Thursday, 28 February 2013


When I was in Brittany, a long time ago, I bought from an elderly brocante dealer, some very rough sheets in hemp which were top of my shopping list - they are simply wonderful in colour and texture, very porridgey, for upholstery and backing rustic cushions. She said she could only wash one at a time in the big washer at the laundrette because they were so heavy when wet and I have found the same. I asked her how the women managed to wash in the old days before the war and machines, and she told me that her mother had been a washerwoman for 17 years. If you look at the woman on the right, you will see she is kneeling on a box-like stool which kept her clean and dry and with a place for the bars of Marseille soap. I was imagining an older lady kneeling for hours with red hands from the cold, cold water, the endless rubbing and wringing and then pushing a heavy wheelbarrow, full of wet clothes and linen somewhere to dry - no room at the 'lavoir'  literally 'the washplace'.  You can see one of the special wheelbarrows which carried the heavy load and kept it out of the dirty, dusty roads. I often used to buy these barrows in my art populair buying days,  sometimes painted a lovely French bluey-green and they made delightful garden accessories. My friend told me her mother prefered to scrub all the clothes with a brush but others favoured a woooden bat which was used to smack the soapy water through the cloth and carry away the dirt - the lavoirs are now often listed as historic buildings and are enticing with mirror like reflections but they also remind me of the hard times and unremitting toil some of the women suffered in the past;  washing heaps of heavy linen on a cold winter's day must have been very hard work for hands, arms and backs.


Here is a lovely creation by my friend Kaari, Hollywood, full of clever ideas for keeping your sewing oddments and notions - she put it on the web to tell us about her sewing book HOME SEWN BOOK and has used bits and pieces from her own stock (and mine) to make this pretty and useful 'housewife' or 'hussif'. You can see initial name tapes from France, that she bought from me 5 years ago! pearl buttons, little pockets of old furnishing cottons, labels from her own STATIONERY & LABELS booklet, and scraps of ticking material; I hope it may inspire others to use up some of their favourite scraps. She has changed her address to an old warehouse in Hollywood recently and I follow her blog with great interest as she is a really clever dealer with lots of innovative ideas and has a huge following. She has just taken a large party of fans to a chateau in France, for a week of textile talks and demo's, and visits to local markets. Her blog is called The Warp and the Weft.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Palampore for all Seasons

I have been learning new names for old textiles, reading up about the wonderful hangings and shawls known as Palampores, originally designed and painted chintz, created on the Coromandel Coast of India - they owe much to other Eastern lands -Persia, Siam and China, because they were exported to Europe from the 16th C. and new patterns and designs were in great demand for the following centuries. They were often based on Persian flowered fabrics, and the Tree of Life features often with fruit, flowers, animals, birds and insects. They were exported to Europe by the East India Companies along the trade routes and reached ports in France, Holland and England, where they were received with great enthusiasm by the fashionable and rich. In fact they had such a bad effect on European trade that they were banned for a time with very severe penalties, which made them all the more desirable! I went to a stunning exhibition of these rarities at Port Louis in Brittany several years ago, and thought it the most exciting display of textiles I had ever seen.   They are now extremely valuable and make news at the top London auction houses.More in another Post, while I get my breath back!

Thursday, 21 February 2013


  Her trade name really was Mrs.Monro and her beautiful chintzes were famous before the last war.  She was a skilled decorator and had a great liking for extremely pretty decorations, fine china, needlework and  charming needlework boxes, tea caddies and other choice collectors items.  I was living nearby in an old mews cottage and pushing a pram, and I used to stop outside her window to admire her display - I think I really appreciated the constantly changing  little scene and it struck me then how important composition and arrangement were to catch the eye and make the buyer stop.   Mrs. Monro was one of the first interior designer of repute, and had a world-wide business,  took her stuffs to the U.S., had many socialite hostess clients over there and designed interiors for ocean liners, embassies, banks, and many other clients worldwide. She had good publicity in magazines like The Tatler, when it was not very usual for ladies of gentle birth to indulge in trade!  Her daughter, Jean Monro, has continued the business.
A composition by Mrs Monro, English decorated porcelain and lustre-ware, tea cups, plates, slop bowls and spill vases, with fresh garden flowers on a Regency set of shelves.  Fine trellis pattern wallpaper.
  Her patterns were often based on English garden flowers and old prints that she discovered in her clients' period houses;  they were light and gracious and were much used for loose covers on sofas and chairs, especially in the little bijou houses and cottages that were hidden behind the busy shops and stores in  the Brompton Road.

