Tuesday, 16 December 2014

BLOG AND FLOG!

  DEAR GINGER - YOU ARE SO CLEVER TO RECOGNISE THE HAND OF IAN MANKIN IN THE CHRISTMAS WREATH OF A PREVIOUS BLOG!  It happened because my two daughters Caroline and Susanna, opened a shop called Baer and Ingram in the Wandsworth Bridge Road and traded there for about ten years.  Next door was Ian Mankin which was a huge draw for all the young marrieds of Fulham, Wandsworth and Chelsea  The shop had great interest for me because he was the first to copy and improvise the stripes and checks of the old French bedding and domestic fabrics that I had long been selling second-hand in short lengths.  When I saw this pretty Xmas confection I telephoned the shop to know where it had been made and the lady assistant said quite casually, oh we just made it up from a few off-cuts and stiffened them up a bit so the petals stayed put.   I sort of adopted the design as my Christmas motto and have used it a dozen times and still think it shows 'home-made craft' at its very best!  but then I am a  fanatic admirer of these sort of fabrics and I think  Ian Mankin did a great job making them available to everyone at very reasonable prices. Elizabeth.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

FUTURE PLANS

    This is the time of year when business plans slow down, family gather round with plans for the Christmas holiday season and we are all thinking about how best to go ahead with Textile Fairs, newletters and other promotions.  We are now all aware of the limiting boundaries of high prices, especially car fuel, hotel charges, and meals out,  in fact everything to do with living in this country - there is no escaping the draining of funds and people are beginning to count costs very seriously.   With regard to T.forT. and its popular fairs which have always been well attended, and the stallholders, who have made reasonable profits, the new organisers, Linda Clift and Caroline Bushell,  are suggesting less fairs (cutting out those that might struggle to be viable) and limiting all fairs to one day -  The main idea of this is to cut the costs for the stallholders who attend all the fairs;  their rents have to cover the high postage costs of the programmes, the paperwork, inks and printing of invitations, emails, and newsletters.  We do not wish to charge entrance to any of our fairs unless they are specifically in aid of a charity, when we pass all on without deductions.   Our fairs have gained a high reputation for quality and reliability and we are determined to keep this going and hope you will all manage to come to as many fairs as possible to support us.  WE  HAVE BEEN OFFERED ONE VERY SPECIAL COUNTRY HOUSE VENUE WHICH WILL BE LISTED IN the next 2015 list of Talent for Textile events, an Email in the late Spring 2015 .
   My textile business is almost finished and I can no longer travel to France to buy and have now finally left the organising of  TforT  in the capable hands of Linda and Caroline - but I shall keep in contact and watch my baby grow year by year!
    Most of this was written last year, but for some unknown reason I did not publish - but I think it all applies to this year and I know there is a very special venue for a summer event again - country house owners know we get a very interesting lot of buyers and textile experts and are happy to open their houses and gardens
for us and their  own charitable causes.
Happy Christmas to all who read my Blog!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A WARM RECEPTION

Large scale 1880 woven Vichy bed quilt, ticking cushions, chequer cotton bonnet, striped red/white French peasant skirt on model, Irish ' Drunkard's Path' patchwork quilt, toile cushions in a cherry picking basket (Kent), lined in Vichy toile,  vintage 1880 prints on chair and pouffe, painted marriage armoire, Czech, 1830, ticking bolsters on top..  All now sold.The cushion on bed shows one of my ideas for using ticking in various ways, making geometric designs.  This was a typical view to greet buyers at my showroom at Freshford, " Pile it high, sell it cheap!"
   When I first started dealing from home in a rambling old house in nearby Freshford, I stacked all my goods in the disused basement kitchen that had a wonderful built-in Bath Dresser with massive cupboards and shelves, ideal for displaying my French brocante and kitchenalia. I then decided that the best way to sell the textiles and decorative pieces was to arrange them in a room setting. The old study with three garden outlook windows was ideal and I worked out a new colour scheme every two or three months. At that time I had quite a lot of London and overseas customers and so I sat them down in my sale-room with the cup of tea or coffee to discuss their wants and preferences. After a bit, I discovered that if the decor was distinctly in red patterns, they suddenly got quite energised and said they were keen to finish some project soon, and started choosing and buying in my other stores as well. If, on the other hand, the room was cool and pretty with lots of blue and white and greens, they were inclined to sit and relax and were not in any hurry to shop. Such is the influence of colour on our moods and I read an article all about this phenomenon, citing the psychological use of colour in canteens, restaurants, hospitals and prisons, and of course shops.
     Think about this when decorating, as it makes sense to have restful schemes in bedrooms and more dynamic contrasts in kitchens and playrooms!    The living areas of your home can do with some stronger schemes, and bathrooms, utility rooms and kitchens can have some really eye-catching decors with a bit of bling and zing which cheer you up when there is work to be done!

Monday, 8 December 2014

DIG MINERALS ? I'm in a dark place.

Damaged Welsh woolen blankets (cartheni) are ideal for making up into cosy and colourful cushions and bolsters.  These perfect ones are from the Jen Jones collection.   Visit her museum and shop for similar as well as the fabulous quilts.  Email  - quilts@jen-jones.com 

    I'm quite happy with a bit of gold or the flash of silver in my house decorations, but would you choose slate,  pewter, zinc or  stone for the colours of your bedroom.???? parchment, taupe, canvas, camel, cream, oatmeal, caramel strike me as being a more gentle background for rest and reviving, and easier to mix with the pastel colours I would always want for my own space.  I love bright colour but I want it to shine in small doses, making a sort of exclamation mark in a room that is used for entertaining, making a splash or impressing the guests!   I am not very fond of sludgey, dingy shades, which I find so depressing- they make me think of black clouds, rainy days,  and sunshine seems very far away.
   I recently stayed in an excellent medium-priced hotel, where I could not fault the beds, bathroom fittings, and furniture, but all the materials were 50 shades of dingy brown including blankets, bedcovers, all seating,  curtains and carpet.  Sad!   Just one chair in a cheerful print or two bright cushions could have rescued the view and made a cheerful, smart, first impression.   I left a note for the comments section!
   I know some cushion makers in a small factory who make them for the big chain hotels and when I see the huge piles of drab squares awaiting stitching on the machines, I long to mix and match them with a bit of colour relief and cause a revolution!

Friday, 5 December 2014

RUB A DUB TUB

A small section of my stores of laundered French linen and hemp sheets, all  measured, laundered and stacked.
 I have known three professional laundresses in my life and I have always admired their professional way with washing, ironing and folding family linen.  The first was a Lancashire woman who lived in a lodge near my home and did all my mother's washing in the Victorian laundry in our rambling old house (long since demolished). Jessie, a lovely red-haired Lancashire lass,  and another local woman, spent two days there working the old machines, heating the coppers, pulsing the linen with a dolly, rinsing, soaking, drying, airing, ironing and folding. Jessie took much of the ironing home to the lodge. Ironing boards were unknown there and she used her kitchen table with an old blanket and old linen sheet, standing in front of her little kitchen stove, and watching various pots bubbling away with soda, soap shredded into flakes and other cleansers.  Large folding drying racks were ranged round the kitchen with loads of snowy linen airing,  folded and ready to pack into the wicker laundry baskets that had our house name in large black letters on the lid.  They were heavy and the farm cart was used to transport them back to the house where all was neatly stowed away in a huge slatted linen cupboard near the kitchen.  In grander houses they would have been placed in the housekeeper's linen cupboards, where everything was listed and kept under lock and key.  
  My next laundress was really just a 'presser' - she was my weekly cleaner when I was first living and working in London and she had worked in an Irish shirt factory, ironing the newly stitched gentlemen's shirts as they came off the sewing machines - I had no idea how to iron my new husband's city shirts so was grateful for some very expert help - she always said that it took her exactly 20 minutes to iron a shirt, pressing every seam, and then pinning it all down in a box ready for sale.
   I have written elsewhere about my grandmother's laundry and also about my Breton friend's laundress mother;  these women worked immensely hard with a lot of very heavy carrying of buckets and wet washing, the endless scrubbing and rinsing and long hours of ironing with their heavy irons, gophering irons and other metal equipment and I have to remember that clothes on a farm were very dirty with all the rain and dirt making everything muddy as people worked on the land.  There was no special protective work-wear then, plastic was unknown and there were only old sacks and rubber- lined mackintoshes to keep you dry and warm with a length of binder twine to hold all in place - not the Burberry touch!  An old felt hat or a sou'wester kept some of the rain off your head and shoulders. and after work all had to be steamed dry in front of the kitchen range - airing cupboards were a luxury., but it was very usual (in Wales) to have a heavy brass rail, highly polished, just below the mantlepiece, to carry everything that needed heat and airing.  You might think these were curtain poles, but they were often bevelled so the clothes did not slip off on the stove!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

UNFOLDING CLOTH HISTORY

Long sets of fine linen damask table napkins, circa 1900 in diaper and geometric patterns.
  If you are really interested in the laying of tables and have had a go at a 'tablescape' (very popular in the States where it is considered a refined art involving fruit, flowers and objects), you could amuse yourself by looking at examples of  Napery as this domestic art was called - in Medieval times there were Masters of Napery who skillfully 'sculpted' table dressings with linen and accessories for the centres of the long refectory tables.  If you look at old master paintings of domestic scenes you will see that the tablecloths are skillfully pleated and folded .  Sometimes the corners are knotted in a ball to hang clear of the floor (in the Last Supper) and of course the folding can vary from just a few creases to lots of narrower ones - you can see how linenfold panelling got its name.  Originally the napkin was a shared long communal cloth which stretched over all the knees of the diners - later this was chopped up so that each one had their own. Mrs. Beaton gives exact drawings and directions for many classic designs, water lilies, etc., and as a child I used to practice these shapes in my mother's old-fashioned kitchen and dream of giving grand dinner parties with all the trimmings.
   If you love linen, I think you will always prefer to use fine linen for special occasions rather than the very clever paper reproductions, and think it worth the extra trouble.  I have many large sets of 8 and over for sale, all in perfect condition, often with red embroidered initials and very large sizes from 1900 or so and they work out about £9 each.  If you use candles, the silky damask patterns woven in the linen will give an extra bit of glamour to the table setting, and the hand embroidered initials will impress and intrigue your guests.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Thoughts from my Bath Chair

   As I tidy up the remnants of my French stock, now all assembled in one large wine vault room with a stone floor, stone walls and big wooden shelves, the oddments there bring back memories of our expeditions to rural France.  The old linen was so cheap, you hardly had to ask the price - in any case I always tried to buy by the dozen so that when washed and ironed and tied in attractive bundles they looked inviting and were easy to sell. Although there were often faulty, stained, ripped sheets amongst the big lots I bought, almost unseen, just opening a few samples to check they were not all just rags, these joined a big pile at my home in Freshford, which began to cause me worry!  I thought of bandages, window cleaners, painters and so on but there were far too many and I was not anxious to become a rag merchant!
    However, like so often, eventually there was an absolutely splendid use for them - for film costumes for battle-damaged Romans, Greeks, Picts, Scots, Arthurian knights, Elizabethan swordsmen
Trad. red/white check cotton Toile de Vichy.

Red/white print curtains and cushion. Red /white ticking covering an old school trunk
Caribbean pirates and all war-like scenes.  It saved the wardrobe ladies beating the life out of new heavy cloth, with knives and torches and staining dyes to get that authentic war-stained look.  So literally hundreds of old linen sheets were re-cycled this way.  My piles disappeared in one big lorry-load!
   Anyone who has had a shop or stall knows that presentation is all!  I used smart linen tape for tying and my own home-made labels made from disused card files, rubber stamped with my name, address and
phone no.on one side and wrote all details, quantity, size, condition,  approx date and price, on the back of the label, and if I sent scans on my computer all this could be seen and read quite clearly.   Good scans of damask linen were difficult to show the glossy patterns, but making a soft pleat on the top layer helps to catch the light, and of course any lace can be seen perfectly if you place a piece of dark blue tissue paper beneath.  Good scans are an absolute must and highly successful once you get known for being prompt and reliable in your responses, by post, telephone or if you use a Blog as I do.  You do not get the huge exposure of Ebay, but on the other hand you are probably contacting a very specialised audience and can build up a good relationship.                                         
   Presentation! It really is vital for a good show at a Fair or in a shop:  study those of the most successful  dealers and note how they arrange the look of the whole thing and what attracts buyers.  I recall being at a small French fair and seeing a largish crush of women all around one stall.   When I joined them, I was surprised to find it was just a linen stall, but the whole thing was a brilliant combination of red and white and no other colours.  All the red and white tea towels were to the fore and all groups were tied up with new smart red ribbons and bows.  A few red checked and gingham tablecloths and napkins were prominent, with duvet covers and cushions and a pair of red curtains backing the show.  It was brilliant and very eye-catching.  A few strips of red crepe paper hung down the front over a white valance completing the show, and I would not have been surprised to see the lady seller dressed in a white blouse with red shoes and a skirt to complete the picture!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

I GO FOR INDIGO- DO YOU?

   Indigo has been used for dyeing fabrics, decorating  bodies and walls for thousands of years and many tribes have used it in their different cultures in strange and interesting ways.  I have a book called BEYOND INDIGO which is a fascinating well illustrated account all about the Adire culture in Nigeria, designed to communicate and express the thoughts and wishes of the women who have built up  a whole coded language in squares of different tied and dyed fabrics.    Indigo dye has been available to dyers in the Near and Far East since earliest times, and in  Europe, Woad has been a near equivalent, tho' its use died out a long time ago and has only recently been revived.  The attached picture is of an Indigo  mattress cover from France which were in general use in the last two centuries - the older versions have much greater detail and variety but all are striped.  In the 18c. linen and hemp were dyed , but much more usually they were woven with checks or flamme (tie-dyed) stripes and have a vibrant quality which is missing in the more modern cotton mechanically woven cloth   Many early quilts were decorated with hand carved or etched blocks and copper plates  and are now highly prized by many decorators.  The older fabrics when washed and used over a long period, fade to a lovely washed out sky blue also much sought after by decorators - but of course the fabric is then often damaged by constant use and not fit to be used for upholstery.    The cover I show here is in excellent condition, measures 6' X 4, double sided, and would make good garden seating, boat furnishing, and is usually very popular with the male members of the household as it looks so classic and smart and wears for ever!  These are now fast disappearing from the textile markets and I do not care for the really modern copies which are almost black and will never fade to my preferred shades.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Young and old


Taken in my showroom, a year ago, this was part of an article in Country Life magazine titled Bright Old Things. and featured several people who had started new careers after retiring and are still working. Myself, I don't think I have ever stopped working and have been involved in antiques in most of my life, the latest choice being textiles. Here is my great- granddaughter, Rose Murray, her grandmother, Charlotte, (my second daughter) playing in one of my showrooms with a bit of old Indian fabric. The cupboard in the background is a handsome Irish Regency pine housekeepers cupboard for the storage of linen in a big household - with locks on every door, ideal for my business which I have since sold with a proper picture of it in a separate blog.
The showroom is now a guest room with mostly French fabrics decorating.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Antique, vintage and classic.

