Sunday, 18 October 2015


     My bee-keeping outfit of a white space-suit type over-all with fencing hood and some long white kid gloves have arrived from Pakistan and very smart and pristine they are.  It is time to meet the bees who were installed by a kind friend in my new hive where they are to work and supply me and family with honey and do a little public work, pollinating the local  fruit and vegetable crops.  Dressing up can be fun, but I am unsure how to start making myself bee-proof and know I might forget a vital item and leave a hole for the bees to invade my space.
   So first, should I put on the gear? or, should I get the tool box ready and light that tricky smoker? then dress up!  I decide to  get everything ready on the front door step which is convenient for both jobs -  My housemaid's plastic tray-box with handle holds the hive tool, a queen cage, two canvas roller covers and a plastic bag for collecting brace comb.   I can nip inside the house, out of the wind, to light the smoker and use the steps to pull on the suit and wellies.  Smoker stinks of previous fires and I have not curled up enough corrugated paper to get it all alight - smoke pours out into the hall and into my hair while I struggle with broken matches and shaky hands.  Once alight and sending out plumes on the terrace, I concentrate on pulling the over-large suit onto my legs - suit seems to be made for a giant although I played safe and ordered a medium size for suit and gloves - I thought Pakistan bee-keepers might be rather smaller than Brits?   Half- way through fixing the fencing type head-gear on, I realise I have forgetten my glasses - how on earth will I see the eggs and the queen without them?  So off with the top part, on with the loop of glasses and I survey the many- fangled zips - which one to close first?  One round the neck with two rings to pull seems to be rather important but no!  the up and down the body one gets priority and there is a neat little extra zip down the bottom which I presume is for gentlemen caught short, and somewhat useless for ladies.   There are several small loops to be sorted out - one for each little finger on the cuffs to stop the sleeve rolling up - quite neat!  another loop to hang up the quite bulky suit and two more on the long gloves - are they to fasten on my ears?? now I remember I put them on myself so I could hang waxy bee stained gauntlets up with the suit on the bee  wardrobe hook - how many bees have I got in my bonnet??The neck zip is very neat and has a velcro patch to cover any possible hiding hole for bees at its closure - they've really thought this security thing through - but then a chilling thought comes to me - how about if the zips get stuck and I am caught inside my suit for days and days with only the bees laughing their heads off while I, unable to eat or drink with the face mask secured, stomp off in my wellies down the lane looking like a spacewoman and frightening all the natives away ?

   By now, my smoker is exhausted and no smoke to be seen - oh dear! do I have to go through that lighting business again and how can I strike matches with big white glove fingers that drop everything?  A few quick squeezes and suddenly I am choking  with a lung-full of acrid smoke, enough to quell a thousand bees -.

  As I approach the hives, I remind myself to be calm and steady, to introduce myself with a very gentle puff of smoke at the entrance and maybe another after I have lifted the lid and removed the crown board, and prepare to meet my lovely bees and to make friends with them, in return for their gifts of wax and honey.  They seem calm enough and I promise to return when I, too, have calmed down and look after them for future prosperity, and the dressing up becomes a mere formality  before coping with the beehive as a regular exercise and pleasure.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


dried and pressed sea-weed picture from the Channel Islands

Yes I am back on the job and please forgive the gap, which was not a holiday but was caused by three big events in my personal life - the decisioj, for purely health reasons to leave my lovely old house where I planned to stay for a few more years, the decisiion to put it on the market which has involved a massive sort out of belongings and old stock, and  thirdly the delight of going back to bee-keeping with two hives on the terrace here which are just a big
waste of time, but I do love  my bees!

DRIED FERN, DRIED FLOWER and SEA WEED PICTURES, SCISSOR-WORK, CUT-OUT PICTURES( papier coupe ), PAPER SCULPTURE of FLOWERS,  a la Mrs.Delaney, SILHOUETTES,PIN PRICK WORK, often religious figures, FELT PICTURES OF ANIMALS, PLANTS, BASKETS OF STRAWBERRIES,  especially sought after and so charming! SILHOUETTES, human HAIR mormentoes made up in braids and plaits , Shell covered boxes and ornaments, The materials and skills involved shows how Victorian ladies used their hands to create pictures of delight.
   The following Blogs will show  just some of the samples of Ladies amusements, (Regency and Victorian craft work on pictures), which I have bought, sold and collected in a very informal way for my own amusement,  and also to decorate the bare walls of each house I have renovated.  Some are quite rare, others can still be found occasionally at the big general fairs, un-recognised by the sellers and very often in very poor frames which can easily be replaced and make a great difference to the charm of these rather delicate subjects.  Birds and flowers predominate of course.
   Dried flowers pressed between sheets of blotting paper are fairly common in Victorian scrap books, but often very faded and incomplete without foliage.   There are some exceptional groups of ferns which are often quite large and very stylish and decorative,  and properly framed, these are very attractive in  groups on large empty walls!  Sea-weed, see above picture,  dried and placed in a little woven basket,  in semi-profile on a parchment backing, can be very sweet and often have a little poem below " Call us not weeds, but flowers of the sea are we "  and are best seen in little boxed frames, well arranged and not flattened out.   Many natural history subjects, like flowers, insects, butterflies, birds' eggs, etc., can be much cheaper to buy in later print form rather than in the original  natural history volumes which are now rare to find as more and more are broken up to get the max. return on scarce designs -  ' pity too' as the Welsh would say!    More about these sort of pictures will follow with a few examples that I have owned or seen on my travels.  There is not a great deal of literature about Ladies Amusements as they were considered amateur and trivial and there was no proper market place for them as they were made at home and kept in the family, together with samplers and other hand-made decorations. They were just 'family things'.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


I am sorry for the intermittent nature of my Blogs just now  - few and far between, but maybe that is a good thing!  The fact is that I am off on 2  new project (more news later) and have had little time to do things like gathering the pictures and references for any writing bits and  have had a really busy programme of work to complete  here in my old house - entirely for my own benefit, giving my whole house a complete shake-up, the garden a re-make, my clothes a re-sort out, and as my 89th birthday and an Italian holiday both in Sept. entice me on to complete everything in time, I FIND MY DAYS ARE VERY FULL AND THE MIDNIGHT WRITING PROGRAMME IS JUST TOO LATE;  please bear with me and I will be back regularly quite soon and on into the autumn and winter maybe and then it may be time to bid you, all my friends and readers, goodbye..

Sunday, 28 June 2015


A collection of my bags, all made from second-hand scraps of old ticking, clothing or furnishing materials with old linen sheet linings, all hanging on an old French pot rack.
This was originally a very smart linen horse blanket from a French stable! You can just see my initials on the coarse linen lining top right., found on a damaged bed sheet.  It is totally washable, very strong and I prefer it to an Asda or Tesco bag!
   Tote, shopping or beach bags can be handy, if strong and capacious, and will save plastic waste!  They take about a metre of strong fabric and it takes me about 2 1/2 hours to make each one with a few pins and my sewing machine with a good strong thread.  Handles should be strong and double material, sewn on with a good 'cross' where they join the bag.  If it's a patchwork then I think a lining is a good idea! No hand sewing! I find ticking ideal and also use up oddments of French hand-woven hemp and coarse linen sheet as they do a good job and if I have any strong braid or skirt strapping, that makes good strong handles.  I have even cut up a very jolly French canvas horse blanket which is my favorite supermarket bag, see above!. I took a bit of old sheeting to line it as it happened to have my initials EB on it - a bit of good luck!   When making curtains out of old linen and hemp sheets, some people like to keep the larger red
cross-stitch initials on them for show - I do the same and of course am always looking for my own initials, E and B which are fairly common and over the years I have collected all the hand towels, napkins, tablecloths, hankies, etc. that I need but do not try and pretend I have a French grandmother!

Monday, 22 June 2015


    Getting my business going!  |When I came to the West Country and decided to sell second-hand curtains   from France, especially large ones from the chateaux which suited my own house and many other Georgian houses in the Bath area, I had to get myself known and so signed up to the first Bath Decorative Fair held in the Pavilion in Bath.  It was the greatest fun and I loved every one of the 12 following I attended. Hundreds came by and often commented on my rather light-hearted French Brocante look and I made many firm friends who shared my taste for the pretty, unusual and inexpensive adornments.  The mood changed from the rather heavy over- frilled, over- fringed,  rather shabby, Victorian (known to me as the frilly knickers look) to something rather simpler and in better taste and adapted to modern living, so I was able to combine my linens and fine cotton prints with kitchenalia and country living decorations, as well as hanging on to a few tassels and fringes.
   I tried going to the big fairs like Shepton Mallet, which I found very cramped for selling space and very tiring, and frankly, most of the passing crowds were not interested in decorating.  So when the chance to attend a really up-market decorative fair at Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, came up, I signed on with a new friend with huge talent, Polly Lyster. who was deep in indigo-dyeing mood!
   We decided to wow everyone with an all blue and white stand, no other colours allowed.  Polly provided her blue sheets as a background and then hung tie-dyed chiffon and silk shawls and scarves, with a good selection of the dazzling ikat cushions she has always excelled at.  I provided lots of chunky linen and hemp sheets and drapes in cream and white shades and there was a good assortment of French cream farmers' shirts, sturdy blue work aprons and striped tea towels.We were delighted to find several other beginner
designers were there to show their skills for the first time to the public - wacky hats, and beautiful linen hand-embroidered from the Volga Linen Co.   We were in a prime position opposite the main entrance in the marquee (early booking always helps for a good spot) - and one of the first visitors was Hester Paige, features editor of Country Living, and she made a bee-line towards us.  What followed is now history but it was very exciting.!  Polly and her family and home were featured in the magazine which lead to many good sales and contacts, she was invited to show at their big Christmas Fair in London and that was only the beginning -- her name and business have prospered ever since, always backed by her talent and extremely hard work.  It's so good to have a lucky break at the beginning of your career.  And I would say, you should always be ready and willing to chance a new opportunity - don't let it go by as offers can be very few and far between - and also be sure to look after generous friends and contacts and show them some gratitude!  Volga Linen has become a very well-known brand with gorgeous catalogues, an outlet in London and a warehouse in Suffolk - well done Theresa Tollemache! who launched it all because she had a Russian grandmother and was inspired by her embroidered  linen from the banks of the river Volga.  Inspiration and industry seem to be the successful combination for starting a new business!


Monday, 15 June 2015


       Here are a few suggestions for making things, possibly presents, out of pretty old fabrics.  They are always appreciated by others and all are fairly quick and easy to make if you have a sewing machine and can thread a needle.    Designs for making the most from the least;  tote bags, aprons, clothes hangers, cushions, oven gloves, pot holders, money pockets, book covers, table mats, vase stands, waste paper basket outer covers, hot water bottle covers, babies' bibs, felt folding rolls with pockets  for cutlery and jewellery storage.
just measure twice and cut once!  

Thursday, 11 June 2015

When mending is a work of art

A tote bag made from scraps of early 19thC .hand-woven linen feather bed covers.

