Wednesday, 27 March 2013


   Dressing a four poster bed is quite a challenge and using a skilled designer/worker is always expensive.    I have dressed two of my own beds with some rather simple ideas and they seem to work quite well!  I am not talking about elaborate swags and tails and shaped pelmets and lots of tassels and trims, but rather an attractive simple and well finished look that blends well with other furnishings in the bedroom.  I have always used materials that I scavenge from other furnishings as far as possible.
  To start, the bed needs a good valance right round the bottom of the bed and this hides the base mattress.    You need a 'platform' the same size as the mattress in any strong plain material and then three curtains hanging from it down to the floor.  The seams joining platform to curtains are usually piped as they take some wear when making the bed and pushing the sheets, etc, under the top mattress.   I have always used plain old French hemp sheets which have a good texture and are totally washable and work out very cheaply - Shoes and hoovers will probably mark the hem if in constant use, so washable is a good idea.
  The canopy, should, in my opinion, be something light and pretty that you will look at when lying in bed and I have had great success in using net and lace bedspreads for this slightly tricky job.  I think heavily gathered chintzy canopies are rather oppressive and claustrophobic.
  I have found some very charming old Nottingham type lace double bedcovers, often in France where they were very popular in pre-war years, draped over coloured throws, which will stretch both ways to the right shape with no cutting or sewing. I lay one very carefully over the top rails and then take a long length of 2" wide herringbone cotton woven tape and with sturdy drawing pins, press them through the tape and the edge of the net down into the wood on the top side, making the canopy fairly taut. I do not press them in too far so I can adjust them to keep the patterns straight; any surplus net I let fall on the inside of the rail and this can make quite a pretty border especially if the net has a patterned edge.  When it is quite square and taut, I then tap the pins in a bit further and the job is done!  It takes me about 1 1/2   hours to do this job - and I can remove the net for washing and re-use the tape and pins.  On the bed pictured, there is an outer pelmet of white pique, a thick quilted cotton, (made from  an old cot lining) with a border (remnant) of Toile de |Jouy, all lined in Toile de Vichy (another remnant!)That was made and fixed before the net lining. Headboard here is au naturel.   It was all done ten years ago and is still holding up!

Net canopy with surplus hanging along the inner side
Another canopy which neatly covers the ceiling
  If there is a high headboard, you can cover it to match any curtains or make a removable shaped cover in matching linen - I would avoid a quilted chintz headboard as it always gets grubby over years.  You can finish the bed with a patchwork or quilted cover to tone with the curtains.  I do not bother with curtains on the bed as they only get dusty and creased and get in the way of  daily bed-making.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Decorating for a song

A panel of French Braquenie chintz  'palampore' pattern c.1900 used as wall decoration
   Having always lived in houses too big for my budget, I have collected a few wheezes to do the decorating on half a shoestring and am happy to pass these on.
   Decorating the walls of a big room is a real challenge.  A large textile will do very well if it fits into your colour scheme - at antique fairs and jumble sales there are plenty of big shawls, old bedcovers, quilts and paisley throws that will cover one wall - fix them with a channel of strong stuff on the back along the top border and thread a thin rod through to hang them safely - this will stop them sagging.  Otherwise I suggest that you buy lots and lots of small pictures - maybe with a theme, like boats, cottages, birds, etc., and mass them together in a big block so they add up to something.   To arrange them properly you need to start with the bottom row in a line at a fairly low point and then build up the rest as you find and collect.  If you already have a lot, the best way to arrange them is to clear the floor in front of the chosen wall and lay them out as if they were hanging, jigsaw fashion.  Then, use proper picture pins and hooks so you can change the pattern if needed and you do not damage the walls.
   A big ordnance map of your area (you can still find old ones in second-hand bookshops) will cover a lot of wall and it is quite interesting to see the old names of fields and farms, if in the country;   similarly old deeds and parchment documents can be quite good and old music sheets can make an interesting pattern, especially if they have romantic pictures on the front.  If you collect anything, like old toys, old tools, dolls or hats or gloves or fans, arrange these in a pattern on a cloth backing and  make a good feature, or hang up a few shelves, edge them with a pretty border, and use them for display.  Single or odd bits do not add up to anything much visually and look like 'clutter'   Look at my Blog  A TUDOR RAINBOW and look at Nicolette Le Pelley's room. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A beautiful lady's brooch

This sensational diamond brooch was made to be worn by ladies- in -waiting for Queen Catherine II in the late 18thC.  The cypher is a 'C' although I thought it was an E and I thought I would like one for Christmas.  Seriously, I find this a very beautiful object and wonder how it was saved and where is it now?   I think it may be at the Hermitage Museum in Russia but my p.c. does not tell.


