Oct 3, 2008

The color green

During the 18th century, dyes for printed fabrics were mostly made from plants and insects. Many of the dyes were not colorfast and the process of getting the desired color was laborious.
In 1800, for example, when a floral pattern required green leaves, the green color was created in a two-step process. The first step was to create the design in yellow, using dyes obtained from plants such as yellow-weed, tansy or goldenrod. The fabric would then be put into a second dye bath, over-dyeing the yellow parts with a blue dye. Common blue dyes in that era were obtained from solanum berries, woad and indigo. Many early chintzes had blue or blue-green leaves, rather than a true green. Even when a good green was obtained by double printing blue and yellow, the yellow was not colorfast and washed out, leaving blue leaves.
Chemists in both England and France worked in great secrecy to try to find new chemical dyes and improved methods of applying color. In 1808, a colorfast green from a base of peroxide of tin was discovered by the Jouy Manufactory and was called vert faïence. The intentional use of blue-green leaves in floral fabrics persisted throughout the 19th century, giving an 18th century look to 19th century chintzes. The fragment of chintz pictured below is from about 1850.

Sep 23, 2008

Roses in Languedoc

Although most Americans think of Paris when they think of France, the French identity is much more rural.
Most French people live in the same villages and small towns where their ancestors lived. They shop at weekly farmers' markets, buy bread at the local bakery and work at wineries, wine cooperatives and farms in their region.
The vineyards of Languedoc are decorated with rose bushes - one at the end of each row of grapevines.
You might wonder - why roses? Roses are extremely susceptible to the same diseases and parasites that attack grape vines. If the fields were to be invaded by insects or disease, the rose bushes would show the problem early enough for the grape vines to be saved. Or, at least, that's the French explanation.
The rose is used as the central motif in many of the 19th century French antique fabrics. The variations and interpretations seem to be endless and forever beautiful.

Sep 19, 2008

At home in Languedoc

In the early 1990s, I made a reservation at an auberge in Languedoc for a summer holiday. I don't know if it was the sunshine or the blue skies or the sweet smell of roses and other flowers, but I fell in love with the entire region.
A few years later, I managed to find a place to live in a charming 1000-year old village that is on the wide plain between the Pyrenees and the Black Mountains. The village is set amongst rolling hills and carefully-tended vineyards and provides a perfect home base for antique-hunting and sight-seeing.

Sep 18, 2008

French fabrics become fashionable

During the 1890s, Elsie deWolfe, America's first interior decorator, started spending her summers in France. She fell in love with the architecture, the gardens and the decor of sophisticated French homes.

Once back at home on Irving Place in New York, she decided to redecorate her house in the French style. The transformation of the home from a dark, cluttered Victorian-style interior to a light and cheerful interpretation of a French 18th century manor created a sensation amongst the fashionable and artistic New Yorkers who were often invited to Elsie's home for a Sunday afternoon Parisian-style salon.

Elsie deWolfe was always a trend-setter. Her redecorated rooms were imitated by chic New Yorkers and created a taste for all things French. Elsie's new decor included pale florals, chintzes and scenic toiles. The passion for French style still influences the decor in American homes. Below is a photo of Elsie in about 1920.