Thursday, 31 July 2014


To Aina:  your query re different techniques for customizing curtains has me a little puzzled as I am not sure if you mean actual decorations or different ways of draping the curtains.   Anyway for the basic techniques, I can heartily recommend The Soft Furnishing Book by Dorothy Gates, pub. Forbes Publications ;  but for more advanced designs there are large numbers of manuals and reference books in most large libraries and of course, there are always courses going on in local colleges where you can learn and make - which is where I first did some work and advanced from there, as I re-made many of my second-hand buys from France.     Dorothy Gates taught one of my daughters quite a lot of soft furnishing and she said she was the best needlework tutor she had ever had.   There are a number of coffee table glossy books available in good bookshops which can give you ideas for different ways of treating windows and they should inspire you.  Amazon will have copies of most.
Lisa vanden Berghe  I have found the source of the picture of a garland of silk worked flowers (on paper)
which I showed on a Blog recently, The Ladies are Amused  It was in a little book called 'Regency and Victorian Crafts' by Jane Toller. Ward Lock Ltd.  It says in the text that paper was quite popular for craftwork and that during the 18thC.superfine needles were made and also very fine embroidery silks as fine as human hair - the example shown appears to have been worked on ordinary writing paper.     I knew Jane Toller briefly when she was very old.  She and her husband kept a little shop in Eton High Street and sold very early oak furniture.  She was quite an authority of 'Ladies Amusements' and also wrote ' Papier-mache in Great Britain and America ' pub. G.Bell & Co., both of which I have found very useful while making small collections.   I have a number of things which are mentioned in both books and if ever you would care to look at them you might like to visit me - contact email

I will make further BLOGS on other Ladies Amusements - pin-prick work, hair embroideries and momentos,  tinsel pictures, theorem velvet pictures, scissor- or cut-work, felt-work fruits and animal portraits, feather pictures, dried flowers and ferns, sea-weed and shell pictures, of which I have a few examples in my 'pictures without paint' collection, now adorning the walls of my work-room and inspiring me to keep sewing and making!
   These scans  might interest some readers who have their own examples - some are very finely worked and others very much folk art and quite crude, but all now quite rare to find and so,  full of interest to those who admire them.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


   Can  you guess what these pretty , flimsy fruit decorated borders were used for?  When I first saw them in their hundreds on a French  brocante stall, I bought the lot, thinking I could use them as a
wallpaper border in a cottage kitchen I was doing up.  Half were in this lovely bluey/green shade and the rest, more formal, in a classic swagged design, were in a strong orangey- red colour.  So when I looked at them properly, I realised the paper was so delicate that it would not take paste and was rather useless for my project.  Oh dear! had I made a  another very silly purchase?   Anyway, I put them out at my next fair at a low price for a set of three and they disappeared within hours.  People bought them to decorate their kitchen dresser shelves and larders, to trim bathroom shelves, wardrobes and display units,for etsy style groups,  and reckoned they were so cheap that it did not matter if they were just ephemera, looking pretty for a period and then to throw away.   I discovered that these borders were used by fruit growers selling cherries, plums and currants in France to decorate their boxes going to the big food markets - hence the fruit motifs - and I rather wished that we could see something like them again in the fruit aisles of Tesco and Asda!   It would make me buy the box-full and then I would have to make lots of jam with the contents and there would be jam for every day!   The French really have a genius for display and packaging which continues to this day if you look at their confectionery boxes, their beauty products and  gift presentations. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014


Mixed Toile cushions, all sold.

