Thursday, May 7, 2020

Textile archeology

Before I begin this post I would like to send my wishes to all of you who are stuck here and there, I hope, making the best of things, miniaturising or house organising or gardening. It is important to turn events and situation like this to our favour and see it as a forced holiday.

As I have said in my previous posts I am in the middle of moving, the story is getting old I fear ! After a failed attempt last year which luckilly I didn't accept as the house that was is stuck in limbo and I would have been stuck with it. My new move is to a lovely region further South in France, in a small town with a train station and all the usual stores but without 'buildings' and industry.
Ten minutes walk along a country lane I have a supermarket, a DIY store and a garden center, what more can anyone want. Two minutes away there is a bank, a post office, a baker and a twice weekly fruit and veg market. 
It is quite a large house but smaller than my present one, it has 6 bedrooms, a Library and dining room, an internal courtyard and a garden. 
Because of the confinement I have not been able to go see in person so I have agreed simply on photos taken most kindly by my lovely estate agent. This is the first time the family has put it up for rent so it has retained all it's charm.This is a rental as years ago I decided not to buy but rent and not have that pressure. 
Many cannot understand this I know. 

Now down to archeology! The other day, fed up with packing and sorting I looked at an old screen that stood in a corner and decided to begin to restore it. It belonged to my father in law and was in his Napoleonic bedroom next to his huge mahogany and bronze bed complete with red and gold hangings. It was not a nice room and when he passed we only took the screen, leaving the furniture to my partners brother. My father in law was called the Baron Migineac de Villedieu, a rather grand family name for a quite ordinary man. That said he knew all the famous French writers and painters as the family spent every summer in St Tropez in the 50's and 60's when it was a seaside town and not a snobbish resort.

What I thought was going to take me an hour took all day ! It was in a terrible state. I wanted to take off the lovely antique 'Empire' toile de Jouy and put it back once the screen was consolidated.
I didn't take a before photo of the full screen but here is one half done.
At one point my ex took a staple gun to the back of the screen with some shantung silk and made a horrible job of it before giving it to me after we separated. We are still the best of friends.

The 'toile' is lovely, all hand blocked, dating from the early 19th century.
I will have to find some way of cleaning it as I'm not sure that it will stand up to washing.

Here I cut the screen in two as there were fabric hinges and layer upon layer of fabric.

As I began to look deeper this was the story! 

A terrible repair. Screens are hollow so fragile and easily damaged.

Here are traces of an old backing fabric from the same period as the toile de Jouy.

Here was a huge surprise, Under the toile was this antique wallpaper from the Zuber wallpaper company. Zuber began in 1797 and are still going today and are considered the Rolls Royce of wall papers, certainly not within my reach financially. Only the top part survived. It had been glued onto fine linen. 

Strangely there were two identical layers of the paper, perfectly placed on top of each other. 

A detail of the paper. 

Here are the references of the design, I have contacted Zuber and asked them for details of the pattern and date to get an idea of when it was put on the screen.

This is what I managed to save and I will frame it as I have quite a few scraps of antique wallpaper that will make a lovely visual patchwork on one of my walls of which there are many.

Here are some of the edge trimmings, there was also  a fifth one, very pretty, probably the original one.

I think I took out about 300.000.000 staples and 100.000 nails ! Very therapeutic. 
Here is my amazing de stapeler, it's an Oyster opener! 

I am ending on a teaser, showing photos of a house that I have never seen ! It has wood panelling and stone floors and lots of fireplaces. The owners are having the house painted at the moment and I am moving in mid June. I will take some photos when I do move in as there are many other rooms. Living in a town with a station means that friends can come and stay so very happy am I! 

Wishing you health and peace wherever you are and thank you for reading.


  1. Apart from removing the 3000.000.000 staples and 100.000 nails, it must have been quite an adventure to discover the layers and some of the story of your beautiful screen. That toile really is so beautiful, both the colours and the motifs - just as well it was rescued.
    I cannot imagine packing for a house not yet seen. But then again, the pictures speak for themselves and I for one would no need much convincing to pack up and go. I hope the rest of your packing as well as the move itself goes smoothly for you.
    Stay Well
    Anna X

  2. Un gran trabajo de recuperación de su pantalla, es muy emocionante descubrir un poco más de historia. Su nueva casa solo con las fotos se la ve espectacular , espacios muy amplios , con las librerías de noble madera y las románticas chimeneas. Te deseo un buen traslado:-)

  3. Oh what a labor of love! A thrilling unearthing of layer upon layer of buried treasure and a trip back in time. Pulling staples, I can attest, is therapeutic and leaves the greatest sense of accomplishment upon completion! I am excited to see how you'll bring new life to this old screen.
    The new house is so charming and the photos leave me on pins and needles just dying for you to move in!!! How hard it must be to endure the waiting!!! Torture!!!

  4. Que gran trabajo de restauración estas haciendo! Y que maravilla descubrir los secretos que escondía tu pantalla!! Un trabajo arduo pero que te recompensará las miles de grapas y uñas jajaja!!
    Tu nueva casa se ve maravillosa! Imagino lo impaciente que estarás hasta llegar a ella,ánimo que ya queda poco para verla y vivirla!

  5. What a lot of work to remove all those staples and nails, but I'm sure you were excited for finding the old Zuber wall paper and fabric layers in the screens. I'm curious to see what you will do wtih this old screen.
    The new house looks charming on the pictures and I hope the move will go smoothly for you, Stephanie!
    Stay healthy and take care.
    Hugs, Ilona

  6. I would have loved to be part of restoring the screen...the thrill of finding the layers of fabric and the old wallpaper would give my soul a thrill. What a beautiful home you will create when you have the opportunity to move looks like a gorgeous place to settle and create. Stay well and look forward to your new place of abode. Cheers, Alayne

  7. The photos of your soon to be home look AMAZING and the perfect space to showcase so many of your Rediscovered Treasures!
    I am impressed that you dived into repairing your father-in-laws ancient screen but what a worthwhile albeit, intensive labour of love: finding a TREASURE within a Treasure!

  8. Dear Madame M. It is intruiging to see how often this antique paravent has had a change of cover to follow the changing fashions over the decades. I relish the thought of undertaking textile archeology with an oyster knife. :-) But who cares, if it gets the job done it seems to be the right tool for the job!

    I am sorry to reply to this post so late but I thought I had replied already. Since it is half june, I believe you may still be in the midst of your move to the new house. The pictures promise a fabulous home for you and your dogs. Good luck with the move and I hope that everything survives the move in one piece.

    Monsieur H.