Stripes - Tudor style
  • Stripes, in many different widths and colours have been with us for many centuries, to decorate walls, fabrics  and wooden and metal ornaments.   Amongst the very earliest good examples of wall painting are the beautiful stripes of the dining room at Marlborough's Merchants House, a very striking and complete decoration.    It was found under many layers of paper many years ago and much discussed by my old friend, the late Victor Chinnery, who was a specialist in Tudor buildings and their finishes as well as their contents.   I am absolutely delighted that Melissa White, of Fairlyte,  another good young friend has produced a wonderful series of prints based on Elizabethan wall painted designs for Zoffany,  the very top textile and wallpaper producer, and has now copied the stripes there in the true colours.   The Merchant's House in the High Street, Marlborough, is absolutely fascinating with lots of original paintwork on its walls and in particular, on a magnificent staircase, all open to view.   Victor helped to restore this splendid house which had been occupied for many years by a series of commercial tenants who simply wallpapered over the very important Elizabethan painting and helped to preserve it all!   Now all is revealed and my friend Melissa has reproduced it faithfully for us all to enjoy in several versions.  I can see this paper looking good wherever it is placed - in Tudor surroundings or the most modern interiors, passageways, kitchens, bathrooms and dining rooms!

                                 STRIPE  ME RED!

    Continuing my theme of stripes, both painted and woven, you may know from their frequent appearances, that I am a passionate lover of striped tickings.  Tickings actually do go back to Tudor times when the very closely woven down and feather-proof material was used for pillows and bedding and they are feature in contemporary wills.  No doubt they were sober plain materials which relied on colourful quilts and pillow cases to decorate the beds and it was left to European countries in the 19th century to weave and manufacture the gaily striped materials that we now treasure.  I have often wondered why the tickings were in such gorgeous and striking colours and combinations as the mattresses were actually encased in removable cotton or linen covers with buttons or ties for stripping to be washed and changed and the lovely rainbows of colours did not see the light of day!  This of course accounts for the brilliant shades of the tickings which were rarely unpicked and washed or re-used, except for patching.  I  guess that it was mostly at the demand of the market sellers and shops that the weavers vied with each other to attract the housewives to buy their version of stripes as being the most attractive and eye-catching.  The tickings were sold by the yard (or metre) and were at their most splendid round the turn of the 19C. with as many as a dozen or more shades of pink, red, orange, etc mixed in different combinations in a rainbow of colour.  Red was the cheapest dye so that colour usually dominates the selection of shades.  The best have a herringbone weave and contain some linen.
   Above are two shots of furniture covered in striped ticking by Nicolette Le Pelley, who worked for World of Interiors magazine and often came to look at, and buy, my tickings at the Little Chelsea Fair that I attended for many years.  The offices were then just across the road and the staff used to nip in to see the latest French imports!  Incidentally, you might admire Nicolette's print collection of small classical subjects displayed en masse in a jigsaw arrangement where they really add up to something noteworthy.  See my Blog Decorating for a song

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


              The wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots and Francis II of France -a good Toile de Jouy in a rich red dye.

