Aug 29, 2010

Orchids as motif in French textiles

In the 18th and 19th centuries, botanists across Europe were fascinated by the orchid plant, which originally came from Mexico. This New World plant was included in many plant collections, but getting it to grow and to reproduce was difficult. In addition, the best growing environment for orchids usually required a greenhouse which was a costly proposition. As a result, orchids did not become a popular or well-known plant during those decades nor was it often included as a motif in art or textile design.
The swatch below, from about 1880, features a large blue orchid with botanically correct leaves. This is one of the few orchid motifs that I've found from that era.
By 1900, the orchid started being used in stylized versions on Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau textiles. The next two swatches depict stylized orchids from about 1900. Both are the same motif in different colors.

These next two pictures are very stylized versions of orchids from the first decade of the 20th century.
Despite the sensational beauty of the orchid flowers, the plant will never rival the rose as the favorite flower in all of France. Below is a picture of The Rose - depicted as a queen on the throne with the insects paying homage - from a 19th century French illustrated book called Les Fleurs Animées.

Aug 23, 2010

The end-of-summer harvest

Le vendange - the grape harvest- has started in the south of France. The villages and roadways are busy this time of year, buzzing with the many people and the various pieces of agricultural machinery needed to pick the grapes and transport them to the wine cave.
The status of the grape in the French economy and in French cuisine is all-important. The culture of the grape is reflected in textiles as discussed in a previous post.  Here is a notice that is posted annually at the entrances to the village of Puisserguier. Similar signs are found across the country.

Aug 16, 2010


Images of rural France often include panoramic views of rolling fields of sunflowers - plants that grow as tall as five feet with blooms that follow the arc of the sun. French textile designers took inspiration from these fields of golden flowers and used them as motifs in printed fabrics.

The first olive background swatch below is from the late 19th century. The beige and gray stylized motif and the second olive background piece are both from the early 20th century.

Next, this large-scale floral print on a red background was earlier than the two above - about 1880.
This oddly stylized version is difficult to understand because although the colors are pretty, the flower is slightly grotesque. Ca. 1900

One of my all-time favorite sunflower prints is this dramatic large-scale pattern from the 1920s!
The last picture is a of hand-embroidered piece that was created as a wall-hanging, ca. 1870.

Aug 7, 2010

Napoleon III silk embroidery on velvet

Sewing was a necessity in homes around the world until after mid-20th century. During the 19th century and earlier, women in France always had a sewing or needlework project close at hand to pick up whenever they were sitting or resting.
Everything was hand-stitched - from clothing to bed linens to draperies and of course, decorative items. Aside from the necessary sewing required for the home, fine embroidery and other decorative hand-stitching was highly valued and some of the workmanship is astonishing.
For this post, I am showing some photos of the silk embroidery on a pair of velvet valances from the Napoleon III era that I had the pleasure of owning briefly a couple of years ago.