NewslettersRuby Lane's newsletters are designed to celebrate the antiques and art, vintage collectibles and jewelry communities around the world. Our Past Times newsletter focuses on antiques and collectibles. Our Creative Hands newsletter celebrates fine art and handcrafted jewelry on Ruby Lane. Our shop owners are frequent article contributors, sharing their expertise and their passions for the items they collect and create. Enjoy!
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Ruby Lane's Past Times Newsletter for March 2007
IN THIS ISSUE:
- The Beauty and History of Chenille by Marianne LaRoche of Chez Marianne
- Collecting and Enjoying Brides' Baskets, by Judith Lavelle of Antiques Are Us
- March Editor's Pick
THE BEAUTY AND HISTORY OF CHENILLE BY MARIANNE LAROCHE OF CHEZ MARIANNE
As they say, all good things come around again, and vintage chenille bedspreads are no exception to that adage.
Much loved for their nostalgic and visually wonderful and tactile qualities in a myriad of colors and patterns, these very early to mid 20th century American icons continue to be loved and used and collected in many different contemporary ways.
There's something for everyone to collect, enjoy and use, along with a bit of history.
Chenille bedspreads can be as old fashioned and romantic as Granny's quilt, elaborately embellished as a wedding cake, delicate as a lace doily -- but also sleek or streamlined, art deco or pop art, flowerpower or wow retro contemporary. They can be abstract or figurative,
Styles and colors abound to fit any palette, palate or pallet according to your personal preference, and complement all kinds of decor. They can serve as material for an item you can imagine and craft. Recreate a time past or something new. Ultimately they are user friendly and functional.
As is often the case with many of the things we collect, a love for chenilles may start for you, as it did with me, with memories of granny or mom, a connection to the past. As a matter of fact, Catherine Evans, credited for creating the first American chenille bedspread in 1895, and for starting the tufted bedspread cottage industry, drew her inspiration from previous forms. She took her clues from an old forgotten method of embroidery on a Civil War era bedspread she had seen, and from the traditional quilt patterns of her day. She recreated the process on a personal and different scale-- a hand-crafted bedspread for a wedding gift. Folks liked it and asked her to make more. She was 15 years old.
Five years later, in 1900, she made her first sale (for $2.50). It changed the world in Dalton Georgia, and American textile history forever. What an artist and entrepenuer!
The first chenille bedspreads (chenille is the French word for caterpillar) were handmade by sewing thick cotton yarns with a running stitch into unbleached muslin, clipping the ends of the yarn so they would fluff out and then shrinking the spread in hot water to hold them fast.
Those fuzzy cut tufts were also combined with uncut or knotted tufts--like a French knot embroidery stitch, and candlewick punch stitch technique, but made in a bolder scale to produce unique patterns.
Orders began to come in, and in 1918, Evans formed a partnership with Eugenia Jarvis to expand to national markets.They succeeded in procuring an order from the famous John Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia.
Word spread, business boomed and soon entire families of "turfers" (tufters in the local parlance) were home crafting chenille bedspreads to fill orders from posh department stores. Home factories called "spread houses" sprung up, mills were producing the yarn and sheeting needed to shrink in two directions, and haulers were delivering the materials to the crafters and picking up the finished product to be delivered.
By the 1930's, machine production took over the spread houses. But the industry was critical to the survival of the area centered in Dalton through the Great Depression. By the 1930's US Highway 41 became known as "Peacock Alley" for the colorful highly popular peacock chenilles, snapped up by tourists, and the rest of the kaleidoscope of designs of chenille spreads that were hung roadside on clotheslines for sale.
By the late 1960's, however, chenilles were falling out of fashion, and many of the spread houses began producing carpets instead.
Means of production and fashion may change, but good quality and design still hold up. Chenilles are once again very popular, and now we buy them online instead of off the clothes line.
Cabin Crafts, Morgan Jones, Hofman, Fieldcrest for Sears, Bates and Ret Rac are some of the quality heritage labels produced by machine that are highly desirable today. Labels are not always still on the spread, but with experience, you know which forms are typical of the makers, by hand or machine. And, the clue is often on the back. As with all good embroidery, the finish, the process and attention to detail is there for all to see.
Colors and patterns and materials used help to date vintage spreads, as well as hand or machine made execution. Jade-ite green, and powder puff pinks like the satin-clad movie stars of the late 30's, deep green and maroon tropical 40's, red, pink and gray, aqua or turquoise 50's, hot pink and green 60's, harvest gold and avocado 70's were some of the fashionable color combos of the times.
