Tuesday, 28 October 2014

(B)RAIDING THE TRIMS

Vintage passementerie  from France
       I am downsizing my stock of old French braids and trims which I have used to decorate curtains, pelmets and cushions for many years - once I was able to buy them in quantity from an extraordinary French dealer who kept me supplied with everything I loved.   She was most astute and bought up lots of little merceries, often small family-run businesses in French provincial towns where you could buy fabrics and sewing necessities including all the trimmings for dresses and house furnishings that you could want.  Many of the shops had been closed for years and the stock often went back to Victorian times.  I saw boa feathers, for hats and capes, pearl and linen buttons by the drawer-ful, strange notions like whalebone for dress hem stiffening, soutache a fine silky rouleau for braiding dresses and jackets, dozens of different coloured tapes for corsets, petticoat satin straps, modesty vests and a hundred other obsolete details all still in their original boxes with spidery writing on the labels.   I had  to climb up a step ladder to view it all and gingerly lift the lids to track the contents of mini skyscrapers of tottering cardboard boxes and each one was a surprise, so after my first visit which took several hours, my husband was offered a chair and he brought a book to while away the time.   This lady also scoured the waste fabric dealers (raccomodeurs) of cities nearby and found the most wonderful old silk curtains which she rescued and sold to one particular customer - so I could only admire and sigh when I caught a glimpse of them under their wraps!    I am still dealing with her and she has a genius for finding things that are my peculiarities and I can find nowhere else..

Sunday, 26 October 2014

SLEEP TIGHT AND MIND.....

This 4 poster has outside pelmet and valance made of pique cotton fabric and Toile de Jouy, with a muslin tambour lace canopy inside
   The old saying, 'sleep tight and mind the bugs don't bite....'refers to the base of the bed where there was often a lattice of heavy rope threaded and knotted to the four sides of the bed to support the mattress - the firmer and tauter the better - not many enjoy a sagging bed!  The bugs were, of course, a universal pest and lived in the crevices of the beds emerging when they became warm.  Their bites were painful and disturbing and it is said drove some to madness.  This was one of the reasons that in the 19th century, iron beds became fashionable with no hiding places and could be stripped down.  There are still a few of the metal campaign beds around which can be quite decorative, fold neatly into three and are on metal castors. and you may have seen the pretty little cots of elaborate metalwork sides which many have converted to garden seats by letting one side down and placing a comfy cushion on the base.  I always thought them extremely dangerous as babies' heads and limbs could poke through the ironwork and get stuck, but then I came across the pretty liners that were made for these cots,  they fitted on the inside of the cot with tapes tied firmly and screened the sides   The material for these cot liners was very often strong white pique, with embroidered scallops all round;  I have bought these apart from the beds, and as I adore pique and the French patterns are varied and beautiful in  hundreds of different small diaper patterns, I have re-cycled them in luxurious bed cushions and canopies for four poster and tester beds.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A big thank you!

   This is just to say thanks for the very generous 'comments' that reach me, often from people I have never met but who have joined up with me through their generous and encouraging notes - Some are very regular, others just occasional, when I suppose I hit the spot, and they all put a few thoughts into the machine - I don't expect everyone to have the same thoughts and likes and dislikes as me, so it is always gratifying to get other opinions, whatever the subject. Only this week I have Frances of New York who loves tickings, (I saw some lovely old blue ones on a visit to a friend's house in Connecticut); and an old friend from Mass. is buying one of my best sheets via Email, and Sharon Mrzinski of Maine, whom many of my U.S. readers will know, (as well as visiting her store in Wiscasset), she is visiting me with her husband Paul next week - all these friendships and connections are precious to me and I like to keep the ball rolling, and that is where I find a Blog is so rewarding, as well as the pleasure of remembering all the good times I have had with my textile business and the trips to France.  So please keep in touch! I love it! Click on the picture to get rid of the verbage and you will see the three generations having fun!
Granny Baer ! (Centre page spread in Country Life Mag. celebrating The Bright Old Things!) My daughter Charlotte Murray and her granddaughter Rose in my textile showroom.

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.