Monday, 4 March 2013

More about Sheets

This lovely pile of hand woven HEMP sheets gives me a thrill every time I see it - it took me many visits to France to find just a few.  These sheets were made by the very poorest peasants who had small 'cupboard' beds, the lits clos and so, of course, they were used until they fell apart.  They were hand woven on heavy wooden looms and the hemp was all locally grown - it needed no fertilizer and grew like a weed.  Each sheet differs a little because different hands cut and spun the fibres, different seasons and type of soil made other small differences and the weavers had their own differing skills and looms. I am writing more about sheets, as I have been dealing in them for over 20 years and think I have seen most types, from rough to fine, from peasant palliasse covers to the finest for the 'noblesse'.
There are three kinds of linen - 'fil' which is fine woven on industrial looms, usually large, even and white with dowry initials. 'Batiste' is the very finest, like lawn, and extremely rare., and probably a dubious investment.
Next are the pre-war coarse-woven heavier linen in narrow widths and hand-sewn to join two widths together. In good condition they are strong and last well.
Then there are the metis sheets which were first woven early 20th C. which have a percentage of cotton, usually 1/3, mechanically woven, smooth and in generous sizes. Inexpensive, often natural oatmeal shades and often a bit 'stiff'.
Metis can be any mixture of fibres, including nettle, thistle and broom, which were all used during wartime when flax was in short supply - they can be very interesting shades and have unusual texture. Broom gives a lovely golden tint and a silky feel.
Hemp (lower picture) makes coarse woven sheets, a softer, looser weave than linen, but very comfortable and healthy for sleeping, the hollow fibres wick away
moisture from the sleeper. Large sizes are rare as they were used by the poorest families
who had small beds and did not waste precious cloth. When new, it can be quite rough and brownish, with use it becomes soft and creamy. It may be mixed with cotton which gives it a definite ribbed texture, attractive and suitable for upholstery.
When buying sheets, always open them up to check condition; avoid any with thin light areas or fraying edges - they may be 'side to middle' ones with limited life. Avoid any that have tiny pinholes in lines - these are fragile from constant folding and pressing and it is not worth buying sheets with torn or damaged embroidery or lace unless the sheet is so long you can remove the damaged part. Even if the sheet is carefully packed up in cello., check it out, the seller expects you to inspect and will think you foolish if you do not! I shall follow this Post with a later one about initials and decoration on sheets. See another about sizes of most French sheets, sheet En-lightment!¬

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