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Exquisite Threads

Silk Sleuth

So for those of you who follow my escapades on Instagram you will know that last weekend I happened upon a cache of the most incredible 1800s silks.

A trunk that had been hoarded lovingly by a collector friend of mine for many many years. For some reason, last weekend she decided that the day had finally come to share it with the world.

 A.D. Russelle

I arrived early to the brocante and as I walked towards my friends stand, a recognised some of my favourite makers hovering around her stand. Kristen of Les Petites Carabistouilles had already gathered a small mountain of delights and before us lay boxes of 1800s silks (bolts and dress cuttings); ribbons (silk velvet and Stephanois passementerie) and several wooden 1800s hat boxes of the most incredible 1800s & early 1900s silk flowers.

Exquisite threads

It was sensory overload, I felt a very strong (and totally inappropriate) desire to jump into the boxes and just swim in the beauty… of course I didn’t – but I sure felt like it!

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From the corner of my eye I spied the wooden edge of a trunk poking out from under my friends stand… I politely asked if I could have a look. She shrugged with a smile, “mais bien sur” adding that the silk was very damaged and that she didn’t think it was ‘good’ for anything.

I inched out the trunk from under the table and pried open its heavy wooden lid open. It was heaven, deep pinks and green brocade, torn silks, sensual scents of time stood still.  My friend explained that this was an entire collection that she had purchased with the intention of creating dolls clothes from the remaining silk.

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Wrapped in tissue paper amongst the silks were rolls of unused gold embellished ribbons and trims wrapped in twine; beaded and embellished dress panels with echoes of silk at their edges from a century ago when they had been hand-sewn to glorious evening gowns.

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It was the most surreal experience to be in this tiny Provençal village town hall and simultaneously transported back in time to the haute couture ateliers of the mid – late 1800s. I felt a huge lump in my throat and a pressure headache building at my temples.

My mind was wrestling with the reality that I couldn’t possibly afford to purchase all of it and yet what was the likelihood that I would ever find anything like this again.

Exquisite threads

It was terrifying and heady, a combination of intense desire and yet tremendous fear … there was a very high likelihood that I would have to put it all back if the price was beyond my budget.

I worked up the courage to ask my friend what she would accept for the lot.

Her reply…was more than my budget for the next few months buying trips… she saw the look on my face and kindly told me she would keep it safe and I should go have a coffee and think about it.

I called my husband and explained the treasure I had happened upon and he told me he trusted me and would support me on the investment…the decision was made!

Exquisite threads

My friend wrapped everything carefully for me and just as I collected the last box – she handed me a small package.

It was a gift, for our friendship, she told me it was something so damaged that she didn’t feel right selling it but she knew it would be in good hands.

Exquisite threads Callot Soeurs

The next day I took the time to sort through my purchases. Making two piles, one I would really dream to keep and one I would need to sell to finance my wildest dreams. At the bottom of the bag I found her package and I opened it to have a closer look at the items deemed too damaged to resell.

I opened the silk jacket up, the silk crackling with age and I cautiously unravelled the makers ribbon inside.

I felt my heart stop and tears well in my eyes…

I was holding the glorious ruins of an original Callot Soeurs silk jacket, the most incredible gift I have ever received in my six years of collecting.

Exquisite threads Callot Soeurs

“In 1916, American Vogue dubbed the sisters the Three Fates, and declared them “foremost among the powers that rule the destinies of a woman’s life and increase the income of France.” New Yorker, ’25 dresses’

Over the next few days I have been examining the other nine jackets (and dress remnants), trying to piece together the provenance and researching the makers behind these masterpieces.

One particular piece piqued my curiosity, a hot pink silk jacket with a label on the inside which reads:

“Madame A.G. Russelle, 33 East 20 Street, New-York”

Had this creation been purchased in New York by the young woman? Had she herself travelled to New York or had it been purchased as a gift for her? Who was this A.G. Russelle? This morning I woke with a burning desire to know more!

 A.D. Russelle

Google, my dear friend, led me to find the American Architectural Historian, Tom Miller. I wrote to him on the wildest chance he might respond and have a snippet of information about this Dressmaker who once worked from 33 East 20th Street.

Within an hour he reverted and I can’t tell you how I felt my heart explode as I read his mail.