These are descriptive words which should help us define the sale of used and old goods.  It is difficult to use them correctly when the word 'vintage' is now often used to describe things that are little more than second- hand goods and clothes.  We are used to 'vintage' fashion, jewellery, wine and motor cars in auction catalogues and presume that things on sale are at least 50 years old - certainly not from the 80s and 90s. While there are certain excellent vintage fairs taking place in increasing numbers, which have high standards and discerning clients;  there is a rash of other 'vintage style' (whatever that means) events and these do not enhance the reputation of genuine vintage stuff. Can we think of a new descriptive name which will cover 'old but good' without spoiling the description of vintage; what do you think? Do you have a problem in other English speaking countries ?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

STUFF OF DREAMS

   French  ikat weave.   It was very popular from the 18th century for dressing  important beds with long curtains hung from the tester head or sometimes from a corona fixed to the ceiling and called ciel de lit .
The scallops and edges were often trimmed with a bright red piping or border, which gives a very attractive finish
The old French linen and hemp coloured bedding materials are now rare but worth searching for as they are so attractive and can be used in many 'recycled' ways.   Most are blue and white - natural linen interwoven with indigo blue or woad-dyed threads - the most eagerly sought are the flamme, where natural white linen is tie-dyed and then placed in the loom in a regular pattern, but because this cannot be completely accurate, you get the beautiful ikat weave, with flame-like outlines at regular intervals.  This was often known as 'Siamoise' as it was copied from the ikat weaves of that country and a lot of small factories in France were able to copy the techniques, so almost every example I have had and sold is in a different scale and pattern.  The cotton used is very fine so it is quite difficult to get large pieces in good condition and most of mine ended up as cushions or tote bags.
    Other materials were all kinds of checks and stripes in wide patterns sometimes quite coarse and thick,  and these were used to make mattress covers, or drapes hung from a simple pole above a bed placed sideways against a wall.  You may not know that in early times the roof was often not plastered on the inside, so apart from the cold that came down, there was a continuous rain of dust and debris from birds, bats and other rodents which might drop on your head, so the overhead protection was rather essential.
   The tote bag I made from these remnants (mostly very damaged pieces worn in the centre) is a simple machined patchwork of  18c. bedding fabrics.  I lined the bag with a bit of old sheeting that happened to have my own initials on it in red cross stitch, and made the long handles with treble folded gingham to sling over my shoulder.    It takes me 2 1/2  hours to make these bags, every one is different, on purpose, and I use up every scrap of old material I have in my antique re-cycle box.   Or if they are too small, I pass the scraps on to friends who use them for quilting or making mini collages on cloth backgrounds, so not an inch of old fabric is wasted.  These bags have been much copied and sold for far more than I charge, but no-one else seems to use 18th C. linen and hemp! and many are made from so-called 'vintage' fabrics, which are not much more than 1970s. remnants, pretty as they may be!  It's very flattering to be copied but I am not keen on poor replicas which do nothing to enhance the reputation of genuine antique fabrics that have a history and are collectable in any size or shape!

Friday, 14 November 2014

CLIMBING UP THE HILL


    When I started to deal in French brocante and textiles I bought purely by instinct, mostly what I liked myself.  But as I travelled further and piled it higher and higher in our Volvo Estate (plus roof rack) I soon learnt that there were certain things that always sold well if they were in good condition and that sometimes the things that I hesitated to buy as they were rather expensive, turned out to sell quickest.   Of course, I made plenty of mistakes and so I always reduced my 'failures' or 'sleepers' as they are known in the trade,  things that did not sell, sometimes even below what I had paid for them, to banish them from my display and get some cash to invest in wiser buys.  Some dealers seem to find this very difficult to do - you simply cannot expect to make a profit on everything, otherwise we would all be millionaires, and  personally, I think it best to download slow sellers at a low  price if you have a willing buyer and move on.  You need to change the display, it is boring for the customers to see the same old stock and they will walk past your stand and think that you are winding down!. In my next BLOG  Trifles can be so sweet...... I will list some of the simple objects, all decorative and/or unusual, which appealed to collectors and the general public as trifles to spend a couple of pounds on and take home with some satisfaction.  Selling trifles was always, to me, just as interesting as selling major items, and always gave me great satisfaction that I had 'pulled' buyers in with my display!
   Occasionally I would find some factory or shop surplus with something amusing or attractive like woven name tapes with curly initials on them and I found that most people and their children, would stop to look and search for their own, and that always created a little crowd which attracted other shoppers.  I followed that purchase of name tapes - about 10,000 of them in little boxes of a gross each, which I sold for £2 each box,  (now you  have to pay three times that - if you can find them - in the Porte de Vanves market in Paris on a Saturday,)  with the purchase of moulded fabric large initials for French dowries, which you could iron onto linen for grand, raised, satin stitched initials on sheets, etc.   Keeping all these initials in alphabetical order was a bit of a pain but I could do it at idle moments at a fair.  Initials and crests have an irresistable appeal to most people.  Craft workers used them for many projects.
     This also gave me a chance to pass one of my trade cards on to my buyers which would remind them of the other things I had for sale.  Cards, with details of your stock, your Website, etc. cost almost nothing to produce and can make a huge contribution to getting yourself known in the trade.   If you are shy about passing on your details, you will never make the contacts you need!   If ever I meet someone just starting up with a new venture, I always ask them for their trade card and if they haven't got one to give me, I feel they do not realise how important contacts and networking are, to start anything anew,  and frankly I am not prepared to put myself out for them.  You must do the groundwork properly!































































Sunday, 9 November 2014

PLEASE IRON ME!


  These attractive quilting patterns are made with samples from the Volga Linen Company in their latest catalogue - very attractive and they might inspire someone handy with a sewing machine.   I met the owner of this flourishing company a long time ago when she was just starting up - it was at Eastnor Castle at a Fair called  'The Art of Living'- it was a very good one and we all did well and had a lovely time getting to know several up and coming makers and sellers.  Roger Oates was there with his lovely carpets woven nearby and Polly Lyster and I made a very blue and white statement (French linen sheets and lots of indigo/woad dyed fabrics including silks and chiffons) which caught the eye of Country Living features editor, Hester Page, - and that launched Polly into the decorator's world!  One thing does lead to another!  The first picture shows Linen in a New Look, crumpled and rumpled - maybe a style for Tracey Emin, but not for me!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

TALK OF THE DEVIL!

