Monday, 29 April 2013


French designers and decorators have always used a vast array of trimmings (known as passementerie) for their curtains, cushions and bed hangings and in the late 18C. and all through the 19C there was a vast range of styles to choose from - many specially made for particular cloths.  ~~~~They can be in all sorts of combinations, sometimes using wooden balls and drops as foundations and the threads used could be metal, silk or cotton, all arranged in different styles to suit the work in hand, with gimp,  braids and fringes and little tassels added for embellishment. I have some very early Victorian silk curtains, either Lyons or Spitalfields, which have a special braid and fringes all round made from the same silk, and the bows on the tiebacks are made from copper with the silk wound round them and built to last!    Very elaborate and absolutely lovely!I came across an interesting book illustrating many of these confections and found it useful to date the examples I bought from time to time when collecting decorations in France.  Very often they were slightly worn and shredded but when placed against a bit of shabby chic seemed to fit the bill and do the job.  I do like to see curtains slightly hitched up so the front leading edge falls in a graceful silhouette against the light  and if there are fringes and borders, this makes the most of the leading edge.   Period pelmets demand full and fancy fringes and ruchings to go with the rich materials.  In fact in my drawing room I have three different  tassel pairs for my tie backs and no-one seems to notice the slight differences - or are too polite to say so!    If you have old curtains and cushions, it is worth saving these trimmings as they are rare to find and new, are hideously expensive!  My American book is by June Duval and is titled Antique French Textiles for Designers (Schiffer Books).  My very damaged remnants go to the film wardrobe ladies who use them for epic costumes and don't mind the distressed state of them.

Friday, 26 April 2013



   The first bed is dressed in the well-known antique fabric known as Ikat, woven with a   technique learnt from the far East where the threads are tie-dyed before being placed on the loom and this gives the weave a delightfully informal variation of the main pattern, usually a sort of starburst design encorporated in a wide stripe.   Most of this 'Siamoise' pattern is in indigo blue and is either late 18th or early 19C and it was often used for grand double beds, tho' these were normally only 4ft wide and were often made in pairs for the master bedroom.   It is normally in very fine cotton and suited to screening the top half of the bed.  I have had many different versions of the the stripes and 'stars' and it seems to have been produced by many  factories.   The second bed is also from a typical small cotton factory and is known as Toile de Vichy, and comes in most primary colours.  This example is from the Landes, a poor and rather desolate land behind Biarritz, where the soil is sandy and only pine trees grow well and the inhabitants worked in the forest, often gathering the sticky sap of the pines in little conical clay pots strapped to the slashed tree trunk for the production of paraffin.  Their houses were almost entirely made of wood with small windows because of the sun heat, and they often obscured the light with very dark red and navy blue checks and wide stripes which are quite distinctive.   There is a good eco-museum there.
The  Ikat fabric is often trimmed with a bright red bias trim, both on the scallops and on the piping for cushions - and I have sold masses of garden and conservatory cushions like that.  This works very well and 'lifts' the dark blue!  The valances, cover and pelmets on these old beds were nearly always quilted to be warm and cosy, but the curtains are just lined with plain linen or hemp to hang well and be easy to wash.
THE FINE COTTON ON THE LEFT IS FROM THE LANDES IN S.WEST OF FRANCE AND WAS MUCH USED FOR WINDOW AND BED HANGINGS, KEEPING THE ROOMS COOL AND DARK.The trim I used to decorate the fabric for cushions is an elaborate machine embroidered border, woven in mid19C.and often used to protect the hems of the long petticoats worn then from the mud and dust of the unmade roads

Monday, 22 April 2013

Teddy Bears, eyes right!