He wrote:

“The house where Madame Russelle ran her dressmaking shop still stands.  If you Google streetview it, you’ll see the old brick-faced residence hiding behind a turn-of-the-century commercial front.


Her name was, in fact, Russell, but she added the French-sounding “e” and the “Madame” simply because French fashions (and, actually, all things French) were all the rage.  (As a matter of fact, when her name appeared among the list of patrons endorsing the Russian Vapor Baths in 1870, it was spelled as “Mme. A. G. Russell” without the extra “e”.)

In 1862 she hadn’t added the “e” yet and her shop was on Wooster Street.  By the end of the Civil War the neighborhood around 33 East 20th Street was seeing the influx of commerce.  Broadway, just down the block was seeing the beginnings of what was called the Ladies’ Mile–Manhattan’s major shopping district.  She and her husband James seem to have purchased the 20th Street house around 1867.  That year in October she advertised for an “Errand Boy Wanted–Immediately; good references required.”  She was still spelling her name “Russell.”

James Russell, who touted that he “works on my own” and “does my own buying,” from his shop in the house as early as 1867.  The couple, no doubt, lived on the upper floors.

On December 6, 1868 an advertisement in The New York Herald read: “An India camels’ hair scarf makes a pretty holiday present and can be had of me from $4 to $35.  James Russell, 33 East Twentieth street, near Broadway.”  That $35 price tag would be equivalent to about $600; so by that alone you can see he and his wife were catering to the carriage trade.

James Russell seems to have dealt only in camel hair scarves and shawls.  His advertisements list nothing else through the new few years and one mentioned he had just returned from Europe with a new stock.

In 1867 Madame A. G. Russell advertised for dressmakers.  “Those only need apply who are capable to make and trim waists.”  And James was still selling expensive camel hair scarves and shawls here.

New York Herald Ad A.D. Russell

Then, on May 11, 1873 James Russell announced he was “retiring from business in July” and that his building was available to lease.  After that date neither he nor his wife appear in the newspapers.  In their retirement they may have left town (which would account for their leasing the house).

At any rate, you can definitely date your jacket between 1867 and 1873.

More trivia: Madame A.G. Russell and her husband lived directly across from Thomas Jefferson (his family home was 28 East 20th Street), his family lived in this house until 1872.

Here are some details of the architecture of Madame A.G. Russells couture work (circa 1867-1873)

a.g.russelle collar a.g.russelle

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I don’t know about you – but this just makes me want to do a happy dance, my smile is making my face hurt and I want to know  about these silks!

Because I can’t keep it all – I am selling many of the exquisite 1800s silks and trims from this collection on Exquisite Threads – as much as I want to hold on to everything forever – it needs to go out into the world and I know there are makers who will make beautiful creations from this treasure!

Raphael and I went on a ‘date’ a few months ago.  It wasn’t meant to be a date, it started out with me wanting to catch the incredible ‘Les chafarcanis’ exhibition before it closed and in my fervour I think it must have rubbed off on him. “We’ll go together” he announced, “and book somewhere nice for lunch”…. Gorgeous antique textiles AND lunch out – I’m there!

Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

I was blown away by the Hotel d’Agar. I went there with a fair idea of what we would see as I’d had a glorious sneak peek of the exhibition and had seen and touched many of the precious chafarcanis in my friend Moniques home when we took our French Musettes there in May. However the Hotel d’Agar is the most incredible space, and you are (on appointment) assigned a guide who talks you through the exhibitions.

We were very fortunate to have Olivier Morand, the son of the founders, and a Louvre graduate, as our chaperon. I have never experienced a more intimate, personable, entertaining, charming introduction to a collection. It was pure joy! He doesn’t just repeat information as much as he weaves a tale around each object. He has grown up with many of these objets d’art and his passion is contagious.

I will share more images from the beautiful Chafarcanis show but before I do….

One of the fab Hotel d’Agar learning experiences for me was on how to identify an authentic Indiennes toiles.

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In the image above you can see numbers, these are the printers ‘reference numbers’ which would have been made by the draftsman to assist in the archival process.

Therefore if we know the number of a certain design we can trace the original ‘designer’ of the toile.
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Hand carved wooden stamps for each toile pattern, labelled with a number which reference each particular design.

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This photograph shows the ‘chef de pièce’. This is the stamp of the pattern printer.