IF YOU HAVE EVER NOTICED HOW SOME OLD FRENCH SHEETS ARE SO LONG, THO' QUITE NARROW FOR ENGLISH DOUBLE BEDS, I WAS GIVEN AN AMUSING SUGGESTION THE OTHER DAY TO DO WITH THE WAY THE BEDS WERE MADE UP FOR SLEEPING.  SOME OF THE PRETTY OLD PRINTS SHOWING SWEET YOUNG  LADIES IN BED, DRESSED IN NEGLIGEES WITH FRILLS AND FURBELOWS ALL OVER, AND A CHARMING SUITOR IN ATTENDANCE, WITH FATHER RAGING AT THE DOOR, ARE VERY CHARMING AND JUST SLIGHTLY RISQUE.    AND YOU MIGHT NOTICE THAT THEY HAVE A PILE OF PILLOWS AND BOLSTERS, ALSO FRILLY AND SEDUCTIVE - THIS WAS BECAUSE IT WAS THE CUSTOM FOR PEOPLE TO SLEEP SITTING UPRIGHT - IT WAS CONSIDERED BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH TO SLEEP LYING DOWN (PRESUMABLY TOO LIKE A CORPSE).  I was told by another Francophile that the reason the sleepers were propped upright in bed was that if they lay flat, they would snore with open mouths and that would give the Devil a chance to get into their soul!  So the pillows and bolsters were piled high and the sheet had to cover them and be folded down behind and tucked in.  I once had a chateau sheet that was very fine and 15' long, and a devilish fine one at that!












.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Selvedge cuts the cloth

    I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of Selvedge readers in a lovely Regency house in Highgate recently - we were exploring the history and use of linen through the last three centuries.    An interesting account of Georgian domestic life told  by Amanda Vickery illustrated the growing luxury and  richness of the households and their collections of silver, china, furniture art works and textiles including domestic linen, (all to grace their fine mahogany, walnut and oak dining tables.)     Amanda showed us how linen influenced every event in the lives of people at each stage of their lives - from the baby's wrap to the funeral shroud,  and was prized as something that stood for cleanliness, a healthy life, a clean, moral one and was part of every ceremonial church and domestic occasion.  We went on to look at some of my own examples of the most humble weavings to damask linen and fine lace, and noted that the chosen textiles were often made in the convents by holy nuns. Skilled embroiderers undertook the making of  grand confections, often incorporating the family connection, and those who could afford it, demanded the very best for every domestic use.
  In France,  enormous damask cloths with designs of wild life, game and hunting themes were made for the huge banquets given in the chateaux, with dozens of matching napkins.   Others celebrated horses and carriages, others the flowers of the gardens - very often roses.  The grand beds were dressed in the very finest linen and all the top sheets and pillow cases had deep borders of the most elaborate needlework or lace.  The lace was made in many different ways, with pins, bobbins and other tools and I have myself got two matching 'birthing' sheets with hand-embroidered designs of  life-size water lilies (Monet designs) and iris to a depth of 3 feet at the top end of each sheet, all done in the most exquisite satin stitch. They have huge initials and coronets worked into the designs which proclaim (loudly) that they were the property of the Noblesse.(French aristocracy). I have since welcomed six of the ladies who attended this Hampstead event, at my own home and stores in Bradford on Avon, so does one thing lead to another!
Polly Leonard, the Editor and good friend of mine, sends this advert to invite you to her brilliant Christmas Fair, where you can meet many of the people featured in this great Magazine and see their goods and works.  Wish I could go but family illness prevents!  Tickets are £7.50 each for a super day in the textile world with lots of cutting edge inspiration!

BONNETS AND SMOCKS

HAVING RECENTLY VISITED THE SOMERSET RURAL LIFE MUSEUM IN GLASTONBURY WITH A TEXTILE FAIR TAKING PLACE IN THE WONDERFUL ABBEY BARN THERE, I CAME AWAY WITH TWO DRESSMAKING PATTERNS WHICH THEY SELL FOR 50P. EACH. I used to buy smocks and sun bonnets in the past when I was selling folk art and rustic tools and they always sold so well - and then they disappeared, no doubt to the many Rural life museums that were set up by local Councils in most Counties and re-animation days for country fairs. The sun bonnets had a deep frill at the back to protect the neck from sun and with a pretty ribbon bow at the front were a charming fashion.  Similarly the male coarse linen smocks made from a material called drabbet and with distinctive colours for the body and special patterns for the smocking, sometimes denoting the job of the wearer, carter, shepherd, etc., they suited all shapes and sizes and were obviously comfortable and easy to wear.  Some could be turned round so that they were worn on one side to the front all week and on Sundays the other side looked clean and spruce for church going.    The Thomas Hardy novels and films revived interest in these ancient garments and of course Larkrise to Candleford and other 'bonnet' films did the same for19th century country clothing.
I recently sold some spotted muslin bed curtains to the wardrobe ladies and they turned them into good period dresses for the two sisters, when they were filming Larkrise nearby at Lacock, and I think they were made with 'leg o' mutton sleeves!  Another time they found a pair of pretty parasols, exactly matching, which were on their shopping list! 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

(B)RAIDING THE TRIMS

Vintage passementerie  from France
       I am downsizing my stock of old French braids and trims which I have used to decorate curtains, pelmets and cushions for many years - once I was able to buy them in quantity from an extraordinary French dealer who kept me supplied with everything I loved.   She was most astute and bought up lots of little merceries, often small family-run businesses in French provincial towns where you could buy fabrics and sewing necessities including all the trimmings for dresses and house furnishings that you could want.  Many of the shops had been closed for years and the stock often went back to Victorian times.  I saw boa feathers, for hats and capes, pearl and linen buttons by the drawer-ful, strange notions like whalebone for dress hem stiffening, soutache a fine silky rouleau for braiding dresses and jackets, dozens of different coloured tapes for corsets, petticoat satin straps, modesty vests and a hundred other obsolete details all still in their original boxes with spidery writing on the labels.   I had  to climb up a step ladder to view it all and gingerly lift the lids to track the contents of mini skyscrapers of tottering cardboard boxes and each one was a surprise, so after my first visit which took several hours, my husband was offered a chair and he brought a book to while away the time.   This lady also scoured the waste fabric dealers (raccomodeurs) of cities nearby and found the most wonderful old silk curtains which she rescued and sold to one particular customer - so I could only admire and sigh when I caught a glimpse of them under their wraps!    I am still dealing with her and she has a genius for finding things that are my peculiarities and I can find nowhere else..

Sunday, 26 October 2014

SLEEP TIGHT AND MIND.....

This 4 poster has outside pelmet and valance made of pique cotton fabric and Toile de Jouy, with a muslin tambour lace canopy inside
   The old saying, 'sleep tight and mind the bugs don't bite....'refers to the base of the bed where there was often a lattice of heavy rope threaded and knotted to the four sides of the bed to support the mattress - the firmer and tauter the better - not many enjoy a sagging bed!  The bugs were, of course, a universal pest and lived in the crevices of the beds emerging when they became warm.  Their bites were painful and disturbing and it is said drove some to madness.  This was one of the reasons that in the 19th century, iron beds became fashionable with no hiding places and could be stripped down.  There are still a few of the metal campaign beds around which can be quite decorative, fold neatly into three and are on metal castors. and you may have seen the pretty little cots of elaborate metalwork sides which many have converted to garden seats by letting one side down and placing a comfy cushion on the base.  I always thought them extremely dangerous as babies' heads and limbs could poke through the ironwork and get stuck, but then I came across the pretty liners that were made for these cots,  they fitted on the inside of the cot with tapes tied firmly and screened the sides   The material for these cot liners was very often strong white pique, with embroidered scallops all round;  I have bought these apart from the beds, and as I adore pique and the French patterns are varied and beautiful in  hundreds of different small diaper patterns, I have re-cycled them in luxurious bed cushions and canopies for four poster and tester beds.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A big thank you!

