Nov 7, 2011

Autumn leaves

"The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold...."
lyrics by Johnny Mercer

The song "Autumn Leaves" was originally written in French by Jaques Prévert and was entitled "Les feuilles mortes" (The dead leaves.) It was later translated by Johnny Mercer.
Pictured below are three 19th century French cotton prints with the theme of autumn leaves and leaves starting to turn brown.

Sep 4, 2011

French tea towels - Les torchons

Tea towels are a standard in kitchens around the world, but the French tea towel, le torchon, has its own character. Traditionally made of a flat-weave linen or métis (linen-cotton weave), the classic style of tea towel is white or off-white with red stripes. The stripe are sometimes along each end or can be along each of the four sides.

On vintage tea towels, there is usually a small embroidered red initial or initials. These were added so the owner could identify her own tea towels when they was sent to the blanchisserie (laundry) for washing. (The same mark was added to sheets and pillow cases and white shirts.) Wealthier homemakers had their tea towels embroidered with fancier red monograms.

The fastidious French kitchen required tea towels to be in sets of four, each with a loop for hanging. The four towels were to be used for separate tasks - hands, glassware, dishes and cutlery. Kitchen towel racks came with four hooks, each hook labeled for the corresponding towel.
The toweling was manufactured in the exact width needed for the towels with cutting lines designated in the weave. When new, the toweling always had a glazed finish to protect the fibers. Here is a piece of unused yardage of vintage French linen toweling for the kitchen:

Aug 15, 2011

Long history of cotton production

The long history of cotton production reaches back at least 7000 years to the Indus Valley which encompasses part of northern India and most of modern-day Pakistan. The shrub-like cotton plant, which is related to hibiscus, was an important agricultural crop in the Indus Valley and was woven into cotton fabric. An early Greek traveler to India described the cotton plant as giving "wool" instead of fruit. Cotton textiles and seeds from India were traded in both the Middle East and Far East during the first millenium A.D.. Cotton production was known world-wide by the Middle Ages.

During most of the 18th century, the textile manufacturers in Europe imported fine cotton from Egypt. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793, enabled greatly increased production in the United States. By the early 19th century, the American south was the primary supplier of cotton to to the world which brought prosperity to the entire country.  Although the American Civil War disrupted worldwide cotton manufacturing, the American dominance was re-established after 1865.
Most of the 19th century French textiles were likely manufactured from American-grown cotton.
From about 1800 until the start of WWII, the United States was the leading producer of cotton worldwide. Cotton is now grown in 90 countries, although approximately 75% of production is from the United States, China, Pakistan and India.

Jul 21, 2011

L'été - French summertime

During July in France, the grapes are basking in the sun and ripening, the gardens and markets are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables ... and many French people spend theirs afternoons in front of the TV watching the Tour de France. This year has been especially thrilling for France because a young French rider was in the lead until the next to the last stage. The Tour 2011 and the month of July will end and the month of "les vacances" - August - will begin.

Organic fruits and vegetables abound ... plus wine and local olives.

The bounty of French gardens and farms is celebrated in this 19th century French textile.

Relax and enjoy!

Jun 23, 2011

More French tickings from Alsace

French antique tickings from the Alsace region of France are coveted for their deep red tones and seemingly endless variations in the colors, shadings and widths of the stripes. Although most collectors are familiar with the saturated red tickings, the softer tones are less well-known.
In addition to the red tickings, the region produced pastel and pale shades as well as tickings that were predominately blue. The paler colors included various shades of rose, beige, faded red, yellow, olive, blue and candy pink. The tickings in these colors were usually used for summer beddings and for bedding for children.
Below, the first five pictures are five Alsace tickings in pale tones that are predominately pink and rose. The last two pictures on the page show tickings that were produced in a classic French blue paired with yellow.


May 14, 2011

French red tickings from Alsace

Textile weaving, dyeing and printing was a major industry in the Alsace region of northeast France. Textile factories dotted the region and competed fiercely to produce beautiful colors and patterns on cotton fabrics. The region also produced utilitarian fabrics, including woven mattress tickings in deep saturated tones and in colors not seen elsewhere in France.
In days gone by, bedding was made at home. Homespun sheets and hand-stitched quilts were much-appreciated and highly-valued wedding gifts that were used for decades.
Mattresses were utilitarian items, usually constructed in one of two ways. In the most common type of mattress, the ticking fabric was stitched into a large pillowcase-like covering and then stuffed with straw or other filler. A more simple mattress was made by tacking a single layer of ticking to a board, allowing enough 'give' to be able to stuff straw between the fabric and the board.
Since northeastern France has cold winters, the bedding of the region included cozy feather beds and all sizes of feather-filled pillows. The mattress tickings from this region are well-known for their deep cherry reds and the combinations of reds and rose shades. The broad-striped patterns were generally intended for the large featherbeds, while more intricate stripe patterns were milled for use in pillows, bolsters and various sizes of duvet.
If you'd like to have an Alsace red ticking fabric for your home or for a project, please visit my flagship website by clicking here:

The first picture below shows a stack of tickings from last fall's shipment (all sold.) Below that are several examples of red ticking fabrics from the Alsace region.

May 4, 2011

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 11

To add examples of the use of the color gray in antique French fabrics, this post follows and expands on "Color schemes in 19th century French textiles, part 7."
Gray was very much favored in delicate or romantic foreground motifs in combination with one or two other colors. Pink and burgundy tones were commonly paired with gray, but other colors were occasionally also used. The five pieces shown below are all from the second half of the 19th century and were printed on a fine cotton. Note the fine quality of the engraving and printing on the first three. These three are prints are exceptional quality.

In the next fabric, a three-dimensional look is created by repeating parts of the foreground motif in shades of gray. This printing trick was used extensively in many styles of printed patterns.

One of the more unusual uses for gray was to print a background pattern on cotton - printed so as to look like a moiré silk - thus creating a faux moiré. Faux moiré patterns were printed in other colors also, but gray seems to have been the preferred color. Here are two examples from the mid-19th century. Both these were printed on fine Egyptian cotton, so were expensive fabrics when first sold.

Apr 22, 2011

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 10

This post on the popularity of red backgrounds in French fabrics is an expansion of the earlier post "Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 4."
One of the more surprising color schemes is the use of a dark red background with a black monochromatic foreground motif. These seem so heavy, but were probably very warm feeling during the dark winter months and would have looked beautiful in firelight or candlelight. All four red and black fabrics are from the second half of the 19th century.

The taste for red fabrics continued into the new 20th century.
The stylized dahlia pattern below is a transition motif, combining both late-19th century and Art Nouveau styles. The meander pattern, popularized by the 18th century silk industry, is employed to great effect in both the textiles below. The Art Nouveau roses, in the second image below, are a much more graphical interpretation as the fashion began to move away from careful botanical depictions and toward the coming Art Deco.