Worth noting is the distinctive ‘Red band’, much like a watermark or a hologram today – this is also a sign of authenticity – however it is extremely rare to find a toile today with an original red band. As this band was created with Garance (madder root) purposely without mordançage,  it would have been either destroyed after the purchase (trimmed) or it would disappear after the first wash.

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In this image you can see the ‘Red band’ and also the stamp of the India Company

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The image above shows the original ‘sales label’. It is incredibly rare to find this element still intact. According to the Hotel d’Agar,  this is the only one ever found to the best of their knowledge.

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This summer I happened across a trunk of beautiful Toile de Nantes remnants at a brocante just outside Bordeaux. After much searching in archives and asking the advice of my textile collecting community – I discovered I found some real treasures.

Sections from a very rare 1815, toile de Nantes called CINCINNATUS, created by the highly celebrated Atelier Petitpierre.

Toile de Nantes 'CINCINNATUS' 1815 Detail : quote “On annonce a Cincinnatus qu’il est elu Dictateur.” Atelier Petitpierre.

I also discovered another very special piece, a remnant of the rare and celebrated Toile de Beautiran inspired by Guido Reni and his work “le char de l’Aurore”. It is one of the most celebrated Toile de Beautiran – inspired by Guido Reni and his work “le char de l’Aurore”

 

Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

18th Century. Toile de Beautiran  “le char de l’Aurore”

This particular design is one of the most celebrated designs created by Beautiran, a Bordelais Indiennes manufacturers. Copper plated print on cotton, garance dye for the beautiful red colour of the print.

The motif of Char was inspired by the famous work of Guido Reni which is in the Palais Pallavicini in Rome. We can recognise the subjects of Greek Gods Apollo & Daphne in the scene.

Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

You can find some of these treasures for sale in Exquisite Threads now

Guido Reni, L'Aurora

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Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

Toile de Beautiran Guido Reni "le char de l'Aurore"

Some of the panels I found have exquisite mendings, some are so seamless that you only realise there are mends when you turn the fabric over.

When a textile is cherished so… every tiny mend is a love letter.

Toile de Nantes 'CINCINNATUS' 1815

Toile de Nantes 'CINCINNATUS' 1815

Indigo et moi

The French Muse experience

Is there a colour that makes your heart quicken, that makes you feel an aching in your soul?

For me that colour is Indigo.

The French Muse experience

It is the colour of the bluest Provencal sky, the colour of the Atlantic ocean that I remember from my childhood days living by the beach in Donegal.

It is an ancient colour that breathes spirit into my dreams.

The French Muse experience

1800 Uzbekistan Silk Suzani

An Ancient natural dye – its penetrating colour has lasted centuries and is majestic and enduring despite the ravages of time.

Take this incredible 1800s Silk Suzani from Uzbekistan. Each female villager would embroider a section and then it would be pieced together and given as a wedding present to the future couple. The subtle differences in stitching and in the depth of the indigo dyed silk in the background makes it all the more powerful to me.

I think of all the dreams woven into each tiny looped embroidery stitch – hundreds of happy wishes for the future couple, a patchwork of dreams.

This suzani would have hung as a wall covering in the couples tent and travelled with them from one abode to the next until it made its way to the home of my collector friend.

The French Muse experience

Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers is really to blame, it’s all her fault. She prepared and nourished a delicious vat of organic indigo dye and invited me to ‘dive in’ and so I did. One afternoon was all it took to fall head over heels with natural indigo dying and over the course of hours I emptied my home of every single little scrap of white linen and lace.

It is absolutely and utterly addictive.

I felt alive and intensely connected in a primordial way to the process of dipping the linen into the deep midnight waters and then watching as the air transformed the creation from lightest green to darkest indigo.

If you ever want to know the essence of  magic – try it out!

The French Muse experience

In the days and weeks after my first foray into Indigo dying – I saw the colour everywhere.

A vibrant indigo painted door in Goult. The sky above on a family outing to Roussillon.

The French Muse experience

You see – I wasn’t lying when I said I dyed everything I could get my hands on.