   This is just to say thanks for the very generous 'comments' that reach me, often from people I have never met but who have joined up with me through their generous and encouraging notes - Some are very regular, others just occasional, when I suppose I hit the spot, and they all put a few thoughts into the machine - I don't expect everyone to have the same thoughts and likes and dislikes as me, so it is always gratifying to get other opinions, whatever the subject. Only this week I have Frances of New York who loves tickings, (I saw some lovely old blue ones on a visit to a friend's house in Connecticut); and an old friend from Mass. is buying one of my best sheets via Email, and Sharon Mrzinski of Maine, whom many of my U.S. readers will know, (as well as visiting her store in Wiscasset), she is visiting me with her husband Paul next week - all these friendships and connections are precious to me and I like to keep the ball rolling, and that is where I find a Blog is so rewarding, as well as the pleasure of remembering all the good times I have had with my textile business and the trips to France.  So please keep in touch! I love it! Click on the picture to get rid of the verbage and you will see the three generations having fun!
Granny Baer ! (Centre page spread in Country Life Mag. celebrating The Bright Old Things!) My daughter Charlotte Murray and her granddaughter Rose in my textile showroom.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

TIME IS TICKING


My archive of tickings collected 20-years ago -over 130 different patterns - the best came from Germany and I found several thousand of them in the lofts of two barns - all waiting to be shipped to a rag factory for cleaning machinery!
  HAVING ALWAYS HAD A BIG CORNER IN MY CUPBOARDS AND IN MY HEART FOR THE GENUS ticking, IT IS SAD TO SEE THE LAST FEW RUNNING OUT AND SO EXPENSIVE.  AT EVERY FRENCH FAIR I KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THEM AND OFTEN FIND SOME BUT SO PATCHED AND MENDED THAT THEY ARE USELESS FOR UPHOLSTERY -I DON'T MUCH CARE FOR THE PATCHED LOOK OF SOME DESIGNERS WHO OBVIOUSLY HAVE THE SAME PROBLEMS AND CALL IT NOW THEIR 'DESIGNER' LOOK, AND PROBABLY CHARGE EXTRA, BUT THEN I AM STILL IN 19TH/20TH CENTURY MODE AND ONLY LIKE PATCHWORK WHEN IT IS DONE TO A REAL PATTERN OF COLOUR AND SHAPE -  I DON'T EVEN LIKE CRAZY QUILTING SO MY TASTE IS VERY LIMITED.  THE OLD TICKINGS WERE USED UP IN THE POORER HOMES WHEN THEY BECAME SO WORN THAT ALL THE FEATHERS ESCAPED AND THE BUGS CLIMBED IN,  AND  WERE MADE UP AS APRONS FOR WASHING THE CLOTHES IN THE VILLAGE LAVOIRS, COMMUNAL WASHING TANKS AND POOLS WHERE ALL WAS SCRUBBED OR BEATEN WITH A 'PLANCHE' TO PUSH THE COLD WATER AND SOAP THROUGH THE DIRTY WASHING.  THE TICKING WAS VERY CLOSELY WOVEN TO BE DOWN -PROOF, SO IT WAS ALSO WATERPROOF AND SAVED THE WEAR ON THE CLOTHES UNDERNEATH, WHICH WERE USUALLY LONG BLACK SKIRTS WORN WITH A WHITE SHORT BLOUSE , THE CARACO.
MORE RECLAMATION FOR TICKINGS DESTINED FOR THE RAG MARKETS.
See also my post It's good to be in the red

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

HOME AND AWAY

A distant view of  my Workstation 'Computer'.  A slatted shutter pulls down to conceal all the works and the sides of the cupboard are covered in wallpaper to match the walls.  My painted Regency desk  and myself well to the left and my bobbine telephone table complete the office equipment  and its staff!   Husband, bottom left, is not involved!
    I have recently had many new orders and enquiries via my Blogspot and am trying to work out just why; I have just noted I now have over 130 'followers' so a big thank you for your patience!     If you are considering setting up a Blogspot (I hate the name, it sounds so down-market !)maybe you might like to have my very amateur comments.   I think it may be that my own Website is rather formal and dull, like most lists are, and it is quite difficult for me to alter the lists of linen to make them more interesting, so it just sits there! I think photos of white linen are not very helpful and are quite  boring.  I think my more informal Blogspot which features one idea or article  or group at a time, more photos,  is probably more 'real' and interesting with more details and different prices, with full descriptions of colours, condition, etc., and is more like real shopping with an assistant to guide you.  Undoubtedly if you can show the use to which your stuff can be put, this helps people to realise the potential - i.e. a roll of ticking and a chair beside it covered in similar material which may inspire an uncertain buyer!
     Most foreign enquirers seem to have an interest in French fabrics and furnishings - world renowned for their good design and quality - and I find Australians are particularly knowlegeable - they seem to have good shops selling quality French textiles down under!  The Japanese love fashion and vintage, especially work- wear and folk art items - they will do things with darns and patches and re-invent all kinds of well-used stuff and they have a passion for indigo, which is much used in multifarious ways in their own culture.
Americans love beautiful fabrics and objects but want them to be in pristine and perfect condition - not very interested in the signs of wear and tear and often prefer the newer to the genuine old, which is fine.  They love tickings which recall the early settler and pioneer days of their origins and are keen on tapestry canvas work and toile de Jouy and quilts.  Sooner or later most of my overseas clients find their way here (it may take a year or two) and with that in mind I try and keep in touch through my newsletter and this works very well - they become long-distance friends.     Some Blog writers hold their readers' interest and gain new ones, by having competitions with prizes and kits, but I do not have the resources for that.   Others specialise in just one subject with excellent photos and info. and collect a very specialised clientele - luckily there is room for everyone and it is cheap - I use BLOGGER which is part of Google, I think, and I was able to do it all myself after two helpful lessons from  friends.  It is all for free, too!

Friday, 10 October 2014

DASHING AWAY WITH THE SMOOTHING IRON

  There is a strange new fashion for wearing and using linen in its natural creased state and I find it hard to understand.  To me, one of its virtues is the cool, slightly glossy look and feel of well-ironed linen and I enjoy pressing and folding it into perfect shapes - usually squares!   To do a good job you need a large surface;  a blanket and old linen cloth on an unpolished table will do fine, and a good heavy and hot iron.  The linen should be slightly damp and it is a good idea to pull all corners of large sheets to get it stretched square so that it will fold neatly.  With sheets, you can usually fold them lengthways in four and slowly press all the layers with your iron, turning the whole over at the end so that you can press the other side.   This will not be as perfect as ironing all the surface once, but if you have several sheets to do, it does save time and trouble.
Some of my vintage initialled napkins, bundled in sets and folded ready for use
If you do not have time to iron the linen when it is just at the right dampness, roll it up in a bundle and store in your deep freeze till you are ready (I learnt this trick in Texas where the dry climate is a problem).  Air the linen well and stack neatly.  Be sure your ironed linen is dry (otherwise you risk mildew) and store in a cool dry place, a hot cupboard is not a good storage place, nor a damp bathroom.  If there are buttons on pillowcases, do not iron over them as holes will soon appear, iron round them.  If there is lace, also big initials, always iron on the wrong side and with a fine damp cloth, and be careful not to snag the 'brides' (joining bars in openwork) .   The art of folding linen follows soon!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