    My pram-pushing route took me past Harrods on one side and a row of very grand antique shops on the other:  Pratts, with fireplace impedimenta, where I admired the Georgian grates and the elegant fenders and guards in Gothic, Adam and Victorian designs, also rare Paktong fire dogs;   Coopers the grocers, came further along and  I  studied the Crane Galleries who had fantastic impressionist paintings worth many thousands (now worth millions, of course) I got to know the names of Dufy,  Picasso and many others and I returned to my modest mews inspired with a love of antiques and beautiful things, a feeling I still have to this day.  Little did I know that one day I would be selling small Folk Art objects to Andreas Calman, owner of the Crane Gallery twenty years later!
My own small collection of lustreware, an old tea-set bought in Wales where it often decorated kitchen dressers, and a collection of mugs on top from my cousin's Portmerion Pottery.(modern)

 At the other end of the scale, and the Brompton Road, where it became Knightsbridge Green, there was a quaint little haberdashery shop run by two antique looking ladies.  Their tiny window was stuffed with buttons and sewing notions, with adverts for 'invisible mending',  'ladders in silk stockings repaired', 'name tapes to order', and they were a relic of the time when the owners of the big houses near Hyde Park all employed ladies maids, housekeepers and housemaids whose job it was to repair and maintain all the linen and clothes of their employers.  I was already doing a lot of 'make do and mend 'as it was in the late 40s when everything was on coupons and I then began my hobby of sewing and making for my family.  The little old ladies became very friendly and so helpful, but I had no silk stockings to my name, and my underwear was made of parachute nylon!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


If you look at any mixed collection of old French clothes and linen, you will almost always find that a great many are decorated with initials - and I use the word seriously because the letters are usually beautifully neat, often in bright red cotton and range from simple cross stitch to quite elaborate affairs, sometimes decorated with scrolls, flowers and fruit. The patterns for these designs were printed in the women's magazines of the late 19c. every month, and the complete alphabet was often drawn life-size on the back page for housewives to copy. The linen and clothes for the dowry were hugely important to every girl; Mother would start it as soon as a little girl was born and would add to the collection until her marriage - the linen cupboard would be part of the marriage contract and much might depend on its size and value - a rich dowry might secure a good marriage to a man with goods and land and the girl could look forward to a life of comparative comfort and ease, whereas a poor dowry might lead her to a life of drudgery and physical hard work with incessant child-bearing and no domestic help with the washing, water carrying and other menial tasks. Very, very small cross stitch initials in the corners of towels, napkins and other fine linen cloths denote an early date in 19c. the florid ones belong to the end of the century - satin stitch in white on good linen are usually turn of the 19c. and plain inch-high red cross stitch were common on peasant rough linen and hemp sheets of about the same date. Those of the 20th c. are obviously Art Deco style, angular and in geometric frames, sometimes quite difficult to decifer - some are quite impossible; they were produced as 'false' initials and crest-like decorations by the big department stores for brides who could neither do the embroidery themselves or could not afford or wait for the fine work of the convent nuns who produced some of the best work. The very best initials were infilled with regular lines of tiny French knots, beyond the skill of most amateur needlewomen, and the flowers and ornamental patterns are smooth and perfect in a variety of stitches, with hidden knots and thread endings.


This is the final list of Textile Fairs for this year 2013.  You will be very welcome at all these Fairs which are organised for textile enthusiasts,   The dealers are all well-known in their respective fields and you will be offered high quality goods at reasonable prices.