The French Muse experience

Indigo crept delightfully into my jewellery making and I surrended to the glorious colour.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

At 6am one morning, far from home at a vide grenier / flea market – I happened upon three rolls of hand woven hemp from 1930s, being sold by the granddaughter of the weaver. The granddaughter had left Florence for Lyon, a newlywed in her early 20s,  now in her 80s she found her eyesight wasn’t good enough to sew so she was giving her grandmothers material away to a new generation of maker.  She told me her grandmother had gifted her with several rolls of this handwoven hemp, as Italian hemp was far superior to French hemp in her opinion. Oh how I love how these European neighbours fight over who is superior.

Thirty nine metres of hemp, folded in two and rolled neatly and kept in her attic for seventy or so years. Upon getting it home to Provence, I washed it thoroughly and then prepared a vat of indigo dye with my friend, textile artist Joanna Staniskis. We took over the square outside her home, inviting her neighbours to go fetch their stained and unwanted linens with a promise that we would make them beautiful.

One wonderful French lady in her 70s arrived down with her 30 year old sons old boxer shorts…. I have never laughed so much.  I imagine he would be mortified to imagine our secret indigo society (aged 30-90) giggling each time his underwear would in and out of the indigo vat.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

Indigo hand dyed silk threads woven through this antique 1800s silk tapestry sample from Maison Leclerc in Tours.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

Can’t wait to share this wonderful universe with our French Muse retreat guests in May and September – we’ll be doing an indigo and shibori workshop working with antique linens!

If you are coming to Provence this summer and want to host a private Indigo and Shibori workshop with me then please drop me a line

Ruth

x

The threads that bind us

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

1700s silk – embellished with tiny hand stitched darns.

The dealer laughed when I started taking photographs – she turned the textile over to show me the other side, the ‘real’ side, an incredible Indienne print.

This is the ‘vrai coté” she informed me with a smile.

I was photographing the silk and wool underside of the bed cover, which had been worn threadbare with wear and age.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

I can appreciate a beautiful intact antique textile but I’ll choose to fall hard for something worn and darned and falling apart every time.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

Perhaps it is in seeing these tiny little stitches – either to embellish or repair something  – that binds me to its maker.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

Rather than buy a new designer dress to wear to a party – I will fall hard for a crumbling remnant of a forgotten dream. Fragments plagued by “inherent vice” and “glass-bead disease” ….intrigued you must read more here.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

The further down this rabbit hole of antique textile discovery I delve – the more intrinsically connected I become to the humanity behind the textile; to the hands that once sewed; embroidered; mended; dyed; worked the loom; and darned.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt1800s workers trousers… Turn them inside out and behold a tapestry of mending stitches.

And woven into the fabric is life itself, the makers dreams; love stories; layers of history; frivolity; a story of colour, heritage and knowledge….a tangible link to the human story behind a garment

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A time machine.

A love letter.

An accidental work of art.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

An embroidered indigo cape worn by a Vendean Rebel in 1700s

A vessel for lost dreams, for battles fought and won and lost again.

The French Muse Ruth Ribeaucourt

Best of all – I’m not alone, I’ve met so many wonderful kindred spirits – some are even more nuts about the tiny stitches than I.

We share a joyful secret. We are all connected by these threads.

I always like to ask my favourite dealers, women who have been collecting for 30-40 years, what makes their heart flutter. Their answers always differ and fascinate me. For some it is embellishment, beading and lace, for others white-on-white intricate boutis and then there is Francoise who loses her mind over workers garments (socks, long-johns, shirts) – turned inside out they reveal their true selves, each year a different mend, using a different colour of thread until they all fuse to create a symphony of stitches.

Here is to making 2016 a wonderful journey of discovery. A year of  beauty, friendship, passion,  kindness and love.

I have so much more to share with you here and on Instagram – so do follow along on our journey in 2016

xx

Textile style in Provence

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Michel Biehn artwork

Imagine one day you strike up conversation with a stranger and happily discover you share an addiction to collecting antique textiles – kinship over old threads – love it!.

This new friend, Anna, confides that she is in the process of downsizing and is building her very first ‘new-build’ home.  It turns out she just so happens to have boxes upon boxes of antique textiles; ticking; linens; tapestries; 1800s fabric, antique Provencal piqué and boutis in storage and would love to find a way to sell them without having to drag them around from one antique fair to another.

I mention I have a group of kindred spirits coming to Provence for the French Muse experience and the idea for a private textile brocante sale is hatched.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

I went to visit her a few weeks before our retreat and as I stepped over scaffolding and into her beautiful home it became very obvious that Anna has an incredible eye, even in its unfinished state, there was a delicious marriage of pattern, texture and light, I was ready to move in if she invited me to!

