Friday, July 30, 2010

The French Connection - Old French Whitework

When I was ferreting about an antique market in the South of France, near Perpignan, a couple of years ago, I found two beautiful old bonnets, in finest muslin, with delicately embroidered whitework. I was immediately attracted to them, because they seemed to me to resemble Ayrshire whitework so closely, and of course, as I've blogged about before, here,  Ayrshire embroidery began when Lady Marie Montgomerie returned from France, with a little sprigged and embroidered baby gown which she lent to her friend, Mrs Jamieson of Ayr, who copied the stitches - and started a whole cottage industry. These are, I think, day bonnets for young women to wear over their hair - they are a bit big for baby bonnets. The stitches with their sprigging and delicate infills, do resemble Ayrshire Whitework (although I have to say that a good deal of the Scottish whitework which I have seen, is even finer!)

What really fascinated me about these as well, however, was the fine muslin. I have never seen anything like it - it was like tissue paper - and had been crimped, probably with an old fashioned goffering iron.

I've decided that the time has finally come to let these go, so I'm listing them on my eBay shop this week, but I won't be too sad if they don't sell!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

John Ditchfield's Gorgeous Glass

We have been visiting close friends who live in the countryside between Blackpool and Lancaster for many years now, without realising that they live very close to the glass blowing studio of the amazing John Ditchfield.  Last Sunday, we went to his Glasform studio and saw a demonstration that was quite magical in its skill and intensity.
Although textiles are my passion in life, I have always had a liking for glass of all kinds, whether it be amazing stained glass, or those small, slightly misshapen drinking glasses that you sometimes come across in charity shops, and realise that - against all the odds - they may well have survived for two hundred years and more. But there can be few things as exciting as watching a master glass artist at work - and John is nothing if not a master and an artist. There's something enticing about the way in which a magician of this kind makes the work look easy - when, in reality, it's both difficult and dangerous. Watching him, you forget the high temperatures and the volatility of the material  - until, of course, you see the sparks flying!
His pieces have been described as the antiques of the future, by David Dickinson, among others - and I've certainly seen them fetching high prices at auction. You'll have seen them yourself perhaps - paperweights, mushrooms, lilypads (complete with silver frogs) and other natural forms in amazing iridescent colours. But not everything here is in miniature. Outside the studio are a variety of large and striking glass sculptures including the strange flowers above.
But my favourites are definitely the vases. The shapes are simple and very beautiful, while the patterns and colours in the glass are endlessly complicated and enticing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Vintage Patisserie

Anyone watching The Dragons' Den this week would have been treated to the sight of the charming 'Angel' with her Vintage Patisserie business. The presentation was as enticing as the cakes, and - given the enormous popularity of all things vintage - this did seem to be an idea whose time has come! The dragons clearly thought so too, and Angel got her money and the help of a couple of dragons. The Vintage Patisserie sounds like a business after my own heart. Ever since I was a little girl and used to go to salerooms with my mother, who collected pottery and porcelain, it has been the vintage and antique textiles that have enticed me. And many years before they became really fashionable, I also loved vintage clothes and costume jewellery, scouring charity shops for lovely old items that I could wear myself. Now, with my own online shop, The Scottish Home, I source, launder and recycle (or should that be upcycle?) a variety of old textiles. My customers come from as far afield as Korea and Japan (where they seem to love embroidered teacosy covers in particular!) as well as much closer to home. I adore the rescue aspects of all this, as much as anything else. It's so rewarding to buy a box of embroidered or lacy table linens, at auction - sometimes dusty and grubby because they may have been stored in an attic - soak them, wash them, freshen them and then see them go to new homes, and a useful life!  I can't count how many times people have said to me 'nobody wants these any more, do they?' But actually, you know, they do. So good luck to Angel with her wonderful vintage look, her stylish cakes and clothes, and her planned Vintage Patisserie. I haven't seen anything quite so exciting since my first visit to Demel's in Vienna (another fabulous vintage patisserie) many years ago!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 Tips on Placing Antiques in the Home

This week, The Scottish Home is delighted to introduce a guest post contributed by London Interior Designer Greg Kinsella. We find these tips fascinating, since it's a sad fact that too many of us impulsively buy wonderful antique or vintage items, but are then not entirely sure how best to display them in our homes!

There are certain rules of thumb you can employ for placing antiques in your home so that they exude just the right amount of charm without being pretentious or over-bearing. Here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your treasured collections:

1. Grouping

Any savvy merchandiser will tell you that placing an odd number of similar pieces of collectible antiques in a display will create the most appealing arrangement. So when arranging items on a shelf, follow this rule to draw the eye. Also you want to be sure not to group items of different genres together. In other words, it is better to have a shelf just for your glass antiques and come up with a different way to display antiques of another material or style.

2. Furniture Placement

To create a specific sense of an particular era, you can make theme placements for your antique furniture that feature a certain style in a room. For instance, if you have a collection of furnishings from a certain era, put them all in the same area and add any knick-knacks that match that time period in the same area, especially lamps and artwork.

3. Colours

When you paint the rooms containing your antiques, try to paint at least one wall the same color tone as your displays and furnishings. For pottery and earthware collections, choose a soft beige or brick red hue that will accent their natural colors If you are working with items like French provincial furniture, consider using a soft yellow or cinnamon color to highlight the decorative inlays and hardware features.