The over-the-top peacocks, the Morgan Jones rosebuds in pastel pinks and greens on white (even better in purple!), the colonial Williamsburg George and Martha Washington hobnails, multicolor florals and the floral white on white ones -- all are classics.
Also popular are nautical sets with tall ships, and unusual Southern Belles. Motifs like ballerinas, as well as baby spreads with lambs, chicks, kitties and teddy bears appeal to parents and kids today like they did to us baby boomers back then.
They aren't just for girls -- boys loved the Roy Rogers cowboy spreads from the 50's, the simple grid ones in similar colors made to fit a ranch decor covered bunks for grown up boys.
The clean moderne deco abstract arches are tailor-made for today's loft look. The classic Morgan Jones grid weaves in popcorn dots with silver thread, buttonhole or dogbone patterns edged with rows of tiny tufts and dyed in a rainbow of colors are very versatile and always appealing for decor or crafting. The Hofman daisy spreads are very desirable now with the resurgence of mod look pop art 1960's, and the 1970's colors are back too. Color tastes change. Browns earth tones and green are popular again. You can't miss with white. Point is, let your own eye tell you what you like.
Chenilles can add a refreshing touch or deep counterpoint to your home. They coordinate with many other vintage or new textiles, sewn together for pillows or layered with other vintage textiles like crochet bedspreads, quilts, lace, Beacon camp blankets or Bates woven damask spreads on the bed. (Oh, yes, before I forget, some folks call chenilles blankets, not bedspreads). Outdoors they look sensational on wicker, wood or metal porch furniture.
The all-over small patterns make great baby items and in the hands and eye of an artist will transform into darling boutique children's items due to the petite scale and fluffiness of the tufts.
Size is another clue to the age: queen and king beds were not made until late 60's early 70's, but let your measuring tape be your guide here. A twin will fit a full and a full a queen and still drop down the sides. Two twins sewn together can cover a king. Let your imagination go beyond the size of your platform.
Fabric content is also a clue. Only cotton was used until 1954. Nylon, which was first introduced in 1947, gradually was added to the fiber repertoire. Polyester was introduced around 1965.
Chenilles come in weights varying from heavy to medium to light. Because of their tufting, they are thermal and the plush ones can be very warm on a cold winter night, The lighter weight ones are cool, but keep the breeze off your shoulders on a hot summer night under a ceiling fan or air conditioning. The medium ones are perfect all year round. The ones with nylon fibers are fun, sturdy and great for kids and dogs. In my opinion the ones made with polyester can be tough, and stiff and hard like the carpets they later became.
Vintage chenille bedspreads are easy to care for -- just pop in the washer, warm on a regular cycle and fluff up in a dryer on medium heat, or hang on the clothesline the way they were displayed on Peacock Alley. They won't shrink. I use Oxyclean to soak out stains, not chlorine bleach. I do try to keep mine out of direct sunlight for any extended period of time, because some colors are susceptible to light fading. That's one reason why I rotate them!
I use my own collection of bedspread, bath sets, curtains and pillows every day of the year! I just change my colors and patterns as the mood or season suggests.
My love of chenilles started a bit later on than childhood in my life. It just took a couple of cross Atlantic trips between England and the US.
My Gran, on her first trip to the States to visit her daughter (my Mom) here in Maryland around 1960, bought a set -- bedspread, curtains and matching rugs in a very pretty multicolor floral pattern. Mom and Gran must have had fun shopping for them. In 1984 I finally get to Gran's near Bath in Somerset, walked into guest room -- once the girls room (aunties, my mum's photo on wall) and my room now for this visit. I instantly fell in love with the American chenilles in an English cottage setting with the arts and crafts furniture my Grandad made originally for my Mom. As an artist, I couldn't take my eyes off "stun." I bought my own first two chenille pieces, a bedspread and a bathrobe when I returned home, and my collection has since grown by leaps and bounds.
I use them as originally intended, but also I make pillows, jackets, ponchos and baby quilts as time allows from "cutters," the ones that aren't perfect. I love the bedjacket I made for myself. It keeps my shoulders warm as I work on the computer in my pjs this winter. I like to think it's better than wearing a suit to work.
As an artist and former art teacher, I love to look for great materials to work with, and love passing them on to others with a creative vision too. Some of my best customers over the years have produced amazing creations including an entire little girl's room with yellow and white chenilles, layered, collaged, appliqued and reconfigured on headboard, trunk, window seats as well as the bed. It was gorgeous and made with love.
Baby nurseries are also popular projects--chenille makes great crib bumpers, and moms like to coordinate with a twin bed where they too can relax while watching baby sleep.