….Somehow she had forgotten to mention she has been featured in many quintessential books about Provence and interior design…. I remember the heat of a blush forming when I realised my new friend was a pretty big deal…. and I was literally stepping inside the pages of one of my favourite interior design books – ‘Textile Style’.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Anna brought me to a little sideroom and started to open up random cardboard boxes to show me what she had put aside for sale for our private French Muse brocante…. my textile taste buds salivated and I lost a good part of my heart in that little room pouring over the contents of these boxes.  For nights afterwards, I dreamed of the patterns, of the little rips in the timeworn fabrics lovingly repaired with delicate tiny handstitching, the tattered silks, even the smallest most throwaway cuttings whispered to me to make, to create, to take them home.

I would wake in the morning and write to Anna to tell her so – I’m sure she thought I was a crackpot…

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

One of Annas creations, a miniature iron day bed with antique textile upholstery

We saved our visit to chez Anna to our last full day of the French Muse experience. The morning of our visit, I rose earlier than planned, too excited to sleep with all that we had planned and I couldn’t wait to share Annas vision and creativity with our guests.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

An incredible textile artwork caught my eye, a one of a kind creation made by my hero, the inimitable Michel Biehn – whose book, La Conversation des Objets, is my go-to book for inspiration.

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Just off the living room, Anna brought us into a beautiful guest bedroom with William Morris wallpaper and a family heirloom portrait.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Annas home has textiles and art from all over the world, an ancient African tribal ceremonial skirt hangs opposite an antique Swedish gold leaf mirror. A side table covered with a patterned Provençal antique piqué sits beneath a very contemporary sculptural artwork. It is beautiful, understated and intuitive.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

An 1800s portrait of Annas mother as a child, the background is gold leaf and absolutely mesmerising.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Antique tapestry with original tag handsewn…be still my heart!

 The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Morning light streamed in through the living room illuminating one of the stacks of antique French ticking that Anna had chosen to part with.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Michel Biehn detail

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

A once in a lifetime experience that I am so grateful for.

Thank god for the Irish gift of the gab!

Now to start planning our September French Muse experience!

 

 

Where the magic is woven

So I think you must know by now just how proud I am to be part of the Faure family whose silk and ribbon factory celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2014.

Stepping on to the ‘Jacquard metier’ floor for the first time, is a memory I will never forget for as long as I live.

orange silk montage

The clac – clac – clac of the navettes weaving back and forth is hypnotic and utterly seductive, drawing you into the belly of where all this beauty is woven.

coloured threads

The passementiers, many of whom are highly skilled fifth generation artisans, comb through the thousands of threads with a wonderful combination of delicacy and immediacy that reminds me of a concert harpist making music.

thread montage

It is intoxicating to watch these women and men, deep in concentration, a secret language binding them to become one with the majestic 150 year old jacquard metiers that tower above and around them.

bobbin and metier montage

There is poetry everywhere you look. Unassuming bundles of silk on bobbins with handwritten notes attached call to me.

montage two metiers

New technology stands shoulder to shoulder with beautiful ancient restored metiers, mirroring the traditions and knowledge that have been passed down and evolving from one generation to the next.

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 It is a love affair, an orchestra of silk, an altar to beauty and heritage.

The French Muse, images from Julien Faure,

You can visit the official website of Julien Faure here

 

Just on foot of the beautiful images from Raf Simon’s Christian Dior show featuring our familys haute couture grosgrain ribbons, I discovered this wonderful film which gives us a delicious glimpse into the making of one dress, “Look #53”. I loved discovering the haute couture ateliers, from the dyers (teinturiers) to the ateliers Gérard Lognon (plissers des tissus)

ribbon dye

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Enjoy

Wow I am just swelling with pride for our family ribbon company. Suzy Menkes just wrote a wonderful review of his show which featured ribbons from Julien Faure.

Suzi Menkes writes “…As the models walked down the scaffolding ramp set, you could tell that each stripe, each decoration –  were works of art.”

Dior Printemps Eté 2015-4

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Here are some close ups that were not in the Suzy Menkes feature – they show in detail how beautiful the ribbon detailing is on the dresses and skirts. wow wow wow, still beaming about this!

