Sep 25, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 5 (green)

While red was used extensively in textile color schemes as mentioned in a previous post, other perennial favorites for backgrounds of French furnishing fabrics included gray, maroon, greens or browns - colors that today might seem dull. 
In this post, we'll look at all shades of green and olive backgrounds. Dark greens were a not a frequently-used color during the 19th century, even though they were a favorite of Napoleon. They became more common during the Art Nouveau period, but still not an often-produced background color. The dark green background fabric above, with roosters in a stand-off, is circa 1870. The ever-popular indienne floral is rendered in neutral tones on a forest green background, immediately below, ca. 1880.
The next, below, is a stylized print from the Napoleon III era.  Printed to look like woven silk, the pattern includes wheat heads and strawberry leaves as well as floral motifs, ca. 1870
This large-scale Art Nouveau pattern has pink lotus flowers with scrolling leaves, ca. 1900.

Sep 20, 2009

The end of intricate hand stitchery

We can only marvel at the intricate and beautiful stitchery on French antique curtains, clothing and quilts. Antique clothing could include tiny hand-stitched French seams, open work, embroidery and appliqué, as on the christening gown pictured below.
The huge sets of curtains and bedhangings had long seams that were stitched selvedge to selvedge in tiny, perfect hand-stitches. Once the seamstress had stitched the many yards of seams on a set of voluminous curtains and bedhangings, the pieces then had to be hemmed and the curtains rings had to be attached with thick thread - all by hand.
But it was in the quilts and boutis that the sewing needles really began to sing!
The old quilts of France were almost always made of full fabric-width panels or large pieces of fabric - nothing at all like the patchwork in traditional American quilts. Very large "family" quilts would be made of two and a half fabric-widths of cloth.

The fabric of the top side and the bottom of the quilts were usually different colors or patterns. The color of the quilting thread was chosen so it worked best with the fabric on the top side. The most common stitched quilting pattern was the diamond shape, but quilts took their intricacy from the abilities and inspiration of the women who did the stichery.
In Provence, the boutis combined elaborate stitchery pattern with a padding that was inserted after the quilting was done, to raise and emphasize the design. In addition to the coverlets and bed quilts, the women also made quilted wall hangings, bedhangings, bedspreads and complete groups of bedding.

It's said that a 19th century French woman always wore a pair of scissors on a ribbon under her apron and that her needle and thread were never very far from her hands. Sewing was a necessity in that era and it was done everyday. Only the very wealthiest people could afford to pay someone else to do the sewing. Most families managed it on their own.

Just to remind everyone ... The many yards of cloth that were needed for curtains, drapes and bedhangings were very expensive and were limited to being purchased by the upper classes. Middle and lower class families received sheets, coverlets, quilts and bedhangings as wedding gifts and those were used for years and years and seldom replaced. Quilts would be recovered, sheets were lovingly patched or darned.
Something to note in both the old quilts and curtains - fabric was never wasted in order to match patterns at the selvedge as we do nowadays.

The sewing machine was introduced to France in the mid-1850s. It quickly became a common household tool. Traveling sewing machine salesmen were able to take this innovation into even the smallest villages. Time payments were set up to make purchase easier for cash-strapped families. The over-worked French housewives were delighted to have the speed and ease of the sewing machine. Once they could use this fabulous machine to do the sewing for them, hand stitchery began to decline. Young women were far less inclined to become proficient at hand sewing when they had access to the machine à coudre.The final death knell came with industrialization and the mass production of bedding by about 1900.
This post includes a few pictures of hand-stitched French quilts that I have bought and sold.  The first quilt shown at the top of the post is an early indigo resist pattern. The others on this page are mid- to late-19th century. Note that the second quilt above has an indigo ikat fabric as the bottom of the quilt. The ikats were often used as backings and lining for quilts and bedhangings.

