Thursday, 28 May 2009

A tiny scrap of French toile, is our hero asleep, or is he dead?

I bought a bag of tiny, damaged antique quilt panels from Petworth. I really like this one and am selling it in my ebay shop this week, but am a wee bit puzzled, the handsome gentleman sprawled in the ladies lap, is he asleep, or is he dead? She looks out at us and holds our gaze with a twist of a smile hovering at her lips, almost as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa, perhaps a little too direct for comfort!
Or am I imagining it...
The fragment is quite faded, so it is hard to work out what is happening here.

I don't know what the story is here, but it is Quite Interesting! It looks like a piece of toile d'Alsace, probably dating to around 1840, as it is similar in style and dsign to some of the same period in one of my books. I shall be on the hunt for a larger panel now.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Late 16th/Early 17th Century Reticella Needlework

I was sorting out some photos, and came across these 2 of one of my most treasured textiles. I am a keen collector of very early lace, and it doesn't come much earlier than this! It is a piece of Reticella Needlework, a kind of 'cross-over' stage somewhere between embroidery with cutwork on linen cloth and lace, and lace made from thread as opposed to cloth. This is closer to Needlepoint lace as oppossed to bobbin lace. Please click on the photos to see the detail.

It has some exquisitely simple motifs, if you look closely at the embroidered portion, there are urns or vases, then above, a cut area where the threads have been over-sewn with minute buttonhole stitched to represent flowers (this is the tequnique still used today to create needlepoint lace). There are aslo fish, quite clearly embroidered, and near the top, I am sure I can make out octopuses (or is it octopi, I can never remember!).
It dates to somewhere around the late 1500s to the early 1600s. My feeling is that it is Italian, maybe Venitian, but I am not too sure. It was bought about 2 years ago, very cheaply, as to all intents and purposes, it just looks like a piece of not very good rustic needlework!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Deconstructing a Very Damaged 19th Century French Quilt. Part 4

Well, I think we are almost there, but not quite, this quilt still has a few secrets to reveal! I removed the scruffy cream centre panel from the green floral, presuming it to be the reverse of the quilt, expecting to find the cream panel covering the damaged remains of the madder dyed layers, but no, it was very damaged green floral, so instead of being part of the outer layer, the green floral(GF) was part of the second to last layer, the scruffy cream fabric was the final layer.

Once the few quilting stitches were removed from the damaged GF - incidentally, the pattern of stitches was a few large, simple squares and some vertical rows of quilting - a different pattern of stitching was immediately revealed underneath, tiny squares set like diamonds, this can clearly be seen photos! What is also very clear, is that the C&J layer is on top of the R&S layer, therefore the C&J layer is the 3rd stage, and the R&S the 4th. But now we have a 5th layer peeping through, a finely woven, not printed, red and blue stripe fabric, which seems to be sandwiched between two layers of fleece, right in the middle, in 2 or more separate panels. It also seems to have another piece of fabric stitched to it, a deep indigo woven cloth of some sort!

What now seems clearer is the order in which the fabrics so far revealed were used, and therefore, it may soon be possible to come up with a timeline of sorts for this pretty little quilt. Next time I look at it and unpick it a little more, I shall investigate the striped and indigo fragments, they look really exciting, they could be the earliest fabrics we have here.
Please click on the photos to see the supersized pics to enjoy the details fully.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Beautiful Bloomers!

I had to write a post about these wonderful bloomers! A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to pay a visit to one of my favoutire French dealers. I was rummaging around in some black sacks stuffed with old textiles, and found these! A pair of, presumably, c.1900 (I don't know very much about costume) stripey split-leg bloomers, literally held together with patches and darns. I got them for a mere £5.00, or $7.75.
There are stripes, checks, a little bit of ticking, but mostly soft, slightly fleecy-backed shirting cottons in soft ivories, greys, mid blue and palest indigo blue, hand stitched to each other, and interspersed with quite a bit of darning to boot. The fabrics are so beautifully bleatched and faded over time, these were certainly built to last, and have stood the test of time! A wonderful piece of thifty domestic history. Long gone are the days when the automatic reaction to a hole was to darn and patch, now we simply throw away and buy some more. A shame really, perhaps if we had to make all our own clothes from scratch and on a very limited budget, we would look on things a little differently!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Deconstructing a Very Damaged 19th Century French Quilt. Part 3

I became very intrigued by Porcupinetree's comments on the last post, she thought the 'Cartouche & Jewel' motif was upside down in my photo, I had a look and was positive that she was right, so I put the theory to the test without further ado, and plunged in to remove some more stitching to free up a longer section of the patterm. The results are very interesting, please click on the pictures to see the detail. There was quite a bit of fabric folded into the edge, and after a gentle iron, the pattern was revealed a bit more fully, some of it unfaded, and almost as good as the day it was printed. Strangely though, the motif turns out not to be upside down, as revealed by the direction of the tassel at the bottom of the motif, but without seeing the rest of the patterm it certainly looked that way.

