her down!  A cup of tea in a pretty, relaxing chair might soon soothe you back to normal!


2 cushions made with Toile scraps and toning piping and another of white pique cot lining with pearl buttons added.

     When I unload a big pile of French laundry (I only buy it in bulk) there are always some faulty linen sheets - nothing very serious but they are not good enough for bedding. I have a number of uses, myself, for these "seconds" - I make under-pillow cases, simple housewife style, as I cannot bear to sleep on stained and smelly pillows and they do need this extra protection. Then I make laundry bags with drawstring tops to hang on the bathroom door, shoe bags for precious, fragile sandals and shoes, and a couple of pressing cloths for my table ironer - I write PRESS in big letters on a big cloth and zig-zag over the writing so that the cloth does not stray. I also zig-zag the edges of a large number of squares which I will use for cleaning windows, the car, and chrome fittings in the bathrooms - linen is a strong material so you can rub hard and it leaves no lint behind and it comes up very clean in a hot wash.   I always have a supply of the seconds and for £5 or £10 you can make up any quantity for yourself - or you may prefer to make place mats, table runners, tray cloths, new pockets for gents trousers,  and possibly dye them with a dylon dye for different uses.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cornelli, muslin, voile .

Full length muslin cornelli screening a blank wall.

The delicate design of a muslin cornelli

French people have always been very keen on privacy and screening their houses from view by the ordinary passer-by. You have only to see the immense variety of railings, fences and hedges protecting their front views to realise that they do not welcome strangers staring over their property. In the same way, they screen their windows with an amazing variety of light and see-through fabrics, many very traditional. You see little voile and white linen curtains and half-blinds in the streets, often with net pictures of local traditions, boats, garden subjects, children etc. worked in fine net. Elsewhere you will notice fine voile 'cafe' curtains in gay checks, with a frill all round and a tie-back which reveals the centre of the window for looking out. The amount of real and factory-made lace in all weights is incredible and varies from heavy macrame in sludgy shades of ecru and coffee to fine and dainty borders tacked onto muslin and voile. Many of the current drapers shops have large departments still filled with all these essential fabrics.
   There is one kind of curtain, however, called a cornely,  or cornelli, which is quite special and which I really love.  Basically,it is a very long muslin curtain usually about 8ft drop,with scalloped edges down each side and across the bottom. There are flowery borders and spray designs over the central part,  all in chain or tambour stitch (worked with a hook, two hands and with the muslin stretched over the tambour frame) and they can be utterly charming and make wonderful, light and airy dressing for four poster beds, as well as the windows for which they were made during the last quarter of 19c. It is rare to find them in perfect or unused condition, but some of the more skilful dealers hide the inevitable snags and holes by stitching additional little lace flowers here and there and you have to discover these repairs for yourself and judge the real condition of the Cornelli. Good ones (best in pairs) are not cheap - usually well over £200 pr.
  The machine that made them was probably called a Cornely and these dainty patterns come in  huge variety - some graceful and delicate in design, others with bolder geometric and heavier borders, possibly of a later date, but most date from late 19C.   I am going to investigate Bath Textile Dept. at the college to see  the machine working, as they have two, I believe. The curtains were of course made to keep out prying eyes but more especially to keep out the sun and the dust from the unmade-up roads outside the bourgeois houses which caused much damage and distressed the precious silks and velvets of the well-furnished house.  Washing these nets is quite a skilled job - sometimes they are quite rotten and disintegrate as you immerse them in water, and any weight or strain can cause them to 'flake', so examine the fabric well before buying, and inspect for tiny pinholes which may be the start of weak patches that wreck the netting; so negociate the buying price accordingly!