Foraging around a big French Fair ! - Should one dash round to be the first to spot that
fabulous Palampore before anyone else sees it? (which is what a very clever friend of mine did recently) or should one comb through all those piles in the hope of finding hidden treasure? or should one visit previous fruitful pitches, or venture into the unknown stacks and heaps? Last time I was at a big Fair, I was dashing to my favorite source and dealer, and on the way, saw a pile with a hideous modern 'in your face' tropical jungle print curtain on top with a very well dressed French gent in charge. I lifted the modern horror, and there underneath was a pile of crumpled bedcovers and curtains, every one in unmistakeable Toile de Jouy!  The Frenchman deigned to tell me that they had all been found in a big 'malle' (trunk) in the attics of a very ancient chateau he had just inherited, but he was only prepared to sell them all as one lot! So I had to spend at least 20 minutes holding huge panels and quilts up to the light to see the holes, stains and patches of a remarkable collection - some good and many rather distressed. Since getting them home I have re-read my Toile de Jouy reference book and find that 4 of them are listed, dated 1780s and further research may reveal more - anyway a worthwhile stop though I may have missed some other bargains and/or treasures elsewhere at the Fair.  Some of the damaged pieces will go to America where ladies enjoy re-mounting scraps like these, and fragments of Aubusson tapestries, on to silk and satin to make 'boudoir' cushions and 'pochettes' whatever they are! I hope to publish a picture of one of these works of art!

Thursday, 14 March 2013


  I have the following kits for sale, clearing my workshop:  I do not know what the box of 12 tools was used for, some form of modelling and carving, I guess.  The handles are plain unmarked unvarnished wood and the little blades are all different in bright steel.  There are scoop shapes, cutting blades, angle makers, chisels, etc;  they do not have any sign of wear and I presume were never used.   Were they meant for model making? plasticine?  carvings, plaster?  They are neither medical nor culinary! Found in a workshop drawer.
  The little tapestry wallet holds two metal tools used for caning chairs, one stamped Dryad, in new condition, for 'threading;' the long split canes, the other a sharp 'poking' tool, well worn; there are loops for the golf tees for  holding the cane, and two pockets to hold spare cane plugs used at the ends of the rows.  I made the little wallet to hold all together, green/cream tapestry outer with tape ties and beige velvet within.   I used to re-cane some of the pretty little Regency chairs I bought at Ardingly Fairs a long time ago. I would like £10 for the two kits plus postage please. SOLD two hours later to keen reader of my Blog! 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


    I used to love walking along the antique shops of Pimlico Road, London. You could gaze at the grandest marble mantlepieces, imposing statues, exotic furniture made of stag horns, as well as discover slightly Bohemian objets de charme at the corner shop LOOT which was owned by a clever lady dealer Ruth Sheradski.   Very occasionally I bought something from Ruth and I still have two lovely brass studded trunks made for the so-called 'fishing fleet' i.e. the unmarried daughters and ladies who went out East to the British Stations to find a husband among the many unmarried soldiers and civil servants out there.  Miss Howell had beautifully engraved brass plates with the numbers 1 and 2 on the trunks which were made of cedarwood to repel termites which could rip through everything in a matter of days.   I always hope she caught her husband and returned to England with far larger trunks and a trousseau.  Ruth at LOOT used to be one of the first dealers trawling through Portobello Market at 5a.m. and I was told she always got first dibs, wielding her torch and filling her car.  Alas ! she died in a road accident, but I always remember her when I sit on the trunks in the hall window of my house and look at the street below while doing a little sewing and mending of my textiles.  By pure chance I have sold objects and fabrics to three later tenants of this impressive and spacious corner shop, all well-known decorators, and the latest is Rose Uniacke, a leading light with a beautiful stock of modern and antique furnishings.

                  Pr. of trunks made for the 'Fishing fleet' travelling to India and Africa,
                        cedar wood, bound with steel bands and brass studs
                                         Miss Howell, Nos. 1 and 2