Underneath this section is a panel in reasonably good condition of the pretty little cotton print that has so far only peeped out of holes in the Cartouche & Jewel (C&J)cotton. It turns out to be a fantastic design, quite similar to the C&J, but with little clusters of Roses, florals and what looks like Strawberries(R&S), on stems that are quite styalised, and architectural. I believe both pieces to be French madder dyed prints, the outer C&J possibly dating to around 1850-60. Perhaps the inner R&S print might have a similar date, but it may be earlier, as all the pieces of R&S seen so far are beneath the C&J layer.

The similarities in the two the fabrics make me wonder whether they were chosen by the same quilter all those years ago to rennovate the quilt at different points in its lifetime, as the same taste seems to have been expressed in the choice of both fabrics. Additionally, in my experience of French fabrics of this sort of period, there seem to be quite strong regional similarities/styles in the kind of prints available in particular areas of France, and local printed cottons may have been cheaper and easier to obtain than expensive imported fabrics. People who were used to living out their entire lives living in the same area would have most likely purchased their fabrics from the same, or neighbouring factories.

Any comments theories or observations would be very welcome, I look forward to hearing what you think.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Deconstructing a Very Damaged 19th Century French Quilt. Part 2

Here is the next installment of this slowly unfolding textile story. I haven't done any more to the quilt since the first post, as I am not quite sure how to procced, I had intended to remove the whole back panel to see the full extent of the damage and reveal the fabrics beneath the outer layer, but I may be a bit more 'archaeological' about it, if you know what I mean, and 'dig a trench' or two across particular areas and see what I find! I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject before I unpick any more.

Here are close-ups of some of the very damaged parts to see the beautiful fabric revealed so far below the green and cream side! Please click on each piece to enlarge, the detail is exquisite! It looks like an first layer of fine, small print indienne cotton in a caramelly-pink, with roses, and some sort of geomtric strap-work/cartouche motif. Beneath that is another indienne, it must be earlier, in more of a raspberry reddish-pink with the tiniest rose print. Finally, what looks like a patch, rather than a layer of a striped fabric. This was seen on the other side of the quilt, through some damage to the wool batting, so was beneath the deep red/faded clack floral twill side, unlike the two cottons. This looks hand woven wool to me at this stage, perhaps a piece of tapestry. What do you think?
I won't try to date the fabric yet, I need to look through some of my books to do some research, as I am certainly no expert, just a very enthusiastic amateur, but have lots of books, the internet and the odd bout of Sherlock Holmsian doggedness when presented with a puzzle like this! Please let me know if you have any ideas, lets pool our resources here girls!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Beautiful Mid 1700s French Block Printed Pelmet

This is a small bed pelmet from the mid 1700s. I think it was probably one of a series of 4 or maybe 5 similar panels sewn together to form a surround for the top of a four poster bed. The method of piecing together several small panels would have most likely been for reasons of thrift, as all scraps of fabric could be pieced together like a jigsaw, not necessarily or usually matching! I assume this to be that thrift over-rode perfection, and the effect would have been much the same from a distance!

The pelmet is made from the softest linen, wadded lightly with sheep's fleece, and hand quilted onto a handloomed coarse linen backing. It has been block printed with natural dyes, with quite a limited palette. At this stage, green wasn't an easy dye to produce, so indigo was used to printthe blue, then yellow painted over to produce greens, unfortunately, the yellow in these ancient textiles has usually faded away as it wasn't a very stable dye, leaving the foliage rather too blue!

I no longer own this piece, but I thought I would share a bit about it here, as printed textiles of this period and a little later have recently begun to interest me emormously. I am attempting to research into the processes of production and the reasons for the consumption of such pieces, with a view to trying to understand more, not just about the textiles, but the people who bought and used them.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Deconstructing a Very Damaged 19th Century French Quilt. Part 1

A few weeks ago, I was invited to visit a lock-up belonging to some dealers I know, as they had just returned from a buying trip to France. There was a pile of not very exciting textiles spread out for me to view, but what caught my eye was this very damged quilt that had been tossed aside, as if to be thrown away. I picked it up, and the dealer commented it was a such a shame it was ruined. I had a close look, and could see some different fabric peeping through the many little holes peppering the fabric, so I bought it for research, as it look quite intriguing.

In poorer days, people didn't simply buy or make another quilt when the old one began to wear out, that wasn't an option for a lot of families. The sensible thing was to re-cover the old, threadbare quilt with a new outer layer. This was not only cheaper, but must have been a less time time consuming job in the times when a woman's day was filled with chores from dawn till dusk.

This quilt is really damaged, too far gone to restore, so I will be carefully deconstructing it, and posting photos as the task progresses to find out what kind of fabrics have been used, hopefully to get a bit of an idea of the age and history of the piece.
Any thoughts about the quilt and the dates of the fabric used would be very welcome!