≡ Main Menu

blog banner floral

≡ Blog Menu

Stories of silk & textile treasures

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!

A.G. Russelle jacket_5

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.

IMG_4409

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.

FullSizeRender (41)

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

back stays A.G. Russelle jacket_14

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!

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

P1290500-650x488

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

Chateau Pattern & Texture

 

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

I’m not going to add many words other than to say – the photographs speak for themselves.

Love and care and incredible attention to detail went into making this château a magnificent, adorned creature. The last 15 years have not been kind, no heating, no running water, a leaking roof, and various robberies which have left behind gaping holes where fireplaces once stood.

 

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The next French Muse Experience is in May 2016, we have two places left. Or if you have a group of four and want to come any other time, please contact us.

We are truly thrilled with the outpouring of support and interest.

Let us show you our France and let the French Muse Experience inspire you!

You can also follow us on Facebook and on Instagram

Treasures within

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Have you ever suffered from Chateau fever?

Symptoms are insomnia, palpitations, severe sensations of extreme excitement and a fierce desire to get up at an ungodly hour, in the dark, and drive for hours until the gates of the chateau are once again in sight.

Yep – we all had it bad!

We forgot any best laid plans to follow what the heart desired – another chance to discover what treasures lay within – this time with daylight on our side

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

It called for fearless rummaging… no trunk could be left unexplored

…and believe me every single trunk, stacked at times five high was filled with goodies.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

An incredible 18th Century altar silk, with sumptuous silk embroidery – incredibly intact after all these years.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

A nondescript flat wooden box revealed itself to be a complete set of early 19th century school stamps

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Paper lovers out there – you would have fainted if you’d seen the rolls of old maps and stacks upon stacks of letters, newspapers, ledgers and leather-bound books.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

I fell hard for these crumbling jewellery displays, the black lacquer glaze on one flaking off and revealing silk underneath – simply delicious.

As you can see many of the rooms where still quite dark and it lent an unmistakable magic to the hunt.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

We opened an unusual looking trunk to discover this beautiful ‘grisaille’ hand painted wallpaper lining….

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Another dark mysterious room with the most incredible wallpaper and a stack of old painting frames stacked up against the wall

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Lace and trims poured out of antique hat boxes – I felt like I’d stepped through a portal and into a 1900s costume designers atelier – I felt vastly under dressed surrounded by such finery.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Dissolving beaded dresses – remnants of a deeply more glamorous age.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Baskets piled as high as the ceiling.

The French have names for every single different type of basket. I spotted a ‘panier de filature’; a ‘panier aperitif’; a ‘panier de couture’;  a ‘panier de pain de boulanger’ and a ‘panier verseur’. There were baskets for everything you could think of – wine bottles, walnuts, letters…

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

 Even torn, age eaten silk is undeniably beautiful

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

An 18th century toile was unravelled to reveal a trio of beauties

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Take me home and make me whole it called

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

A little emerald corner of loveliness to rummage through

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Broken glazed Provençal pottery – I couldn’t resist bringing them home no matter how damaged they are

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

A handmade lace masterpiece still attached to its original salesman card and ready for framing.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

 A pair of beautiful tole bird-cagesThe French Muse experience private chateau brocante

A 1900 baby toiletry set with silver comb, brush and cup

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse has exclusivity to brocanting (and visiting) this spellbinding castle (and we are also planning for another ‘vide-chateau’ later in 2015) so if you want to organise a French Muse experience or a private buying trip with friends drop us a line for more details.

Losing your heart

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

I didn’t know it was possible to lose your heart to a château – but now that I am 300km from it and looking back at my photographic memories – I am aching to be back there walking its halls.

How did we come to find ourselves brocanting in a crumbling chateau?

When one of your favourite antiques dealers utters the words, “Would you like to visit our Chateau, I have stored a lot of my antiques there” – you know an adventure is afoot.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The haunting hole left behind from a fireplace stolen last winter

For the last fifteen years it has lain empty; family feuding for its future.