   When I first starting dealing in linen and bought large quantities as 'job lots' for very few francs and sorted through the piles when I got home from France, I often found the most beautiful small darns on the best sheets and pillow cases, which I admired.  They copied the lines of the threads and were done in the finest little stitches so they blended perfectly.  Others had the cleverest little circular darns which were done on the basis of a wheel to fill the round hole and the spokes were sewn first and then further threads were woven  till all was filled in..  I kept these, thinking that young girls had been taught to do these intricate repairs by their thrifty mothers or the 'bonnes soeurs' in the convents.   I put them on one side and was then so pleased to meet a textile student who was  taking darns and repairs as her thesis subject and she was delighted to add my examples to her collection, and even she was amazed by the accuracy and skill of the French repairs!  She obviously got most of her models from old samplers but had not yet looked at French linen cupboards!
      I have always repaired and patched all my own linen sheets, using the faulty ones up, from my buying expeditions,  sometimes saving the elaborate borders, if in good condition, and adding them to plainer ones!  A lot of French sheets, though often very narrow,  are extra long, to fold over the huge bolsters that are common , so there is spare material.
   Every year I have a visit from a delightful Japanese craft worker - she travels round England with the lightest of luggage, hitch-hiking when possible and staying with old friends who welcome her.  She loves indigo-dyed cottons and linens from France and I have now learned to save every scrap for her when I make my bags and aprons, all from 18th,19thC indigo printed and dyed bedding remnants. I am quite economical but she is a fanatic!
  She falls on them with the greatest delight and takes them back to a smart shop in Japan where they love her hand-sewn re-creations.  The clever thing she does is to repair holes and damaged areas with obvious patches and masses of hand stitching;  every one is different and it's really very amusing to think that something so original can be made out of discarded samples.  She came to see me this year and cleared my last few scraps with the usual cries of delight, and then presented me shyly with this bag which is really a miracle of patches and decoration.  There are squares of darning here and there, many additional running stitch lines in criss-cross patterns, a good pocket and extra bottom lining inside the latest bag shape from Paris cat-walks, and is a total delight - so many hours of meticulous hand work and someone who is totally inspired by the materials she has in her hands.  Such a lovely girl! and her bag - a lovely gift I value more than one from Mulberry, our local up-market bag maker!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Bobo (the new bohemian bourgeois look)

 Barge toleware decoration was often called 'castles and roses' as these were a feature.
   I am not quite sure where this label will lead me - but in antiques I certainly got to know a little about Bohemian if you mean gypsy and bargee folk's folk art and I like it very much.   The barge people were known as bummarees and were strong, independent people who lived on their craft, working very hard in all weathers and carrying goods all over the country.  They had horses to plod and pull the barges along the tow paths, the adults worked the locks and pulled and pushed the heavy wooden lock gates with levers and strained on ropes and chains to move the barge.  The children seemed to play happily in a changing landscape and I am not sure how they ever went to school unless it was for a week or two here and there.  The bargee utensils was very colourful and I collected a few examples - metal buckets, large water jugs, coal buckets  and pouring jugs were all decorated with huge flowers painted with full brushes in simple shapes, mostly pink, red and green, with highlights in white, and they must have made the collection of clean drinking water a more cheerful affair  and of course they were kept on show on the deck of the boat for others to admire.- The women wore bonnets, usually black, with much gathering to keep their heads warm and there was often a long deep frill covering the back of the neck to keep the cutting wind off them when they were steering through the canals.  These are quite rare as the weather rotted most into rags.
  Gypsies and tinkers always fascinated me and I loved gypsy music from Hungary with its wild czardas and the violins singing.  They used to go round the lanes in South Wales in little carts pulled by small sturdy horses and they had straw in the cart, with Welsh 'Gaudy' china (often called Cottage Swansea whence it came) on board.  This was delightful jolly china  decorated sponge-ware, with big blue roses and pinkish rhododendron type flowers,  big blobs, often with highlights of silver lustre,  in a circle on cups and plates and other useful tableware.   The women and children sat on the cart sides and were a dirty and cheerful lot - my mother bought enough to decorate a cottage Welsh Dresser for our "Cardi" holiday cottage and 20 years later, at the beginning of the war, sold it all to collectors who were very keen on it, quite rare and expensive now!  Other examples are shown on Ebay of course.   And tinkers!  I have fond  memories of the delightful old knife grinder who came round once a year to my house in Freshford, near Bath, with a grindstone on a sort of bicycle frame..  He wore a flat cap at a jaunty angle and there was always a flower decorating it;  I gave him a bun and hot tea and he told me a little about his travels (from Ireland)- those sort of travellers have almost gone now, they have been chased away by traffic and suspicious police, but they were quite often very amusing with a quick turn of phrase and simple charm. and my knives and scissors have never been as sharp since he disappeared.
The gypsies used to come round with baskets of dolly pegs and they were wonderful for hanging washed blankets - plastic are not nearly sturdy enough, and people used to buy them from me to make little dolly figures.  They also made lovely little square hanging baskets from short thick twigs interlaced, and put primroses also 'taken' from the local woods in a bed of moss inside -  and I used to buy some to re-sell to my customers at my flower shop!  Naughty!
Welsh Gaudy pottery

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


A period dressing chest (Edwardian, repainted)

  Having had some experience, and much enjoyment, buying furniture for my new spare bedroom (formerly my 'best' linen show- room). I thought it might be useful to tell you of my hits and misses on the Web! Before surfing, if you are buying furniture, it is a good idea to measure your space - double wardrobes with a mirror look impressive but not if they are too wide in a small bedroom, or too high for a low ceiling - photos can be deceptive! Similarly remember that sellers often hide the signs of wear and tear by snapping the piece from a favourable angle.    Beware the description 'vintage' - it often means no more than second-hand. Similarly 'vintage antique' is often not correct and sometimes is no better than ' repro.' There is a section on each description for questions and answers; use this facility to a) enquire the actual age and history of piece b) ask about condition including any repairs c) obtain the full postal code of advert d) where is the item for collection and when available, if you use a carrier.   All the above details have caused me 'bother' and extra expense recently and as I read that the police are now heavily involved in internet fraud which is increasing, the buyer should proceed with caution and never send cash before receiving goods.  Use    If viewing is possible, that is obviously the best option. Good Luck!
Simple Edwardian wardrobe, re-painted.
    As a postscript, I will add the Email address of an excellent delivery organisation which is run on the lines of an auction - you put in the type of goods for removal, the addresses of pick-up and delivery, whether urgent or not, and within a few minutes you start gettingt quotes which vary hugely, from carriers who have spare space in their loads in your direction and you can get some really good deals compared to the normal furniture removal people who can be slow and expensive. Go to on the internet. I now have one reliable careful driver who will collect anything anywhere and deliver in his own time and his charges are truly moderate  He telephones me without fail half an hour before his delivery so I am all ready to take stuff in. I bought this Edwardian wardrobe for under £50 which was better than a new one from you know who? ( Ikea?) It is now in my new spare room and I am going to beautify it with a red and white stripey lining.  Anyvan delivery cost me £35.  Paying for goods with Pay Pal is very simple and safe.

