Sunday, 19 October 2014

TIME IS TICKING


My archive of tickings collected 20-years ago -over 130 different patterns - the best came from Germany and I found several thousand of them in the lofts of two barns - all waiting to be shipped to a rag factory for cleaning machinery!
  HAVING ALWAYS HAD A BIG CORNER IN MY CUPBOARDS AND IN MY HEART FOR THE GENUS ticking, IT IS SAD TO SEE THE LAST FEW RUNNING OUT AND SO EXPENSIVE.  AT EVERY FRENCH FAIR I KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THEM AND OFTEN FIND SOME BUT SO PATCHED AND MENDED THAT THEY ARE USELESS FOR UPHOLSTERY -I DON'T MUCH CARE FOR THE PATCHED LOOK OF SOME DESIGNERS WHO OBVIOUSLY HAVE THE SAME PROBLEMS AND CALL IT NOW THEIR 'DESIGNER' LOOK, AND PROBABLY CHARGE EXTRA, BUT THEN I AM STILL IN 19TH/20TH CENTURY MODE AND ONLY LIKE PATCHWORK WHEN IT IS DONE TO A REAL PATTERN OF COLOUR AND SHAPE -  I DON'T EVEN LIKE CRAZY QUILTING SO MY TASTE IS VERY LIMITED.  THE OLD TICKINGS WERE USED UP IN THE POORER HOMES WHEN THEY BECAME SO WORN THAT ALL THE FEATHERS ESCAPED AND THE BUGS CLIMBED IN,  AND  WERE MADE UP AS APRONS FOR WASHING THE CLOTHES IN THE VILLAGE LAVOIRS, COMMUNAL WASHING TANKS AND POOLS WHERE ALL WAS SCRUBBED OR BEATEN WITH A 'PLANCHE' TO PUSH THE COLD WATER AND SOAP THROUGH THE DIRTY WASHING.  THE TICKING WAS VERY CLOSELY WOVEN TO BE DOWN -PROOF, SO IT WAS ALSO WATERPROOF AND SAVED THE WEAR ON THE CLOTHES UNDERNEATH, WHICH WERE USUALLY LONG BLACK SKIRTS WORN WITH A WHITE SHORT BLOUSE , THE CARACO.
MORE RECLAMATION FOR TICKINGS DESTINED FOR THE RAG MARKETS.
See also my post It's good to be in the red

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

HOME AND AWAY

A distant view of  my Workstation 'Computer'.  A slatted shutter pulls down to conceal all the works and the sides of the cupboard are covered in wallpaper to match the walls.  My painted Regency desk  and myself well to the left and my bobbine telephone table complete the office equipment  and its staff!   Husband, bottom left, is not involved!
    I have recently had many new orders and enquiries via my Blogspot and am trying to work out just why; I have just noted I now have over 130 'followers' so a big thank you for your patience!     If you are considering setting up a Blogspot (I hate the name, it sounds so down-market !)maybe you might like to have my very amateur comments.   I think it may be that my own Website is rather formal and dull, like most lists are, and it is quite difficult for me to alter the lists of linen to make them more interesting, so it just sits there! I think photos of white linen are not very helpful and are quite  boring.  I think my more informal Blogspot which features one idea or article  or group at a time, more photos,  is probably more 'real' and interesting with more details and different prices, with full descriptions of colours, condition, etc., and is more like real shopping with an assistant to guide you.  Undoubtedly if you can show the use to which your stuff can be put, this helps people to realise the potential - i.e. a roll of ticking and a chair beside it covered in similar material which may inspire an uncertain buyer!
     Most foreign enquirers seem to have an interest in French fabrics and furnishings - world renowned for their good design and quality - and I find Australians are particularly knowlegeable - they seem to have good shops selling quality French textiles down under!  The Japanese love fashion and vintage, especially work- wear and folk art items - they will do things with darns and patches and re-invent all kinds of well-used stuff and they have a passion for indigo, which is much used in multifarious ways in their own culture.
Americans love beautiful fabrics and objects but want them to be in pristine and perfect condition - not very interested in the signs of wear and tear and often prefer the newer to the genuine old, which is fine.  They love tickings which recall the early settler and pioneer days of their origins and are keen on tapestry canvas work and toile de Jouy and quilts.  Sooner or later most of my overseas clients find their way here (it may take a year or two) and with that in mind I try and keep in touch through my newsletter and this works very well - they become long-distance friends.     Some Blog writers hold their readers' interest and gain new ones, by having competitions with prizes and kits, but I do not have the resources for that.   Others specialise in just one subject with excellent photos and info. and collect a very specialised clientele - luckily there is room for everyone and it is cheap - I use BLOGGER which is part of Google, I think, and I was able to do it all myself after two helpful lessons from  friends.  It is all for free, too!

