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!

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