Dainty linen tea napkins made these  £20 ea.
Normandy stools complete with Pyreneese oxen coat-covered cushions £55 ea.
Pr.Edwardian upright neat armchairs with casters and new covers £250 each.These are all reduced prices as I am retiring and clearing my showrooms.  Contact me by Email at

Making cushions:  Use curled duck feathers - chicken feathers have an unpleasant smell and soon go flat if much used.  When you put them into the inner pad (it really is worth buying proper feather-proof cotton as feathers always work themselves through ordinary untreated cotton or linen) push a handful of feathers right into each corner, because they take a long time to find their way there.  I like to have my cushion 'plump' but not rigid with stuffing.  If you have family who are allergic to feathers, be sure to buy the best foam, otherwise it can look and feel quite lumpy with use.
     If the top material is rather old, flimsy, or worn, back it with plain white cotton (old sheet material is fine).   Tack the two materials together round the edges and use as one bit of cloth, when stitching and piping.  If you can manage to put matching zips neatly under the piping, this will make cleaning or washing much easier
    Remember that scatter cushions are not much use for supporting your back, and cushions in one suitable colour or pattern are far more effective than oddments, unless you are lucky to have good old tapestry or embroidered fronts which usually blend happily.  

Curtains   For most decorating experts, curtains must hang down to the carpet or floor, exactly!  For cottages and small windows , of course, there is not much point in having long trailing curtains.  But I would say there are exceptions, for instance, where you have a vinyl or lino floor in a kitchen or bathroom, that is mopped,  the hem will soon become stained with the dirty water and I would cut them off a bit higher.  The same could apply for flag-stoned rooms which are cleaned with water..  Some people like the effect of over-long curtains which 'puddle' in a train of extra material on the carpet, but I think this is mostly suitable for a rather grand room and can be a bit of a  'show off',  though sometimes necessary in a very cold, draughty room or to hide uneven skirting boards.
      There are plenty of books to tell you how to make curtains and they are really not very difficult as long as you have peace and quiet and double check all measurement before cutting.    Allow generous hems, they will hang much better!   Do not machine down the front and back hems,   hand stitching is essential for the right look.   You will need plenty of long sharp pins, a tape measure in inches and/or mm, sharp cutting out scissors,  and a good big surface to lay the different layers, using bulldog clips to hold the layers together.  A ping-pong table is perfect and some people use market stall tarpaulin clips which are very strong and heavy enough to keep the materials taut.   You can do it on the floor but that is tiring on the back and can get in the way of passing family traffic!  When you buy material for big curtains, make sure that you can join widths together, with pattern repeats exactly matching - this takes time and extra material, but 1/2 a bouquet of roses does not look very professional if the basket is  4 or 5 inches above or below!  Also remember that the pattern runs one way and I remember seeing one curtain maker weep because her sewing lady had reversed one panel so that all the little birds in the bamboos were upside down and all the bamboo leaves were drooping in the wrong direction, and there was no more material to put it right!  The client was not amused!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


  Mother of Pearl is a very Victorian kind of decoration and I have to say I have loved it ever since my Welsh grandmother, who also loved and collected it, gave me a little black lacquered sewing box with lots of m.o.p. tools and cotton reels inside, for my tenth birthday, saying that it had been hers when she was little and she felt I was now old enough to care for it!  Inside were some little treasures, a tiny Regency reading book about a naughty little girl stolen by the gypsies - very moral - with cut out pictures where you had to insert the head of a child each time you turned the page, a valentine folded card with lots of proverbs, verses and little flower paintings, and a dance programme - no names - perhaps she was a wall-flower?  Nain (Welsh granny) later gave me a little blotter with more m.o.p. flowers inlaid and from then on I was a lacquer and m.o.p. collector, mostly made with papier mache where the shell layers could be applied, making a smooth finish.  There were stationery boxes, glove boxes, fan boxes  stamp boxes, waste p.b.s, scissor and crumb trays, spill vases, visiting card trays, wine coasters, big serving trays and a myriad more useful adjuncts to the complicated niceties of Victorian domestic life! and plenty of them and cheap enough!  Those  with the name Clay and  Jennens & Betteridge impressed  underneath were much sought after and those with good gilding were also prized.  In my enthusiasm, I bought an armchair where the shell-shaped back and sides were paper mache, mounted on wooden lacquered legs and with a romantic portrait painted on inner side and very heavy gilding on the other, a bit of a rarity and not to everyone's taste!