4. Mixing Vintage with Modern

Don't be shy about adding a few antique pieces to your ultra-modern rooms. The contrast between the old and the new accents your antiques and softens the stark effect which often results from the clean, modern lines of contemporary room designs.

5. Lighting

If your beautiful antique collection is not well lit, it runs the risk of not being noticed. Use embedded lights in display cases that eliminate shadows and have different watt bulbs for various items. Also consider overhead lighting fixtures or recessed ceiling spotlights to accent antique artwork or furniture groupings. A pair of vintage lamps strategically placed in your groupings can be used to add splashes of light to accent your most valued collections

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Bonnie Old Blankets

There is nothing quite like an old Scottish pure wool blanket for warmth, beauty and comfort. Most of the examples I come across here in Ayrshire are from the now defunct Skeldon Mill on the bonnie banks of the River Doon - and I've blogged about these on The Scottish Home before. But blanket weaving was widespread in Scotland and occasionally I come across other lovely examples. Just last week, I found two splendid soft woollen blankets with the label 'Lammermuir', registered in Scotland and Canada. I haven't been able to find out anything more about this presumably old blanket mill, although there is a new company - Pride of Lammermuir - in the foothills of the Lammermuir Hills, making the most beautiful traditional woven textiles.

People used to acquire these as wedding presents - some of them seem to have been put away and saved 'for best' and never used, which is a shame, since these are the most forgiving of textiles, and can usually be washed, even in a machine.

They look fabulous used as throws on a couch, or chair, or to dress a bed - or on children's beds. You have to be careful that a child with sensitive skin doesn't react to the wool, but I've found these blankets to be so soft that it's seldom a problem. Sadly, here in Scotland, these vintage blankets are so often thoughtlessly cut up for 'dog blankets' which seems like a crime to me.

In the old days, most village weavers would have woven their own blankets which were then taken to be treated at a 'waulk mill'. You can often see this term in placenames, especially in Southern Scotland, and in fact we have the remains of an old waulk mill just outside this village - and documentary evidence that the landowner, up in his big house, would sometimes have been paid rents in 'good woollen blankets'. Given the nature of our winters, they would have been very welcome indeed!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lovely Old Buttons, Lovely Old Box

A little while ago, I found this lovely box of linen covered buttons, among various old linens at auction.

I just love the name of these - 'The Iris Box of Superior Buttons, containing an assortment of the most useful sizes.' These must be Victorian or Edwardian - the kind of buttons that you often find on the back of pillowcases, or sometimes on old nighties. There's something incredibly engaging about the design of these surviving items of packaging - they sometimes seem to retain a flavour of the period more than the items themselves - perhaps because it is so rare to find them in good condition!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ardkinglas Gardens

To reach this wonderful hillside garden you have to negotiate the famous (or should that be infamous) Rest And Be Thankful. The entrance is well signposted, just before you round the head of Loch Fyne - where you can visit the famous Oyster Bar, if you want to sample some first class seafood! For those with less deep pockets, however, right next to the Oyster Bar is a little garden centre, The Tree Shop, with an excellent cafe where you can get freshly made sandwiches, home baking and a very good cup of coffee. You can also buy plants, shrubs and some rare trees, grown at Ardkinglas, on the other side of the loch. This is a hillside garden, so you need to be reasonably fit to negotiate the many steps, but the pinetum, where you can see champion trees like these, is more accessible. The formidable Scottish midges were having a field day when we went a couple of weeks ago, so be sure to bring some insect repellent. They don't actually like me, for some reason, and only bite me when nothing more succulent is available. I'm delighted about this, but it does nothing to help my companions, especially my husband, who is always mercilessly attacked. The gardens themselves are beautiful and the trees, including the tallest tree in the UK, Abies Grandis, are absolutely wonderful. There's something humbling about standing beneath one of these giants, and gazing up among the dizzying branches. These are monumental trees, trees with personality - well worth a small diversion, if you find yourself heading west from Loch Lomond.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Rare Old Scots Lowland Plaid

I've only ever come across one of these before - most of them have been so well used that they don't survive or are cut up for dog blankets - but I sourced this here in Ayrshire, which seems fitting, since it's exactly the kind of thing poet Robert Burns might have worn. It actually looks rather as though he DID wear it, as well, since it has so many holes, and has been darned so often over the years! It is a traditional hand woven woollen, lowland Scots plaid, in cream and black check - very large indeed at 42 inches by 120 inches. It's what Burns meant when he spoke of rolling a lassie 'in his plaidie' and seemingly Jean Armour noticed him because he wore his plaid differently from the other lads, as well as tying his hair in a fashionable way - a stylish young man, our Rab!

Often, when I'm handling an old textile, I find myself really wishing that they could talk. Well, they do talk, in a way. Each piece has its own story and it's possible to do your research, and to find out something about that history. Also, wearing my other hat, as a writer, I always find myself imagining what the tale of each individual textile might be. But sometimes it would be very nice to know exactly what went on - who wove this, and where, who wore it, where he lived, what he looked like...
Meanwhile, another bit of news. I'm trying to persuade a friend who is a wonderful interior designer, with a real flair for these things, to do the occasional guest post on upcycling with old textiles. She has more brilliant ideas than anyone else I know, so watch this space for more possibilities.