Sunday, 20 October 2013


   It's just a year since I posted my notice for a clear-up, clean out, very informal fair here in the wine cellars of my house and in the Mason's Hall next door, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LN. We had piles of lovely stuff ferreted out from cupboards, lofts and old trunks, new and old, humble and grand, and a lot was quickly mopped up by eager buyers looking for bargains and something a bit different.  The range was huge, from Russia to China and Africa to India, and knowledgeable buyers found some real treasures.  Many sellers have asked for a repeat event to clear more space, and enjoyed the experience of being on the other side of the counter, so here goes!  I plan to have a similar event next Sunday,
June 15th  2014, in similar spaces with table and chair for each seller, starting 9a.m. ending 3pm.with setting up the previous afternoon, Sat. June 14th after 3p.m.  Access is rather limited so you may have to be patient about parking.  Quick unloading is essential and all cars can be parked in the Station car park.
  As soon as I receive enough applicants, I will sort them out and will be giving priority to private sellers, as last year,  and making sure we have a wide range of goods   The most important thing you can do to ensure the success of the event will be to distribute at least ten flyers amongst your friends and contacts, and I will send these to you when I confirm your booking.   This worked very well last year and we had a record attendance of new buyers as well as plenty of old friends and this gave the whole thing a jolly atmosphere, enjoyed by everyone.  I will do all I can to make the event fun and profitable and if you have never had a stall at an antique fair, you might find this was a really exilarating and amusing way to dispose of your surplus and earn some money on the way!  Donations will be made to Dorothy House and the cost of stalls will be £25 per table payable a month in advance of the fair.  Cheques to E.Baer, please.
All applications by Email to  

Saturday, 19 October 2013


When I stayed with my London Granny as a child, I was very impressed with the dainty hand towels in the bathroom with her initials beautifully embroidered in the centre - After use, I couldn't see how they had been folded and worried about how to put them back so very neatly! She then told me about the rule of three; it seemed that all pillow cases, hand towels, table napkins, hankies and small linen with initials were folded into three parts so that the initial was always displayed on top or in the middle with the two sides folded underneath. Later, I inherited quite a bit of linen from her and members of my husband's family and then had no trouble in following the rule for my own linen cupboard.
When I came to wash and iron my large stock of French linen for sale I found that this system was good in that with the folded edge always towards me on the shelf, with a neat tie of fine tape, I could count the number of tea towels (at one time I had over 300 all in different coloured stripes and checks) and it made selling and stocktaking so much easier..A mall selection is shown above in my huge Irish linen cupboard. All sold long ago!
Having initials hand-embroidered is now very expensive - it takes much skill and time, A friend of mine has just bought a very advanced electronic sewing machine and I am going to persuade her to have a go with it - will show results if acceptable.

Thursday, 17 October 2013



 The different  styles of decoration in the Indian Palampores are one of their main attractions, with precise drawing and outlines for the flowers, leaves, insects and other wild life.  The intricate patterns on the flower petals and leaves were often taken from Persian designs.   These cloths were highly  prized  in Europe and caused much grief to the traders at home and in France, heavy fines had to be paid for their purchase and use by the public.  This only increased their desirability!  Later on, the ban was removed and factories at Mulhouse and elsewhere produced their own copies and adaptations.  I have been interested to see that Sanderson have produced bed-linen based on Palampores and think the sheets would make very attractive curtains! Keep on scrolling down

   The great palampores of the Coromandel Coast in India are some of the greatest treasures in the world of textiles.   They were huge curtains or wall hangings, hand blocked usually with elaborate Tree of Life centres, incorporating leaves, flowers in amazing elaborate designs, birds and animals and insects, to show a gentle passage through a long life in beauty and calm.  The borders were complicated intricate designs and there was room for the rock-work which formed the basis for the growing tree.    Their production  and that of many quite dis-similar designs, was a long and highly skilled job for many workers who first drew the outlines and then filled in the patterns with wood blocks carved with the details of each petal and leaf, changing them to fit precisely on the original drawings.  Some of the colours were applied by hand with fine hollow bamboo sticks which had little reservoirs of colour.   Inbetween each stage there was the art of fixing the colour with mordants, bleaching, etc. etc., and a final polishing with wax and starch with a shell to make the cloth glossy.   The panels were often printed on very fine cotton woven in big sizes 8 or 10 foot wide and high and when finished after these many processes, were exported to France, England and the Netherlands on the great East India trade routes, partly by land or sometimes entirely by ship from Indian ports past the Cape to Europe..  Their history is well documented and examples can be seen at the V.and A. and the curtains I have in my dining room are super repros hand blocked by the famous textile printers, Bracquenie, who also did the same replacement curtains for David Garrick's bed ( V. and A.). There is a lovely book by the curator of the collection, Rosemary Crill, titled Chintz Indian textiles for the West.   N.B.This is really a re-cap of my  previous notes after I saw a stunning collection in the Museum at Port Louis, Lorient, in Brittany and which is for me, the most memorable exploration of textile design I have ever seen.