My Howard of Berners Street armchair re-upholstered with a vintage curtain
More about my chair and Howard's later.
  Geoffrey Bennison,  a famous dealer and decorator, had 3 shops further along the road and they were rather like dark caverns, full of imposing lumps of furniture  There were vast sofas and chairs, often made by the famous upholsterers, Howards of Berners St., deeply comfortable with huge down cushions, often covered in Kelims and rich velvets and damasks, tiger skins, brass, marble statues and pillars.  He was a vibrant man with a huge circle of friends and clients, and his original style, grand and rich with heavy  dramatic patterns, ethnic needlework and unusual objects, had a big influence on contemporary decoration.    He had the endearing habit of calling all his male friends 'dear boy' and was known for the tremendous (and sometimes rather wild) parties that he gave.   I think he might have liked my Biedermeir sofa done up with 'shot' old Lyons silk and alpacca velvet curtains and some lovely canvas-work stolen from another pair of shabby silk curtains, all pulled together with rather amusing rows of pom-pom fringing,  (all credit to my inspired lady upholsterer).   The fabric on the big stool (originally made to line up with an important wing fauteuil as a foot rest)and also on one cushion,  is called Shadow Rose and was a Victorian copy I bought from the Bennison shop.  These pouffes are very useful as extra seats (near the fire) and a resting place for magazines and/or trays of drinks, etc.)

Sunday, 10 March 2013


I have recently bought a lot of Ukranian flax cloth, lovely beigey colour and nubbly texture - great for upholstery. I was interested to read an Exhibition booklet written by R.Chenciner and John Cornall, one of my suppliers, about peasant art from Tsarist Lands. The painted furniture is highly decorative and the designs bold, and the distaffs (Pryalki) were painted and carved to be handed down and treasured through generations. The distaff was made to hold the raw flax during spinning and the stick was anchored to the body of the spinner, either underarm or between the legs. Russian linen can be very fine and attractive, is often embroidered with small red cyphers and is still being woven along the Volga river where the crop is grown. Theresa Tollemache has established a factory over there and sells her embroidered linens and fabrics in this country under the make, The Volga Linen Co. I met her a long time ago at a fair at Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, and she is now flourishing with two shops and a lovely mail order catalogue. She told me her grandmother came from Russia and this encouraged her to track down the weavers and crafts-people and replicate her grandmother's old linens. I love it when enterprising young people get hold of a good 'niche' business and make a go of it, and do my best to support them.   I will have a lot of very attractive and very nubbly grain sacks  in porage shades with dark brown stripes at the forthcoming Rag Market here in Bradford on Avon on Sunday May 19th.   See my Blog STOP PRESS FUTURE FAIRS. I have upholstered my own fireside chair with two and they are wearing very well and hardly show the dirt (armcaps are a big saver of grime)  They are good for stools, outdoor seating, boats and dog cushions and are very much in tune with current 'earthy' looks.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


     I am getting to the last stages of my time as a textile dealer and fair organiser;  so this is my final clearout as I go through my cupboards and trunks.  I am to be joined by many old friends and colleagues who also are retiring or down-sizing and want to clear their surplus out and I thought it would be a fun and good day for us all to get together and sell all to people who could use surplus linens, household textiles, old fashion stuff and souvenirs of trips abroad that we don't know what to do with!  Anyway there will be huge piles to sort through and ideal for new householders, lettings, second homes and general refurbishment, so do come along and sort it out - prices very reasonable and all good clean stuff.

Monday, 4 March 2013

More about Sheets

This lovely pile of hand woven HEMP sheets gives me a thrill every time I see it - it took me many visits to France to find just a few.  These sheets were made by the very poorest peasants who had small 'cupboard' beds, the lits clos and so, of course, they were used until they fell apart.  They were hand woven on heavy wooden looms and the hemp was all locally grown - it needed no fertilizer and grew like a weed.  Each sheet differs a little because different hands cut and spun the fibres, different seasons and type of soil made other small differences and the weavers had their own differing skills and looms. I am writing more about sheets, as I have been dealing in them for over 20 years and think I have seen most types, from rough to fine, from peasant palliasse covers to the finest for the 'noblesse'.
There are three kinds of linen - 'fil' which is fine woven on industrial looms, usually large, even and white with dowry initials. 'Batiste' is the very finest, like lawn, and extremely rare., and probably a dubious investment.
Next are the pre-war coarse-woven heavier linen in narrow widths and hand-sewn to join two widths together. In good condition they are strong and last well.
Then there are the metis sheets which were first woven early 20th C. which have a percentage of cotton, usually 1/3, mechanically woven, smooth and in generous sizes. Inexpensive, often natural oatmeal shades and often a bit 'stiff'.
Metis can be any mixture of fibres, including nettle, thistle and broom, which were all used during wartime when flax was in short supply - they can be very interesting shades and have unusual texture. Broom gives a lovely golden tint and a silky feel.
Hemp (lower picture) makes coarse woven sheets, a softer, looser weave than linen, but very comfortable and healthy for sleeping, the hollow fibres wick away
moisture from the sleeper. Large sizes are rare as they were used by the poorest families
who had small beds and did not waste precious cloth. When new, it can be quite rough and brownish, with use it becomes soft and creamy. It may be mixed with cotton which gives it a definite ribbed texture, attractive and suitable for upholstery.
When buying sheets, always open them up to check condition; avoid any with thin light areas or fraying edges - they may be 'side to middle' ones with limited life. Avoid any that have tiny pinholes in lines - these are fragile from constant folding and pressing and it is not worth buying sheets with torn or damaged embroidery or lace unless the sheet is so long you can remove the damaged part. Even if the sheet is carefully packed up in cello., check it out, the seller expects you to inspect and will think you foolish if you do not! I shall follow this Post with a later one about initials and decoration on sheets. See another about sizes of most French sheets, sheet En-lightment!¬

