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