Uncovered - French Linen 05/06/2017

Je ne sais quoi...

Online Vintage Fair seller Gina very kindly shares with us her knowledge and passion for sourcing lovely embroidered, monogrammed and plain vintage French Linen and explains what makes it distinctive and special... 

I have been interested in fabrics since I was a small child, I liked to look, and feel what they were like, whether it was a floral cotton or a soft to feel viscose.  I was just interested in them all, I even made myself a cotton floral skirt (no sewing machine) when I was eight years old, and wore it and enjoyed it until it no longer fitted me.

Following on from this love of fabrics I went to Folkestone School of Art and did a dress design course, learning how to use the various fabrics, and how to cut patterns, to make fashion fantastic.

Not surprising then, that I am interested in French fashions, how they were designed and cut. I found that even in times of cutbacks the French still expected their clothes to fit them properly, and to enhance their body shape.  Seams that shape and give a good fit for example.  The French generally would not entertain an item of clothing that does not have a good cut, even less expensive garments will have the seaming required to enable the piece to fit well.  Usually with seams to shape under the bust as well as at the front and often also, on the back, see the seams on this blue jacket…  

 

As with their household linens, being that little bit different / special is also a requirement, whether it involves embroidery on a garment, or the addition of a contrast trim, or even a pocket hanging like a bag as with this striped blouse…

It is no secret that they (French ladies) like their lace; there is no such thing as too much.  They like lace as the whole garment, as decoration, sometimes in excess.  These clothes are not always kept as special, they are considered suitable for work or socialising, and can be used on a daily basis, and can look very chic like this white suit jacket…

The French as a nation are "petit", this does not necessarily mean thin, it means that the measurements from shoulder to bust, bust to waist, and waist to hip are shorter, whether that be a size 8 or a size 20.  As I am vertically challenged this method of design and cut suits me admirably, and I no longer have my shoulder seams up by my ears, much more comfortable and flattering.  Here I am browsing clothes at a Brocante in Saugon…

We have been visiting France for more than 40 years (our daughter has been married to a French man for 22 years) in fact it was because we went on holiday to France as often as we did that our daughter decided that she wanted to work there, this she did, starting to work for a well known holiday camping company.  There she met her future husband and now we have grandchildren who are half French and half English (we call them our tadpoles).  We very much like the French way of life, and indeed the fact that the French still like a little bit of luxury when it comes to their everyday linens, and clothes.  This definitely appeals to me; why be ordinary when you can use or wear something that little bit special, but still not break the bank!  Here I am again browsing for linens at a Brocante in Saintes…

Having come to love linen pillowcases, and sleeping under linen sheets (we use them on a daily basis (they are warm in winter and cool in summer) and they are so comfortable and easy to care for.  People say to me that surely they are difficult to iron, I say not at all, in fact I find them much easier than modern cotton sheets.  As we love linen so much I thought that I would find out a little more about the actual fabric!

In fact there are 700 fibrous plants that can be spun into thread, but only six were commonly used: COTTON  -  FLAX  -  HEMP  -  JUTE  -  SISAL  -  and  RAMI  or "CHINA GRASS"   (when china grass gets old it has fibres and filaments like flax).

Hemp is "canabis sativa" and is brown grey in colour, when new, thicker and coarser than linen.  Hemp was widely used in the countryside, spun at home, woven at a neighbour’s house (the looms produced a narrow width of fabric, which was joined while still on the loom to create a sheet width of 6ft). This was not as narrow as it seems, because most double beds were only 4ft wide at that time.  Then it would be embroidered at school, usually with red cross stitch initials.  Hemp was used in Egypt, and also in Europe  from the 6th millennium BC, and as early as  the Neolithic period in Switzerland.

Flax is "LINUM usitatissimum" it has flax fibres that are stronger when wet (flax flowers are violet blue).

Linen or Linen and Hemp, was used for tea towels and dusters, often with a red stripe,  Here’s a photo showing a linen  tea towel in its new state, it has only been washed once or twice, this will wash whiter and softer as time goes by…

Traditionally flax fibres were obtained by "RETTING", I will explain this process another time as it is quite lengthy!

Linen cloth can vary greatly and as explained above, it can be very coarse, I have been told by older French ladies that this type of linen was still being made by farming families in some villages as late as 1980!  Linen goes through the scale to a very fine and soft cloth, this depends on the "scrunching process" (again for another time).

This fine linen was used generally by more wealthy households.   Often these items had a quantity of beautiful embroidery, also hand worked.  All Linens were handmade, including the bed linen, where you will see the most minute stitches and often the most intricate embroidery.  All the more amazing because it will generally have been done by candle light, or by the light from oil lamps, and in houses that are traditionally quite dark.  The large houses would have had their own seamstress/es to make and mend all the linens for the household including the chemises, only the bolts of fabric and sundries would have been bought in.  Here’s a super embroidered and monogrammed sheet…

I have a small network of trusted dealers that I trade with because I am sure that I can get the best prices from them, and also I am able to buy items in good or very good order, this allows me to sell at competitive prices.  It would be unusual for me to have an item in a mended condition, however if I think it is unusual or warrants it for some reason I will purchase it, but this will always be disclosed and detailed on the attatched sales label, but as I say it is unusual to have an item such as that.

I hope you enjoy browsing my ‘French Linen’  Online Vintage Fair Stall where I am pleased to offer a large range of embroidered, monogrammed and plain linens, including pure linen sheets, and all in excellent condition > vintassion.com/stall/French+Linen  If you do not see what you want please contact me as I regularly visit France and enjoy browsing their fabulous Brocantes, here’s a new one in the Chateaux grounds of Port D’Envaux (my village)…

...and interesting shops like Pascal’s in St Porchaire…

Au revoir...

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