As each year passes it falls into disrepair, an echo of its former self.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

We found our way to the château late on Monday evening with our French Muse guests – undaunted by the eery purple sky and heavy, darkening clouds which promised a storm.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The air was electric; with tension; anticipation; promise; and as we stood inside the chateau, the rain came bucketing down.

No-one uttered a word – ‘wow’ just wouldn’t cut it. It was a sacred moment with an undefinable magic in the air.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Every room was lit only by the dimming sunlight so we tiptoed around seeking out shadows. I made out 1920s glass light shades on top of apiano; boxes of antique wooden kitchen tools; 1800’s shop mannequins with tiny wasp waists; floor to ceiling stacks of old papers, ledgers & music sheets; a mountain of antique trunks filled with velvets, lace and passementerie….we had definetly stepped through a portal to a different universe.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

Every wall was decorated with intricate handpainted details, peeling and flaking, disolving over time.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The house felt alive – it cried out for love and attention. To be saved and salvaged and restored.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

On the upper floors the light was a little better and we could see out across the incredible grounds, to the forests that stretched beyond the immense basin which once served as the reservoir for the village.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

We dicely inched up the stairs eager to explore, “stick to the sides – they should be safer”, I translated from French to our guests.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

My favourite room filled with a row of silk and velvet armchairs, stain glass windows and painted cameos.

hall2

I found myself imagining the furniture coming to life at night, a silly smile spreading across my face.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

This looks a lot more ‘haunted’ that it felt.

IMG_1820

hall

We reluctantly left the chateau with the promise to return the next day to explore (and buy antiques) in the daylight…..

Here is a tantalising teaser before I bring you inside – the umbrellas (antique of course) are drying after a night of heavy rain.

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

The French Muse experience private chateau brocante

You can experience what it felt to be inside the castle as the rained poured down outside in this video here

If you just can’t wait for sneak peeks I have been adding images of our trip on instagram

Note: The chateau is currently for sale and has a pigionnier and a church (in ruins) as well as extensive grounds. It is crying out for an owner!

French Paper, print & pattern

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

It’s the weekend and that means we go a – BROCANTE – ing!!

Two of the friendliest, most talented dealers in the Luberon. They always raise a smile even on the dampest of brocanting days – they hit our guests with their quadruple wammy; Gallic charm; seductive French accents; beautiful eclectic collections, and unbeatable great prices – we didn’t stand a chance!

The French Muse experience antique brocante

With yesterdays home sub consciously on my mind – I found myself being drawn to collections, antique crystal carafes; Limoges tea sets…

The French Muse experience antique brocante

Crystal carafe stoppers in a pile, twinkling at us to take them home

The French Muse experience antique brocante

A wonderful stack of ‘Le Petit Echo de Mode’, a weekly French fashion magazine founded in 1880… beautiful illustrations, dress and embroidery patterns and the most amusing advertisement campaigns – a pure joy to pour over.The French Muse experience antique paper brocantepaper brocanteexperience antique textile brocante

After four hours of treasure truffling, we collapsed down into comfortable bistro chairs at one of our favourite off the beaten track restaurants, hearty, warm French comfort food, a hug in a each spoonful of creamy laden ‘Ravioles Dauphiné‘ – the French version of Macroni & cheese.

The French Muse experience french feast

Louis XVI looks like he might like dessert even more than I …. Lemon meringue tart gives just the right amount of sugar rush to tackle this afternoons treat – a private home visit and brocante with ‘Mr Paper’ who collects and deals antique paper & ephemera.

 

The French Muse experience french feast

 

Antique paper is a new love for me, photographs, school notebooks and music books have crept into my heart these last few years, beckoning to me to take them home and love them.

So I was pretty – I mean VERY  – excited to visit the home Mr. Paper (as Corey calls him).

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

Inside his paper man-cave meets atelier my head spun – I spotted a stack of old wallpaper. It’s always a mystery right up until you roll it out as to what you will find, perhaps it will be 70s clashing flower prints or 80s chintz… but if you are really lucky then you will unravel a roll of hand printed goache French made wallpaper….