Sunday, 17 May 2015


attractive frilled door curtain, as new
sturdy French ticking
   This scan shows a very old form of mattress used in France by the peasants, made of ticking and once filled with feathers, hay, straw or maize husks.   There is a long slit half way down the centre and this was used to hand-fill the inside with whatever material was available and cheap to replace.   With minimal hygiene, outside privies, and the usual leaks of children and sick people on them, the fillings were burnt when too bad to use.  The maize husks were ideal as they were curly and flexible and sometimes they were mixed with horsehair for greater comfort and support.  I have had some of the horsehair from the Northeast of France where many cattle and horses were used and reared, and it came in the form of a 'dreadlock' twisted round a stick.  I thought they were part of a wig, but was told by my good friend Bryony Thomasson who knew everything about the old customs of the farmers, that these 'curls' were cut up in short lengths and mixed with the other fillings to give a good bounce to the bedding.  The contents were stirred round every day and plumped up and hung out of the window to clear them of their insect life and then returned to the very rigid slatted wooden beds, two matresses below and one on top of the sleeper and sometimes a small 'edredon' to keep the feet warm!  Pillows and bolsters were made in the same way, with slits and no buttons or ties and I used to see a lot of them in the old brocantes when I first trawled  the South West and was searching for tickings.  The tickings were usually in brown shades with odd red lines, and often in a linen herringbone weave.  If they were filled with feathers, they had to be sewn in with tiny stitches to stop the feathers going everywhere;  the tickings themselves were down-proof and very strong.  The German tickings came in wonderful mixes of colours but the French are fairly sober, or in indigo blue wide stripes or checks    Chicken feathers were the cheapest, but duck feathers were curled and much superior - goose feathers were reserved for bolsters as they were fairly stiff and solid.  It seems that in England we only had black and white fine striped tickings during the 19C. quite classic and smart, but very utilitarian and I think they were made somewhere in Lancashire, perhaps Bolton?   Correct me, please.
Quantity of traditional indigo/white striped mattress ticking - all unused.   SOLD.

Monday, 4 May 2015


Dressing table set

    If, like me, you enjoy collecting small and pretty things,  make a bit of impact in a corner or above a low piece of furniture.  I have always preferred to make a small group which give interest in a room or passageway, rather than repeating the same object many times!  Having a theme gives you much more chance of finding additions, both cheaper, and  much more interesting to the casual visitor!   I started collecting 'same things' for my 3 daughters;  china shoes for the second, mini tea sets (2 or 3 inches across their little trays) for the eldest, really as a means of getting into antique shops and spying out stuff for my own collections.  It worked well, and god parents and aunties knew what to give them as little presents, but now there are few shops that deal in such trifles and the prices, if they do have any in stock, are not at all triffling! so the fun has gone out of it.  Last month, on Ebay,  I did buy a pretty dressing table set, Victorian with blue/green foliage and pink flowers on the candlesticks, little lidded pots and a ring tree for £10, which is great,  and there are more at that sort of price, but there is a limit to my number of dressing tables to hold them and my time for dusting them.  Kitchen dressers are an obvious display area and personally I love a good mix of pottery, jugs, mugs, bowls and tea pots, either all rather bright and rustic, or china in soft pretty shapes and colours in a more elegant layout.  I like to have a shelf of pretty things below a window on the stairs, or high above the kitchen stove or the sink which are not usually  things of beauty - and they cheer me up when I have chores to do!
  A collection of different patterned French enamelware can be good fun if you have a good space to fill;   if it is chipped and faulty, it will be cheap, but do not be tempted to use it for cooking, it can be very dangerous and poison you!   French  kitchen and table fine wirework arranged in a group can look so attractive against whitewashed plaster walls and you can still find good examples.  Baskets hung from the ceiling always look good;  butter and cheese making tools are other possible fields for collecting.  Looking round the 'byegones' and tool stalls at French fairs can start you off and do allow time for the seller to tell you their history and use.  Ebay can be a useful source, but is not such fun as digging and delving at a big general antiques fair and actually handling the goods before you buy.
Breakfast time!  Egg baskets and part breakfast  service. French 'marriage' china below
with white rabbit jelly mould

A good collection of baskets. Laduz Museum, France
French wirework kitchen tools

Vintage Dorset Buttons for Babies' clothing

Saturday, 2 May 2015


     Sat. Sun. 6th, 7th.  June, 2015. This is part of a new series of small fairs organised in my home town of   Bradford on Avon in the interesting old vaults (ground level) in the centre of the town!   free entry, parking nearby  and a good medley of coffee shops and eateries within a few steps.  This is my first attendance on the first day, Saturday, and I will be clearing the very last of my old stock of antique fabrics at rock-bottom  prices, to include sewing gadgets and tools, spools of thread, tapestry needles etc., etc. as well as a pretty Paisley shawl, unused hemp grain sacks from the Ukraine (for upholstery) and a rare large panel of Toile de Jouy for a bed hanging plus my usual array of interesting oddments!   I have  been trading for over 30 years so this is my final fling!
  Our ancient market town is full of lovely old Bath stone buildings, the famous Saxon church and splendid Tithe Barn, and the river Avon flows gently through the town under an ancient bridge, with a smart new hotel and spacious terrace and pub, Timbrells Yard, on the river bank, only minutes away.  We were amongst the top 8 towns chosen to live in, in a recent newspaper survey, and I would agree, so do come and spend the day in a bit of lovely old England!    FREE ENTRY.

Monday, 27 April 2015


 A cushion cover made from Basque kitchen tea towel, a ticking window seat and a bit of Toile curtain

   If you  read my blogs, you will know that I am passionate about recycling old cloth into other uses so that they live a happy and useful life till they are rags!   I never throw any remnants away and somehow manage to find other bits that go with them and I will illustrate a few of my ideas in case they amuse or inspire you :

seat cushion (2) and cover (3)
 3 different tickings
 Linen and ticking back cushion (1)           
a 'flower power' pin cushion


Cushion made with old linen sheet and two strips of ticking, 
 pin cushion, quilted scraps, pins with sequins threaded through.
coat hangers, first lined with curtain bump cloth 

Tickings and ginghams -cut-offs from cushions!