Today, I have the same bed I first saw in England, along with Gran's chenille that was on it--they came back across the pond to me. Grandad's bed is the one in my guest room, and I photograph my bedspreads on it for my items to sell.
A dear friend who came to stay in my guest room for first time, after many years, just couldn't help exclaiming over my peacock spread: "Oh, when I was little about 10 or so, I would snuggle down under my grandma's chenille and feel so safe to sleep and dream! I never forgot the feeling of my grandma's peacock. The bird leapt off the bed to dance in my dreams."
My hubby Bill loves them too, as do my two cats, Buddy and Ruff.
We invite you to visit Marianne's shop: Chez Marianne.
"Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry," Chenille Museum, Dalton, GA. "Chenille A Collector's Guide: "Judith Ann Greason and Tina Skinner," Schiffer Books.
Links to more on my favorite links page.
COLLECTING AND ENJOYING BRIDES' BASKETS, BY JUDITH LAVELLE OF ANTIQUES ARE US
My daughter, daughter-in-law, and I are always searching for beautiful things, and as an artist, I gravitated to the artistic value of Victorian pieces. I truly enjoy decorating with the baskets, as well as taking advantage of their utilitarian value. Nearly every room in my home, holds a basket, which is used to hold things from grapes to mail.
One of the most interesting and beautiful Victorian pieces, was the Fruit, Berry Dish, or Centerpiece, in an expensive electroplated holder or stand. Brides' Baskets is a modern phrase, coined by Mrs. Fletcher Ford of Chicago in the late 1950's, but referring to berry and fruit bowls, in metal, (most often silver-plated).
I recently had a customer that was interested in buying unique brides' baskets for her daughter's bridesmaids. These baskets (without the bowls), were not only to be carried in the wedding ceremony, filled with flowers, but were a lovely way to give an heirloom quality gift to each bridesmaid.
Brides' Bowls, were not originally manufactured for brides, but are appropriately named, because from the late 1800's until World War I, or approximately 1918, were a favorite wedding gift.
Brides' bowls, up until the 1950's though, were referred to primarily as berry bowls or fruit bowls. Practically every American glass manufacturer made glass containers for these electroplated baskets and stands. These lovely bowls with their crimped or fluted, "petticoat" ruffled edges, were made of numerous types of glass and shapes and many decorated with hand painting. A shell shape was particularly popular. It has been reported that these bowls and baskets were a hit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. A gorgeous way to decorate a table, practical for serving berries and cream and affordable for most households of that day. They were bought for little more than what a gallon of milk costs today, and now sell from $150 to over a thousand dollars.
The bowls ran the gamut, of styles, shapes, and colors of the rainbow. There were a few square bowls, boat shaped, melon-ribbed, swirled ribs, diamond patterns, enameled with scenes, floral and a number in cased, satin, Burmese, Peachblow, pressed, cut glass, and blown. Many manufacturers, came from the New England area. Some prolific manufacturers were Mount Washington, Mary Gregory, Northwood, Hobbs, Fenton and Moser, just to name a few. There were some small bowls, but the majority ranged from nine and one half to thirteen inches in diameter. Bowls that were seated on tall cherub and other figural stands, were "Fruit Stands". Other Victorian baskets are "Cake", "Receiving Card", "Bon Bon" and "Sweetmeat" baskets. The sweetmeat basket, usually came with an attached fork. Many baskets, stand on their own merit, without bowls, and are highly decorated with open work, repousse', etched or chased designs of flowers, birds, or scenes.
The popularity of the electroplated baskets and stands, lasted until the late 1800's. The falling price of silver then made it possible for those who wanted silver, to buy sterling. Gorham always produced high class electroplate and together with Reed and Barton, used a heavy nickel silver base, where many other companies used a lightweight white metal or Britannia. Copper was also used, and is a very good base. The base metal on which the silver is plated, determines some of the value.
Electroplate is usually marked. Before 1860 the marks were on discs soldered to the bottom of the piece, afterwards the marks were cut directly into the bottom of the piece. The mark included the maker's and trademark and often the word "triple", "quadruple plate" or "quadruple". Silver items were some of the highest quality made during the latter part of the 19th century. Within the silversmith and silver manufacturing industry, items marked "Standard" silver plate indicate that 2 troy ounces of pure silver were used to silver electroplate 144 teaspoons, but "Quadruple" silverplate used 4 troy ounces of silver to plate the same 144 teaspoons.
Any numbers that you find, near the manufacturers mark, usually refer to the pattern. Early Electroplate is hard to find and of course more valuable. Some of the early pieces are not marked with the maker's name. The companies who are best known in the early electroplate field in America were Reed and Barton, Rogers Brothers, James W. Tufts, and Meriden.
