Sunday, 30 June 2013

In a fit of Pique

Cushion of woven pique with m.o.p. buttons Hand-stitched quilting,                                                           Provencal costume

  I first came across French cotton pique when I opened a small suitcase at a French Fair and found it contained over 25 different examples of white cotton pique. The stallholder told me he had cleared it from the household of an old lady who had been a children's nurse and had obviously saved every scrap from the layette of babies' clothing.. Pique is a delightful and decorative cloth woven from strong white cotton (usually from the port of Marseille where it came in from Egypt as well as the Far Eastern cotton fields,) and it was woven in highly complicated repeat patterns, mostly diaper, to imitate some of the quilted cloths of Provencal dresses and underwear, which of course were stitched entirely by hand. The patterns are very distinctive and different and vary from the little 'partridge eye' (l'oeuil de perdrix), a tiny diamond with a central spot, to elaborate bunches of flowers which come out in a soft raised pattern, not unlike the marcella (you can see connection to Marseille) bed covers which were so popular in this country with elaborate oval or round centres and borders with long fringes. In France it was much used for all babies clothing, warm and washable and it was also used (to show) for petticoats under the hooped skirts of Provence with scalloped hems, and for ladies' bedjackets, often with the underside brushed up for cosy warmth. Personally I love it and buy cot- linings and canopies to mix with Toile de Jouy for four poster bed trims and for bed cushions - well, anyway it's all been used, every last bit. Excusez-moi, pique should have an accent aigue, but I must learn how to do!

Friday, 28 June 2013

A buying spree in PARIS


   I went on a Paris tour organised by local travel company, and a couple of T.V. presenters came with us to film our activities in the flea markets of Paris.   The spongeware washing set on left was generally installed in the outside 'loo' beyond the backdoor, it had to be filled by hand as there was no running water . It was called the 'fontaine'.with hand basin and soap dish.  The two solid carpet chairs circa 1890 being loaded on the right, became very fashionable in the 'shabby chic' look, but it was very difficult to replace the fringes and tassels which had often been chewed by little French dogs. The seller was reluctant to help me carry them back to my tour bus, but when I mentioned the T.V. cameras were there, the response was quite different!
     The kitchen cabinet with enamel panels in blue/white checks, all over, was a good find. The photo of the cabinet, seems to have disappeared off my screen, but it was a very splendid affair and sold immediately .I showed it at the London Little 'Chelsea Fair.  You can get a peep behind the chair being loaded (by me!) into the back of the bus.!   Enamel was hailed as being clean and hygienic to supersede the old wooden cupboards in the 20s and 30s and the many attractive enamel cooking utensils produced then have become popular for decorating modern kitchens.
     Below, loading carpet chairs into our capacious bus. The market at Porte de Vanves in Paris was a good one as lots of country dealers came to it with their latest 'finds' trouvailles, but my last visit this year was rather disappointing.  It is huge, running along many streets and is held at weekends.

2 hefty carpet chairs make it into the bus, plus a dinky kitchen cabinet; all disappear into the bus attended by the TV cameras .
     Before I buried myself in heaps of old rags and the like, I had a very small business, dealing in folk art for a NAIVE ART PICTURE GALLERY and it was on holidays in France that I started exploring rural French interiors. Like most people, I thought the lovely enamel cook-ware was so attractive and started buying it and I jumped at the chance to go with this organised party led by Judith Miller, author and television personality, to the Paris flea markets, for a programme called the Antiques Trail. It was a very economical bus trip with two nights in Paris , COSTING JUST £28. I asked if there might be room to carry a few(!) antiques in the bus luggage holds - 'oh, yes, plenty!' Most people were buying inexpensive presents, scent bottles and such like, so I'm afraid I took advantage of all the empty luggage space and you can see that I bought a bit of enamel - in fact a whole wonderful kitchen cupboard entirely covered with blue/white check panels, quite a rarity! As there was plenty of room left, I then persuaded a dealer to help me carry two large carpet covered chairs to stow away and this seemed to delight Judith's cameramen who filmed the astonished trader delivering the goods! Those were the days!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


These two pockets joined together on strings came with a lot of very old fashioned linens that I bought at Le Mans fair. The seller told me that he had emptied the laundry room of an old country inn and, as is quite usual, insisted that it was all or nothing! He recognised me from a previous fair at Chartres so was fairly willing to'discuter' the price and luckily my little van was only half full. When I got it home I found many interesting relics of pre-war housekeeping - dainty waitresses' aprons with bands of lace and frilly hems, dozens of long bolster cases (hotels still supply bolsters on all beds in France), masses of napkins and table cloths of course, from the restaurant side, luckily all very rustic, in hand-woven creamy weaves and lots of hand stitched hems. And among the hankies and shirts I found this pair of pockets, deep and heavily darned all round the bottom and openings. Were they used by the waitress to gather tips while waiting or serving at the bar? I know many pockets were originally made thus and were concealed under the skirts - who can tell me more?