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Dior Printemps Eté 2015-6

Dior Printemps Eté 2015-5

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Les Petits Bonheurs series is back for 2015 and appropriately this weeks artist, Christine Kelly of ‘Gentlework‘, is someone who I discovered thanks to Johanna Flanagan of The Pale Rook who I interviewed in November. What a wonderful gift it has been to meet so many wonderful makers, you are truly inspiring me.

I completly lost track of time the morning I stumbled into Christines blog, each image more beautiful than the next. Her handstitched treasures whisper to you, they soothe and comfort.

One image in particular touched me deeply, a photograph of antique jewel boxes inside which, Christine has hand stitched words of hope, “let go”; “have hope”, “courage dear heart”. She describes making “a collection of tiny tokens, to be called upon in times of need, slipped into a pocket, closing fingers around them, a comfort“.

I feel Christines work on a very personal level, it moves and nourishes me and right now, with events of recent days her work and stitched words have taken on a special importance.

I am so grateful to Christine for opening up her creative process and home here for Les Petits Bonheurs and know that you will enjoy discovering her work.

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“I’ve always loved vintage textiles and I suppose I’ve been collecting for about 20 years or so. I use them because I prefer them to ‘new’ fabrics. I like the fact that they have a narrative, they are often soft or faded from years of washing and handling or there may be a stain, a mend or a tear which hints at their former use. The use of these materials in my work, especially in more personal pieces, means that their story and my story become intertwined.”

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“I can get very attached to little scraps of fabric, even little plain pieces that may not seem very precious. I can’t remember the first piece of vintage textile that I fell in love with, and I get new favourites all the time, but one piece in particular is a small piece of broderie anglaise lace picked up at a Paris flea market, it’s old and hand worked with tiny pintucks along the bottom. It’s humble and stained and nothing special, but it has a little mend on it and it’s those tiny stitches that melt my heart….thinking how much it must have meant to someone for them to mend it with such care. I’ve used it in a piece of work, but it’s one I’m going to keep…”

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“I pick up vintage pieces from all sorts of places, but mainly local antique fairs, some of the stall holders know me now! I don’t buy online much as I like to see and handle things.

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When I buy vintage materials I don’t buy expensive or precious items, or anything too perfect. I’m often more attracted to something that’s a bit tatty or worn, also that way I don’t feel bad about cutting them up and re-using them.”

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“My work is characterised by it’s subtle colour palette and that’s what I’m drawn to when looking for materials to use. I like the gentle variations in tone that vintage linens and lace provide and exploit this in my work by patching together differing shades. I also like to use old mending threads to embroider with rather than modern embroidery silks as I prefer their soft and subtle colours. I especially look for interesting edges or details on textiles or bits of embroidery and lace with motifs that I can cut out and use for appliqué. I don’t set out to look for materials with a particular project in mind, rather I like things to just find me….”

 

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“In my workroom I’m surrounded by the materials I use and new acquisitions are kept out on display for some time before they are used, to be considered and to provoke thought. Seeing materials side by side often inspires me and happy accidents can happen through a combination of untidiness and serendipity.”

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“My favourite place to be is at my desk in my workroom, surrounded by all the things that inspire me and looking out onto trees, fields, sky and birds. I’m at my happiest when quietly hand stitching, listening to the radio or gentle music. In the past I worked predominantly with machine embroidery but now, stitching by hand has taken over. I find hand stitching more tactile and immediate, it also fits well with the vintage materials I use which have often been handled and hand stitched themselves over many hours, many years ago. The other thing about stitching by hand is that it can be very calming and meditative. I find stitching a great comfort in times of stress and some of the work I’ve made has been in direct response to difficult times in my life.”

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Do you have an absolute favourite material that you love working with?

 “I love using vintage buttons, especially really tiny mother of pearl ones that are quite hard to come by, but some of my favourite items to use have been some vintage bone buttons and some beautiful buff coloured heavy French linen, which is lovely to stitch into.”

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What is your background and how did you find your way as a textile artist?

 “I don’t have a formal education in textiles, I’ve taught myself and learned along the way over the years. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making things. I used to regret not having studied art or textiles, feeling that it put me at a disadvantage, but I don’t anymore. A lot of my work is very personal and draws on my experience of life and I don’t think I’d be making the work I do now without having been on a personal and creative journey.”

