Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Use Your Linen, Don't Let It Languish in a Cupboard!

I am constantly hearing people say that they don't use their linen tablecloths any more, particularly embroidered ones as they think of them as too formal for the way we live nowadays.

It is such a shame as in the interiors press and online I see lots of companies offering linen tablecloths and napkins and saying how wonderful the fabric is etc etc. But we know that already!

Well there's no need to buy new if you already have vintage linen in your cupboard - just think of it a different way. People often regard taupe embroidered Madeira cloths as old fashioned or dated, but I love to use mine layered over a plain cloth and last weekend I set a table in the garden for a lunch with friends. Everyone loved the mix of old and new!

That got me thinking, so when the guests had gone I decided to take some more photos to show how you can use all those lovely cloths you have stored away.

Look how different a traditional cutwork white linen cloth looks when you layer it over a brighter colour and team it with coloured glass and cutlery. Whoever said your "fine" linens couldn't be used in a less formal setting?!

Another classic white cloth, but this time teamed with a natural linen undercloth and brightly coloured napkins.

And those 1950s printed cloths look great when you bring them into the sunshine and set a summer lunch table.

Or a dainty embroidered teacloth makes a pretty table for a morning coffee or afternoon cuppa. I like to mix modern mugs with a gorgeous Royal Crown Derby milk jug, all in pink, white and gold!

So there we are - some suggestions for getting those lovely linens out of the airing cupboard and onto your table. And if you don't already have linens like this, then you'll find lots on the website!!

Wishing everyone a great summer filled with sunshine and relaxation!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

A Fresh Approach to Embroidery on Irish Linen

Almost 2 years ago I was searching for unusual Irish Linen pieces to decorate a house in an old linen mill and Deborah Toner's cushions really caught my eye. I commissioned her to create a pair of cushions with an embroidered design inspired by an early 1900s postcard of the mill.

Deborah is a talented designer in my home city of Belfast.

Trained originally as an architect, she has chosen to use her architectural drawing skills to create beautiful embroidered pieces for the home, all stitched on locally woven Irish Linen.

As part of her degree thesis Deborah stitched a series of maps showing the evolution of the city of Belfast, and these pieces were purchased by the Ulster Folk Museum in Cultra. That was just the start…..

Inspired by the buildings and landmarks of Belfast, Deborah began to hand draw a range of images, which she then machine embroidered to form the first collection. A Belfast skyline, the City Hall, the Albert Clock, Samson and Goliath - the iconic twin gantry cranes of the shipyards are just a few of the subjects adorning a range of cushions, panels, lavender bags and cards.

When the Queen visited Belfast in 2014, the City of Belfast chose 2 of Deborah’s Belfast Skyline cushions as their gift to Her Majesty.  What a wonderful recognition of her skill and talent.

Now Deborah has an eye to a wider audience - she has just added Dublin to her collection. The intricate details of the front of Trinity College, a series of Georgian doorways of Dublin, the city skyline and the General Post Office all spring to life on fabulous neutral shades of linen. And I hear there are plans on the drawing board for London, Edinburgh and even further afield!

In the midst of all the drawing and stitching and stretching of linen, Deborah also finds time to offer her Bespoke service. I chose to have an image of the mill stitched as a cushion, but there are lots of possibilities.

Deborah can be found every Sunday at the ever popular St George’s Market in Belfast and later this month she will be adding an online shop to her website

It is really inspiring to see a traditional fabric like Irish Linen used in such a different fashion. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A wonderful Christmas surprise!

Wishing everyone a healthy happy and prosperous 2016.

I am appalled to note that I haven't added any posts since September - somehow the Autumn months just disappeared with sales to attend, linens to sort and restore and plenty more besides.

Christmas Day 2015 was spent with close friends and hosted by a wonderful Australian couple. I had a panic phone call on Christmas Eve from Rosemary - the tablecloth she had planned to use was covered in brown spots and she didn't know what to do. For some reason she thought I might know!

She explained that it was quite an old cloth and one of a cupboardful that she and her husband acquired along with the house they bought a year or so ago. All was well and my rescue recipe for marked linens did the trick.

Arriving at their home I was brought straight to see the now pristine white damask cloth, and in passing Rosemary said "there is some interesting embroidery to one corner, perhaps you might like to have a look".