Monday, 14 October 2013


  I have always had a special liking for hemp ever since I discovered the handsome working shirt/smocks of the peasants in France and the quilted backings of valuable toile pelmets and bed hangings.  I not only like the very varied textures of hand-weaving, but also the pale natural shades of the cloth that are never duplicated.  I have learned that hemp was the most favoured crop for poor families because it grew like a weed and needed no chemicals or fertilisers to grow well - very different from linen and especially, cotton, which suffers many pollutants in the growing and preparation of the threads.  I have always recommended hemp for curtains as it is softer than linen and hangs in very beautiful folds, it is sturdy enough for valances and for soft furnishing chairs or sofas, provided a firm and closely woven piece is used.  Normally the hemp is found in the old 19c. handwoven sheets and I have sold many hundreds to decorators and private buyers.  Having always insisted on the whitest of white linen, the American decorators finally grasped the beauty of rustic and coarse weaves in 'stone' shades a few years ago,  and with this extra demand the market has almost run dry.
   However it is very good to know that at last the fashion houses have realised the charm of hemp, now often mixed with cotton, or occasionally linen, and I show two examples that came as 'junk mail' to me from  poetry   and they remind me very much of the fine handwork on the old French work-shirts.  It is considered extremely healthy for babies and bed-ridden people as any moisture in the bedding is 'wicked away' to the centre of the fibres and the sleeper stays dry.    Maybe it will be for the sportswear of the future? Scroll sideways for the .full view.  I have no connection with the fashion house Poetry but rather like their stuff!

Thursday, 10 October 2013


  By now, most of us have seen the dashing blue and red striped corn sacks from Eastern Europe, mostly gathered from huge farms where they were used to transport grain to the cereal mills, and which were recognisable by their bright red and bright blue stripes down the long sides, often with attractive cross- stitched initials.    I remember selling the first few I ever saw to a very well-known decorator who  had (luckily for me), never seen them before and much to his surprise, his own special upholsterer, on a whim, covered his two big club chairs with the sacks and placed the initials boldly on the backs.  He told me they caused much interest and everyone wanted to know if they were the initials of his grandmother - reply no, she was not a Hungarian peasant!  Travelling a few years later, to French antique fairs, I saw whole stands with nothing but  these sacks decorating and covering every kind of furniture; stools, sofas, beds, cushions, bolsters, bags aprons, etc., and I stopped using them as many  people found that although they looked attractive and fresh, the weave was often too loose and covers sagged and creased with frequent use. 

    Recently I have come across a dealer who has an amazing supply of heavy hemp from Russia, and these cloths are much more satisfactory for soft furnishing - the weave is heavy and close and the decoration is generally in softer shades than the Hungarian and Romanian, and I am finding that they blend so much better with existing colour schemes, whether traditional with antiques or modern with blonde and sleek furnishings.  I have explained before now that the stripes were a sort of bar code by which the empty flour sacks were returned from the flour mill to the correct farm or village - the stripes said it all!

They are cheap enough, I sell mine for £45 each plus postage and 2 or 3 will do an armchair (the real cost is in the making up, of course)  They do not show marks and are easy to sponge or have dry cleaned by a professional.  I always have armcaps for all my own chairs which can be washed and changed as needed.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

French Affairs

Agroup of my tickings all sold to a Californian decorating business

 Above portrait for World of Interiors Magazine, several years ago!