Friday, 10 October 2014

DASHING AWAY WITH THE SMOOTHING IRON

  There is a strange new fashion for wearing and using linen in its natural creased state and I find it hard to understand.  To me, one of its virtues is the cool, slightly glossy look and feel of well-ironed linen and I enjoy pressing and folding it into perfect shapes - usually squares!   To do a good job you need a large surface;  a blanket and old linen cloth on an unpolished table will do fine, and a good heavy and hot iron.  The linen should be slightly damp and it is a good idea to pull all corners of large sheets to get it stretched square so that it will fold neatly.  With sheets, you can usually fold them lengthways in four and slowly press all the layers with your iron, turning the whole over at the end so that you can press the other side.   This will not be as perfect as ironing all the surface once, but if you have several sheets to do, it does save time and trouble.
Some of my vintage initialled napkins, bundled in sets and folded ready for use
If you do not have time to iron the linen when it is just at the right dampness, roll it up in a bundle and store in your deep freeze till you are ready (I learnt this trick in Texas where the dry climate is a problem).  Air the linen well and stack neatly.  Be sure your ironed linen is dry (otherwise you risk mildew) and store in a cool dry place, a hot cupboard is not a good storage place, nor a damp bathroom.  If there are buttons on pillowcases, do not iron over them as holes will soon appear, iron round them.  If there is lace, also big initials, always iron on the wrong side and with a fine damp cloth, and be careful not to snag the 'brides' (joining bars in openwork) .   The art of folding linen follows soon!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

LUCKY BREAKS

If you are a dealer and have a wide range of stock, people often ask you for special things, to start or increase a collection or just for one thing that has a special meaning for them.   When I dealt in folk art and byegones, including treen, tools, metalwork and other crafts, I always kept an eye open for the special requests, partly because it gave me pleasure to search, and even more to satisfy!  I had fun collecting 1920's articulated pull-along toys for a leading art dealer in Knightsbridge who was much amused by the quaint animals in three or four parts which 'ambulated' and swerved when pushed or pulled, and caught the fancy of his rich U.S. clients who came to buy his fabulous impressionist paintings and used the animals as desk toys!
    There was another customer a well-known American collector, Emmeling, who wrote lots of books about treen and folk art, who collected heart shaped kitchenalia - for her I could find in France little rush basket-weave moulds for draining cheeses (coeur de Neuchatel) and sets of shapes in brown pottery and also tin, all punctured with draining holes and looking pretty  on kitchen dressers and shelves.  There were masses of baskets all in different traditional shapes and sizes, in every Department of France and they  all joined big groups hanging from the beams of country kitchens.  But I have to say that at the end of my buying trips I had to be careful not to land myself with clever reproductions which would have spoilt my dealings - the Philippino baskets were very good copies and after a period in the rain and other distressing ploys, they were quite difficult to identify and people fought shy of collecting repros, as with ironwork kitchen accessories, the game and meat hooks, the pokers and cooking pots which were turned out in quantity by the Spanish and the gypsies, looking identical with the old ones and made in the same way, but just too perfect and unscarred to be genuine.

   My best finds for a collector came by chance - while I was dealing from a space in the Maltings, Long Melford, where I had a good mix of all the above and also larger tools and rustic furniture, including things like linen scutchers, cross saws (very decorative against a barn wall) huge field seeding baskets (vanns), and enormous sieves with punctured leather holes for winnowing corn;  flails and other beautiful but obsolete farming tools, I there met Guy Taplin who was already known for his bird sculptures made from driftwood near his home in Wivenhoe.  He told me his father had been an artist - painter and kept his special paint-effect tools and paints in a neat little wooden box - it had been lost and he was anxious to replace it with another.   As I had just completed two terms of instruction in the art of special painting from Leonard Pardon in London and knew about the tools, I promised to keep an eye open for one.   A few months later I went to the Bull Ring weekly sale room in Birmingham to size it up.   It was a foul, foggy morning and only a handful of dealers attended a rather miserable collection of goods all lying on the floor.   There were two boxes which interested me, one was very, very long and narrow and the other small, scruffy and dirty, but with a leather carrying strap.  Poking about, I discovered the first was a Hardy box for rods and fishing tackle, all divided up and stamped with the famous fishing tackle manufacturer' mark (worth a bit) and guess what? the little box was indeed a true artist's collection of tools and paint, including the combs, all the special sable, badger brushes,  sponges for ragging, and lots of paint tubes, rather dried up.  I won both with my maiden bid! Hooray!
  When I got them to a rather pleased Guy, he diffidently said that the other thing he really wanted was a Victorian Noah's Ark with as many animals as possible.   This was an almost impossible mission, but soon after, I was walking along Long Melford's lovely wide main street full of choice antique shops and there in a little bow window I spied a collection of  dozens of carved zoo animals and a painted ark behind!  Was it going to be the very high current price for such forgotten toys, carved in Germany's Black Forest?    In fact, the dealer had no idea of its value and rarity, and apologised for the lack of a leg on one or two of the animals and in no time the whole collection was on its way to the carver supreme!  Since then, Guy has become the best known designer and carver of bird sculpture with many exhibitions at top galleries in London.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

