Sunday, 29 March 2015
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|
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 table.by 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 ..
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!
|The Circles of your Mind?|
|Whetting your appetite!|
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.
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.
|My Regency period Irish linen cupboard now empty and now SOLD |
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!
Wednesday, 4 March 2015
I was therefore on a steep and long learning curve to find out what was saleable and what to avoid and thinking about it all now, I thought it might be useful for anyone dealing in white linen to read of my own do's and dont's when buying linen.- not just sheets but all other household linens as well:
Sheets be sure you have the sizes right; French beds are often only 4' wide and sheets are made to match them - check they will fit minimum 4'6" or wider English beds. Be sure you are buying linen, not cotton or metis which should be much cheaper Metis is like our union linen, a mix of cotton and linen.
Avoid sheets which have any serious damage to the embroidered ends. ragged ladderwork cannot be
repaired and small holes in embroidery will get larger with washing. Hold them up to the light to avoid missing repairs and also cloud-like stains caused by bleach.
Pillow cases, check corners are solid and buttonholes in good order - missing buttons are easy to replace. Fabric must be clean and solid as they take a lot of wear and soon split if too thin.
Hand towels best sellers are those nearly new and with one initial - people often buy them as small presents
I found the best sellers were A, B, C, M.P.S.
Handkerchiefs Only buy those with hand rolled hems and a single initial in linen Difficult to find but
always popular man's present, also coloured silk 'neckerchiefs' in good order
Tablecloths, check very carefully for small holes and large wine stains as most people now only use damask cloths for parties and they need to be large and perfect. Extra large Banquet cloths in damask are always in demand for wedding parties - they are worth a lot, and always wanted at short notice!
Table napkins always very popular but should be in big sets for dinner parties - minimum 8. Large double
initials in red or white embroidery are sure sellers to Americans, especially if first class condition and
hand-rolled hems. Check every one for stains - wine stains can be difficult to shift.
Tea towels (torchons)You can find these on any good linen stall at French fairs. Only buy unused ones with good stripes - avoid the very stiff ones which are too rigid for glasses and fine china and make sure you only pay good money for linen - the cotton and metis ones are not so good and not so smart..