Interesting! That's for sure, this beautiful banqueting cloth had been embellished with the initials of the original owner, the figures 3/30 telling me that this was number 3 of a set of 30 banqueting cloths and then literally to top it all, a coronet with 7 balls or pearls as they were known.

Santa's offerings of earlier in the day paled into insignificance when compared to this fabulous piece! I have often seen pictures of the monograms of European nobility and royalty, but this was the first time I had seen one first hand.

I learned that the lady to whom the house had previously belonged was German by birth, so this was beginning to make more sense. As I had suspected, the 7 pearls on the coronet denote a Baron or Freiherr in Germany, a title dating from the days of the Holy Roman Empire and whilst no longer carrying any privileges, it is often still used as part of the family name.

Who knows if we will ever find out exactly who the Baron was, but in the meantime our wonderful Christmas meal took on a new dimension, knowing we were eating on a cloth used at some point in a baronial hall in Germany. Considering that so many of our Christmas traditions have been adopted from German customs it seemed most fitting.

Here are a few more photos for you to enjoy.

A fine trellis design decorated the body of the cloth, lozenges and roundels in regular bands, quite different to the elaborate scrolling patterns more favoured by Irish damask weavers.

The padded uprights to the W and A of this monogram are exquisitely stitched in a rembourré style, padded and full, whilst the flourishes and flowers are picked out in a pinkish red. Even the inventory mark of 3/30 is painstakingly stitched.

I have altered the exposure of this image to give a better rendition of the damask, always a challenge to capture successfully.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Those Were The Days

I recently came across 2 images from the 1940s and 50s which both tell of very different days in terms of linen, its production and care.

First of all the photo of linen being spread out on a bleaching green. 

The label on the back of the photo reads as follows: 

"Northern Ireland: An elderly worker spreads out fine damask linen on the grass to bleach in the sun."  Dated November 1949. The worker doesn't look that "elderly" to me, but this is how he was perceived in the press in the USA. This photo came from the archives of a New York press agency.

The second image made me laugh out loud. Again from the archives of an American press agency, this one is entitled "Winsome Twosome"! 

Dated November 1957, the label gives us more information on the scene.

"Paris: The 'Blue Flower' of French womanhood, Camille des Ardins, turns her cheek for a congratulatory kiss from an official of the French linen industry in Paris. She was named Parisian winner of a nationwide contest to find the girl having the best qualities for the upkeep of household linen, some of which is prominently displayed during the ceremony at the Eiffel Tower."

The blue flower refers to the flax flower of course, and it was often represented on the selvedge of French linen metreage and sheeting. It is also the emblem of Northern Ireland and was adopted as the symbol for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Poor Camille! I can imagine the hours she must have spent practising her ironing skills, and that was in the days before the steam iron was in use!  And after all that she gets to wear a sash and receive a kiss from an old boy in a suit! A high price to pay!!

This image will come to mind as I tackle the next pile of linen laundry - although it is unlikely anyone will offer me a sash as a reward!! I shan't even think about the chap in the suit!!!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Linen Journey 2015 Part 2

As promised some more about my recent visit to the home of Irish Linen.

Thankfully in addition to the artefacts being preserved in museums, there are one or two individual collectors who are doing a great job of saving important linen-related materials and machinery, which might otherwise be discarded or destroyed.

One such collector is a gentleman near Gilford in Co. Down, who has amassed a huge collection. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit him and be shown some fascinating memorabilia, machinery and documents. At last I stood in front of the type of machine that would have been used by my great aunt, when she worked as a linen yarn winder in 1901 in Belfast.

Her job involved transferring the linen yarn from the large spools to the smaller pirns or bobbins, which were then inserted into the shuttles and passed to the weavers. She would have worked from 6am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 6am to 12.30 on a Saturday! Long hard hours, for sure.

I have talked about point charts before; but I had never seen ones of the size in this collection! 

Below the chart you can see the salesmen's cards showing the style of the tablecloth designs, each one with its design name and pattern number printed to the top.

And then there were pattern books full of beautiful damask cloths and napkins. Each design was stamped with the pattern number and the size. I thought perhaps these too were salesmen's samples, but apparently it was more likely that they were archive records. The quality of the weaving was just stunning and there were 100s of designs!

So there I was in a huge barn in the middle of a field in the heart of Co. Down (an unlikely place for me, as anyone who knows me will tell you!) and I couldn't believe what a great time I had. So many new facts learned and so many stories recounted. I think I need to go back for another visit sometime soon!