Irish Linen

Famous throughout the textile world, Irish linen is now rare and very costly - I can just remember two Irish linen shops in Bond Street, during the war, Givans and the Irish Linen Shop, I think they were called. The attached picture shows farm workers cutting the flax in Ireland and you can also date it by the pipes and flat cloth caps the men are wearing. I have recently bought a large quantity of vintage Irish linen, sheets, pillowcases, even bolster cases, all finely embroidered to match; some very glossy double damask tablecloths with lovely scrolling flowers, one with ivy leaves all over and another with arabesques decorating the borders, dozens of double damask napkins with the wartime utility sign stamped on each. Typically, they were all passed on to the recent owner by her mother and grandmother so are mostly pre-war and with original labels. In addition there are lots of Madeiran coloured embroidered table cloths, large for a dining table (8 seats) and dozens of little ones to decorate dressing tables, night tables and every possible shelf and flat surface - not fashionable now, but like crinoline ladies, they may have their day once again!  N.B.  All this linen, in perfect condition, will be on sale at the forthcoming RAG MARKET here in Bradford on Avon on Sunday, May 19th at the Mason's Hall, Church Street, 9am - 3pm.  Do come! Free entry.
Harvesting the flax was back-breaking work but there were many other 'hard labour' processes to do until the thread was ready for weaving. Retting (soaking), scutching (removing woody parts from fibres). carding (combing), bleaching, were all part of the preparation and involved working in cold water and rough conditions. There is a pub in Long Melford, Suffolk, called 'The Scutchers Arms'. I have been to the Irish mill where they demonstrate the callendering of linen - hammering it with heavy wooden blocks all driven by the mill waters to mesh the fibres of the linen together for strength and long life.and blend the hairy fibres into a smooth cloth and give them a glossy finish.


  Bathrooms are not always the splendid throne rooms of marble, glass and chrome of the glossy magazines - they are often a tacked-on small extension or tucked into an awkward corner, and to make them a bit more attractive I have hit on the following simple ideas. In the mezzanine bathroom, a group of bath racks makes a bit of a pattern.  The curtains are old French 'Indienne' curtains circa 1870, which were too shabby to sell but have lasted me just on ten years with their reinforced borders of cheapest modern lining which fades nicely to look antique!

This little cloakroom 'seascape' was inspired by fish and chips (moules a la mariniere) in Brittany.  The border is made with paper place mats which were as cheap as the chips.

  Bathrooms in the attics and without a normal window are a bit depressing and closed in;  I found that making a false recess and lining it with a mirror, and installing a small spotlight to illuminate some pretty lustre china, helped to make the new attic spare  bathroom more welcoming and my guests agree!   It certainly cost less than installing a window and 'Planning' would not give me permission for one anyway!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Quilts are Tops for Beds