All the photos above were taken with my first digital camera, so the resolution is not quite good enough to show close-up detail of the quilting stitches. Many extraordinary examples of French quilts can be seen in these books along with excellent photos of the needlework:
Piqué de Provence, collection by André-Jean Cabanel, Brunschwig and Fils, Edisud, 2000 (in French)
En jupon piqué et robe d'indienne, Michael Biehn, Editions Jeanne Lafitte, 1987 (in French)

Sep 15, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 4

As we've already seen, red-on-red resist patterns held their popularity throughout the 19th century. The French also favored floral, scenic and tropical prints on red backgrounds. Some old French paintings depict rooms decorated with red as the main color.

Below are several examples of 19th century French textiles with red backgrounds.
The first is a late-18th century Alsace resist pattern with a red background and combines indienne floral motifs with the popular meander pattern.
 Next is an early-19th century quilt fragment with rare chinoiserie motifs including porcelain pots, bamboo fronds, a book with chinese characters and chrysanthemum flowers all on a red background.
Here's a late-19th century floral with scenic cartouches enclosing pictures of various birds surrounded by large flowers and tied together with a scrolling lace motif.

The next three fabrics all have tropical motifs. The first and second use orchids and the first and third use birds. Exotic botanicals and jungle themes were very fashionable during the era of Napoleon III and beyond. Birds were a perennial favorite in all types of fabrics.

Sep 11, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 3

In the latter part of the 19th century, the color schemes were not at all what one might expect or imagine. The French textile companies were still very much influenced and inspired by the decades of indienne imports, so the array of colors they used was much less restricted than what we see today.

A very  fashionable combination, for example, was olive leaves with pink or rose-shaded flowers. Here are a couple of close-up photos of an imported early 19th century tree-of-life from India using olive and rose:

And here are a few examples of French-manufactured 19th century florals, using the same color scheme:

Sep 7, 2009

The 1686 French government ban on printed textiles

(This post is from the website, page 2 of Historical notes)
Imported floral cotton prints from India had become so popular in France by 1685 that the French silk-producing companies were suffering from a severe loss of business. Fearing permanent damage to the silk trade, the government, in 1686, instituted a ban on the production, importation and sale of all printed textiles. The ban was in force for almost 80 years until it was finally repealed in 1759.

Oddly-enough, this ban affected both imported cotton prints and the domestically-produced copies of the Indian prints. The thriving French domestic textile industry that had been producing cotton printed fabrics, indiennes, was shut down. This proved to be fateful because the hundreds of French workers that had been employed in the printed cotton trade began to emigrate and took their expertise with them. Within a couple of decades, the European textile-printing industry was dominated by companies in England, Holland and Switzerland instead of France.

In France, the ban on printed textiles only spurred the public desire for them. The ensuing craze for printed cottons resulted in secret printing factories hidden in basements or churches and dramatically increased the smuggling of the goods through ports and unguarded borders. Heavy fines were levied for infractions of the law to little avail. Women caught wearing a printed cotton outfit were disrobed and the dresses were burned on the spot! Any smuggled printed cottons that were confiscated by the government agents were either shredded or burned.

In 1740, the ban was loosened slightly and the government then allowed resist-dyed indigo fabrics to be produced and sold. Finally, in November 1759, the ban and all restrictions on the production and importation of printed cottons were lifted. Immediately, textile-printing factories opened across France. The public passion and demand for the printed cotton textiles did not diminish even after they were again legal. The French companies soon regained international prominence. From 1760 to the twentieth century, the French textile industry produced incomparably beautiful printed fabrics.

Sep 4, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 2

A longtime favorite fabric color used in many 18th and 19th century French homes - one that many Americans have not yet come to fully appreciate - is the black background.
The French designers understood that when a printed fabric with a black background is hung, the background seems to recede and disappear, leaving the beautiful floral foregound motif appearing as if it is suspended in air! Whole rooms were decorated with floral fabrics with a black background. The French textile designers considered black to be a transparent color or a non-color.

The black backgrounds were popularly called "chimney sweep" and varied in tonal shadings as diverse as blue-black to brown-black to a bronze-black. These deep-toned fabrics can work well in many interiors and can harmonize easily with mid-tone fabrics. Below are several examples of black background 19th century French fabrics: