Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A WHITE LINEN LADY

    I have told elsewhere how I accidentaly became a white linen dealer after I hung up two old French hand-woven sheets as temporary curtains in my daughter's bedroom, and they were such a success that I realised, luckily , that there was a demand for hand-woven creamy linen, both in this country and especially in the USA, playing into the mood for simple minimalism rather than the frilly excess which we had in the previous decade.  Luckily it looked and felt very expensive, and could be successfully dyed in most colours, so it was very adaptable and the French sheets were then very cheap compared to the very expensive and exclusive new linen fabrics produced, mostly in Belgium, for top-notch firms like Pierre Frey.
   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..

Monday, 9 February 2015

A BLOCK ON MY BLOG1

THIS IS JUST TO SAY THAT I AM OFF TO SOUTH AFRICA TO STAY WITH A DAUGHTER NR CAPE TOWN IN HER HOLIDAY FLAT SO AM HAVING A COMPLETE REST AND  THE USUAL BLOG STUFF WILL NOT BE WRITTEN AGAIN TILL THE END OF THE MONTH.  THANKS FOR ALL THE KIND MESSAGES RE MY LOSS.  I am now back on the Blog, as from Wednesday, 04/03/2015, with restored health and keen to contact my old friends and customers.   The last two lots of curtains went out of the door today so my cupboard is bare and I am turning my thoughts to the vintage armchairs, restored, or in original great condition, which is my new small business just to keep my hand in!

Friday, 6 February 2015

GOT A GOOD IDEA?

      PEOPLE OFTEN SAY TO ME  " YOU'RE SO LUCKY,  TRAVELING ALL OVER FRANCE, STAYING IN LOVELY PLACES, BUYING GORGEOUS TEXTILES AND THEN COMING HOME AND HAVING ALL THE FUN SELLING IT ALL TO INTERESTING PEOPLE LIKE DECORATORS AND HISTORIANS WHO COME TO VISIT YOU IN YOUR HOME - YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO SIT IN A SHOP!"  Well yes, that sounds alright to me too but I always say that before starting any sort of business there are three vital questions to ask yourself
 1. What do you really like doing and are you prepared to work at it?
 2   Do you know who your customers would be and where they are?
 3. Would they be prepared to spend enough to cover all your expenses and give you a profit?
 My reply was always that there was nothing to stop anyone  setting off to France in their car and doing what I did,  provided you had some spare Francs and a copy of the trade magazine Aladin which lists all the fairs for the whole of France (still available at Maison de la Presse in almost every French town).

     You also need to survey your local market or your Website competitors to see what other people are offering - if you can find yourself a 'corner' in any particular goods, the simpler the better, you are half way to becoming a useful contact for buyers.  It could be a service like supplying expertly-worked initials on fine linen for wedding gifts which you could offer to other linen suppliers;  you would have to invest in a good clean work space and an (expensive) good electronic sewing machine.    I, myself, would give you work!      It is quite a good idea to have a small section of your stock with a collection of useful stuff  titled 'for a wedding' 'for your baby's layette' or 'for your garden' which helps people to choose presents - You can take it to fairs, show it at an antique centre or photograph it for your website.   You really do need a website to make progress  - I did my own with some help from friend Linda Clift and it's another way of putting your name ahead for a speciality, and you can deal from it and make very good contacts.  It's really not difficult and not at all expensive.  You can get professional help to do all this, but it is very expensive and if you think about it and can scan or copy good pictures, that makes a lot of difference, you can probably add some good text.  Keep to the point (I'm afraid I never do) see what response you get, and adjust continually as you discover what the market is and what your readers want.  The comments can be quite helpful.  Remember there are thousands of other Bloggers and Websites all trying to capture a market so you do have to offer something special, or original, or very good value and then there is a long hard wait while you build your business up. 
      As things  are at present, I would not recommend taking on a shop, however small, much better to rent a small space and let someone else sit there waiting for the door to open.   But if you do not have a market  place, then you must make big efforts to get your service or goods known - advertising in club newsletters, like the W.I.  or church magazines, is usually very cheap and reaches a lot of active potential buyers - and it is absolutely essential to get yourself  decent trade cards  printed on your computer with full details really well set out and to carry them with you at all times to pass on.  If you have something interesting to tell people,  like objects that have a local or historical connection, write it up and send copies off to your local newspapers; they are always hungry for news items.  Use postcards for notice-boards in local shops and stores with good illustrations of your goods.   All this sounds elementary and it is, but it is surprising how often I meet young entrepreneurs who have no business cards and I tell them that with my bad memory I will have forgotten them  two hours later and they will not get into my contact list, where I might do them some good by a mention!   You must be very economical but also very efficient with your advertising budget!   In the following posts I will tell how I started my own business with no training and just a computer and printer. See BLOG  CLIMBING UP THE HILL.
Mixed hand-woven sheets in linen and hemp - Don't they look interesting and tactile???This picture on a simple blog brought me dozens of enquiries and several good sales.  You could do the same with Welsh or Scottish tweeds, lengths of tartan for scarves or skirts, French cotton piques from babies layettes,  and large spotted or checked neck kerchiefs for gentlemen. I find good quality vintage accessories for gentlemen always sell well - but they must be in very good order and no synthetics!

Friday, 30 January 2015

OBITUARY

  This is just a short personal note to all my friends and contacts (many overseas) who might wish to know that my husband, Derek, died a short time ago after a serious illness in hospital and his funeral took place last week.  He was my beloved husband for 66 years and during that time we had four children, raised three grandchildren, restored 4 neglected period houses, re-made all the gardens and as a fun, retirement project, built up a French import textile business.  I  do not need any letters of sympathy but thought that all who knew and met him would like to know of my loss.

Friday, 23 January 2015

EAST TO THE WEST

      Some time ago, I went on a very long, long, journey to Southern France on the trail of some new and exciting stock - my stores were low, but everything seemed rather white, cream and bland and I felt the need to spice it up with the famous reds (rose madder dye) a few blues (indigo) and pretty mixed floral colours on long chateau- type curtains. By travelling to 3 big fairs (I have given up on the little ones which take too much time and diesel to visit) I managed with difficulty to find what I was searching for and in the quantities I needed - but at a price! The Euro makes it difficult to buy anything reasonably and the good stuff is most unreasonable! I was asked 1000 Euros for sets of curtains and didn't think I would have a chance of selling them and making a small profit, so I had to dig deep and accept some things that had small faults. After a lot of preparation, washing ironing, etc., I was  ready to spread my spoils at the the next three fairs.   I joined the  BISLEY VILLAGE HALL nr. Stroud two years ago  and it was an exciting introduction to the amazing colours and weaves and embroideries of the Orient and Africa, shown by the top experts in their respective fields. I have always thought that there was enough history and examples in France for one dealer to cope with, but with new demands by interior designers and decorators for colour and pattern, I feel the need to explore new continents.  Live and learn!   If you look at the top decorating magazines they are full of the exotic East and featuring sumptious decor, and that is what people are buying!   I have no difficulty in refusing the rush of cheap and rather nasty 'bazaar' style stuff, glittery, non-fast dye, shoddy market stuff which is beginning to flood the trade - I knew this would happen many years ago when the import tarrifs were reduced and sure enough it has crept up on us.  It is cheap and plentiful, produced by cheap labour in awful conditions.   Whether it is a good thing to buy, which means that the labour force earns enough to feed their families, is a very difficult thing to decide, but if the result of their labours is something shoddy and gaudy I do not have much trouble in passing it by, and hope the makers upgrade the conditions of labour and standard of workmanship for everyone's benefit..
  The best of the Eastern textiles, the susannis, the 'paisley' patterned magnificent shawls and wall hangings, the colourful striped tent linings, the palampores,  the mezzaras, the cashmeres, the alpaccas. all made from natural fibres and hairs and furs, are a wonderful source of rich beauty and amazing hand craft work and are used by the leading designers and decorators to  provide the colour and interest that their clients demand.   Used in moderation , they provide focal points and exotic interest to any scheme and should be valued and appreciated by us in the West!
A Chinese phoenix bird painted on silk  with modern bamboo frame,curtains repeat the colour mix as does the fairly modern mix on the fabric of the two squab cushion seats



 Famous mezzara design copied in Italy




Saturday, 17 January 2015

WORK AND PLAY STATIONS

  Because I have always worked from home and never had proper workshops or outbuildings for doing the work on my textiles, I have organised work stations in my houses where I can enjoy interesting spaces and views.  They are also places where I can get away from the phone, the computer and other distractions!  First and foremost is the laundry which sees most of my purchases from France.  Here, by incredibly good fortune, the previous owner of the house was a lady who had lived out in Hong Kong and had large American machines put in a small bespoke laundry, with a good oil-fired boiler which kept it very warm and dry, so I inherited a large industrial Whirlpool washer and a huge General Electric spin dryer, both of which could cope with the heavy linen and hemp sheets which I bought in hundreds in rural France.  I added a hanging rack (Sheila Maid) and put another much larger one in the garage next door, so I could dry 8 sheets at a time, and not disgrace the neighbourhood with a Chinese laundry look out in the garden.
   Next came the ironing and I invested in a Blanca Press ( not a roller) which is large, heavy and square and does a fantastic job of ironing sheets folded in four layers and threaded through the machine while I sit comfortably, listening to Classic FM,  and pull the levers.  This is in our beautiful atrium which overlooks the centre of the town and ancient buildings nearby and the sun comes straight in.  There is this Venetian window facing South and the banisters of our big Bath stone staircase are just behind me and I can hang the sheets to air on the balustrade!  Although the press was very expensive  (I know it is cheaper now) I was told that it was used by the Savoy Hotel Restaurant to iron their napkins and that was good enough for me and it still works perfectly after 15 years' constant use.  I do not use starch but this heavy press gives a wonderful glossy finish on damask linen
Blanca Press Iron with second-hand curtain background - shell and seaweed collection in the corner of the atrium