LUCKY BREAKS

If you are a dealer and have a wide range of stock, people often ask you for special things, to start or increase a collection or just for one thing that has a special meaning for them.   When I dealt in folk art and byegones, including treen, tools, metalwork and other crafts, I always kept an eye open for the special requests, partly because it gave me pleasure to search, and even more to satisfy!  I had fun collecting 1920's articulated pull-along toys for a leading art dealer in Knightsbridge who was much amused by the quaint animals in three or four parts which 'ambulated' and swerved when pushed or pulled, and caught the fancy of his rich U.S. clients who came to buy his fabulous impressionist paintings and used the animals as desk toys!
    There was another customer a well-known American collector, Emmeling, who wrote lots of books about treen and folk art, who collected heart shaped kitchenalia - for her I could find in France little rush basket-weave moulds for draining cheeses (coeur de Neuchatel) and sets of shapes in brown pottery and also tin, all punctured with draining holes and looking pretty  on kitchen dressers and shelves.  There were masses of baskets all in different traditional shapes and sizes, in every Department of France and they  all joined big groups hanging from the beams of country kitchens.  But I have to say that at the end of my buying trips I had to be careful not to land myself with clever reproductions which would have spoilt my dealings - the Philippino baskets were very good copies and after a period in the rain and other distressing ploys, they were quite difficult to identify and people fought shy of collecting repros, as with ironwork kitchen accessories, the game and meat hooks, the pokers and cooking pots which were turned out in quantity by the Spanish and the gypsies, looking identical with the old ones and made in the same way, but just too perfect and unscarred to be genuine.

   My best finds for a collector came by chance - while I was dealing from a space in the Maltings, Long Melford, where I had a good mix of all the above and also larger tools and rustic furniture, including things like linen scutchers, cross saws (very decorative against a barn wall) huge field seeding baskets (vanns), and enormous sieves with punctured leather holes for winnowing corn;  flails and other beautiful but obsolete farming tools, I there met Guy Taplin who was already known for his bird sculptures made from driftwood near his home in Wivenhoe.  He told me his father had been an artist - painter and kept his special paint-effect tools and paints in a neat little wooden box - it had been lost and he was anxious to replace it with another.   As I had just completed two terms of instruction in the art of special painting from Leonard Pardon in London and knew about the tools, I promised to keep an eye open for one.   A few months later I went to the Bull Ring weekly sale room in Birmingham to size it up.   It was a foul, foggy morning and only a handful of dealers attended a rather miserable collection of goods all lying on the floor.   There were two boxes which interested me, one was very, very long and narrow and the other small, scruffy and dirty, but with a leather carrying strap.  Poking about, I discovered the first was a Hardy box for rods and fishing tackle, all divided up and stamped with the famous fishing tackle manufacturer' mark (worth a bit) and guess what? the little box was indeed a true artist's collection of tools and paint, including the combs, all the special sable, badger brushes,  sponges for ragging, and lots of paint tubes, rather dried up.  I won both with my maiden bid! Hooray!
  When I got them to a rather pleased Guy, he diffidently said that the other thing he really wanted was a Victorian Noah's Ark with as many animals as possible.   This was an almost impossible mission, but soon after, I was walking along Long Melford's lovely wide main street full of choice antique shops and there in a little bow window I spied a collection of  dozens of carved zoo animals and a painted ark behind!  Was it going to be the very high current price for such forgotten toys, carved in Germany's Black Forest?    In fact, the dealer had no idea of its value and rarity, and apologised for the lack of a leg on one or two of the animals and in no time the whole collection was on its way to the carver supreme!  Since then, Guy has become the best known designer and carver of bird sculpture with many exhibitions at top galleries in London.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

HOP,SKIP AND JUMP

  The stool shown in the last Post, all about the slickenstones, is another relic of past labour, as it is a hop-pickers perch!  Up until quite recently, now machinery does most of the work, whole families from the East End of London, would take a working holiday in Kent to pick the hops that grew there in very large quantities.   When the bines, the long fronds loaded with the hop flowers, were picked from the tall stakes that they grew on, and were taken down, the workers then had to strip them and they did this sitting on old crates and boxes, and I guess the more elderly (grandma came too) sat on a high stool surrounded by the long trails.  This one has the initial E on the underside and the seat is well polished from years of wear.   It's the sort of thing that brings back memories for a lot of people and you don't find much detail about the habits of the poor and working class before the war - it was all considered quite normal and not worth recording.   The hops were gathered into enormous hessian sacks which were then carted to the oast houses where they were  treated for the first stages of brewing beer.   Some of the sacks were a lovely bright yellow and I don't know why - was it a traditional saffron dye (probably much too rare and expensive) or was it to mark them for easy loading ?- they were quite light as hop flowers are papery and flimsy and you would get an enormous amount into just one sack.      You can now buy in Sept. each year,  beautiful twists of hop flowers on the bine in large cardboard boxes and they make a lovely decoration over a doorway or in a party barn and last for years! See www.essentiallyhops.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Slickenstones and other pressing matters

  I used to deal in country antiques and folk art and tools, supplying my stall at Little Chelsea and also a gallery nearby. One day I took a nice wooden object which was rather mushroom in shape in golden sycamore wood, made with a handle and a big flat saucer. I had thought it was to do with butter-making and used to press the salt in, and extract the water. I sold it to a young lady for a reasonable price and after the Fair she couldn't resist coming up to me and saying "do you know what you have just sold me It's a slickenstone for smoothing linen!," Of course I was quite miffed to have missed this, especially as I was dealing in linen and should have known about the different 'tools' used in its care. I  looked up slickenstones in my copy of the wonderful reference book TREEN by Pinto. There I found lots of info. and read that these tools were used before (and after) irons were invented and were completely flat on the base which was used to polish and smooth the linen, made of wood, glass or metal and quite rare to find.  I think this process is known as calendering and what I had found was the home-made version for the process.   If you go to Ireland, you can see linen being hammered and pummeled in one of the mills, smoothing the surface and binding the tiny hairs of the fibres into each other, giving the fabric great strength and absorbency.
    Sometime later I visited Marlborough market and there I found a strange object made of dark green glass, rather like a mushroom, found by a boy in a local stream.    I bought it for a few shillings as a 'glass paperweight', took it home and eventually sold it to a real collector, who told me that many of these objects had been found in the marshes of Holland when they dug the dykes and my 'stone' had great age and was a most interesting relic of a very primitive kind.   The Netherlands had a great reputation for their clean water and grassy banks for drying the linen - and in the 18thC the French Royal Palaces sent their laundry there by coach for the whitest wash!
    I now have another sycamore slickenstone in my laundry tool collection which reminds me to do my homework more thoroughly next time I FIND A MYSTERY OBJECT.
   I also have a super- large posser or washing plunging tool for pushing the soapy water through the wet laundry, made in Wolverhampton, of copper,  and a Victorian clothes line prop, a neat contraption of two sliding staves bound with leather, and fixed with little pegs for different heights.  In the days when there were no commercial laundries, every large household had a lot of sturdy equipment for dealing with the large amounts of washing, and really large establishments had buildings set aside for the work and employed special staff.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

