Nov 3, 2013

French antique bed sheets

Starting in the 1600s, the central government controlled the textile industry in France. Government agents decided who could produce textiles and what they could produce.
Bed sheets were manufactured in many regions and in varying styles. The most common bed sheet was woven on narrow looms, so in order to make a sheet that was wide enough to cover a two-person bed, these sheets have a hand-stitched center seam that joined two fabric widths.
Many families took their bedding to the local blanchisserie to be laundered.  In order to avoid mix-ups or loss, each person embroidered an identifying mark or initials on the sheets.  Many people simply embroidered tiny red letters or numbers on the hem, but others took the time to embroider monograms.
This 19th century sheet has a red cross-stitch letter "M" for identification. The laundry marks were always in red thread.

This image shows an example of a simple laundry identification mark on the hem (this is actually on a nightgown, but is the same mark that would have been on the bedding.)

Red embroidered French laundry mark

This sheet close-up pictured below shows the center seam, which was always sewn edge-to-edge. This sheet was embroidered for decoration, rather than for simple identification, so it is done in white.

Jun 14, 2013

Yarn-drying at Gobelins factory in the 18th century

The famous French Gobelins tapestry factory started modestly as a dyers workshop during the 15th century, but came to prominence when it was purchased by the French king, Louis XIV in 1662.
King Louis XIV and his Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert instituted strict guidelines for French manufacturing and severely limited imports that would compete with French-produced goods. The result was a major improvement in the quality and consistency of French products, most notably in the fields of textile production, tapestry weaving and glass and furniture production. (Note: Colbert's influence reached far beyond manufacturing - into finance, art, architecture, the country's infrastructure and more.)
The antique print below shows the yarn-drying atelier at the Gobelins factory. This original print is from the 18th century series of books entitled Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres, published in Paris by Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert, or as it is commonly called, Diderot's Encyclopedia.
In this engraving, the yarn-drying atelier is shown to have a wool carding table, a scale for weighing the yarn, large rings suspended from the ceiling to hang the yarn to dry, a stove to heat the room for drying and a hand-worked machine to wind the yarn into skeins. Notice that the workers are wearing wooden shoes. These wooden shoes are called sabots and were worn by workers across France - on farms, in vineyards and in factories.

Jun 8, 2013

Printed French Fabrics - Toiles de Jouy - book

An excellent book to add to your library was published by Rizzoli, New York in 1989 and is entitled Printed French Fabrics - Toiles de Jouy by Josette Brédif.  This 184 page book is a comprehensive history of the Oberkampf factory at Jouy-en-Josas, France and includes 196 illustrations. Although this book is out-of-print, it can usually be located to buy on used book websites.
When thinking of "toiles" or "toile de Jouy," the first image that comes to mind is a cotton fabric that is printed with pastoral scenes in blue or red on a white ground. In fact, the Jouy factory produced a wide range of textiles, including hundreds of beautiful floral prints for clothing, scarves and shawls, elegant upholstery fabrics that imitated woven silk motifs, floral furnishing fabrics as well as their famous printed scenic cottons.

This well-researched and well-written book includes a history of printed textiles in France as part of its focus on the artistic and technological advances in textile manufacture made by the Oberkampf company. My favorite chapter is "The Factory in Operation" which describes the 19th-century textiles printing methods in detail with pictures of the many labor-intensive steps in the process.

Inspiration from nature

The French countryside is awash in color during spring and the early weeks of summer. There are fields covered with wild red poppies, called coquelicot and houses draped in boughs of wisteria.
It's easy to see French textile manufacturers were inspired by the beauty of the surrounding countryside to create designs for floral printed fabrics.