Treasures of the Sea

    I think I could have been quite happy with an upbringing in a Victorian household, where there were servants to do all the menial tasks of carrying hot water, lighting fires and lamps, and scrubbing and polishing miles of flooring,  and where the ladies were encouraged to show their varying skills in making their 'amusements'  and stitching a fine seam!   The ladies' magazines of the period were full of examples of craft work as well as all the sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery works and designs, and some of them were quite popular so good examples can still be found in the sale rooms and antique shops.  I guess that some, like the feather pictures and the sand pictures, were so expert that they must have been produced by small fairly professional workshops, but they are hardly ever dated or signed so they are somewhat difficult to identify - I know some of the feather bird pictures were done in Denmark and Germany - but how did they get here?
    It was in Regency days when there was great interest in nature, the world beyond the windows of the parlour, that birds, butterflies, ferns, flowers, both dried and simulated in other materials, became the vogue and some of the young ladies became very proficient and their work is very attractive for decorating small rooms and choice corners.   If you can group three or four together in their original frames (often Holbein, in black and gilt,) they add some charm and interest to your decorations.   Amongst my favourite examples are the little shell boxes and ornaments with pearly tints, which you can often find in seaside towns in bricabrac shops or fairings collections.  The very best examples of shell work were to be found in the romantic shell grottos which were added to gardens in the late 18c. with elaborate designs of hundreds of similar shells arranged in complicated patterns.  These 'rooms' were furnished with grotto chairs, often silvery or golden painted elaborate armchairs with dolphins and ribbed seats and backs waiting for Neptune to take his place!  There was one on Ebay the other day and it fetched many hundreds - they are rare as they often rotted in the damp surroundings of cave-like retreats.  Most collected and valuable,  are the 'Sailors Valentines' which were made by the natives of Barbados and other tropical islands with their local shells and made in various sizes in mahogany framed boxes with matching lids, to be traded with the sailors who wanted pretty souvenirs to take home to their wives and sweethearts, so you find quite a lot with very sentimental messages in the centre.    They open out to make a very pretty wall hanging and are now quite rare and very collectable.  Princess Margaret had quite a collection in her house in the Caribbean which her friend  Colin Tennant gave her as a wedding present and that of course upped all the prices.
                                                               A Sailor's Valentine
         A small hinged double box of shells, hung from two scallop shells (the clasps for a ladies dress belt).

Shells in formal floral arrangements in glass domes, Sailors valentine, small double, still hinged,
 a seaweed arrangement in a basket under shelf, and half of a large Valentine below.
The other half is under the matching bracket the other side of the atrium window together with another matching seaweed picture.  That's plenty!  I was so lucky to find my valentines at a reasonable price;  the little double case was offered to me by a doll's house collector who wanted to buy some new items for her collection and needed a bit of cash, and the other larger pair I found in a back room of an Aberystwyth dealer where it had not been appreciated by the local townsfolk and was under £100 - quite a bargain!
Seaweed pictures are often rather tatty but these were a matching pair which were just right for my display.

Monday, 14 July 2014


Bobbine side table with two shelves, tramp-work border, made with linen bobbins and endive market boxes.
    Bobbine furniture and shelves used to be quite common and featured in many Brocante Fairs.  They consisted of useful little shelves, small book cases and stands of all kinds,  small tables and  storage units.   They were made around 1900 and the name bobbine describes the material used -  large linen thread reels which were available in huge quantities from all the convents, workshops and factories where hand sewing was universal and everything was stitched with needle and linen thread.  These large reels were threaded on to fine metal rods, secured with little metal bolts each end and producing a barley-sugar twist look framework for shelves.   When I was buying all over France I found many different versions and there were no set patterns - obviously handymen were able to assemble them without much trouble and the results were universally useful.  There were probably small workshops who regularly worked on the shelves and they were probably very cheap like the slightly similar bamboo furniture produced in a huge quantities at that time.  They have great strength and are quite steady due to the metal supports.
   I always bought these handy little accessories, often painted in blue-greys and greens and they sold almost immediately for bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens and I used them myself for displaying pretty bits of china, books and bathroom impedimenta.
  The example I show here is the one of two items of bobbine furniture I have now - first my phone office - it is painted a most lovely faded shade of greeny-blue,  has some tramp-work edging to the shelves and the shelves themselves are made from crates used for storing chicory - the name is just visible where the paint has worn a bit -  It holds telephone, diary, printer, directories and other vital equipment - always admired by Francophiles!  A perfect bit of French re-cycling.  The other example is much more elaborate with different sizes of bobbins, now hung in my new spare room bathroom.  Some have been turned into slimmer shapes - are they spools?  From a distance it looks quite like the bamboo that was so popular in early 20C.
  I will describe the special French china on the shelves in another Blog - AH MON AMOUR!   it's very collectable!
 I was much amused on one occasion at a London Fair when the 'vetters' there to check the authenticity of goods offered, decided to ban the bobbine items because they said there were so many at the fair, they must be repro. copies and therefore should not be on sale!   I don't suppose they knew that such bobbines for linen thread were not to be found anywhere since before the first world war.! Tant pis!

