Thursday, 26 December 2013


Thank you for all the interest, the purchases and the reader comments - always welcome:

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Curtains Up!

25 years ago we moved from Essex to a rambling old house near Bath. House prices were very high then, and when I realised that I had 40+ windows to dress, I was glad to remember the piles of interesting old fabrics I had seen lying around the Brocante sheds and barns in France. The dealers were very surprised when I dragged them out of the black bin liners and measured them up.  They were then considered to be just rags,  chiffons, in French, so I came home several times with large loads and found a skilled seamstress who loved re-creating new hangings for my windows, removing the tattered old linings, keeping the heavy interlining 'bump', and chopping off the worn edges, and attaching new pastel coloured linings of glazed cotton VERY CHEAP STUFF FROM KNICKERBEAN, a very discounted fabric shop in Bath, alas! now gone, WHICH SOON FADED NICELY TO MATCH THE FRONT. I found another clever lady who was able to cover my battered antique French sofas and easy chairs with old velvets and prints, and by sticking to a colour scheme of old rose, was able to make my drawing room warm and inviting. French people used to be very careful and economical and re-used their beautiful old curtains, but I'm afraid the modern generation regard them as old stuff from Granny and very uncool!  So occasionally I still come across a big lot of shabby chic and pass it on to people with big windows and a Credit Crunch problem!   The picture shows my secondhand Biedemeier settee covered with two pairs of curtains, one lot alpaca and Lyon silk velvet for the main part, the other lot borders of canvas work from a pair of completely 'shot' silk curtains that were in ribbons. It was a happy 'arranged' marriage of special 19c. textiles and my grandchildren say the velvet is as soft as a pussy cat! Sofa cost me £90, curtains £150 and upholstery a bit more - compares quite well with D.F.S.  Curtains for 5 big windows cost £500 plus lining £50, plus labour for re-vamp, £200, and this is the second house they have graced for me.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


These totes have been made by me with off-cuts from chair covers, curtains and patchwork bedspreads, all early 19c. bedding fabrics, mostly hand-woven coarse linen checks and flamme, the good ikat weave furnishing linen the French copied from the Far East. The strange double holes on far right bag are the ventilation holes they used to embroider in buttonhole stitch to give ventilation for the mattress contents, which otherwise tended to go mouldy! I once made a door curtain out of this stuff and threaded little scarlet ribbon bows through the holes - this indigo blue goes very well with a bright red - many of the blue bed pelmets of the last century had the scallops edged with a narrow red trim, and the red/white large Vichy check was used for linings.
The fine cotton Vichy with a blue selvedge is usually late 19thc. (the coloured selvedge indicated that it was French manufacture and not imported from England's cotton mills.) The competition was fierce, and there were heavy fines for importing 'foreign stuff'' . The Vichy fabric was more common in a very pretty pale raspberry red (rose madder dye) and was much used with Toile de Jouy on the backs of chairs and to line the quilted bed and window pelmets. I always keep a good supply as it is very useful for extending and widening too narrowcurtains and bed covers.A very similar large check was much used in Sweden, always looks good, and it combines well with ticking stripes.
Mixed linen bands of blue on old natural unbleached linen pieces
If you love old fabrics as much as I do, and you have spent many days travelling round France, getting up early to get to a Fair for the opening rush at 8 a.m., dashing round hundreds of stalls, hoping you have not missed that amazing bargain, or you have arrived just too late, only to see it disappearing into someone else's bag, then you will know that any waste of the fabric you do buy will seem rather wicked ! Of course, buying in a hurry can also be a great disappointment - the sellers are quick to show you the best bits and hide the damaged, the light may be very poor so that stains and fading do not show up - and there is always the chance that the seller will tell you that all the stains will wash out - pas de probleme! - until you try, and curse the paint, ironmould and ink which, you as an honest dealer will have to show your clients when you have failed to move them or worn out the material trying to scrub the marks away!
In that case you might well ask why the sellers did not attend to their stock themselves and chances are that most stains will not disappear in soap and water.... . and don't forget that the French used to live in a haze of cigarette smoke which stains and rots even the best materials. They have the same carefree attitude with moth and worm damage to furniture and you must always check the castors when buying easy chairs which seem so cheap over there, as good new brass ones will cost about £40 per set of 4.
Severe fading by the sun leaving curtains paper thin and pale brown, can mean that the fabric
collapses when washed and you are left with a useless rag. On the other hand, you can sometimes buy remnants, remainders, and odd shapes which can be usefully re-invented, for very low prices. If of good patterns and colours, they will appeal to quilters, as at the moment there is a new craze for quilting and piecing interesting old patterns. Larger pieces will make good cushions, and you can back them with old linen and plain colours to suit a colour scheme. If you are handy with a sewing machine, make tote bags, say using some bits of striped ticking or different checks - if you join several pieces in long strips you can then cut all the outer edges in a straight line for a patchwork effect, or applique 5 or six strips to make a useful and colourful beach or picnic bag as above. Line the bag with faded material and this will hide all the joins, and put on two straps for handles.You may be surprised how smart this looks and it will be as unique as a Gucci bag!