My good friend, Jen Jones from South Wales, who has the best collection of Welsh quilts in the world, has been showing her lovely collections at our TforT Fairs for many years. We all congratulate her on finally achieving a new Museum for their display and sales in the old Town Hall, Lampeter, Ceredigion, phone 01570 480610 website Her architect husband has converted the Town Hall and it has been open  since last year and has a shop . Her collection includes special heirloom wedding quilts, as well as a big choice of trad. pieced and quilted examples, rare Welsh blankets and very inexpensive picnic rugs. As I am part-Welsh myself, I have always taken a great interest in these lovely, decorative bed dressings and find it amazing that poorly educated women were able to invent such rich and original designs to embellish their cottages and farms a long time ago, originally as a domestic economy but then developed into a unique art form.  She will be with us with old Welsh blankets and quilt seconds on May 19th at our Rag Market here in Bradford on Avon with lots of bargains!  I have just seen that she is showing some dynamic quilts by Kaffe Fassett from March 8th until Nov. so you could kill two birds with one stone if you called at the Welsh Quilt Centre, Lampeter tel.01570 422088 !    It makes a splendid day out and there is a good Welsh welcome there!

Saturday, 2 March 2013


 It's still several weeks away, but I am getting great interest in our forthcoming RAG MARKET, May 19th, Sunday here in Bradford on Avon.  In addition to a few top regular dealers, I have gathered a large number of private people who are down-sizing and retiring and seem to have little mountains of surplus belongings they want to get rid of (and make a little profit).    I am often told sad stories by these ladies who have inherited fine linen, lace and other vintage textiles, as well as having their own collections from holidays abroad and their business careers in journalism and decoration.  Their children do not want them and the Auction Houses are not interested in small lots.  They are all old colleagues and friends of mine and I know they have very good taste and look after their belongings carefully, so the results should be most interesting and useful and maybe rather special!  One seller is bringing stuff from Westminster Abbey, where she has been living with her clerical husband and now retiring and has lots of good household stuff from numerous rambling rectories!  Three others are cloth pattern designers and will bring sample remnants and rolls which have probably never been on the market.   This will be a chance for young couples setting up home, people furnishing holiday homes and property lets to find good clean household stuff: linen, blankets, towels, etc. and sewing ladies will find haberdashery and samples ideal for craft work and original creations. I myself am turning out ten drawers of threads, buttons, tapes and ribbons, cutting scissors and wheels, cutting mats, etc. ideal for home workshops.
  If you are wanting large secondhand curtains, I will have about 10 pairs, long and beautiful, some from French chateaux  and several from a 5th Avenue, US. appartment, originally extremely expensive designer stuff now knocked down to fractional prices to clear!  Also some 18C. Toile de Jouy much reduced.  There are several curtains and rolls of Colefax materials and lots of fringes and trimmings from workshops.  Do bring the measurements of your windows and we will try and furnish you.   You may know I am retiring and am now anxious to clear the decks!   Email me  for all info.   Fair details are on my Blog under post STOP PRESS FUTURE FAIRS

Friday, 1 March 2013


Mary Portas, the doyen of shoppers with a weekly column in Telegraph weekend magazine really gives you the lowdown on stores and shops and would not be that impressed by the odd Brocantes that I still visit. She would say that the average one is no more than a shed with a few tired looking articles scattered around in no special order, the iron work is rusty, the woodwork is wormy and the old textiles are crumpled and unwashed and the proprietor is unenthusiastic about his stock|. But I have to say that this is the real attraction for me, a 'chineur' par excellence, as rooting through the rubbish and discarded items, there is always the chance of a 'find' and digging deep is part of the fun. It takes time and patience, but I have found some very interesting and original things in the old barns, lean-to's, and even behind the sheds in the untidy gardens. Wood -worm in the legs of furniture are a liability and expensive to replace - ironwork that is rusty can be the work of gypsies who make game hooks and butchers accessories in the same way as the originals but are 'too good' and perfect to have had any use, linen and curtains need very close inspection in the light as they can have faulty seams, old patches or be so thin as to be useless. On the other hand I have bought wonderful passementerie from the local chateau, faded but still beautiful, old brass fittings of a quality not available over here, and interesting tools that have a good local history, table knives with bone handles, worn but nostalgic servants' aprons in indigo linen with huge pockets and long strings, all deemed fairly obsolete by the brocanteurs and sold very cheaply.