Wed. April 10th    Meeting House Arts Centre, Ilminster, TA19 OAN, 9.30am.-4pm.
Wed.May 15th      Deans Court, Wimborne, BH21 1EE, 10am.-4pm. Cafe. £5 entry.*
Sun.May 19th.      Masonic Hall and Wine Vaults at 29 Church St., Bradford on Avon,
                               BA15 1LN, 9am.-3pm. RAG MARKET  Trade/private sellers.
Thurs.July 18th      Brownsword Hall, Poundbury, Dorset, DT1 3GN. 9am.-4pm,
Sat..Sept. 14th       Masonic Hall, Church St. Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LN,
                             10 am.-4pm.
Thurs.Oct.10th       Meeting House Arts Centre, Ilminster, TA.19 OAN, 9.30am - 4pm.

    All T.forT. Fairs are free entry except*.  Good refreshments on site or nearby. 

For updates, email your full address details to Linda Clift at
My Rag Market - Shop till you drop! -  E. Baer.
or Caroline Bushell at              

Sunday, 17 February 2013


A good mixed selection - Sue Stokes' boutique at Lacock, nr.Corsham, Wilts tel.079862 47501 for opening times.  Sue has used every inch to display her stock and next week it will look quite different after she has re-arranged it all.  
    After many years of trading in folk art, textiles and decorative furnishings, I have a few thoughts on buying and selling!  When funds are short and space is limited, it is quite difficult to know how to plan your stock.  Certainly you need to have a speciality (or several) so that you become known for it and people come direct to you when in need.   My own specialities are as follows: I have always dealt in tickings and in heavy handwoven sheets from France and my Website showed some examples to 'catch' seekers and buyers.  Connected with these two lines are the old French chairs which my skilled master upholsterer re-covers in dashing stripes or creamy coarse hemp (sacks and mattress covers from Brittany and the Ukraine), and they add interest to the Website and sell very well.  I know my prices are modest compared to most other dealers and I have a high turnover.   Because I travel widely in France and have a network of  helpful dealers who collect old curtains and soft furnishings for me, I have a very good selection of long sets of tall curtains and other textile goods which can be useful for interior decorators.  Our T4T Rag Markets have become a very useful outlet for the out-of- fashion and surplus stock of dealers and the customers have flocked to enjoy the bargains.  Watch the Blog for news and dates - well worth a visit!
Look under the Blog  STOP PRESS FUTURE FAIRS.
     There are certain things that are always in demand and you can learn a lot from meeting the general public at an antiques fair.  If you can get a 'corner' in something that will sell all round the year and you know all about it to encourage the buyers, it can be quite profitable, whether it is table linen in damask, candlesticks for emergencies or pretty bowls for soup,  (the French ones are keenly collected now, even by the French, for their country cottages)- it is worth having plenty and making a good show so that you are remembered  later - it is worth computer-printing some cards with this information.  IF YOU HAVE A PRINTER AND CAMERA, AND CAN TAKE A FEW PHOTOS IN COLOUR, THIS IS SIMPLE TO DO (AND THIS OLD LADY HAS MASTERED IT RECENTLY!).   Keeping in touch with the market is so very important and I think it is well worth getting rid of obsolete stock, even at a loss, so that you have cash and space to promote a new line - it also gives you some enthusiasm which you can pass on to your customers.  Also remember that you cannot expect to make a big profit on everything!  otherwise all antique dealers would be millionaires! It's very like window dressing in a shop - however clever and arresting it may be, people just get bored and don't bother to look if it's all 'the same old things' and the display becomes stale, so you must keep working at it and changing the 'look'.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


A view of a red and white room setting at Freshford, my previous home. All the decorations are from France and all are dyed with Rose Madder the cheapest and most effective dye after indigo blue. The red and whitelarge check is called Toile de Vichy and was much used to line bed pelmets and the backs of chairs upholstered with Toile de Jouy, and was a good way of continuing the colour scheme without too heavy a cost.
  Red and white quilts are always popular  and I know one lady who  has a collection of the many different named patterns as well as many other original ones and they make a great show.  I always like a collection that has a main theme and the owner usually has some very interesting history to tell as she has made a good study of the genre.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Stiff sheet