Guess what – he had roll upon roll of incredible goache wallpaper, no two rolls were the same. Deep luscious purples and pinks, teal and emerald – vibrant and commanding and utterly contemporary despite their 100 years.

 

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

Books to make every heart skip a beat; leather bound and embossed music sheet books; marbled paper lining; ribbon and lace sample books with handwritten script desciptions – SOLD!

 

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante
Antique wallpaper and upholstery samplers, each one unique, handprinted and exquisite….how could you possibly just choose one?

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

Subtle variations for different uses – of course once we had lost our heart to these it felt somewhat a relief to hear that they were not for sale (not yet at least).

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

I felt a kinship to discover our friend had difficulty bidding goodbye to his most favourite finds. Something so traditionally ‘throw-away’ as paper and yet certain patterns haunt him and he can’t quite bear to part with them. It’s reassuring to realise you’re not the only sentimentalist in the room!

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

I picked up a stack of incredible school homework notebooks (cashiers de devoirs) from 1894. Wonderful French literature lessons, arithmetic sums, geographical charts and all with the teachers notes in red in the border.

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

These are the things I find myself most drawn to recently. Perhaps it is because my own son is now learning ‘joint-handwriting’ within the French school system and this connects me with the work of these children.

The French Muse experience antique paper brocante

I would nearly enroll myself in order to learn how to write so beautifully!

IMG_The French Muse experience antique textile brocante

There was something for every taste. Corey has lots of other photographs on her blog so check it out here for paper & ephemera love.

Another day lived passionately and generously. Tomorrow is another day, with untold exquisite antiques waiting for us as we venture to Isle sur la Sorgue.

A demain!

 

 

 

Tangled up in Blue

Spurred on by the opportunity to learn indigo with Maura Grace Ambrose of Folk Fibers at an indigo dying atelier with the wonderful SCAD alumni Fiber artists a few weeks ago – I knew I had to offer our French Muse guests the opportunity to get the indigo bug. If they were anything like me they would become instant indigo addicts.

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

It seemed only natural to me to bring our ladies to the ancient village lavoir in Lacoste. Once a meeting point for villagers to do their laundry – it has been restored but is rarely used nowadays for laundry.

I noticed an elderly villager drive past us four or five times taking in our activity, as we dipped our white linens in and submerged them in the indigo then hung them to dry on the lines.

My imagination went into overdrive, would we be reported to the Mairie? it was hard to read his expression.

On the fifth turn, he slowed and pulled in. He stepped out of his car smiling. His eyes took in our indigo-tinged hands & feet and the lines of drying linen. He half whispered to us, voice choking with emotion, saying it was the most beautiful thing he had seen in many years.

As he motioned to the drying linens, he did his best to hold back tears as he described how our activity was transporting him back 60 years to when he was first married. He spoke of how his wife would come to do her laundry at the lavoir, expressing both sadness (at the memory) but also happiness in seeing this corner of Lacoste be brought to life once again.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction from my neighbours and am so thankful to have been able to participate in this special moment.

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

“The use of the lavoir was prohibited on certain days, such as the week between Christmas and New Years day, the Holy week, and the ‘octave of the dead’ on November 2, because of the believed presence of souls on Earth on those days. Souls were thought to purify themselves on open bodies of water functioning as purgatories.”*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

A Lavandiere – the village laundress:

“Lavandieres were said to “read” clothes, underwear, and sheets, compiling information as their main fortune. Known for their uncensored gossip and feared for their knowledge of the townspeoples intimate lives, these women held considerable power among the local populace. Even though they did not have the respect of the bourgeoisie, the lavandieres enjoyed a deep sense of community. When needed, they would hasten to one another’s side, and they knew when discretion was necessary. For a young woman in trouble, the lavoir was the first place to go in quest of solidarity, advice, and moral support since laundresses knew social marginality.”*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

“Life at the lavoir was bustling with activity and noise. The loudness of the often-vaulted space, saturated in the white noise of flowing water and punctuated by the beating of laundry, led to high volume conversations. The space of the lavoir has been compared to a womans version of the cafe, where men engaged in animated discussions on local politics and village life.”*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

“The lavoir represented a uniquely feminine space of relative emancipation. “*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

“Fortune tellers interrupted laundry days, reading the oracle in the flotation patterns of linens.”*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

“Such a unified community of women was often alarming to the men of the town. It was suspected that decisions were first envisioned at the lavoir, then brought to the privacy of each household where they were infiltrated into the collection consciousness of the voting gender.”*

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

 

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

The adjoining fountain provides ‘eau potable’ – fresh drinking water for the village. In summer I often see cars stopping here and families file out to fill their empty galon water bottles.

