Monday, September 27, 2010

A Victorian Tartan Wool Shawl

This is a 150 year old Scottish crinoline shawl with a genuine West of Scotland provenance, in a very subtle, slightly faded, green and purple tartan. Sadly, it's also full of moth holes, but it's a fascinating reminder of a previous fashion craze! I don't know what the tartan is - have tried to search for it, but with no success. The craze for tartan began in the early 1800s, with Walter Scott's deliberate romanticising of the Highlands, but these tartan shawls became very fashionable when Victoria was at the height of her obsession with all things Scottish (including her Highland servant John Brown!) These huge crinoline shawls were for warm outdoor use, when the crinoline hooped skirt was also in fashion, i.e. about the mid nineteenth century, so this is a rare and interesting survival.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Adding a Little Value

I love my old linen and lace. Can get excited, just rummaging through boxes of old textiles, wondering what I'm going to find next. I was thinking about this only the other day when I visited an antique centre, not a million miles from here. It's a huge warehouse of a place, with various dealers renting space. Some of them have their goods beautifully arranged, labelled and properly priced, but others seem content to use this simply as storage space, with everything more or less dumped haphazardly in whatever area they are renting - furniture, architectural antiques, textiles. I got quite cross about the textiles in particular, and here's the reason why. People don't know how to treat it with love.
When I buy a box of old linen and lace, I sort through it all, as soon as possible. This preliminary 'sort' will let me know what I want to keep and what I don't. There will be a very few things that are damaged beyond hope of repair. There will be a few more things that may be of use to somebody but not to me. These will be put back into the saleroom at some point or - more often - donated to my local charity shop. The rest - the majority of items -  will be sorted out according to their uses: tablecloths, bedlinen, 'small stuff' such as lace edgings, hankies, doilies and so on. Next comes careful laundering. This is important because the dust harms delicate fibres and I like to get rid of it as soon as possible. Some things will have to be soaked, some washed carefully by hand,  some can go straight into the machine. I never use a boil wash, but I'll launder robust linen tablecloths on a long 60 degree wash, with a proprietory stain remover of some kind. Other items, fragile silk and wool, I will simply store carefully in acid free tissue, away from bright sunlight, with lavender to freshen them up. I have a huge old linen cupboard, which I clear out occasionally. It's amazing how often you can forget what is lurking at the bottom of a shelf - I found two stunning antique mixed lace cloths, carefully folded away, the other day. I had bought them a few years ago and forgotten all about them!
After the laundering and drying - outside in the fresh Scottish air if possible - comes the ironing, with a commercial pressurised steam iron, and - where appropriate - some spray starch. Believe it or not this is my husband's job, and he makes a very good job of it too. It is also at this stage that faults can be checked and noted, although no matter how closely you examine something, there will always be one or two that 'get away' which is why, when I'm selling online, I always offer a refund if a customer is disappointed.
Now all of this certainly 'adds value' - but I honestly don't do it just for that reason. I do it because I, myself, value these lovely pieces of old needlework. I like to think of the people - usually women - who made them, who devoted time and trouble to them. To me, these things are precious, and should be treated as such.
Which leads me back to that antique centre. What was really distressing, for me, was to find - in some areas at least - boxes and bags of rather lovely old textiles, simply abandoned to cold and dust. Linen tablecloths with fine crochet edgings, flung in a heap, with the dust of years still on them.  But with astonishingly high prices all the same - too high, sadly, for something so obviously unappreciated and unloved. If you are going to get into this business, you have to love that you deal in. Otherwise, how can you possibly enjoy selling it to somebody else?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Tablecloths Coming

Our weather has turned very wet and windy over the past few days. Last night, in particular, I was reminded of the first line of that wonderful Ted Hughes poem -  'This house has been far out at sea, all night' - which was exactly what it felt like. Anyway, it puts me in mind of upcoming winter festivities, and reminds me that in October and November, people always start to visit The Scottish Home, looking for large tablecloths, preferably large white, linen tablecloths that will look stunning for parties of all kinds. I've been stockpiling a few, so will be listing as many of them as I can, online, between now and Christmas.

A few weeks ago, while summer was still in full swing, I found myself advising a good friend about laundering the linen tablecloths which she had used for her birthday garden party. We attended the party, staying with her in her beautiful old Oxfordshire farmhouse. The celebrations went on just about all weekend, because some of the guests came back for lunch the following day - but as order was restored, we were left with a pile of tablecloths marked with food and wine stains. Linen, however, is remarkably forgiving. I recommended that she use Vanish, or some similar proprietory stain remover, and give them a good long machine wash - not a boil wash, which is unneccessarily harsh - but a two hour 60 degree wash, and then hang them outside to dry in the sunshine. To her surprise, she found that even one or two old stains disappeared and the cloths looked as good as new, all ready for the next celebration!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An Old Willow Pattern Irish Linen Tablecloth

I love willow pattern crockery in blue and white, especially those wonderful old earthenware platters that you sometimes come across. There's something about old blue and white ware that goes extremely well with dark wood furniture. Now, 'brown furniture' has had a spell of being deeply unfashionable here in the UK. You can still pick up an Ercol oak dresser with matching table in your local saleroom for the proverbial 'song.' Less, in fact, that you would pay for flat pack chipboard. Much of it has been transported, in containers, to the USA, where they seem to appreciate this solidly built and really very attractive furniture rather more than we do. However - as so often happens in the antiques business - times and fashions are changing. It has a lot to do with ideas of recycling, or upcycling, I think, with the fashion for all things vintage, both in clothes and household goods. (I've been wearing vintage for years, since I was a student, in fact. I like to think I was ahead of my time, rather than just poor!) We may not all be quite ready for a complete resurgence in the intricacies of Victoriana  but people are certainly beginning to appreciate real wood, either the lovely chunky simplicity of genuinely old oak, or the later equally lovely lines of well made oak furniture from the 1900s.

All of which also goes some way towards explaining the growing popularity of lovely old linens, for bed and table alike. Why spend a fortune on new polycottons, when you can get fabulous antique textiles for a good deal less.  In one of my recent auction lots of old linens, I found a new and unused (albeit very grubby)  'double damask' Irish linen tablecloth, patterned all over with an absolutely gorgeous Willow Pattern design. Not only that, but woven into the cloth itself is the actual willow pattern story:

'Koong Shee, daughter of a rich mandarin, loved Chang. But her father, wishing her to marry a wealthy suitor, shut her up in the house to the left of the temple. Chang, disguised, effected her release and the lovers, pursued by the Mandarin, fled to Chang's island.They lived happily there until discovered by the wealthy suitor who burned down their home when from the ashes, their twin spirits arose in the form of two doves.'

So unusual - and imagine such a tablecloth being used - as was probably the intention of the company that made it - with a willow pattern dinner service. What a talking point that would be!