Saturday, 12 July 2014


  The little pieces of French porcelain, cups, saucers, bowls and plates all decorated with moss roses and often displaying little mottoes, are very sweet and pretty, baby pink, and a bit of lustre and rich sentiment to provide a charming momento of love, friendship and marriage, probably destined for a cabinet in the parlour!   I started collecting this china a long time ago and was soon able to find enough to decorate my bobbine shelves in a pink and white new bathroom.  These were often displayed together with the bridal headdress which was a lacy, net affair with wax and paper orange blossom and sparkly sprays in a sort of tiara, later mounted on a stand and cased in a glass dome, a presentoire sometimes with 'Mes Noces ' (my wedding) inscribed.   More about bobbine furniture in BLOG  Bobbin' along.     


Thursday, 10 July 2014


  Re-furnishing my old textile showroom as a guest bedroom has been fun and I have tried to be very economical and use all spare bits in my house to furnish it.  Luckily I seem to have quite a lot of odd bits of red fabric (French always went for red as it was the earliest and cheapest effective dye for fabric and it did not run when washed carefully).  So, with a cushion in the window recess covered in red/cream ticking, pinky red toile curtains and a toile bed, all shades of pink and red seemed an obvious choice.  I found out long ago that a number of different shades of one colour mix and match very well in one room - if you have just two they often jar!  I discovered this for myself when I visited USA and saw the small piles of indigo dyed quilts  in many shades of blue, in Connecticut,  that were rescued from the early settlers and were neatly folded in pretty piles on sideboards, chests and shelves, to be treasured and admired by visitors!    
   The tall Edwardian wardrobe (purchased cheap via an Ebay auction) needs to be brightened up, so I am lining the inside with some crisp pin stripe red/white cotton ( a free gift at our recent Rag market) which I will first cut to size for the inner panels and door, fixed on with my handy staple gun and I will then trim all raw edges with a little braid kept from old soft furnishing covers which will cover the staples, and which I can fix with my little glue gun - two easy targets, not as dangerous as it sounds, and I hope the effect will be a nice surprise when you open the door!  Final touch will be some mixed stripey coat hangers (see Blog Hang it All) made with ticking remnants, and a red tassel on the key if I can find a good one in my key collection box!  You might think all this a bit of a waste of time, but I enjoy doing it and it reminds me of the spotless cupboards and wardrobes where my grandmother kept all her lovely evening gowns of pre-war years when ladies dressed for dinner. Wait for it!  Aiming to have it done before my next birthday in Sept.
    The chair is covered in strong toile furnishing cotton with a print of flowers and branches in soft purplish pink shades, a little faded, formerly a frilly-edged curtain, 1890s or so.  The cushions are smart white cotton pique in a diagonal weave ( rescued from old metal baby cots where they served as linings)and the trims are also washable in red and white cotton, once available by the card at Brocante sales.   The side chair is covered in some old ticking and the wallpaper which has been up for 12 years is a Zoffany design, now out of print sadly, as lots of people have seen it and wanted it!
A postscript  thank you to all my Post friends who are kind enough to make good comments on my house decorating efforts - all are welcome to call here and see, and there is still one wine-vault full of surplus stuff(s) waiting for bargain hunters.  Dealing in textiles is not all about buying and selling - much of the pleasure is in planning and inventing and sharing ideas with other keen home-makers.!


