Sunday, 15 December 2013


These totes have been made by me with off-cuts from chair covers, curtains and patchwork bedspreads, all early 19c. bedding fabrics, mostly hand-woven coarse linen checks and flamme, the good ikat weave furnishing linen the French copied from the Far East. The strange double holes on far right bag are the ventilation holes they used to embroider in buttonhole stitch to give ventilation for the mattress contents, which otherwise tended to go mouldy! I once made a door curtain out of this stuff and threaded little scarlet ribbon bows through the holes - this indigo blue goes very well with a bright red - many of the blue bed pelmets of the last century had the scallops edged with a narrow red trim, and the red/white large Vichy check was used for linings.
The fine cotton Vichy with a blue selvedge is usually late 19thc. (the coloured selvedge indicated that it was French manufacture and not imported from England's cotton mills.) The competition was fierce, and there were heavy fines for importing 'foreign stuff'' . The Vichy fabric was more common in a very pretty pale raspberry red (rose madder dye) and was much used with Toile de Jouy on the backs of chairs and to line the quilted bed and window pelmets. I always keep a good supply as it is very useful for extending and widening too narrowcurtains and bed covers.A very similar large check was much used in Sweden, always looks good, and it combines well with ticking stripes.
Mixed linen bands of blue on old natural unbleached linen pieces
If you love old fabrics as much as I do, and you have spent many days travelling round France, getting up early to get to a Fair for the opening rush at 8 a.m., dashing round hundreds of stalls, hoping you have not missed that amazing bargain, or you have arrived just too late, only to see it disappearing into someone else's bag, then you will know that any waste of the fabric you do buy will seem rather wicked ! Of course, buying in a hurry can also be a great disappointment - the sellers are quick to show you the best bits and hide the damaged, the light may be very poor so that stains and fading do not show up - and there is always the chance that the seller will tell you that all the stains will wash out - pas de probleme! - until you try, and curse the paint, ironmould and ink which, you as an honest dealer will have to show your clients when you have failed to move them or worn out the material trying to scrub the marks away!
In that case you might well ask why the sellers did not attend to their stock themselves and chances are that most stains will not disappear in soap and water.... . and don't forget that the French used to live in a haze of cigarette smoke which stains and rots even the best materials. They have the same carefree attitude with moth and worm damage to furniture and you must always check the castors when buying easy chairs which seem so cheap over there, as good new brass ones will cost about £40 per set of 4.
Severe fading by the sun leaving curtains paper thin and pale brown, can mean that the fabric
collapses when washed and you are left with a useless rag. On the other hand, you can sometimes buy remnants, remainders, and odd shapes which can be usefully re-invented, for very low prices. If of good patterns and colours, they will appeal to quilters, as at the moment there is a new craze for quilting and piecing interesting old patterns. Larger pieces will make good cushions, and you can back them with old linen and plain colours to suit a colour scheme. If you are handy with a sewing machine, make tote bags, say using some bits of striped ticking or different checks - if you join several pieces in long strips you can then cut all the outer edges in a straight line for a patchwork effect, or applique 5 or six strips to make a useful and colourful beach or picnic bag as above. Line the bag with faded material and this will hide all the joins, and put on two straps for handles.You may be surprised how smart this looks and it will be as unique as a Gucci bag!

1 comment:

  1. Keep writing, I love reading your posts!
    Roxanne in Sioux Falls, South Dakota