Monday, 24 June 2013


  This Interiors and Attic Sale  sounds interesting!  Can't get there myself but hope some of my readers will get to it and have a good time.  Let me know what I have missed and good luck to the organiser!

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Sourcing and providing textiles for films has been an exciting thing in my life. The wardrobe ladies have to find what is required, usually in a very short time, and everything has to be right on the night! The big films with big budgets need a lot of sources and many assistants. They employ scouts to travel the world to find the required items and scour markets, warehouses and junk shops. If there are crowd scenes, and battle scenes, the amount of fabric to make the costumes can be huge - and the clothes worn by the stars which are shot in close-up have to be as accurately near to the originals as possible, including the unseen underwear - so the actors can feel themselves steeped in the period being filmed.  If you realise that they often have to have 6 - 12 copies of each outer garment in exactly the same material and trimmings, (because they are washed and cleaned every night,) you can see that the wardrobe ladies' work is not easy, demands a vast budget, and much depends on the 'trade' sources for bulk buys.   Also, the garments have to please a great number of people; the various directors, historical experts, the cameramen, the stars themselves and it is always a race to have everything ready for the big shoots. Often some things are elusive and it is a joy if one is able to supply them. This always encourages me to buy oddities of clothing or fabric and sometimes they hit the jackpot and I can enjoy the relief of the scouts! My best 'coup' was to sell half a dozen artists' smocks, circa 1900, long and beautiful in finest linen with exquisite initials by the collars,  for the scene painters in Phantom of the Opera, and I had bought them out of an attic only the week before from my favourite French junk dealer (who second -guessed that nuns wore them in their hospital operating theatres! Nuns used to run most hospitals in old France.)   I guessed that they were a bit more special than hospital garb and was pleased when they joined the Lloyd Webber props!. Anyway they really were painters' smocks from round about 1900, the real McCoy, and I enjoyed a rush of gratitude from the wardrobe lady who had been in despair to find the right garments, with no previous knowledge of their design..  We could quite imagine the Impressionist greats wearing these long flowing garments, with big black wide brimmed hats, or possibly black berets, striking a pose themselves in front of their easels on the beach at Trouville.or Deauville - The smocks had been stored and found in the attics of a local Normandy chateau and it would have been so interesting to trace the previous owners - but there was no time and I only had them a few days before they were whisked away.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


French people have very precise ways of serving meals in their homes and much of it is part of old family tradition. The table is almost always covered with a cloth, and the china, cutlery, glass, serving dishes, are chosen carefully. In the farmhouses, the tables were long and narrow, often poplar, pine or fruitwood. The cloth would be linen or hemp and run the length of the table. You can always tell a table cloth from a 'torchon' (see my blog 'what is a torchon?')It can be rather large in a good plain linen with hand-stitched seams, or it may be in a damask weave, large and elaborate, or sometimes in small 'diaper' patterns which are geometric shapes repeated over the main part of the cloth. One of the most famous is the 'l'oeuil de perdrix'or partridge eye which is a diamond with a dot in the centre which was much used in the late 18c. for bath towels and napkins. - lovely glossy fine linen, usually with miniscule red cross-stitch initials and/or numbers in a corner.
The more rustic cloths, usually in heavy hemp, always have a border weave of heavier, coarse thread at each end and they make lovely breakfast and kitchen table cloths, rather similar to the harvest cloths. These latter can still be found and are distinguished by a red border at each end and the material is usually a heavy henp drill. The one illustrated has an exceptional 'fancy' set of initials - most unusual on a harvest cloth. These cloths were used to carry the 'dejeuner' of the working peasants, particularly in the vineyards, and were unpacked and spread on the long trestle tables put up under a shady tree during the wine harvest - a hot and sticky affair. Each person had their own cloth and sat at the table on a long bench, no doubt with a few bottles of last years' vintage in front of them. I always have a stack of all these cloths as they are so sturdy and attractive for everyday use.  Alas, now all sold, but I can point you in the right direction for a good source for these and other domestic cloths.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