BATISTE, NUNS VEILING AND GOSAMER

An extra large fine linen sheet embroidered and decorated with fine hand-made lace
   These are all names for the finest linen and cotton fabrics., so fine they are transparent and gauzy. I have yet to see batiste sheets - I know they were woven for the grandest beds but maybe they are so delicate that they did not survive for long! In France last year I saw a fabulous sheet with a huge monogram A, a large crown and lots of exquisite floral embroidery which was a mix of silk and linen fabric - it felt wonderful to touch and had a lovely silky sheen - over 1000 Euros to buy!  I saw it again at two later fairs so maybe the price was a bit too high! 
    Nowadays most French housewives opt for poly-cotton and other easy care fabrics for their beds and the heavy old linen and hemp hand-woven sheets are consigned to the attics and many are simply burnt - the French have only recently opened charity shops (Emmaus depots often open on a Saturday for sales in the yards and sheds which they occupy). Emmaus was inspired by the Abbe Pierre who took over large run-down houses to house needy people, called compagnons, who were expected to contribute working skills to restore donated furniture and other goods which they then sold to the public on certain open days. Quite a good source of bargains! They sometimes have piles of old stuff but the local dealers probably get the cream!
  During the last war the farmers in France were restricted in the amount of flax and hemp they were allowed to grow, so people gathered thistles, nettles and broom to mix in and convert into woven cloths - those with broom are a lovely pale golden shade and extremely soft to touch.  All these plants have long fibres in their stalks which can be mixed in with the flax and cotton.  I only ever had a few and they were picked out immediately.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

TAIL PIECE

  Short smocks seem to be quite fashionable just now and are good for hiding extra layers for warmth underneath without showing the bulges.    The French used smock shirts for arduous labour in the fields and vineyards and they were designed for ease of movement and frequent washing, so all the tension points were reinforced with gussets or made double thick, i.e. the collars, the yokes, where heavy tools carried on the shoulder wore them thin, and the cuffs which probably took the most strain.  The double turn-in of these double sections also made a good neat finish for all those pieces they joined, which were gathered with the strongest linen thread and would have frayed - at the wrist, the back and sleeve top.   The cows were milked in the fields and the buckets of milk had to be carried on a yoke back to the dairy, and the thin patches on the shoulders often shows signs of wear and tear.  Water was also carried from wells in the same way.  Country life may look idyllic in the charming Toile de Jouy country prints, with the peasants dancing and canoodling in leafy bosquets, but the reality was a hard and poverty-stricken life for most of the womenfolk who had  little luxury in their lives, what with endless child-bearing, menial chores and sparse conditions.

  Early on in my travels in rural France, I met a young woman who seemed to have lovely and original folk art from the Normandy and Brittany coasts, lots of  colourful painted sea chests, anchors, lobster pots and fishing tackle, ropes, also byegones from the farms.  She ran a fair which I then visited and I bought the most amazing long hand-trolley, all blue and yellow with many shelves to hold baskets of shell fish, including oysters, for pushing along the streets and markets..  The cart had a banner on it advertising Paimpol, le Grand Large, which was a huge centre for high grade fish and shellfish, and I just had to wheel it away and load it on top of the Volvo, where it caused much surprise at the Customs in Calais and Dover! It made a wonderful display for f\zairs and my stand at a furniture depot, and caused much interest before it went to Ireland!

  I visited this lady at her tiny seaside house to see what else she had tucked away-and was rewarded with two of the finest traditional peasant costume shirts I have ever seen;  they were shortish, in very dark indigo blue and the whole of the yoke and collars were of the finest white embroidery of  massed little flowers and leaves in a closely worked pattern - the tiniest of stitches and exquisite work on the slightly polished fine cotton material.  I later traced them back to the nearby Vallee d'Auge and they were extremely rare to find.  How I loved them, but like all good things they were soon sold away and I have never seen their like again, despite seeing many country people dressed up in local costumes, which they now do to music and dancing on folklorique days.  My new friend later opened a brocante shop in Paimpol.  (Good place to stay with dozens of fabulous fish cafes and restaurants we often visited).
HEMP IN A ROLL

A LABOUR OF LOVE

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

SHIRT TALES

This post will be very boring, all about the shirts of France, so do skip it unless you are a collector of these attractive costume items or deal in them.    French rustic shirts were made in their thousands for wear by the working people of France for well over 100 years.   The material was usually linen, often home grown, hemp which was also grown for making into textiles, sometimes mixed with cotton, not homegrown, from overseas., and known as metis (mix)  The earliest shirts seem to have been very simple and plain, with bone(mutton) buttons at the neck opening and various different kinds of pleating down the front to allow for movement.  All were made with square shaped pieces of cloth, for economy and curved seams were not known - just as with English smocks.
They were however, amply fitted with folded square gussets to give space and movement while working - the gussets in different sizes were placed under the arm, at the joint of the tails, at the wrists, and at the neck.
The main body and the arms were fairly standard, also the yokes, but the fronts had several different treatments,   - flat pleats, gathers or stitched pin tucking (rare), all from the yokes. There were no waist seams but when pleated, the fronts often ended in a straight short bar of material applied just above the waist.  Others had a 'plastron' or triangular bib shaped piece applied over the chest,     Two or three buttons sometimes m.o.p. or ceramic and hand stitched holes completed the garment and there was usually a single button and hole at the sleeve cuff.   The back was always gathered into the yoke piece and secured with very strong fine stitching.  The collar was one of the main differences, possibly varying from one district or department and also from one convent, or another,  where most of the sewing was done.  I always found the most attractive were large, slightly floppy square collars with big points, rather like Puritan dresses, whereas the low-cut, stand-up collars were more difficult to wear for most women.  And, yes, it was the modern women who bought these becoming, hand sewn garments, from the eighties onwards.   They bought them as leisure wear, for cooking, gardening, safari wear, tropical wear, for music, for art, for sculpture and every kind of activity - they were everlasting and could be boiled clean in a day.  I sold hundreds and their friends came back for more - they were £8 or £12 each and I could buy them then in France by the dozen, thrown out of the linen stores in the old farmhouses and vineyards, once  I GOT TO KNOW THE GOOD SOURCES.  They were part of every girl's marriage dowry, so there were thousands beautifully stitched!