I have a small cache of Victorian black boot buttons which were used for traditional teddy bear eyes.  I believe they are made of papier mache and then varnished with a sort of lacquer and they have wire rings for sewing on the boots.  Anyway, I have 1 doz. if they are useful to any soft toy maker and they are £5 the lot plus any postage and include a pair of larger glass eyes which might belong to a large toy animal which I throw in! In addition there are three tiniest 3 hole buttonstwo white 1 black, for dolls clothes free plus postage!  They will be on sale otherwise at my grand clearance sale here in Bradford on Avon on Sunday May 19th at the Masons Hall, Church Street.  I am turning out my workshop after retiring and there are quite a lot of curtain fittings and draw-string tapes (Ruflette) to go.  NOT VERY EXCITING (AND NOT EXPENSIVE) BUT I
1 boot buttons and a pair of BIG EYES
CANNOT THROW USEFUL THINGS AWAY!  If you are a craft worker you would probably like all the one-off samples that three well-known designers are selling at my fair, original, documents going back  about 50/60 years, so very collectable if you are into mid century modern!  See also my own collection of  pretty red/cream striped furnishing French tickings, so good for craft work! There are Russian vintage textiles from a noble family, ideal for an oligarch if you happen to know one!    If you like embroidery there is a life-long collection of hand embroidered and coloured linen tablecloths and napkins, all unused and lovely wedding presents, all from Mediterranean islands pre-war.  The sale will be a very interesting one as most of the sellers are life-long collectors and have not taken part in a trade fair before!  Help them to clear the decks!  contact me at Email:

Friday, 19 April 2013


Just had two interesting comments from  my Blog readers, who are always very welcome to add their comments to whatever they read and/or interested in themselves.
First I have the very exciting news that one of them from U.S. is coming to England to visit my Rag Market on May 19th - we have a very good friend in common, Kaari Meng of Hollywood, who has inspired hundreds of followers to take part in her design/jewellery/fabric business, shop and craft lessons andis a great friend and personality.  She takes parties to France to introduce them to French Culture and Broccante, and may one day bring a party over here.
The second, a query was to ask if Elizabeth Baer had written any books on her experiences as a dealer in French textiles.  I confess I have never got down to the work and talent that a good book deserves, and really, the main reason I put down some of my thoughts and memories  of my French explorations is that it gives me such great pleasure to recall the wonderful times I and my husband Derek had exploring every corner of France and learning a lot about the old way of life in France, just before it all disappeared after the end of the last war and when plastic, nylon and instant communication were to kill off a lot of the broccante dealers and young people travelled away from their area, so many traditions and skills were lost for ever.
The slow and careful way of life of the peasants was disappearing with the event of easy transport and many of the domestic tasks were lightened with the advent of domestic machines.  Many of the dealers I met when I first started buying were already quite old but could remember so much of life before the war and I was an eager listener.  None of these things get in to the history books but to me it was a fascinating aspect of dealing with the traditional old dealers.   They are now all at rest and the new younger dealers are much more about what sells best and finding what the so-called rich foreign buyers are asking for -

Monday, 15 April 2013


  Here is a foretaste of forthcoming Rag Market coming up Sunday, May 19th here at Bradford on Avon.   Some Rags are better than others, like my two huge 18C. Toile de Jouy double bedspreads, shabby but big yardage- enough to cover a chilly,austere stone wall in any ancient castle!  10 sets of vintage French curtains all in 8' plus drops, some are ex millionaire's appartment 5th Avenue NY. all designer hand sewn bargain prices to clear;  some good plain linen double size sheets @ £25 and two very finest, ex a Princesses's bed, immaculate with lace,  crowns, a few more pounds of course!  Add two big baskets of very useful and hard to find, French sewing haberdashery, ribbons, linen threads and tapes, frilling for workshop use and you will have plenty to rummage through in my stores.  Everyone else at the fair is turning out old friends and fancy bits, what the French call Meli Melo, razzmatazz or hotchpotch!  For anyone starting up new showrooms or studio, I am selling really attractive and useful display fittings that have worked so well for me over the past 20 years, selling hundreds of French shirts, several thousand linen sheets and huge French textile yardage.   Good display is just so important and the better part of all selling!  There are massive vintage wooden slatted shelving units, pigeonholes made from massed beer crates, and 3 new double shelf counters. Collection after the sale!  I aim to clear everything in the wine vaults through the black door of No 29, right next to Lloyds Bank in Church St.
Toile Chinoiserie
Chinese designer curtains