France is on the horizon

hand woven cotton curtains
  Certain things bring back wonderful memories of work and holidays in France, and these photos recall several visits to a rather remote and seldom visited area of France where I did quite a lot of buying.   It is Les Landes, a large area to the West of France, behind the seaside resorts of Biarritz and the South West Coast, which is very poor and largely uninhabited except by  peasants who live a frugal life there.  The soil is poor and sandy and the winds blow strongly, the crops are small, and the main industry is pine timber in huge wooded areas that go on for miles, interspersed with tracks for the carts, lorries and trailers that the timber fellers use.  Formerly these trees were used for the gathering of sap which was used to produce paraffin, a very useful commodity used by most households in the past.  It was gathered in little glazed conical clay pots, rather like pointed flower pots but without the hole at the base, and tied to a deep cut in the stem of the tree.  The drips were caught in the pot and gathered each day or so into large wooden boxes with leather straps which were carried by the peasants.    When we were there we found several old dealers who still had hundreds of the pots under straw and pine branches for protection and we bought large quantities for a very few francs and people in England bought them and filled them with candle wax.   The houses there were all very simple and made of local wood and  rye-straw with clay, with small windows and hidden from the sun which was very strong and hot for most of the summer.  Similarly the insides of the cottages were dark, with deep, red and cobalt blue cottons both at the windows and round the medieval-looking beds, which had very deep pelmets and matching valances in checks and stripes to protect sleepers from the elements of unplastered ceilings..  I find the simple rustic look of their furnishings very appealing and the local eco- museum house at Sarbres is well worth a visit.  It is all a far cry from the riches and elaborate styles of the rich Normandy farms and villages that we think of as being typically French, but it is an area that has lagged behind in style and furnishings and therefore well worth preserving as an example of simple peasant life, where neighbours helped each other and the community spirit for preservation was very strong.

Monday, 17 June 2013


WELL, YES, OF COURSE I AM FAR TOO OLD TO BE STARTING ANYTHING UP, BUT there is something in me that says, if you enjoy it, why not?  - I was sitting for a moment in the sun after extensive tidying up and re-arrangement following our very successful Rag Market here, and I thought I was lucky to have lots of comfortable chairs with arms in the house and garden which are good for support and easy on weaker legs and arms so that sitting at a table to write or eat, and sitting to watch the telly or work at the computer are less strain on the old bones and muscles, and there must be many who find the same.  So my new idea is to have a good variety of original period chairs with all the necessary,  including adjustable reclining features, good for troublesome backs,  single and high back chairs, covered in traditional good quality fabrics and to have others available to be finished in a variety of suitable hard-wearing cloths - I have always had great success with the many pairs of French, back-supporting, easy chairs - probably sold about 30 to 40 of them, often in pairs, and I would continue to use the splendid hemp nubbly cream to beige hand-woven hemp sack-cloth with slightly darker self stripes for seat and arms, which goes wonderfully well with both modern and antique decorations and all colour schemes.  I have a master upholsterer to hand who has worked with me for 20 years who uses all traditional materials, hair, wool, scrim and tacks.  I have already bought a good variety of  attractive Vic.. and Edwardian chairs to start up, fairly light and with castors for easy placement, and later we will do chairs to order!  I have two rather upright ladies' sprung-seat armchairs with pretty show-wood, in red velour and velvet, a deep green velvet recliner tubby buttoned armchair,  very decorative plain hall chair, ideal for a cloakroom, small and solid for putting on shoes, two double matching settees with pretty turquoise washable covers and cushions and matching big easy chair and there are 3 more in the pipeline.  I think I am well known for having the lowest prices for good quality furnishings so all will be of exceptional value.  If you are interested, check in with Email for appointment   Seen Bradford on Avon, near Bath  I have a very good local source for large and small hand-made lampshades and smaller upholstery jobs, speedy and immaculate work., so I could be quite a useful address for you to note - my charges are always very reasonable as my 'premises' in the wine cellars here are almost for free and I have no overheads for staff - and most of all because I have always wanted to turn over stock fast so I can go out and buy and convert more with new ideas!
Quite a few restored vintage French easy chairs, all covered in striped sackcloth - all sold to local buyers