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.