   I came across this review of a new book THREADS by Julia Blackburn, Jonathan Cape, that made me want to get it out of my library for the amazing story and illustrations done by a sea-faring mental patient who found sewing so therapeutic.  I myself have always found using my hands and creating something give me peace and happiness in a way that trying to use my brain does not always do!  And there is always the added benefit if it is successful, that you have made something physical which you can keep or pass on for the pleasure of someone else.
                            John Craske was a restless and unhappy man who spent much time in mental hospitals. It was his wife Laura, a sturdy Norfolk woman, who suggested he try to soothe himself by making a picture and sewing - she took some calico which she was saving for the Christmas pudding, tacked it on a frame, found some wools and showed John how to fill in the outline of a boat.  Craske died while  working on a 9ft piece depicting the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


 Here is my suggestion for a really good day out!   This lovely old house and garden are the setting for one of our most prestigious open days!  Talent for Textiles are arranging a large quality textile fair in a marquee at Deans Court and judging by the reports of the last year's event, this will be a delightful and interesting occasion:  lovely architecture, excellent refreshments, big choice of  well selected textiles of every kind, and a beautiful garden to wander around. Entry £5.
For more info. maps, etc.,Email

A VERY FRENCH faux pas

      When you start collecting anything, I do think it is a good idea to do a little home-work on the way!
A trip around Ebay on the Internet is a useful start and cross reference, and, when you do find something; most sellers are pretty good at describing their goods, but you should beware of the words antique, period, vintage, as they are not always accurate and some goods are little more than second-hand and should be priced accordingly.  Paying by Paypal is a good safety net and sellers who disappoint get their Ebay rating lowered which spoils their reputation!
    It's worth going to as many antique fairs as you can and visiting shops that have the sort of things you are interested in - not that there are many antique shops left now or real junk shops, but plenty of charity shops where you have to value things for yourself!  Antiques fairs at all levels provide excellent choices, but you need to know your onions a bit before spending large sums with unknown dealers, unless you are going to a vetted fair when you may have to pay top prices  The BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine is useful and there is also the Antique Collectors Club which I used a lot in the past.  They have a useful For Sale section and lots of descriptions and photos and prices of average antique items. 
   I learnt my lesson with fakes when I was supplying a very top picture dealer in Knightsbridge with rustic folk art for his studio showroom.  He showed his pictures in a beautifully arranged room setting, Regency painted chairs round a French trestle table, a real gas fire and odd small tables and candle stands, and a few valuable primitive pictures of children, animals and rustic scenes on the walls with the odd old shop sign or  bit of  kitchen ironwork hanging from the ceiling.  My mission was to supply some of these byegones and, of course, I took much trouble to be sure they were genuine.
    So, one day I bought a red painted pull-along bull from a street market in France, very cheap, from an old peasant!   It was quite rough and had a worn-out, very knotted, string to pull. My friend Andreas loved these articulated 1920's toys and sold them at great profit to his New York City dealers for their desks, to play with!  When I got this toy back to the hotel, I then noticed that one of the hind legs of the bull had been fixed the wrong way round and I thought it strange and rather unlikely that a countryman would have made such a mistake.  So, guess what! I went to another fair next day and to my shock and horror saw another identical faked bull pull-along toy, but this time the legs were o.k., though the pull-along string was frayed and knotted as before.  Lesson learnt! from a bit of bulls---!

This  is rather similar to my 'fake' red bull, without its string!

Saturday, 18 April 2015


THE CLOTHES MOTHS ARE BACK WITH US earlier than ever after the mild winter and they are out looking for cosy, warm, woolly nesting places.  Yesterday, I found 5 just crawling out from under a blanket chest, all ready to mate and lay their tiny eggs all over the house as they did last year when the larvae nibbled small holes in quite a few places.  Go to the ironmongers/chemists now for the moth traps that work well for telling you they are seeking their mates and on the offensive!  My ironmonger has already almost run out of supplies OF SPRAYS AND CAMPHOR BALLS, and said he had big problems last year getting the right sprays etc after that pandemic!  I have found that the moths especially love anything with animal hair in the weave - cashmere, angora, alpacca and Persian rugs, as well as sheep's wool.   I just pray I have everything covered and safe.  My neighbour has already lost a favourite tapestry cushion to the little pests.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


  One of my favourite bedside books!  To be dipped into when I have a little spare time and I always feel both refreshed and inspired with the photo pictures of  quaint objects, many beautiful and rare, but others as common and cheap as pebbles on a beach, which are the work of Olive Cook and Edwin Smith, a delightful couple. There was a restrospective exhibition of his photographs recently and she was the co-author with Edwin of a book called the English Country House through Seven Centuries that was one of the earliest coffee-table-sized such books and very attractive.
     They had great knowledge of  many British folk art items and were amongst the first to elevate them to  the 'collection' status - they immersed their small homes in this rich mixture and their enthusiasm and erudition on all subjects to do with buildings and their contents was very endearing to me.    They were friends of my Uncle Clough, architect, and we went together to visit Olive somewhere near Dunmow for strong black coffee with all the grounds in the bottom of the cup - my uncle told me I should make coffee like that in future, as he was staying with me, aged 90, while his wife Amabel, went off to India to learn more about Hare Krishna Religion, as a granddaughter had become involved!  Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of the hotel village Portmerion, was a very memorable character and much loved - we went to Bishops Stortford College to see about some of his urns that had been removed from a high gabled entrance block building, the first modern building to be given listed status, and all because of  H. and Safety concerns, which annoyed him greatly.  However they were later found in a local garden and re-erected so honour was saved and he went back to Wales very happy.
          The book I quoted was called Collector's Items from the Saturday Book, by Olive Cook and Edwin Smith 1955 Hutchinson pub.  It features several hundred objects, often small and primitive, covering pottery, needlework, carving, furniture, toys, pictures and much else, often taken in their original surroundings, mostly cottages and old shops but also circus, seaside, and often regaling their own mantlepieces.  When I look at all these illustrations, I get quite sentimental as they show so many of the things I used to see and buy in my forays into dusty old shops and junk markets, and I have kept a few examples for myself in my little groups for decoration and amusement.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