One of my readers wants to know if there is any way to soften a very stiff Metis sheet.  Metis is a union of two different fibres, usually linen and cotton in different ratios.  It is a very strong closely woven material and was much cheaper to produce than pure linen and was very popular in the 20th century.  Washing the sheets in soft water or rain water and using them as bedding certainly makes them more supple, if you want to use them for upholstery or curtains later, but they can be quite difficult to arrange in soft folds.  You could try hanging them on a line outside in the rain (and snow!) for a few days to see if that works.  Putting them on the grass will probably stain them this time of year.   YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THEY WOULD BE VERY UNCOMFORTABLE TO SLEEP ON AND SCRATCHY, BUT MANY PEOPLE FIND THAT THE SLIGHT FRICTION OF THE WEAVE IS QUITE PLEASANT AND WARM .   It's worth a try.  I really don't know if any of the laundry aids like Lennor, a softener, will work at all - I have never tried, but I do sympathize as I have been trying to use some vintage tea towels which I thought were very sturdy, only to find that they are so hard and stiff I cannot use them for drying any glasses - just not soft enough.  LIVE AND LEARN!

Friday, 8 February 2013


A cow coat (made for oxen)woven in hemp, complete with tail piece and neck halter.
  Hi Donna, I loved hearing that you too have discovered cow coats in Southern France - they seem to have been mostly used near the Pyrenees in the very hot sticky weather when the oxen had to work in the fields and the horse flies drove them mad!  I bought the first lot from a very Spanish lady who had a junky brocante at a farm and that was the first I knew about them and I have searched for more ever since as they seemed to me the epitome of rustic life - so useful, so suitable and quel chic!   She told me they were no longer of any use and proudly pointed to the tractor in the yard and said the oxen had gone.  When they were used for the Pacific  'Ocean Villa' of Andrew Lloyd Webber, they were ideal to take all the sun, rain and sea spray on the decks and they were converted into thick cushions for the wrought iron rocking chairs that adorned the terraces.  Everything was 'bespoke' and maybe the original farmer in the Pyrenees would have been surprised to know whose celebrity bottoms were sitting on his old discarded cow coats!  Sacks were also made from this material and many farmers kept a roll or two in their sheds - I once found one but no more since then!  I fancied a sofa covered in this gorgeous stuff.


   The country round Toulouse was one of our first and most successful hunting grounds for antiques;   It was a rich and fertile land full of large farms and vineyards and large bourgeois houses in the towns.  The new generation was clearing out a lot of old stuff carefully stored by their forbears and the many convents and priories that were being disbanded at that time were almost giving away their carefully preserved stores of hand-made linen.The markets were loaded with interesting and obsolete feather bed covers, bolsters and sheets as well as strange religious garments adorned with lace and fine stitching.  I found it pleased the sellers most if I offered to buy the whole lot in a pile rather than piecemeal  and most were thankful to get rid of the stuff at any price.    I once bought six sacks full of fine lace and muslin bonnets and fichus from the workroom of a convent and at least half were wearable - they had been worn by old ladies and their nurses in a hospice.. Elsewhere I found little hoods that the nuns used to wear for early matins to walk to their church - it was cold for a shaven head!  They had only numbers on them as the nuns were not allowed to have their own names embroidered on anything... so sad!   Another interesting find was a pile of fine  hand-knitted white cotton  socks that the nuns wore under their habit - they were all sold by me to dress up vintage tennis and bicycle parties at home..   Toulouse itself had a very good small market for textiles round the impressive Basilica of St.Sernin and I found that many of the patterns were typical of the area (the Landes) and not seen elsewhere - very dark 'tartan' pattern cotton for curtains (against the strong sun) and dark red stripes for much of the bed dressing.      Every area of France had its own small weaving mills and factories and each had easily identified patterns that were worn for the local costumes and decorated their houses and farms.