The condition of a piece of electroplate is not as important as it might seem, since no matter how battered or worn, the scars and scratches can be repaired and the piece can be replated.
My mother began collecting antiques in the 1940's, before it was the popular thing to do. I regret that I did not learn more from her than I did, but with the access of computers, and abundance of books and museums, at our disposal, it is much easier to obtain information. If you were fortunate enough to inherit, or know the provenance of a piece, that is wonderful, but most likely those pieces hold sentimental value and are too difficult to part with. If you do not have family pieces, on-line (Ruby Lane, to name one of course), is a great way to find them. Estate sales, Flea Markets, garage sales, auctions, Thrift Stores and newspapers, can also be a treasure hunter's paradise.
The most difficult aspect of antiques, is determining value. With the fluctuation of prices, it is wise to do a search on your item, using key words, and observe what the bowl or basket recently sold for. You not only will learn value but possibly the manufacturer and history of your piece.
Professional appraisers are available, also, and will most often appraise an antique based on the median value rather than the highest or lowest price realized for a similar item. There are times when a piece will sell very high at auction, but the same item will bring a more moderate price at an antique show. In the same vein, items aren't valued based on bargain flea market finds or yard sale buys either. Rare pieces are much more difficult to value.
The major pitfall, in collecting, is reproductions, fakes and undisclosed damaged items. It is always good to deal with a reputable dealer. Even ethical dealers can be fooled at times, but are more apt to give refunds, because they care about their customers, and want to protect their reputations. I was in an antique mall, recently, where I spotted a vase, marked $90, that I had just bought, at a discount store for $12, for my own use. It was such a good reproduction, and I really don't think that they were trying to deceive, anyone. There are tips, that you can use, though, to protect yourself, when you are out and about. Good things for the collector to keep on hand are: a magnifying glass to check for Manufacturers' Marks, a magnet to check silver and silver-plate. A magnet will not stick to either of those. A pocket size black light will show repairs, as glue used in repairs on porcelain and pottery, will become florescent, under the ultraviolet light American Brilliant Cut Glass will cast a yellow hue, American pressed glass, before 1930 is said to also give off a yellow glow, and reproductions will not. Vaseline glass will glow under a black light, due to the uranium oxide content.
Enjoy your collection, as well as the fun of collecting it. At "Antiques Are Us", if my Daughter, Daughter-in-Law and I, each had a word of wisdom to pass on to the new collector, it would be, "Research, Research, Research".
We invite you to visit Judy's Shop: Antiques Are Us.
MARCH EDITOR'S PICK
Today we see them as delightful pieces of ‘folk art,' but when first created antique needlework 'samplers' had serious purpose. They would mark the progress of a student during schooling or, as abilities improved later, they could be used as design templates for those who would, or must, sew. Samplers and other examples of schooled, decorative needlework gradually evolved and the line between functionality and decorative purpose began to blur.
During the 17th century display was not a consideration, although certainly sampler textiles were treasured. Supporting this observation would be the fact that many early examples survive and it is still possible to populate a collection with singular pieces. In the 18th and 19th centuries, close instruction in needlework might mean a young lady's final finished sampler would be framed and proudly displayed by her family. Exhibiting such art where others could take note may have served several different purposes at once. It could wordlessly announce that their child was accomplished and educated, as well as intimate that her family was affluent enough to be able to afford to educate a child in such skills. And an elaborate, finely executed textile could also be useful for impressing upon a potential husband, or his family, that its creator was a young lady of talent and usefulness.
Although we tend to think of them today as creations made only by schoolgirls, in fact young boys sometimes also made samplers. Mature women, too, stitched samplers for themselves. During the extended period when these textiles were primarily being created, the 17th through the mid-nineteenth centuries, books containing patterns would have been too expensive for the average housewife to buy. So a record of basic to advanced techniques necessary to exercise the art of fine needlework, was often created via the sampler. It could then serve as a memory aid and might be used later as a guide for the proper patching of torn cloth, skillful execution of monograms, or the 'painting' of intricate decorative designs with threads of silk. Of course, for young students who frequently attended class in the genteel parlor of a teacher's home, schooling in reading and writing were also important. Thus numbers, the alphabet, scriptures or poetry might sit above or below a rough linen field fitted with whimsical flowers, animals, or buildings. Natural naivete is frequently expressed. Misquotes and misspellings, strawberry vine borders and fat birds calmly ignoring the line of cats and dogs overhead. The true charm of the sampler is in its combining of innocence with art.
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