   Displaying textiles at a Fair is quite a problem - you can't do much with the one 6' trestle table usually supplied and there are no hooks or rails to help on the walls.    You can show small piles of similar things on the table but you really have to have hanging space for most larger pieces.  So you must resort to collapsible dress rails which are heavy (if strong enough for considerable weights)and take up quite a bit of your valuable floor space.  Over the years I have assembled a variety of props which work quite well and I list them for your info. in case you have similar problems.   The most useful aid is my  Florence Nightingale screen frame which has three rails on each side.  These screens were used at Scutari and other hospitals for privacy for the patients and are well made and very strong, I used to see occasional examples at the big Ardingly Fair in Sussex and have always assumed they were surplus army stock considered obsolete and unhygenic for modern hospitals and sold by the then M.O.D.  The upright poles are sturdy and the rails equally strong and the ingenious iron hinges are pretty unbreakable.  I sometimes set it up on top of, and at the back of, my sales table.  Some people find laundry airing racks handy but they are only good for small items.   I have never seen a Florence Nightingale screen  with any  original fabric, but knowing Florence, and how efficient and practical she was in all her efforts to improve the care of the army, I expect it was something very strong and serviceable and unlikely to have been any flimsy and pretty cotton that we associate with bedrooms screens. 
   A little wire newspaper stand with shelves for folded papers acts as another display aid.
   A folding bamboo bookcase, painted blue, makes good shelf space for heavier linen articles and is light to carry and set up.
    I have invented my own 'rack' which consists of two 4" X 2" upright posts about 8' long and have two circular holes (diameter of the two poles) drilled through the 4" side one at the top end and another 15" lower down, for two rails. It has no base . Also, at the top there are two small pegs about 3" long, attached with a string just above the holes, one on each side. I then have two round poles (the rails) about 8' long with pair of small holes drilled to be each side of the uprights when the pole is slipped through the large round holes of the uprights, to take the little pegs on strings. The second (lower) pole can then be inserted and I do not bother with pegs there as the top is firm enough. The whole thing is then safely wedged against a wall if possible, behind the display table(s) which are heavy with linen, etc., and I tie the uprights to any available table legs so it cannot fall forward and maim me and my clients! The two uprights and 2 poles fit in my car with the ends sliding down beside the passenger seat and the whole thing enables me to show large tapestries, long curtains and much more. This saves excessive handling, folding and creasing and gives the customers a good view of large pieces, and the scale of any patterns. See enclosed very rough diagram.
This home-made contraption is now for sale as I have only one small final sale to attend - It is £18 (rather less than the cost of the timber and will easily pack into an ordinary car or van.  Regret cannot deliver as am too old for long journeys!
Contact 01225 866 136. 

Friday, 10 April 2015


This lovely book is in perfect condition and contains a wonderful treasury of pictures, descriptions and examples of American textile art.   I am selling it because it is quite heavy and too large for my book case and also because I am trying to reduce my reference library now that I have retired from dealing and must cut my possessions down to a reasonable number!  This tome covers furniture, china and other decorative arts and has 443 excellent illustrations, many in full colour, so it is a superb reference book as well as being a fascinating book to look at for pleasure.     Price £30 to include postage.  contact

Mini gifts and big signs

A group of  Marottes  ('bonnet ladies') wearing traditional French lace caps
 In the past, the French artisans, the carpenters, the shoemakers, the weavers, the iron masters, worked to very high standards - they had trade guilds and  to set up a workshop they had to work apprenticeships and there were very strict rules about where they were able to work, and erect a trade sign (the source of those delightful hanging signs showing a large example of their trade, a padlock, or a shoe or a plough, a hat or roof tile,)  They were all trained to produce goods that were typical of their own province in France and if you go to the large agricultural museum in Troyes you can see the dozens of differently designed tools, sickles, hammers, rakes, etc., and all can be traced to the areas were they were made and then used.
      I  used to see and buy quite a lot of mini examples of these different objects, little clogs, little baskets and mini treen objects and toys,  thinking that they were apprentice pieces but I was told that they were usually made as presents for the artisan's friends' children on special days, birthdays and Noel!   So the basket maker would make a clog out of cane and willow to give to the cobblers children, the ironworker would make little pots and plates of metal for the potters family and no doubt the children used them and decorated doll's houses with these miniatures.   They are highly collectible, of course, and I used to have a string of buyers for them and they very rarely found duplicates of their collections, all were original and hand-made!

    The trade signs were big money and most French dealers had a good idea of what they could fetch in francs;  nevertheless, by very active searching in Brocante sheds and lean-to's I unearthed several for my primitive art dealer in Knightsbridge!  A top hat was one of the favourites, then a padlock, followed by a large painted wooden clog and a roofing sign showing a man laying tiles on a steep roof cut out in silhouette style.   When I went to the Rural Museum at Laduz , beyond Rouen, there was a wonderful collection to admire - if you like primitive and rural byegones, this is a hugely enjoyable place, all gathered together by one family in delightful old farm buildings.   My favourite things were the papier mache women's heads with formal hair dressed with a central parting, and staring straight ahead, with pert noses and severe mouths, which were known as bonnet ladies or 'marottes'   and were used to display bonnets in old shop windows.   They appeal to a lot of collectors and are sold for hundreds of Euros!  I know copies are now being made, but they do not have the charm and little rubbed  noses of their older sisters!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


19C. Toile and ticking lined Cushions  in red/white shades
 A selection of toile-covered cushions all made from short remnants or damaged pieces too small to do anything else!  Depending on the size of the pattern or picture, I cut the cushion shape accordingly and sometimes it is a good idea to place a cut out sheet of transparent poly. sheeting on top as a guide so that you get it exactly right and don't cut off the heads of the important people depicted.    If cushions are to be used a lot, have them made with a zip hidden under the piped edges and use a washable trim of bobbles or braid or cotton cord.  Down feathers make the best fillings but are expensive, otherwise use duck feathers.  If you have a worn-out and leaking eiderdown, you will be able to make lots of luxurious cushions with the down/feathers but it is a messy job to extract all the contents and needs to be done outside on a still day or in a garage.  Wear an overall and cover your hair!  Put any surplus feathers in a plastic bin bag and tie tightly.! I do not recommend chicken feathers - they get lumpy and can smell unpleasant!   If you are using valuable, fine toile, it makes sense to back the cushions with ticking or all-over diaper pattern in matching colour; and back the toile itself with an extra layer of fine cotton;  this will also help to make it stronger to take more wear.  Linen sheeting is equally good, but choose a faded shade as Persil white is too obvious!  When you stuff your cushions, make sure you push a handful into each corner of the pad to fill it out, then fill the remaining bag-space, with an extra handful for the final opening, which you must stitch down firmly with fine feather-proof stitching.  Shake well and place in your zipped cover.  Do not over-fill as the cushion needs to support the sitter comfortably and must not burst under the strain!