      I have had a wonderful long love affair with French antiques and textiles - I was first hooked on the dashing, striped tickings used for the old feather beds that kept the French, and many other nations,warm in bed. Tough, closely woven, down proof, in jolly stripes, they were filled with feathers, and also straw, maize shucks and horsehair, two underneath the sleeper on the rigid planks of uncomfortable slatted beds, and one on top, like a tea cosy! The French had very conservative and traditional colours; mostly indigo blue in wide and narrow stripes and a few in red/beige combinations. Other countries, especially Germany, wove them in brilliant colours in hundreds of different combinations, although green was thought unlucky and a difficult dye to fix. Some covers were made with a long slit so the contents could be stirred and plumped up and easily removed when soiled or bug infested, but feathers had to be sealed in with very tiny stitches. In the North of France they are known as Kelsches.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


18c. block- printed quilted bed covers, lined in handwoven hemp. dyed indigo and rose madder

In a previous post I mentioned the overhead canopy of 4 poster beds often acted as a protection against debris from the unplastered ceilings of ancient houses - the curtains were also there for a specific purpose - to provide warmth and shut out draughts and noise - bedrooms were often shared with the large families and often there were low truckle beds for them which pulled out from under the larger beds. Privacy was also highly necessary with heavy quilted and lined curtains enclosing the whole bed. In the very old houses, all the rooms led one out of another with no passages or private doors so life was very communal whether you liked it or not! The curtains and valances from these beds can be very interesting and because they are lined and hand stitched all over, sometimes with a little wadding, they can be re-used for doorways, window pelmets and trims for more modern 4 posters - I always used to have a selection of these (about 16 ft long) to go right round the canopy, in flamme (ikat) weave, toile de Vichy pink checks, and red Toile de Jouy, and occasionally in block printed 18c. flower and arabesque designs, which are the most desirable of all, wonderful colours and superb original designs, still being copied but never equalled today!
Alas! I no longer have any of these as the decorators were always hot on their trail, and anyway they were very rare to find in good condition and large enough for modern four-posters.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


My break in France on the Cherburg penninsula turned out to be a very pleasant quiet stay by the sea, with long stretches of deserted golden sands punctuated by little ports full of small fishing and pleasure boats.  Hotels and restaurants were largely closed after the efforts of the season but we had a smiling welcome wherever we went for a light and fishy meal.    Keeping to my resolution not to buy any more for my almost moribund textile business was not difficult as the brocantes were closed for holidays and there were no brocante fairs in our area.    Came back to find lots of interesting Emails, some from long lost contacts - Italian lady coming over for the Textile fairs in London this month, another from American author wanting news of handblocked French designs of 18c., Tour organiser thinking of visiting to see my decorations at home (mostly French vintage stuffs) with a party from Tulsa US,  and inevitably a film wardrobe lady wanting linen at two days notice while I was away.    All this is very cheering;  I miss my day to day contacts with buyers and sellers very much and this fills some of the gap.  I am always delighted to help people source what they want, to network in all sorts of ways and to solve textile problems if I can.   Contact me by Email
Different textures in French tea towels

Saturday, 21 September 2013



Green is unlucky! Go slow on green!

