Wednesday, 26 November 2014


   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


   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


    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


  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


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!


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!