Thursday, 2 April 2015


A French working shirt, hand stitched in coarse hemp,
   I have often had customers looking for their own initials on the linen sheets, but as they are always in pairs, usually in cross stitch, but sometimes in white satin stitch on the more elaborate ones, it is quite difficult to get them both exactly correct for their new owners, and the same applies to sets of fine white damask table napkins.  Most people are happy to have the last one for their surnames and no doubt make up a story for the first, or their guests assume they belonged to a great grandmother, no less!  
  Recently I read a mention of the present fashion editor of Vogue magazine and this recalled a good memory.  I was at home on a hot summer's day when the door bell rang and two girls in shorts and floppy summer hats stood there asking if they could look at my stores as they were planning an event under the name of Swallows and Amazons!   We trawled through the old French sheets and underwear, all white linen, and some coloured prints for making little girls' summer dresses and then they spied the cream smock shirts worn by the male peasants from the 19C. right up to the beginning of the last War.  The taller of the two tried one on and looking down at the 'tail' of the shirt, gave a little scream of delight - she said to me," you must have put it there specially for me "well" I said "I don't even know your name" .  And it turned out they were her exact initials, "L.C." and it also turned out she was working for Vogue Magazine.  For a long time now, she has been the Fashion Editor - one of the very top journalistic jobs!  and she obviously had great flair as well as a lucky streak.  I have twice found the right initials on long sets of table napkins which made the hostess very happy for her dinner parties, and I have a long list of wanted combinations to hunt for on my tours of the linen stands at French fairs.  If you have A. or M. for your first name, or B. for the second, you could be quite lucky as these are the most common initials, both in this country and in France.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A square deal for pillows

teatime napkins used for pretty bed cushions

Elaborate damask weave with a frill
Pique and handmade red/white trim

I am aware that in the US 'pillows' are referred to as what we call cushions. Continental pillows are square, so English rectangular cases are not much use. French cases are usually made to take a 24" square filling and are buttoned one end, with small m.o.p. buttons but I have some that are 28" square, quite large.  The best have those linen-covered buttons, designed to go through a mangle or for pressing with a heavy iron.  It's worth looking at the details of a second-hand pillow case, however prettily embroidered and starched - hold it up to the light and you may find the weak lines where it has been folded and pressed many times and is wearing thin. Torn and damaged lace and initials are not worth restoring. Sometimes you can rescue a fine monogram from a corner and apply it to something else. Check any embroidery, as you may not want to rest your cheek on a well embroidered rose or highly elaborate initial in raised satin stitch, ( it could work like an  unwanted stencil!)and any hemstitching in drawn thread work can be risky if old and used, - if it is beginning to fray and some of the 'jours', the openwork slots, ditto the corners, are faulty, its life is quite limited. Linen is always the best, but quite difficult to find in first class condition and expensive, so cotton is sometimes the better buy for everyday use. Some of the old vintage pillowcases have the most exquisite and fine embroidery on them - initials, crests, trails of finely worked flowers and then openwork borders and lace trims - a sight to behold - but they are best used, as many Americans do - as pillow shams and not slept on.  It is a sad fact that the grease from peoples' heads  and hair does cause problems, and shortens the life of these exquisite creations.
I often make pretty little 'bed' cushions in fine materials: I have used blue bordered damask linen tea napkins with fringes for one lot, white vintage pique (a sort of embossed heavy white cotton), backed by fine white striped damask sheeting for another lot, parts of a torn Marcella white bedspread with tassels for some others and added red and white hand -made frilly cotton lace trimmings to others where Toile de Jouy has been used for the bed curtains. All have pure down fillings and have zips hidden under the trims for easy removal and washing. They make nice presents. You can get pure down out of good old (clean) eiderdowns, but do the filling in a dust bin in your garage or you will resemble a snow goose when you emerge from the job.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


Sorting linen, tea towels and oven cloths.  Hotch-potch of tickings   

     Although my grandmother was running a large household most of her life and entertained her husband's business and banking friends on a big scale, she was extremely frugal and wasted nothing.   My mother inherited these habits but very much by necessity - a rambling unoccupied, un-modernised Welsh country house had to be run with the minimum of domestic help and yet everything had to be done in a very proper old fashioned way.  The attic floors had to be scrubbed  on your knees for the great Spring Clean, all paint washed, all furniture polished back and front and every drawer re-lined with clean paper; the leather books in the library polished,  the furniture cream itself was made in the pantry with a mix of castile soap, beeswax and parafin and bottled for a year's supply:  every brass fitting on the doors, windows and all light switches  were polished with Brasso (my job - "and don't you dare spill any as it marks the wallpaper and carpets for life" !
 The carpets were brushed with used tea leaves to freshen the colours and  remove the dust, all the glass lampshades taken down and washed carefully, blankets and bedcovers washed and treated with mothballs, windows cleaned in and out with chamois leathers.  While an awful lot of this care-taking might seem pointless today,  I think it did inspire me with a love of sorting everything into good  order and  piling things neatly in the drawers and on the shelves, all of which continues with my work in the textile business.  I remember quite vividly being taught when I was about 10 years old how to clean a pine kitchen scrubbing it with a mix of sand and Vim (scouring powder) and being told I was wasting too much Vim which was expensive, (6d. a big canister!) when sand was better and for free. See more housekeeping memories in BLOG titled UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS and my 'economic' lifestyle!