HOP,SKIP AND JUMP

  The stool shown in the last Post, all about the slickenstones, is another relic of past labour, as it is a hop-pickers perch!  Up until quite recently, now machinery does most of the work, whole families from the East End of London, would take a working holiday in Kent to pick the hops that grew there in very large quantities.   When the bines, the long fronds loaded with the hop flowers, were picked from the tall stakes that they grew on, and were taken down, the workers then had to strip them and they did this sitting on old crates and boxes, and I guess the more elderly (grandma came too) sat on a high stool surrounded by the long trails.  This one has the initial E on the underside and the seat is well polished from years of wear.   It's the sort of thing that brings back memories for a lot of people and you don't find much detail about the habits of the poor and working class before the war - it was all considered quite normal and not worth recording.   The hops were gathered into enormous hessian sacks which were then carted to the oast houses where they were  treated for the first stages of brewing beer.   Some of the sacks were a lovely bright yellow and I don't know why - was it a traditional saffron dye (probably much too rare and expensive) or was it to mark them for easy loading ?- they were quite light as hop flowers are papery and flimsy and you would get an enormous amount into just one sack.      You can now buy in Sept. each year,  beautiful twists of hop flowers on the bine in large cardboard boxes and they make a lovely decoration over a doorway or in a party barn and last for years! See www.essentiallyhops.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Slickenstones and other pressing matters

  I used to deal in country antiques and folk art and tools, supplying my stall at Little Chelsea and also a gallery nearby. One day I took a nice wooden object which was rather mushroom in shape in golden sycamore wood, made with a handle and a big flat saucer. I had thought it was to do with butter-making and used to press the salt in, and extract the water. I sold it to a young lady for a reasonable price and after the Fair she couldn't resist coming up to me and saying "do you know what you have just sold me It's a slickenstone for smoothing linen!," Of course I was quite miffed to have missed this, especially as I was dealing in linen and should have known about the different 'tools' used in its care. I  looked up slickenstones in my copy of the wonderful reference book TREEN by Pinto. There I found lots of info. and read that these tools were used before (and after) irons were invented and were completely flat on the base which was used to polish and smooth the linen, made of wood, glass or metal and quite rare to find.  I think this process is known as calendering and what I had found was the home-made version for the process.   If you go to Ireland, you can see linen being hammered and pummeled in one of the mills, smoothing the surface and binding the tiny hairs of the fibres into each other, giving the fabric great strength and absorbency.
    Sometime later I visited Marlborough market and there I found a strange object made of dark green glass, rather like a mushroom, found by a boy in a local stream.    I bought it for a few shillings as a 'glass paperweight', took it home and eventually sold it to a real collector, who told me that many of these objects had been found in the marshes of Holland when they dug the dykes and my 'stone' had great age and was a most interesting relic of a very primitive kind.   The Netherlands had a great reputation for their clean water and grassy banks for drying the linen - and in the 18thC the French Royal Palaces sent their laundry there by coach for the whitest wash!
    I now have another sycamore slickenstone in my laundry tool collection which reminds me to do my homework more thoroughly next time I FIND A MYSTERY OBJECT.
   I also have a super- large posser or washing plunging tool for pushing the soapy water through the wet laundry, made in Wolverhampton, of copper,  and a Victorian clothes line prop, a neat contraption of two sliding staves bound with leather, and fixed with little pegs for different heights.  In the days when there were no commercial laundries, every large household had a lot of sturdy equipment for dealing with the large amounts of washing, and really large establishments had buildings set aside for the work and employed special staff.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

BATISTE, NUNS VEILING AND GOSAMER

An extra large fine linen sheet embroidered and decorated with fine hand-made lace
   These are all names for the finest linen and cotton fabrics., so fine they are transparent and gauzy. I have yet to see batiste sheets - I know they were woven for the grandest beds but maybe they are so delicate that they did not survive for long! In France last year I saw a fabulous sheet with a huge monogram A, a large crown and lots of exquisite floral embroidery which was a mix of silk and linen fabric - it felt wonderful to touch and had a lovely silky sheen - over 1000 Euros to buy!  I saw it again at two later fairs so maybe the price was a bit too high! 
    Nowadays most French housewives opt for poly-cotton and other easy care fabrics for their beds and the heavy old linen and hemp hand-woven sheets are consigned to the attics and many are simply burnt - the French have only recently opened charity shops (Emmaus depots often open on a Saturday for sales in the yards and sheds which they occupy). Emmaus was inspired by the Abbe Pierre who took over large run-down houses to house needy people, called compagnons, who were expected to contribute working skills to restore donated furniture and other goods which they then sold to the public on certain open days. Quite a good source of bargains! They sometimes have piles of old stuff but the local dealers probably get the cream!
  During the last war the farmers in France were restricted in the amount of flax and hemp they were allowed to grow, so people gathered thistles, nettles and broom to mix in and convert into woven cloths - those with broom are a lovely pale golden shade and extremely soft to touch.  All these plants have long fibres in their stalks which can be mixed in with the flax and cotton.  I only ever had a few and they were picked out immediately.