Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Trim Outline

I show examples of my present stock of trims from old French haberdashery counters. The choice, pre-war, was wonderful and very inspiring for the keen needlewoman. The little Breton children are printed on silk, the daisy ribbon is woven and the pretty border pattern in blue and pink is part of a short remnant (what I call 'boudoir' style circa 1900).
The red trims are first, a blue/red machine embroidered ribbon for petticoat frills (this can be dated by the design which includes little circles which were difficult to achieve mechanically till the mid 19c )I have had huge lengths like this all in slightly different stitches. It was used by one of my clients to decorate lamps and cushions in a big Swiss chalet build. Then, two versions of open weave red and white fringes in glossy cotton, which I myself have often used to trim little down pillows and bed cushions with white pique covers.  Regret now all SOLD but always worth looking out for at the brocantes, often attached to ragged remnants of cushions, curtains and clothes.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


This beautiful striped drill fabric is part of a coat specially woven for cows and oxen in the Pyrenese area of France near Spain. The flies would sting and irritate the beasts while working in the vineyards and these coats protected them - note the coloured stripes, blue and red, often used to denote French nationality, also typical of the Basque country. This material was also used for farm sacks - very handsome and wish I could find some in good condition. Also shown is a strange bit of macrame work in coarse hemp, used to protect the oxen eyes from flies - genuine folk art and a little treasure! This is the last of several sets I have had.. In the past I have bought and sold hand-made halters for cows and horses, beautifully woven and plaited which became tie backs for curtains of oatmeal -textured hemp cloth. Fab! The cow coats were all used to provide cushion covers on the terraces of a Pacific Ocean villa of well-known musical composer and stand up well to sun, rain and ocean spray. I find it so exciting to make use of these lovely old cloths and trims - more anon! Nov. 14th A fantastic FIND! I wrote above 6 months ago and by pure chance came across an unused roll of this lovely hemp sackcloth only 10 miles from here at the American Museum Fair!!! Am now waiting for a client with maybe a big barn to furnish for parties, etc., this would be so ideal for doors and windows and sofas - rustic and draught-proof. Equally good for outside use on terrace furniture - as used by Sir Andrew L-.W. in the Caribbean.


Thursday, 24 January 2013


   When I first bought old French curtains from the brocantes, I was pleased to find that the large and elegant sets with beautifully designed borders and tie-backs were just right for my shabby old house near Bath.  Other people, newly moved to the area and finding the cost of new was exorbitant, admired them and asked me to help find more. So a new outlet for my small business!  The curtains often appeared to have been literally ripped off the walls - they were complete with pelmets, curtain hooks, rings, tie backs and poles.  I now have a large pile of surplus fittings available for anyone wanting period curtain accessories and I show here a collection of period hardwood turned and carved pole finials, discs and knobs. and a group of high quality metal rings, brass and heavy bronze.  In addition I have a good set of 6 ormulu tie backs (rather grand) and some poles and  brackets.  I am clearing all at very modest prices. Contact me at  dbaer@onetel.com   all can be seen near Bath.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

XYZ initials

  My theory as to why initials on dowry linen was so important to young French brides runs something like this.   The girls were often born into large families  - a new baby every year!   The girls were all treated alike to a very standard routine in each family and given the same education and were tied to many strict and unchanging traditions of social behaviour, manners and etiquette.  They had little opportunity to show their different characters and talents and until they were of marriageable age, had no space or property that was truly their own.   The dowry was something very personal, destined for their future escape into marriage and their own household where they would be mistress and call the tune, so they took an immense interest and pride in having as fine a collection as they could, and it gave them  great pleasure to show it and count it out when their family and friends looked through the bridal cupboard - the initials denoted ownership of their treasure and the last initial was often left blank so that the husband's name could be added.   I think this small enrichment gave each girl a little status and she would do all she could to make her linen the most beautiful, with the idea of making a good and successful marriage, where goods and property and money were all taken into account by the couple's parents.


This set of decorative lettering comes, of course, from France.  Initials and the marking of linen lingerie and all textile objects, including grain sacks and farm cloths, was a real passion and tradition for French families and the Ladies Magazines which came out monthly or so, often provided a new and different style for every issue, usually on the back page.   These must have been copied and enlarged by thousands of clever needlewomen and accounts for all the elaborate trusseaux worked so diligently by the women of each family.   It is often a very useful guide to the age and use of the article -   the earliest are often done in really minute cross stitch and can be quite small (napkins, hankies, underwear) but later they become more showy with flowers, leaves and scrolls added to make elaborate designs, cherries and vines were often part of the design.   The peasants stuck to good plain Roman lettering just in the corner and this was no doubt so they could identify their own property when the  linen was washed in the public lavoirs of every town and village, and stealing was not unknown.  The finest and best designed were used on sheets and pillow cases and formal table napkins, circa 1900 when the nuns vied with other convents to get the business of providing the dowries for the rich bourgeoisie.   Later on the work was often done in satin stitch with a glossy thread and elaborate curls and queues and the initials were very stylised with angles, large curves and polka dots and often framed in Art Deco style semi-circles, very hard-wearing but not so elegant.    I have a theory as to why these initials were so very important for the French bride and I might put this forward, just as a non-expert!   Next time!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Sheet En-Lightment