.  Classic French floral curtains 1880s Now SOLD
Double shelf display counters (3) £30 ea.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

HINTS and wrinkles

ADDING A BORDER.  Wallpaper is quite expensive although it does make a huge difference to some rooms - if funds (and ideas) are in short supply for a small room, a border can add a good touch of colour and interest if chosen with care - this idea was for a poky little loo room where there was not much point in spending a lot.  On holiday, I ate some very delicious shell fish in a little cafe in Brittany and on the table were some rather attractive paper table mats with crabs, shells, blue sea and golden sands framed with a knotted thick rope.    I asked the owner if I might have a few more and when I brought them home, painted the little room a sandy beige up to the dado height, in emulsion, stuck on the mats in a neat row and backed them with pale blue 'azure' sky up to the ceiling;  it worked alright, and reminds me of my seaside holiday.

   In my last house in Freshford, I was inspired by the name of a previous owner of the house, Capt. Bythesea,V.C.   I used several lengths of shell border to make a big frame on the first floor landing for a collection of Sailors' Valentines.  The wall paper was too expensive for me. !
   Luckily I had a very clever and accurate paper hanger who matched the corners beautifully and made a very good composition and he 'framed' the bathroom opposite.   The curtains were of the matching chintz - very 1980s and rather frilly!  The background was, once again, just emulsion in the palest cantaloupe shade.   The chair seats are pieced remnants of an old French furnishing cotton where the pattern is based on lace flounces in a 'meander' pattern, no doubt inspired by a beautiful ball gown.  The little painted washstand holds a small collection of little shell boxes given to me by grandchildren. The Japanese writing below shows this is an excerpt from a Japanese ladies magazine called Two plus One - for a couple with one child, (as laid down by the Govt.!)  30 of the readers came to tea and we all sat down in the dining room with tea and cucumber sandwiches and a Victoria sponge cake!  They were very sweet and so well mannered.
Bathroom Mr Bythesea's house

Brunshwig gothic cornice border added to a small damp lobby which shows signs of mould and now has a look of faded glory.. A small remnant saved from a previous house came in handy!


Sunday, 7 April 2013


Unused hemp grain sacks from the Ukraine  £45 each
    After marriage in the late 40s, I found everything was either on coupons or in short supply and like many, turned to the local auction rooms and the 'Exchange and Mart' weekly, which was, I suppose, a bit like a printed EBay;  both were good sources for second hand goods useful for young couples setting up homes to bring up a family.   My local surplus store, the Rag, Sack and Bag Co in Bishops Stortford, usually had a gloomy and depressing collection of  containers, buckets, barrels, tins and tanks,  all at very low prices.   On one visit, I spied some attractive strong baskets I was told had been used for carrying building materials off a ship in a foreign port, on the heads of the porters!    I bought a couple and also some hessian feed sacks, and I used these to line the baskets for logs for our open fires,  Coal was rationed and poor quality and everyone knew someone with a fallen tree!  My log baskets were a great success.   As there were masses of baskets still lying around I suddenly felt inspired on a later visit, and bought 20 of them in a lot!  I advertised in a country gentleman's magazine and soon had enough orders to sell the lot and make a reasonable profit.    This was probably my first textile sale and I am not ashamed to tell you that my last sale will probably be more sacks - I am selling 20 Ukrainian grain sacks at the forthcoming Rag Market on May 19th, here in Bradford on Avon.  They will end up on chairs, seats and cushions unless you feel like creating a new log basket!  I feel these sacks are \at the other end of Russian exports, rather different to the dazzling diamonds in my last Blog, but both have their uses and are well crafted!