There are a charming pair of French prints circa 18c. titled the 'slumbering' and 'awakening', of a very prettily dressed young woman in a very fancy bed, all embellished with frills and flounces, and behind her is a little mountain of pillows and bolsters - this harks back to the tradition amongst the gentry of sleeping in an upright sitting position because they thought it unhealthy to lie flat on the bed. I have been told that this went back to a very ancient medieval superstition that if you were prone and snoring with your mouth open, this would let the Devil into your body - but if you were upright with your trap closed, you were safe!

Anyway, French bolsters seem to be a very important part of bed-making; the best are stuffed with goose feathers which are stiffer and stronger than chickens', and they are packed tight to make a rigid platform for the head, covered in those lovely dark blue indigo and white striped tickings with ovals or circles of stripes each end. The loose linen  covers, known as 'traversins' are usually simple tubes of white linen, open each end and the flaps can hang or be tucked under the mattress.  I have had sheets 14ft long, enough to cover a  pile of many bolsters and pillows.
The best pillows are filled with curled duck feathers and down, and are firmer and less liable to lumps than chicken feathers which often have a disagreeable smell and are liable to shatter and become very dusty with long use. You can wash both pillows and cushions pads, feathers and all, in a gentle bath dip and mild detergent, adding borax which keeps the feathers from sticking in a ball, and hanging outside on a windy day, shaking frequently, or using a hot cupboard and tumble dryer for the last stages. Make sure there are no tiny faults in fabric or sewing, or you will have a real mess to clear up! but frankly, when they have got to that stage you are much better off with new fillings.  The trouble is that the  cover of the pillow gets stained with the wet mass of feathers inside and it is almost impossible to get it Persil white! Even the new synthetic fillings, which are good for those with dust, feather and dust-mite allergies, eventually discolour and start to crumble. I always use an under-pillow case, of heavy linen or flanelette, and this greatly improves their appearance and lifespan. I am told you can sterilize feathers by putting them overnight in the lower warm oven of an Aga or Rayburn.    In pre-war years department stores sold gift boxes of two pillow cases and a bolster case with matching embroidery (often machine work) in Irish linen or fine cotton, SEE PICTURE ABOVE. It made a good 'minor' wedding present.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

We meet again!

Natural Flemish linen trimmed withl linen tape         
    I wrote a BLOG about some interesting, unused, natural taupe linen sleeping bag liners, ex-French army issue, some time ago(see my BLOG 'And no birds sing') and only yesterday met a charming lady from Tennessee traveling with a party to visit Bath and local friends, who had bought two of the linings from me (I had 100, now all gone all over USA), and she told me what wonderful quality stuff it is - there is great interest in hemp, hand-woven linen and rough sacking and other rustic materials both in the States and in this country,- it's interesting what a long way the fashion has gone from the silks, cotton chintzes and gauzes and frilly trimmings of the 80s and 90s. to the contemporary  simple appeal of texture and good wearing qualities, both in clothing and furnishing.  I think this is partly due to our general feeling that quality is important, waste and extravagant over-spending are not liked and as we are all so busy, that efficient and long lasting products are popular and can be such good value.  If you are eco.- and conservation-minded, hemp needs no fertilizer and very little water to grow,  linen needs more, and needs intensive labour;  but cotton is actually the worst, demanding huge amounts of water,  grown in areas where the water is very precious, and the processes used to produce the final fibres are full of  toxic chemicals.  My local, rather sporty shop, (in B.o A,) PIHA sells hemp smocks and shirts and has already sold out!  They are popular as they absorb moisture from the body and stay cool, so are very healthy - bed sheets of hemp have the same quality, and are useful in preventing bed sores and rashes for those confined to bed for a long time.   I believe I was almost the first to use the now quite common, striped, Hungarian hemp grain sacks with bright red and royal blue stripes and often with large initials in cross stitch as well,  and a photo of them on two French armchairs I had covered, featured in a magazine may have started the vogue.   They are quite attractive and extremely hard wearing - but personally I prefer the Ukraine grain sacks which are closer woven and have gentler shades of brown for their signature stripes.  I was amused, and pleased, that my clever and economical upholstery lady even used the string on the sacks for tieing them up when full of corn, to make little bows on each corner of the cushion.  Nothing wasted!  This chair and cushion took up two sacks (cost £35 each) and I covered the back of the chair with a salvaged piece of plain hemp sheet that had a hole in it and had two arm caps and head-rest made, so I could wash them when they got marked.    More economy!  I have plenty of these Ukraine sacks, all unused, for sale.   Email