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Stool cover by Peta Smyth. Antique Toile by Christopher Moore

   There are two problems with decorating a room with old toile - you could call it bedroom logistics. First, French beds were much narrower than the average English one, and secondly, some of the cloth is usually worn and faded (after all, the best is 18th Century and does wear a bit over time and you won't find much that is perfect all the way). I have found these good pictures of solutions created by Diane Berger, a decorator and textile academic. In the picture of her lovely four-poster bed she has inserted a band of white hemp (Pierre Frey) but it could have as easily been one of my hemp sheets (!) to extend a too -narrow bed cover. The pretty French chairs have toile on the seats but are backed with the checked Toile de Vichy which was often used for lining pelmets, and for extra curtains. The pinky red is a true Rose Madder shade and gives a little relief to the busy all -over toile pictorial designs. The curtains are in a repro. rosy design but have period pelmets. You will notice the dome of the shower has been decorated to match, as well as the luscious blooms and pinky satin bows for the pictures. This is an interesting example of classic decoration in the 90s - a far cry from the minimalistic fashions that followed.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


When I was buying a lot of French brocante, or bric-a-brac, mostly from wayside dealers in Normandy, I found a lot of large dinner services from the twenties and thirties, often in perfect unused condition. They were obviously wedding presents that had been carefully kept in the armoires and cabinets, their owners had passed away and the next generation thought them far too old-fashioned to use. Some of the designs were really pretty and original and were often hand-painted or decorated with stencils in excellent colours, mostly flowers and fruit.

The services usually had 12 each of soup and dinner plates, several meat plates, 2 sauce boats, two very large veg. dishes with lids and a large bowl for salad - hardly ever any pudding or side plates. I could buy these for about 150 - 200 Francs (take a nought off to convert to pounds) and always took one set to every fair and English buyers were so very pleased with them - and occasionally I eat off them at friends' houses - now rather in fashion! The circular metal stencil templates with openwork for the flowers and fruit, all from the art studio of a pottery, were a particularly good find one day and sold immediately at a London fair - wish I had kept a few!

One of the customs (and there are many) at le dejeuner which included a first course with veg and meat gravy. was le chabrol . The rule was that you should not start drinking the wine on the table until you got to the main course - so the thirsty peasants slaked their thirst by pouring a dash of wine into their soup plates and supping with a large spoon. Cunning!

Sunday, 1 December 2013


These portraits are made by fine stitching and vintage  fabrics
I went to a most interesting selling exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery  in Bath and thought stitchers and artists might also enjoy looking at the attractive and original works by Mick Weinberg, a Swedish artist who has worked in fashion as model, designer, in photography, and now shows her artistic skills in these patchwork pictures.  They are large and graphic and if I had a big blank wall I would be delighted to have one to look at and savour every day.  You might recognise some of the fabrics, often French, and their use may inspire you as well -   the one, titled the fortune teller's daughter, has pieces of German ticking which Mick bought at our recent Rag Market here in Bradford on Avon!.  Note that these are not just scrapbook images, they are beautifully crafted with finest hand stitching and are definitely works of art!  I've just heard that there are a couple of new 'people in patchwork'  (my title) at the Gallery, so do go along and have a look!