  I have told the story of how the fashion editor of Vogue found herself trying one on which had her two initials correctly embroidered on the tail.  Another good story was how a very leading socialite client of mine went on holiday to a most exclusive Mediterranean resort and simply dyed 7 shirts in 7 different colours in her washing machine and wore a different one every night which impressed her house party mightily.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

BITTER SWEET

      Our Talent for Textiles Fair here at Bradford on Avon last Saturday went very well and lots of old friends going back to the first events twenty years or so ago, all came, and they all bought something, even if it was only a cup of coffee and a home-made Devonshire  cake!  Thank Caroline Bushell for those!
     As I have almost finished my business  in the wine vaults of my own house, next door, it has made me recall those early days when you could go to France and fill a van with Brocante and textiles, just driving to Paris from Calais for a weekend and stopping on the way, wherever the chair stood outside on the pavement, with an old shed stuffed with junk behind and an old man with a hat smoking his pipe.
      Since then, things have changed a lot, the old dealers have packed up because the new by-passes steer the traffic away from the village streets and you are more likely to find big old barns near the towns with parking for lorries and vans and keen traders who want the last Franc out of you.  It's the same with the wonderful roadside cafes where all the tradesmen and commercial travellers stopped for a whopping lunch of three major courses of excellent home cooked peasant fare and free bottles of local plonk free for all on the table, and stout ladies beamed across the crowded dining rooms, wiping the tables down with a flick of the torchon tea towel.  They are now few and far between and many drivers go for the quick and easy supermarkets that have massive parking areas and big choice of food outlets.
      Dealing with the wily old antique dealers in rural areas (la France Profonde), I soon discovered that it was best to ask casually for a price on any likely item, and then go on to enquire about the more desirable lots, one by one, till the dealer got a bit anxious that he had failed and would make no sales to this difficult- to-please English lady!  Then, having chatted in general, I would ask the leading question, 'how much for that lot over there? i.e. usually a big pile of linen and laundry in a dishevelled stage.  The next round of the game was for me to hold one or two pieces up, tut-tutting at the holes, repairs and dirt, and surprise the seller by saying I would probably take the lot and would sort it out later - this disarmed the seller, completely, who was expecting me to choose the best and leave the faulty, which would be very unsaleable and so much dross, and in the excitement of selling the whole lot (men dealers hated textiles and household linens anyway) they would quote me a very give-away price, bundle it all into black refuse sacks and say good riddance to a shameful lot which destroyed the beauty of their untidy sheds.  I did the same at the very big commercial fairs, trade only, where dealers would arrive with a van or pick-up with the contents from a farm or vineyard, often from dusty sheds and chicken houses and wanting to shift several hundred linen pieces going back to the last century, and despised by the young people who inherited the contents of the old farms and couldn't wait to clear " poor old Granny's peasant stuff" - they were, sadly, ashamed of the rustic look and the hand-sewn finish of shirts and sheets and preferred cheap poly-cotton and nylon from  Spain and Portugal.    
   The many convents and priories which were the sources for a lot of the flax and hemp, the growing, the weaving and the sewing of it all, were disbanding, with their laundries and workshops and hospitals, and I used to see whole heaps of their work piled high on the stone floors of the local market halls - sad and unwanted by the French, though eagerly sought by the English and Americans when washed, repaired and properly presented.  It was quite a lot of hard work, but I have always been super-economical and a great re-cycler and it really did give me huge satisfaction when many very well-known and fashionable women
used my stock for their wardrobes and linen rooms.
Washday at Freshford

Monday, 8 September 2014

SAILORS VALENTINES -SHELLING OUT

       When I was a child, my mother told me that the huge; flat, rosewood box in her bedroom under the spinet (both there for safekeeping from a family of curious children ), was to be mine, as it had been a wedding present  to her from an elderly Professor in the nearby town of Bangor who had a connection with our family.  When I was finally allowed to open this treasure box, it contained a truly wonderful collection of shells all carefully sorted into blue velvet-covered compartments,  I was allowed to sort them into their different groups and I loved the pale mother of pearl linings of the big ones and the exquisite mouldings of the little ones.   I wanted to add to the collection so we went to Trearddur Bay on Anglesea to pick up cowrie shells on the beach there and I was fascinated to learn that they were used as money in faraway foreign islands.
  When I started furnishing my own house, I left the big box behind to stay in the Welsh family house and tried to find my own shell treasures - they were still around in the more junky antique shops.  I found a pair of decorations made of hundreds of shells to look like a bouquet of flowers under a glass dome and then hunted for the sailors' valentines which were made with a pair of octagonal, hinged, walnut -framed display boxes with wonderful, multi-coloured, mosaic designs and mottoes in the centre saying 'love mee' sic
                                                    Sailor's Valentine from Barbados
 or 'home sweet home' and were sold in Barbados to returning sailors for their wives and sweethearts.   I saw some in smart shops in Sloane Street, London, because by this time it was known that Princess Margaret collected them for her wedding present house in Barbados!  So I rather gave up because they were now several hundred pounds each.  However, by chance, I found a pair in Aberystwyth where the news had not spread, and I was also offered a pair at an antique fair by a visitor who wanted some cash to buy a dolls house and was happy to part with  "these old shells - would anybody want them?" I did, my good luck!  Since then I have added a couple of charming sea-weed pictures from the Isle of Wight and my shell corner is complete.  I don't believe in mass buying and collection, as I like to make a nice arrangement and then leave a few examples for other people to acquire!
"I do like to be beside the sea-side" - two  decorative vases of shell flowers up top, a sea-weed basket from the Isle of Wight and a large Sailor's Valentine with heart centre and a small hinged pair (Home Again) hung from scallop shell hooks which were originally clasps for a dress.  A pair of bracket shelves I found in France already painted in a good gray colour and I found, at a junky bricabrac stall, two small pressed brass scallop shell plaques to stick on them and finish the ensemble.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

TALKING SHOP FITTINGS

Rack with 36 rails

Wooden rack with 6 rails

French wall rack

Double bin for bulky items

French standing rack
















See the following pictures showing shop fittings.  I have got to the last stages of my stock clearance and next week when my colleagues, now running T4T Fairs, hold one in the Masonic Hall, Church Street, Bradford on Avon, Sat.Sept.6th. 10 - 4pm., I am opening my old wine vaults next door to clear ALL REMAINING STOCK AT HALF PRICE so I will have some good bargains for the early birds.
   I will have a number of SHOP FITTINGS  also for sale, particularly useful for people who sell textiles and costume and which are now surplus:
 Chrome heavy duty RACK with 35 stove enamelled rails with clips, for display of quilts, shawls, tickings, sheets, all fabrics etc. (this has been my prime sales aid to display my large stock and has sold many hundreds of items for me).   This is a bespoke professionally made fitting, originally extremely expensive.   .It is counter-ballanced so it cannot tip over with heavy weight. Perfect condition.                                                                                                     £140      Chrome large and very strong basket type double bin wire fitting for display of cushions, blankets,
and bulky  items,  v.g.c.                                                                                                                  £55                                                                                                                                              .
 Lightweight white clothes rail, useful to take to fairs, takes apart with butterfly nuts, well used             £10                                                                                                                                                     
White painted wooden wall fitting, three double rails, approx 3' wide for smaller items v.g.c.               £75       Set bamboo shelves, painted aqua, folding flat, 4 shelves,  light and mobile for fairs, well used      £45                                                            
French brown painted hanging kitchen rack with hooks, good display for small items, bags, hats,        £45
  kitchenalia,  good condition                                                                                                                         another, floor standing, painted aqua, ideal for brocante stuff    v.g.c.                                                  £35

small decorative set of shelves, chestnut wood, tramp work carving                                                    £75 ~

Sundry French curtain rails (over 5' wide) and ormulu bracket fittings and lots of rings and clips, all sizes                                                                                                                                               
Quantity of immaculate large and small cello bags for selling and posting linen; sheets and pillow case                                                                                                                             30 per pack   £3

plastic storage trays ex textile mill
Quantity of gray plastic trays, mesh bases, stacking, ideal wool and sundries storage,                                                     £1 each


If  you wish to reserve any of the above or discuss, 
phone 01225 866 136 (eves).  You can collect at the Fair!