The French Muse experience Indigo dying workshop

**Note – wonderful quotations from the book ‘Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France’ By Mireille Roddier

shibori

We dyed on a grassy hill just beside the lavoir – so as not to permanently dye the 500 year old cobble stones blue. I didnt get a chance to take photographs as I was elbow deep in a bucket of indigo but if you are tempted to see photos of the dying-rinsing-dying-rinsing process then go on over to Coreys blog Tongue In Cheek for a behind the scenes look at todays indigo fun!

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.

P1290883

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!

 

 

In antique textile heaven

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

We enterered via a small forged iron gate, through a heavily perfumed, Iris lined pathway  – a private antique textile brocante heaven in a Provencal 1800s townhouse – just for our French Muse experience guests.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Everyone has their own technique when they go to the brocante, mine just happens to be a somewhat less efficient method than more serious buyers.  Of course I love the rummaging in dusty boxes for treasure but what I love most of all is the exchange of stories, knowledge and passion.

You can blame it on the Irish gift of the gab but I can easily spend eight hours, chatting, sharing, touching textiles and getting to know these women who have immersed themselves in creating with and collecting textiles for over fifty years.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

And so at a recent flea market I chanced my arm and asked if I could come visit the home of one of my favourite sellers, and if I could bring some friends.

..and guess what? She said yes!!  and she added “I will open all my armoires for you to see everything I have collected” (little jump for joy)

   The French Muse, Textile Brocante

It was beyond what I could ever have imagined.

The perfect day. The sun was shining and as we rounded the corner of the little path, I forgot to breathe as I took in the tables my friend had laid out in her garden, boxes of textile treasures lay dappled in afternoon sunshine.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Imagine having an opportunity to browse antique textiles without any crowds, with an expert gently guiding you through each box, carefully explaining the techniques used in each piece, what it would have been created for, what a particular stitch was called – so much fun!

Every so often, my friend would disapear inside her house and emerge a few minutes with an antique boutis or tapestry from her vast collection.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Generosity.

Of time, energy, knowledge, spirit and passion.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

A meeting of kindred spirits. Nourishing.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Beauty everywhere we looked.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Our hosts created the most simple & elegant lunch that was for me the essence of French cooking; fresh, seasonal, unfussy and delicious in every way.  At one point I lifted my head from the boxes of textiles to catch everyone photographing the table – our hosts must have thought we were crazy.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

..and just as I thought my senses couldn’t take anymore, our host brought us into her atelier.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Floor to ceiling shelves of an antique meuble de metier filled with the most incredible patterns. I couldn’t pick a favourite.

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

A day I will never forget!

The French Muse, Textile Brocante

Corey and I are already planning some wonderful activities for our September French Muse experience so if you would like to find out more please email us on ruthribeaucourt at gmail dot com

Les Petits Bonheurs – Humayrah Khan

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

I approached Humayrah Khan, having fallen head over heels in love with her instagram gallery. I am always astounded at the detail in the older beaded and embroidered pieces I discover from late 1800s – early 1900s but when I stumbled into Humayrahs gallery her work took my breath away. Her creations are simultaneously  fresh and  timeless, thoughtful, provoking and utterly beautiful. Her work is the antidote to fast fall apart fashion, each creation fills my heart with joy with her unique interpretation of ancient motifs and exquisite techniques and just this month she launched a beautiful Etsy store where she will sell her work, wonderful embroidery kits, specialised Goldwork threads and notions.

How did you start embroidering?