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“I’d always shoehorned my creativity around work but in 2005, myself and my husband took a ‘year out’ from full time work to concentrate on our creative selves, after the sale of a home and a business and a long period of stress. It was during this year, and having this time to devote to my art that marked a turning point in the work I was making, when lots of different elements came together, my ideas and experience, the vintage fabrics and ephemera I’d been collecting for so long and all of the creative skills I’d learned over the years. We rented a house in a rural location, the first time I’d experienced living in the countryside, something which was to have a profound effect on my work and my creative process. The house was called Trevethoe House and inspired a piece of work of the same name.”

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Who inspires you?

“Like most creative people, inspiration comes from everything and everywhere. The influence of nature is something that permeates a lot of my work. I live just next to woods and fields where I walk my dog each day and it’s often when I’m out walking that ideas come to me.”

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“There is also a connection for me between the peace and calm of experiencing nature and the contemplative aspect of slow hand stitching, the two seem to go hand in hand and this is reflected in my work. Inspiration often comes from the vintage textiles I find (a little detail may spark off an idea of where I want a piece of work to go) but mostly my work stems from personal experiences and my inner landscape, thoughts and emotional states. You asked whether I get creative block, and the answer is I don’t really. Quite the opposite, in terms of ideas I have a backlog of things I’m longing to make. Of course, sometimes, it’s harder to work at something than at other times, if you don’t feel so great or things aren’t really flowing or working out as you had planned them in your head. At times like this I try to just go with it and if all else fails, have a break, do something else and come back to it.”

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Is there anything that you can not imagine parting with?

“There are lots of things that are special to me but they are just things at the end of the day. I would struggle to part with some of my work, though. Stitching a piece of work by hand over many hours results in a real connection to the piece you are working on, often making a piece very difficult or impossible to part with (or to put a price on). Also, much of my work is inspired by my feelings and experiences, like a journal really, they contain a part of me, so it would be very hard to let them go.”

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I find your work so moving, especially the hope tokens in antique boxes and the fabric tokens where you have woven beautiful comforting words on inside. I understand that you create these not for sale but as personal talismans – could you talk about these pieces and their meaning for you?

“The use of stitched text plays quite a big role in my work. I keep a little notebook of words, phrases and quotes that are meaningful to me. I’m interested in the power of words, to comfort and inspire and remind us of things which are important. This is something I’ve explored in the form of portable little fabric tokens to act as reminders and tiny boxed stitcheries that can be kept in a pocket and looked at in times of need. I’ve made these pieces for myself over time in response to various emotional states, the act of making them is reassuring in itself and then you have them as a keepsake. I’d been reluctant to share personal items like this on my blog in the past, but when I did, particularly in the case of the fabric tokens, the response was overwhelming. I think people really connected with them, after all we all have difficult feelings to deal with from time to time, I just tend to deal with mine through stitch.”

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How do you sell your work?

“I sell my work mainly at fairs, exhibitions and at workshops I teach and occasionally to people who contact me directly. Generally, I prefer not to work to commission, which people find unusual. I have tried in the past but I find it stressful and it makes me feel constrained, and this takes some of the enjoyment out of creating and means I can’t really put my heart into it. My work means so much to me that I wouldn’t be happy to sell a piece that didn’t have my heart and soul in it.”

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Please visit her wonderful blog here  to view more of her work.

Bonne Annee 2015 – wishing you everything

Meillure Voeux 2015 Happy New Year

I just wanted to reach out and wish you all a happy happy new year.

I hope it is filled with …

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….happiness, may you be surrounded by loving friends and family

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…laughter – the kind where you have tears running down your face and your cheeks ache from smiling!

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…adventures – go skinny dipping & get up early and climb that mountain to watch the sunrise

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…creativity – let 2015 be the end of procrastination and the year you take out those beads you’ve been hoarding, or that yardage of fabric you bought but never cut into.

Have faith, let go, let’s do it, let’s make it, let’s make it happen – allons y!

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….and friendship – thank you to all the new friends who have encouraged me here

To those who have taken time out to talk to me and let me explore their creative worlds

To my cheerleaders around the world – those wonderful people who post comments here and email me loving notes of support

And to my dearest and nearest – thanks for being by my side – let’s make this year a good one!