Buyers of beautiful embroidered French sheets are often annoyed by two things: the sizes, and the quality of the weave!
First, you must remember that most old French beds are only 4' wide, and therefore the sheets (old pre-war ones) are often no more than 6'6 wide. Secondly, they did not tuck the sheets in under the mattress and that is why some have the retour (side returns)also embroidered to match the top border. This hung down below the mattress and above the valance and was considered a sign of quality and good needlework. Even the master bedroom would have a pair of the smaller beds (usually a matching pair) and only grand households had massive double beds which would have special extra large and fine sheets woven for them
The other trap is to buy Metis sheets (often brand new in their original wrapping); there is nothing wrong with them but they are not pure linen. They can date from before WWI and are always mechanically woven in fine even weave. Metis means a mixture or union and pre-war WWII metis is 2/3rd linen and 1/3 cotton, whereas later metis is the exact reverse, and a less good buy! The French do not value metis much but are quite prepared to sell it at pure linen prices, and you do not need to pay that much! It is very often a rather attractive pale dun-coloured weave that looks very like linen, but if you stroke it or put it next to your cheek, you can feel the soft 'bloom' of cotton and it is much warmer than cool linen. It sometimes has drawn thread work and big bold initials in the centre, either off-white or bright red, and if you look at the selvedge you can sometimes find the trade mark of Fleur Bleue or Gerardmer who were top weavers in the Vosges. Personally I like it for its colour, for making up covers, valances, chair covers etc., and it tailors extremely well, besides being very easy to wash and iron.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


This Blog was written some time ago when I was back from French buying/holiday trip - covering most of Brittany in my search for fine linen for a special new client and also for the roughest possible, sack-like hemp sheets to replace depleted stocks - it's so odd, when I first started buying the rough old mattress covers, sheets and old farm sacks, for upholstering early oak and walnut furniture, and then later, some of those comfy Napoleon III easy chairs known as chauffeuses (fireside), some of my customers were slightly shocked that I was using old farmhouse materials - a far cry from the elegant silks and satins associated with the rich and luxurious furnishings and trimmings of the late 19c.    It turned out that these covers sat comfortably with old and contemporary styles and were practical, hard-wearing and easy to clean.    Katrin Cargill, well known decorator and author of many good books on 'how to' was the first to feature the rustic look 'smart casual'? in a good magazine and with some dyed indigo sheets from Polly Lyster, it was launched and then often copied. From little acorns.... Add Image

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tickings and Case Covers

Having been re-named Mrs. Ticking by some of my old clients, I am showing a few more examples of these useful and hardwearing cloths. The red and blue striped examples were made up as 'case covers' to cover valuable silk, velvet and embroidered chairs in the 19th C. in France, shut up for a season, and the fine colours and delicate fabrics needing protection from the strong sun, from pests like flies and mice as well as dirt and dust. These two patterns were used traditionally and are very charming and useful for making up into accessories, cushions, and trimming stuff. The fine herringbone stripe weave does not show up in the photo but adds to the strength and distinctive look of the fabric. The chair covers were made to fit loosely, sometimes with a few buttons or ties down the back, and seams were strengthened with a matching red or blue tape - the white ticking also shown is a baby's cot lining with a little frill all around, crisp and clean

This cloth makes a lovely crisp backing for cushions

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A 'crants' for a maiden!

My maiden's crants
     This picture (left) taken from a recent copy of Country Life shows a treasure from a country church in Shropshire.  It is an 18th C garland made from ribbons and crimped paper made to honour the funeral of a virgin, often buried with the deceased, but sometimes hung as a memorial from pegs painted with the initials and year of death.    It reminded me that I have one of these rare and  poignant memorials hidden away out of the light and it is something that always gives me a pang of sorrow when I look at the little gold spangled paper flowers in softly painted shades of rose, cream and mauve.   So simple, so innocent and so touching!   I bought it in my first days of collecting and dealing from a delightful older couple in Sussex who had many treasures at a time when folk art and treen and primitive tools and toys were not really valued and  most knowledge was confined to a very worthy book Treen by Charles Pinto( which became my bible).  Few people understood what folk art was about, although the Americans had long prized it.       I cannot bring myself to sell it, but hope one day to find a suitable hanging place for it where it will remind people of the fragility of life in those far away days, and spare a thought for the village maidens who died.