                                              two single Regency chairs with ticking squab cushions

      The next 'work station' is in the dressing room of our bedroom which  is next door.  The previous owner had had an enormous bank of cupboards put up from floor to ceiling and kept all her fabulous Chinese silk evening dresses, loaded with sequins and embroideries there,  and these spaces are incredibly useful for me to store stuff, repairs, cushions, etc., handy for my German sewing machine ( bought at Lidl for less than £30,  5 years ago!) in the window opposite that has two chests of small drawers on either side holding all the reels, tapes, buttons, etc. that I need for repairing, and creating.  There I can look out on our street which is full of pretty old houses, hanging baskets, lovely old lamp posts and the elderly residents tapping by to go to the shops which are two minutes away, so convenient.  On each table I have the necessary tools lined up, soft water spray for the ironing, scissors and de-fuzzing comb;  in my sewing room, clothes brush and pin cushion and needlework scissors by the Lervia machine. and I have a large and light white plastic garden table where I can cut out and spread sheets for repairs and alterations.   I pride myself a bit on the fact that I can make, repair, decorate and alter almost anything in my stock by recycling surplus and using old things in new ways - so I never need go shopping except for sewing threads.  I know the French housewives of old would approve as they re-made everything, mostly stitching everything by hand and stuff was used until it fell apart in rags.  

My handy little Lervia sewing machine  which has often gone on holiday with me to Tenerife for a sunshine break, well, I take my husband along too!  The curtains are VERY FRENCH, late 19th C., with romantic designs of garden tools and flowers, re-lined with 19c.crimson cotton linings.    
 
 Work stations continued

                                                   HANGING AROUND THE WALLS
  I was lucky to buy a big set of brass tapestry hanging rails, quite slim and narrow, in France and I had these placed high up in several places in my house so that buyers of my old vintage chateau curtains could see how they would look in their own houses, and this was very useful for them and also decorated big blank walls for me, where I had no pictures to hang and I  could regularly change the colour scheme and scenery.  The curtains have now all gone so maybe I need to buy a Welsh quilt from Jen Jones of  Lampeter, a very old friend, to hang in their place?  For me, this is all great fun, playing with colours and 'looks' and definitely not work.  My adult play station!
One room on this floor has been my sales-room for all the best linens and rarer costumes, but is now restored to be my French spare room for visitors, mostly  by courtesy of EBAY.   See POSTs Spare a Thought and also An Ebay Project

Toile de Jouy bed hanging, French tapestry poles with finials




 

Monday, 12 January 2015

ACCESSORIES TO THE FORE

  Now that we are all in an economical, recycling sort of mood both for our clothes and the furnishings for our houses, I thought it might be interesting to gather some ideas from others on how to make small changes that would re-fresh old schemes without breaking the bank!   I have drawn on an interesting article by an old colleague, Carole Roberts, who has done many great and lovely schemes in her work as interior designer based in nearby Bath.  She has tackled everything from tall houses in Bath to castles in Ireland, but is still helping people with more modest schemes and is full of sound advice.
  She wisely starts off saying that the pastel and neutral colours of current fashion (this was in 2008 but still applies) are the ideal canvas for fabulous accessories and will show them to best advantage.    She advises collecting photos and magazine illustrations of things you like and choosing a few main colours to give cohesion to the scheme - and decide if it is to be a working decor or something more relaxing.  Look at everything together with samples and with the chosen carpets and curtains.  All good sound advice and I think the article re-inforces my own experience with various clients who have difficulty in making decisions and are nervous of faux pas which they and family are going to have to live with;  it could be that a good interior designer can save you money as well as give you inspired ideas.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

MIND THE GAP!

I'm sorry but I cannot continue my blog for the moment as I am away in a nursing home caring for my husband who is very ill, and I cannot do it - I will return later,  Elizabeth Baer