Armchair  and an extra cushion covered with two Ukrainian hemp sacks                                                                                                                                                                 

Friday, 4 July 2014


All hand embroidery from France and Ireland.  Above satin stitch on the finest linen.

Two examples of the best fine needlework on pillow cases; one, square with the lace flounces and almost all-over embroidery of water lilies (very Monet style) French convent work, and the other with large initial M and also with lace borders, probably Irish convent work. The linen of both is silky smooth and immaculate.

The water lily design is repeated on a really huge sheet with embroidery in a very deep border of water lilies, covering half the length of the sheet, and with a fine crown and initials,  SB, with more Valenciennes lace in a wavy line of flounces, which I bought near Bordeaux many years ago;  I think this may have been a 'birthing sheet' used to decorate the bed of a new mother when the relatives came to admire the baby and the sheet was often spread round the base of the bed on the floor, to prevent the visitors getting too near the mother and baby and infecting them with dangerous germs for which there were few cures.   The other, which I think is Irish, is equally fine, on a pillow case,  but not so elaborate, I bought from a lady very recently who told me her mother and grandmother always bought their linen in Ireland. The shape is rectangular and not a continental 'square'. Both are in perfect condition - maybe they were always 'too good to use'. If you can help me with any ideas about the source of the 'Irish' work I would be most grateful as I like to put a name to special things - I feel this is only due respect to the expert needlewomen who worked so brilliantly on the very fine linen. Contact me. Email at  ALL SOLD

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


This shows the charm of slightly irregular patterns
Afine example of a French bed dressed in ikat weave cotton

A mix of late 18C. indigo-dyed fabrics.

Examples of indigo dyed fabrics -  mattress tickings, feather bed, pillow and bolster covers, Vichy toile for mixing with Jouy, gingham for simple beds, chairs, all re-used for useful articles 
 Ikat dyeing is an ancient Eastern method of dyeing which was much copied in France in the 17th and 18th centuries and  was used in weaving linen, hemp and cotton cloths for curtains, pelmets and bed-hangings.  It is done by tie-dyeing small groups of threads dipped into indigo dye, before they are threaded on the loom and, during the weaving, these threads move a fraction so that each star-shaped undyed design is imperceptibly changed and your eye is attracted by the slight variations of the pattern.  Every piece I have owned has been different - both in the width of the stripes and the spaces between.  I have used the damaged pieces for decorating shopping bags and cushions and have mixed them with blue and white bits of indigo dyed ticking and the pretty blue/white check Toile de Vichy which was popular in the 19C. for mixing with the rare and expensive Toile de Jouy and making it go further!  French sewing ladies were very economical in their handiwork and did not care about matching repeat patterns and cutting across large designs, so you quite often see mis-matched bed curtains and wall hangings.  Everything was woven on very small wooden hand-looms and there had to be many joins and seams.   I have one bit of 18C. toile where the pattern has been put in upside down!
very rare ikat pattern with pinky-red (rose madder dye) stripes
These examples show how varied the uses of Ikat were - occasionally there are other shades worked across the main stripes, but the dyes were rather unreliable and were likely to 'bleed', while indigo and the pinky red Rose Madder were less likely to spoil. It was only in the 19c. that the chemists were able to produce dye-fast colours and they are often labelled 'grand teint' on the selvedge to reassure the customers.  Even so, you need to wash old fabrics in very gentle temperatures and with mild soaps.  "Bio" is to me a rather poisonous product which damages fine fabrics and clothes and is very bad for your skin.