Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

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Hardwick Hall Tapestries

Because of my interest in tapestries - I use fragments to make cushions - I like to visit as many places where they are preserved as I can and a few weeks ago this was Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.Built by Elizabeth Cavendish, Bess of Hardwick, in the 1590s it was an astounding building for its time incorporating so many windows it was described as having 'more glass than wall'.  

Tapestries were used extensively to cover the walls.  Some came from that other great house of the Cavendish family - Chatsworth - and others were bought by Bess for Hardwick.  In fact the series of thirteen enormous Brussels tapestries illustrating the Story of Gideon which hang in the Long Gallery were acquired 'second hand' from the then Lord Chancellor who had run up enormous debts.  Elizabeth bought them at a knock down price of £326.15.9d which she then had reduced because it was necessary to superimpose her own arms over those of Sir Christopher.

Long Gallery with the Story of Gideon tapestries
In the Green Velvet Room the walls are lined with four tapestries telling the story of Abraham 

Green Velvet Room with Abraham tapestries

In the High Great Chamber, as well as a superb plaster frieze, hang the Ulysses tapestries

On a more human scale are four tapestries depicting putti playing games found on one of the staircases. These were made, not in Flanders, but in the short lived Hatton Garden workshop - albeit using Flemish weavers,  They date from 1678 and were acquired by a subsequent generation after Bess's death.  They are known as the 'Polidoros' - it is believed the designs were taken from a series of paintings by Polidoro di Carravagio acquired by Charles 1.

Hatton Garden late 17th century
Hatton Garden Playing Boys c. 1678

My interest in tapestry - and in the preserving of fragments by making them into cushions - gained immeasurably from looking closely at the Hardwick hangings.  Details of borders I find especially interesting for it is fragments from these which I am most able to find and use.  The motifs and subjects used at different periods and from different locations cast a light onto the origins of pieces.

The Trust has been undertaking conservation of the Gideon tapestries from Hardwick and is now on the eleventh in the series: 


The subject of conserving tapestry came up recently when chatting with a fellow blogger in the United States.  Ann was fortunate to take part in the restoration of a tapestry from a church in Milwaukee which she describes here: http://annquiltsblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/and-now-for-something-completely.html

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

More Cushions - Pillows

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Toile de Nantes Valance fragment - Les Lois de Lycurgue

Antique French toiles - whether it be Toile de Jouy,  de Nantes,  de Bordeaux - de Rouen etc are a wonderful source for creating unique cushions.  While perfect lengths of toile are fabulous as upholstery, curtains or bed drapes, often enough can be recovered from a piece of damaged fabric to make cushions.  Frequently pieces are hand quilted, having originally come from old drapes, and, when cleaned, can be used with a cotton or linen vintage fabric to create cushions.  If not quilted a fragment will probably need to be strengthened by attaching it to a robust linen or cotton backing before being made up.

There are many books devoted to these delightful scenic toiles and I try my best to identify those I use, although this not always possible.

Cushions made from quilted toile de Nantes  and linen Vichy-type check

La Danse Savoyarde
Toile de Nantes - l'Art d'Amour
Toile with imagined scenes from Walter Scott
Toile de Nantes - Telemarque & Calypso

Thursday, 20 February 2014

French Passementerie

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French passementerie - that is ornamental trimming of fringes, tassels, bobble and flat trim and used on drapes, cushions, furniture and clothing - is justifiably world renowned both for its variety and excellence of execution.

Today we have access to many and varied trims to enliven our homes but they are mostly made of synthetic materials unless one is prepared to pay premium prices for those in wool or silk.

Before the modern age most trimmings were of natural materials and those made in France were the best in the world.

I search out original trimmings to decorate cushions and curtains but, like everything else treasured and antique, they are getting harder to find and the price seem to go up every time I come across any.

18th century Aubusson tapestry cushion with wool bobble trim

Two wool tassel trims

I was lucky recently and very grateful to be able to buy a stash from a friend who lives in France so there is a spate of cushion making coming on!

A gorgeous heap of tassel and bobble trims

I also use 18th and 19th century ecclesiastical flat braid as it has a patina which goes well with antique textiles

A variety of 18th and 19th century metallic ecclesiastical trim

Gold metallic tassels used on vestments and church banners are a prize find

Gold Metallic Early 19th century tassels

Well - to get on with those cushions!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Antique French Tapestry

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18th Century French Aubusson Tapestry Cushion / Pillow

Cushions - or pillows as they are the other side of the pond - are a great way of adding instant chateau-chic to a room.  Tapestry has, of course, been used for centuries to enliven and warm the cold, draughty rooms of French chateaux and the echoing stone halls of great English country houses.  No longer needed so much for this purpose in these days of central heating, wonderful large tapestries - hand woven in France and elsewhere  - are stunning decorative elements in more modest as well as Stately Homes.

Over the centuries original tapestries have been moved, adapted, cut to fit new environments or -in many cases - almost left to moulder away.  Of course there are many great survivors of the Aubusson, Gobelins and other great tapisseries of France, of Flemish weavers  and of Mortlake and others in England.  However, these are also expensive.

More affordable are cushions made from old tapestry borders or from recovered parts of large tapestries.  A fragment of an eighteenth century Aubusson tapestry border was used to make the above cushion.  The rather savage-looking, hare - or rabbit - is surrounded by verdure with part of the original border (of the border!) below.

I have managed to find hand-woven French tapestry borders and fragments from the 16th (rather rare) to the early 19th centuries and enjoy extending their lives into the future by making them into cushions.  

A Group of cushions from an 18th century Aubusson Verdure tapestry

Cushion from an 18th century vertical Aubusson border with a Chateau