Style Court

Eight Years of Textiles, History, Art, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes

9.29.2011

Behind the Decoration

[The Porthault firm embroidered all the linen for Aristotle Onassis's yacht, Christina. Shown above, marine life serves as a unifying decorative theme. According to author Francoise de Bonneville, the execution here is "so perfect, especially in terms of shading, that it is hard to distinguish the watercolor sketch from the final embroidered version." Photo credit: G. de Laubier from The Book of Fine Linen by Francoise de Bonneville ©Flammarion: Paris 2011. All images are posted here with written permission from the publisher.]

In my mind, I've been dividing the new fall book releases into two loose, sort of subjective categories: Idea/Dream Starters (jaw-droppingly beautiful tomes like Oberto Gili's Home Sweet Home: Sumptuous and Bohemian Interiors, which I experience mainly with my eyes -- few words are needed) and Reference-Meets-Visual Treat. Francoise de Bonneville's updated edition of The Book of Fine Linen is the latter.

 [Empire-style embroidery. Laurel wreaths, stars and horns of plenty are motifs typical of the period. The yellow embroidery and green appliqués seen here were executed by the Porthault workshop. Credit: J. Boulay from The Book of Fine Linen ©Flammarion: Paris 2011.]

The decorative arts journalist tackles a topic traditionally thought of as a fluffy, "women's interest" kind of thing and uses fine linen as a jumping off point to deal with economics, sociology, technology -- in short, world history. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, she traces the story of bed, bath, and table linens through to the present day. Even though it might seem like a really obvious point, I think de Bonneville does a particularly good job reminding us how incredibly intimate linens are, in contrast with other household items. Many old master paintings and vintage ads are mixed with detailed contemporary photographs, to illustrate the tale, so some design enthusiasts and art history students will find inspiration simply by looking at the images.  

[Wicker baskets hold an assortment of contemporary linen, in classic white and ecru. Credit: J. Boulay, same book.]

All of the art seems to have a dual purpose: In the preface, Marc Porthault notes that exceptionally hand-worked household linen once rivaled a fine painting (the watercolor-like embroidery from the Onassis yacht, shown at top, is a not-so-old example).

A significant chunk of the large book addresses fibers, specifically cotton, linen, and silk. Covered in the extensive glossary are terms ranging from the more obscure, such as Madapolam (originally a strong, smooth calico used for making feather pillowcases) and Nainsook (a lightweight, plain-weave cotton) to the better-known like Cutwork (a type of embroidery which involves literally cutting away fabric to create a design).

[Cotton bath set of matching hand towels and bath towels has a knotted fringe and fine checkerboard weave produced by alternating smooth sections with fluffy sections (typical of the towels used in steam baths in Turkey). The embroidery of stylized roses is done in gold and silver thread. Credit: J. Boulay and Bibliothèque Forney, same book.]

Embroidery and stripes must have been lodged in my subconscious when I chose the images for this post and the previous one but many different types of intricately-worked lace and lavishly printed textiles are well represented too.

2 comments:

The Devoted Classicist said...

Fabulous! With the computer-driven machinery today, costs are not prohibitive. With everything, the success depends on the design. Pretty and ugly cost the same to produce.

Jamie Herzlinger said...

The second picture with the yellow is stunning! So sophisticated.

Jamie Herzlinger