Friday, 20 March 2015


This book, which is a compilation of photos by Edwin Smith and his wife, Olive Cook, is one of my favourites when I have a few minutes to spare and I dip into it, remembering some of my own finds which were similar to their big collection of treasures, great and small, rare and some as common as pebbles on the beach.  In fact they loved the seaside from Norfolk to Weymouth and there are lots of fishy things, shells and sailors'  tokens and many are shown in their cottage setting on mantlepieces and crowded shelves.   They elevated these charming objects to a 'collection' level when they were two-a-penny in junk shops and markets and many of them are now highly collectable for their charm and sometimes their rarity ..
The Circles of your Mind?
Whetting your appetite!
   I met Olive who lived near Dunmow in Essex when my Uncle Clough, aged 90, visited me for a week, while his wife Amabel was visiting a granddaughter in India who was under the influence of Hare Krishna.  Clough Williams-Ellis was a very memorable and lovable character and the architect of the Welsh Hotel Village Portmerion.  Olive  and Edwin had been great friends of his and we drank her very strong coffee with all the grounds in the bottom of the cup and he told me I should make coffee like that for his breakfast!  He also had a mission to visit Bishops Stortford College because they had removed 4 urns on the front and top of the first modern building to be listed (for Health and S. reasons) which made him very cross.  Luckily they were later found  in a nearby garden and restored to complete the facade and Clough felt that honour had also been restored.  He went on to Caius College Cambridge from my house, as guest of honour for a Dinner, although he had been rusticated there when he was a first year undergraduate, and that delighted him!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


   Napery is an  old-fashioned word for table linen in all its forms.   This was an office, like others for laundry and other domestic duties, in large households, in medieval and later dates.  The folding and arrangement of table linen was a serious business and all kinds of creations to decorate the centre of the table were made for the guests' enjoyment.  Some were very elaborate in the form of birds and animals with extra parts and pieces added to make centrepieces for banquets and feasts.   The napkins, similarly,  were worked and shaped into elaborate designs and the tablecloths were often pleated in different ways to hang in folds from the edges of the table - if you look at some of the Tudor portraits you can see this, and some of the pictures of the Last Supper show fine pleating of the cloth all round the table.  We are all familiar with the tern 'linenfold panelling' and the origin is obvious.   In French households, the linen was often only washed in the Spring and later in the Autumn. - an army of  travelling launderers dealt with the washing, rinsing, and drying on the green grass, before ironing and folding it all away, sweet and clean.   The French Royal Court at Versailles actually sent all their laundry by coach to Holland where  they had so much pure clean water and clean grass banks (unlike the muddy rivers, full of dirt and waste products near most French cities,), and thought that their linen was the whitest in the land.   These arduous and lengthy  processes meant that the big and grand households had to have enormous stores of clean linen in their houses and there were huge wardrobes and cupboards in special rooms devoted to their collections of linen.  Some of the large farmhouses also had amazing stores of handed -down family linen, and every dowry was added to the stacks.   Some of the linen was in rolls;  tea towels, napkins, face towels etc. ready to be cut up and sewn by hand when household chores were done, and initials and numbers were then  added, with the tapes for hanging on a hook.  Sometimes I would buy completely unused bundles of nightdresses still in their brown paper or blue sugar paper tied with fine hemp string , either outgrown with too many pregnancies or just surplus.   These usually came from the convents where the nuns undertook the sewing of the girls' dowries.  I once bought 72 all identical in a tiny size and thought of a sad story to go with them.
My Regency period Irish linen cupboard  now empty and now SOLD

    I was recently on a fascinating special textiles tour of the house at Longleat, the home of the Marquis of Bath, and our expert guide showed us some of the linen stores - it was a truly wonderful sight to see the dazzling white sheets, all with beautifully worked monograms and crowns, piled high on every shelf, all tied up in pairs with pale blue ribbons.  I remember them in much greater detail than the very sumptuous other textile treasures that we saw that day.
           I have always had a good stock of fine French linen, sheets, pillow cases and hand towels in the very finest cloth with wonderful lace and embroidered frills and insertions, and I am finding that there is a new interest in these heirloom pieces  - proud housewives are arranging their best spare bedroom to show these off and combine them with old patchwork quilts, lacy bedspreads to give pleasure to their guests.   I have recently had many enquiries from overseas from my Website readers and they too, are thinking they must acquire some good pieces before they completely disappear from the market. I have now  sold out of all these lovely pieces of linen and closed my linen stores - now empty!

Saturday, 7 March 2015


  This clever advert for No 5 brought back a happy wartime memory and I thought the laced ribbon design of the current advert. background merited inclusion in a Blog to show how even a long length of something so mundane could create a stop- and- look page.  When I was just 15,      during the last war, my much admired cousin in the Royal Scots Greys (he was very handsome and my        idol!)   went to Paris after it was liberated and on his return gave me this small box with a small bottle of the fabulous  scent in it - I was over the moon!  I kept it with my hankies in my top drawer ever after and I still have it!  Next time I see him - he is now 95, I will tell him how I have treasured it and there is still a little whiff when you remove the iconic stopper!


 It may seem odd that my pin-up girl is really a lady who became a celebrity only after  the considerable age of 72,  with amazing eyesight, very dextrous hands and an imagination and skill which were unique in their time and no one else has ever equalled.    She is Mrs.Mary Delany, needlewoman and designer who flourished in her later years as friend and confidant of George III and his wife and produced hundreds of  the most exquisite flower reproductions in paper, cut and painted by herself in the most  accomplished way and which have never been equalled in skill and charm.    After an unhappy first marriage and then a very successful one to Mr. Delany she retired to Ireland and but kept an address in London.  She was extremely popular in Court circles and a friend of Mr. Samuel Pepys and I illustrate here a coverlet she made in white corded embroidery which I believe she made for him.  I find this a really beautiful creation and have kept this auction catalogue picture for many years as something that gives me pleasure every time I look at it.  Her three hundred or so flower creations (accurate in every detail of bud, stem and leaf,) are in the British Museum,and you can Google for much more info. about this remarkable old lady.