Examples taken from one of my books!
Having collected old French fabrics for thirty years or so, I was surprised to discover how few green patterns and plain fabrics were in my collections, although I have nothing against green as a decorating colour! When I asked why this was so, I was told that French women did not like the colour green and thought it was unlucky. I put this down to the fact that dyeing cloth green was usually a problem as the dyes were very fugitive and green things became dowdy and mousey with light and sun and I must agree that faded green tapestries are very drab and uninspiring, however fine the weaving and decoration. It was while watching a recent TV programme about the dangers inherent in Victorian decorating, which was a matter of taste, fashion and expenditure, that I realised there was yet another hidden danger in green.  Scheele's Green as it was known, was used in wallpapers and paints, in cloths and clothes to give the brilliant shades of emerald and all the time it was a very dangerous and invisible killer, producing alarming symptoms and invalidism and death.   England was one of the last countries to ban the use of arsenic in paint and it went on for a very long time in the last century.   I do remember reading about the American Ambassadress, Clare Luce, who found out that her repeated illnesses in one Italian palace were eventually traceable to the use of arsenic on the walls, and no doubt her health was severely damaged. This was a sad and bad case of suffering for beauty.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Norfolk blanket chest 1890s, red paint

An old school trunk converted with casters and 2 handles, a tab to lift the lid and a chain inside to hold it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               nsformation    
another volte face

WHERE TO KEEP THE EXTRA BLANKET, THE SPECIAL VISITORS' SHEETS AND PILLOW CASES - WHERE TO PUT THE GAMES CLOTHES, THE SKI GEAR, THE TENNIS STUFF? An extra trunk or blanket chest is so useful at the bottom of the bed for surplus belongings - but ottomans are expensive to buy and not always covered in nice fabric - have a look at mine which sits in the bathroom, a handy seat for taking off shoes and stockings and it holds lots of spare bath towels. I don't think you would know that it was originally a solid school trunk which I brought down from the attic and gave to my clever upholsterer with a French ticking and a couple of drawer handles. She padded it well, lined it with some Toile de Jouy wallpaper remnants, close -covered it with brass tacks and gave it four little sliding casters. I have just got another from her which was probably no more than a plain wooden lidded box and that will sit at the end of my spare room bed with that extra blanket one sometimes needs in the middle of the night in a strange house! These boxes often turn up amongst the 'chattels' of house clearance sale rooms and of course can also be painted as Sailors Chests if you have artistic talents.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


The French furniture makers have always produced many different shapes and styles to suit every kind of house and room, from cottage to palace. They seem to have had a gift for designing the most comfortable easy chairs that were good to look at and a joy to sit in, all during the second part of the 19th century. There
was plenty of horsehair and wool to provide a warm and well stuffed seat and in the 1880s the back often featured a deep bulge known as the 'lumbar swell', which fits neatly into the small of your back and gives wonderful comfy support! I buy them in pairs as often as I find them - I think I have had about 25 of them in the last 8 years. My super upholsterer strips them down, renovates them completely and then re-covers them in some interesting, attractive traditional French textile, ready for sale - above models available now SOLD One is black/white ticking with buttoned back, the next a striped oxen coat from the Pyreneese area, SW France, and finally a copy in linen of an old French print by Robert Kime. now SOLD. They sell for about £500 each. A small pair in the pipeline - will show their new overcoats when they are done! They are to be covered in a Sanderson type linen in pretty floral mix that will go with any scheme and resist wear and dirt.(All now SOLD this week. early Sept)

Sunday, 15 September 2013


A lovely roomy pre-war  armchair with feather cushion and carving on back, arms and legs in original pinky red velour fabric.   Top quality workmanship and fine patination on the woodwork. £345              
    At our fair here in Bradford on Avon last Saturday, we had a very good crowd of eager buyers, trade was good and there was a pleasant buzz of conversation as old friends met each other as they did the round of the old Mason's Hall and checked through the wide range of goods on offer.  We had Olga Verschoor here from France and you may have missed her big 18th century damask tablecloth - a rare item, or on another stall, a really beautiful country smock in excellent condition, both snapped up by canny trade visitors!  I myself had a happy first shot at my new business, Chairs for Seniors, and was able to sell some to people wanting just such useful, attractive chairs at reasonable prices - luckily I have quite a wide selection of all sizes and shapes, but all with good back support and good traditional covers, to carry on and help people find what they need.   I am pleased to have a new interest and outlet and can see my old friends again rather than shutting up shop completely.
A small cosy nursing chair

Sackcloth from the Ukraine