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About Antique French Textiles 

Antique fabrics are over 100 years old.  They were made and produced in France and catered to French tastes of their times. 
Most of La Maison Violette's textiles were at some point stored away in an attic of a several hundred-year old stone house in the south of France.  Passed down through the generations, the textiles are purchased today by French antique dealers when the house passes to new owners who want to clear out its contents.  La Maison Violette hunts for these treasures across France:  selecting each one individually, shipping, soaking, cleaning, ironing and preparing them for you to use and treasure. 

Many of the characteristics of these fine old textiles has to do with their age:  most textiles were printed on narrow looms, for prints these were usually about 30 to 32 inches wide.  Colors were produced using natural and later, chemical, dyes and mordants (chemicals that helped pigment adhere to the fabric).  Various techniques and dyes were used over time and with different success that affect the palette of colors available.  Some colors were more difficult to make colorfast, which is why some fabrics have a soft, faded look -- most of the colors softened or even disappeared over time.

Printed fabrics:
What I love about the old prints is the amazing detail that you can find; a result of the printing processes that were able to capture the tiniest lines and details.  Early methods of printing were used throughout the 19th century, even as faster techniques were created.  The earliest prints were made using carved wood-blocks or etched copper plates, which later developed into rolled plates to improve printing speeds. 

Many of the fabrics that still exist were once used as bed curtains, which used between 12 and 24 yards of fabric.  The curtains, however, were used in 3-yard lengths, which is why it is difficult to find fabric that is much longer than this.  Some fabrics remain in excellent condition, showing little use or wear, but it is not uncommon to find at least some signs of wear, such as small holes or stains, and sometimes fading. 

These lovely fabrics are often purchased by fabric designers, decorators and individuals and are beautiful made into pillows, quilts, duvet covers, lampshades and small projects.

Some dyes are more apt to run or fade, and may result in faded or uneven coloring.  Best washed by hand in cold water (or machine in a garment bag) using "Color-Catcher" to capture any loose dyes.

Antique and Vintage Ticking was used to cover mattresses or for upholstery.  Now prized for their patterns and durability, tickings were usually wide enough to cover a "2-person" mattress and measured about 4 yards in length and around 56 inches wide, sewn into a large pocket and filled with wool or feathers.  Ticking has become increasingly difficult to find, and often is severely worn or stained, or has evenly distributed holes left from tufting.  Nevertheless, it is wonderful cut up and used for smaller projects such as pillows, bags, and aprons, or patched together to make duvet covers or other larger projects.  As with any antique or vintage fabric, it is best to wash in cold water and use "Color Catcher" in case there is some slight bleeding of the colors.

Linen textiles could be made from flax, hemp and cotton.  Most looms before the 20th century made fabrics measuring between 30 and 40 inches wide.  Sheets had to be made by sewing 2 lengths together by hand down the middle of the sheet.

Sheets were made using a variety of fabrics, from rustic homespun and handwoven hemp or flax, to finely woven flax and cotton.  Homespun hemp and flax are now highly prized for their weight and texture; a soft golden or flax color and stiff texture when created, they became increasingly soft and lighter in color with use and frequent washing and drying in the sun.  Linens were made to last for generations, and many of them have; whether fine and embroidered or heavy and rustic.  Although they do not always fit standard American bed sizes, they can still be used for many purposes, including sheets, curtains, bedcovers, duvet covers, tablecloths, and upholstery. 

They can be
washed in a machine or by hand and if dried on a line will have fewer wrinkles.  A smoother surface can be achieved by ironing if desired; or put them in the dryer for a softer feel.  Linen can be refreshed by spraying lightly with water and stretching by hand or (for clothing) hung in a humid room.

Monograms were useful in identifying one's linens or clothing from one's neighbors -- an early version of name tags or laundry markers -- since washing was done in communal "lavoirs" and laid to dry on the surrounding grass.  They could be simple small red cross-stitched letters, or large, fancy, elaborately embroidered letters using padded (raised) stitches.  The initials used were the first letters of the husband's and wife's family names.  As sheets were made to last generations, the letters often did not match those of successive owners, but they were (and are!) prized as a sign of their heritage and for their beauty.

Until the late 20th century, French women were taught to embroider and sew from the time they were very young -- a necessity which could also become an art.  One of the charms of the vintage and antique clothing and linens is the beautiful hand-work that went into so many pieces, from tiny, hand-stitched seams and buttonholes to elaborately embroidered edges and monograms.

A number of women's magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries carried patterns for embroidering nightgowns and other home textiles.  The pattern provided the outline of the neckline (and the shoulders and/or sleeves), to be embroidered.  As most nightgowns used the same basic A-line shape for the body of the gown, it wasn't necessary to include the whole pattern in the magazines.  Many nightgowns are sleeveless and have button closures on the shoulders (or drawstring necklines) -- making it easier for nursing mothers.

Nightgowns could be made of fine cotton or linen, or from rustic homespun hemp and linen.  The seams were sewn by hand or machine (using a treadle sewing machine) and finished by hand.  If you look carefully at the insides of the gowns you can see the very tiny stitches -- the tinier the stitches, the better (so they were taught).  The gowns could be embroidered richly or simply, depending on the skill of the embroiderer.  Often you will find the name or initials of the wearer on fine work, or cross-stitch initials in red on the rustic gowns -- an attractive way of marking ownership (since laundry was done at the public "lavoirs" and left to dry on the nearby grass).

Nightgowns still appear occasionally at French flea markets -- whether beautiful and feminine or rustic and long-lasting -- remnants of a past and past artistry.  They are worn today as nightgowns, as house dresses, and as tunics over leggings and jeans.  In Europe, they are often dyed and worn by young women as beachwear.

They can be washed in a machine in a mesh laundry bag and hung to dry.  Embroidery sometimes needs a quick touch with the iron, and a quick spritz and hanging usually relaxes any wrinkles (especially for linen).

Rustic Shirts:
Rustic French farm shirts or smocks were made from homespun, handwoven fabric between about 1860 and 1912.  Originally they were worn by men to work in the fields -- they are rugged and made to last!  They were also worn for any kind of heavy work; you may find old pictures of painters or household servants wearing them to protect their regular clothing.

The shirts were designed to waste as little of the handwoven fabric as possible.  Each shirt is made up of several rectangles using the width of the fabric (usually between 30 and 40 inches wide).  To provide comfort and mobility, excess fabric is gathered at the back of the neck and tucked into a front "placket."  The sleeves, which are flat at top, were sewn to the body of the shirt in a straight line, forming a dropped-shoulder.  A square gusset under the arm provides extra mobility.  The seams were usually sewn on a treadle sewing machine and then finished by hand, and the buttonholes are also hand-stitched. 

Now they are worn as work smocks, as tunics over jeans or leggings, or (if worn and soft) to sleep in.  They are perfect for historical costumes or just hung on a wall or door to admire.

The heavy duty shirts are made to last; they can be washed by hand or machine and hung to dry (there are fewer wrinkles) and thrown briefly into the dryer to soften them up.  Stiffness is a sign that the shirt was barely used; they become marvelously soft with time and use.