“I began embroidering at the age of 14 after seeing my grandma lovingly make crocheted gifts for friends and family. I have fond memories of spending my school holidays in her home, the duck egg blue walls, hand-dyed silk saris that neatly lined her wardrobe, even the soft floral scent of her saris are still fresh in my mind.
After studying fashion at university, I was blessed with the opportunity to study Hand Embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework, in Hampton Court Palace. During the 2 year course I developed my skills in traditional Hand Embroidery techniques like Goldwork and Silk Shading and it was here that I discovered my love and appreciation for exquisite craftsmanship.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Is there anything that you cannot imagine parting with?

“There are very few things that I cannot imagine parting with. They probably are of no monetary value but knowing that these items once belonged to my grandmother and that she had once touched them, means a lot to me. The chiffon scarves she used to crochet for me, her Kohl applicator, her laces and trims, her rusty steel scissors are all very dear to me.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse
How long do you ‘live’ with materials before you start working with them?

“Over the years I have collected many textiles and embroidery materials from my travels to India, Dubai, Tunisia and Thailand. I purchase them thinking that I will use them soon but cherish them for years in their pristine, untouched packaging without using them. But years later I will find a use for it and try to unearth it amongst all the other bits and pieces in my sewing room.

My favourite embroidery technique has to be Goldwork because of the way the metal threads vary in colour when seen in different lights and from different angles.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Chatoyant (adj.) Varying in colour when seen in different lights or from different angles.

Who inspires you?

“I’ve always loved discovering beautiful things. My grandparent’s belongings, lost, old objects, things I stumble across on evening walks, all inspire me. I often wander through the woods near my home, where I gather leaves, twigs, feathers and other things I can find to bring back home and preserve. I also like to incorporate the treasures I find into my embroideries and with each piece I feel that a part of me has been embedded into my work. It is this part of me that I would like to share with others.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Fuubutsushi (n.) the things-feelings, scents, images – that evoke memories or anticipation of a particular season.

“Unusual words with profound meanings also inspire me. My favourite word at the moment is ‘Kintsukuroi’, (n.) (v.phr.)”to repair with gold’; The art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken – Japanese. Usually the connection between words and embroidery is not apparent to anyone except me.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Komorebi (n.) sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

Where do you do your making?

“All my work is done in my room which is known by my friends and family as; The Olde Sewing Room. I am currently working on an embroidered piece inspired by calligraphy and a thought provoking word; Sonder (n.).

The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Do you ever get creative block, what are your tips on dealing with it? I know for me I have days when nothing seems to work, it’s like I forget how to make…

“I abhor those days! On these days I simply have to step away and seek help through patience and prayer. Chocolate also helps me on days like these!”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Where are your favourite places (market/online) for sourcing materials?

“I enjoy going to flee markets and local souks when I am travelling where I can be inspired by local textiles and culture.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Kintsukuroi (n.) (v.phr.) “to repair with gold”; the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

Where are you happiest?

“My home is a sanctuary to me. It is where I feel my most authentic self and is where I am happiest…especially when I am alongside Mary my mannequin.”

Q8

How do you sell your embroidery work?

“I supply specialised Goldwork threads to the Royal School Of Needlework and have recently began selling my work on Etsy (The Olde Sewing Room). I also sell my work privately through personal connections and Instagram.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

What is your favourite corner in your house?

“My room has to be my favourite place in my home. It is where I can escape from the chaotic world, it is my prayer room, a room to get together with family and friends and The Olde Sewing Room.”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

How has social media changed the way you create / connect with other creatives?

“I feel social media has changed me by enabling me to express emotions and thoughts through embroidery. It has also allowed me to make some lifelong connections with artists from across the world. I find it incredible that people who live on opposite sides of the world can be brought together through a mutual love for art.”
Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

Antiscians (n.) People who live on opposite sides of the world, “whose shadows at noon are cast in opposite directions”

Humayrah Khan Les Petits Bonheurs portrait The French Muse

 For more information you absolutely must check out Humayrahs Instagram and Etsy store The Olde Sewing Room.