Thursday, 28 August 2014

Is this a cushion I see before me?

It was an unwritten rule that at any vintage fair or decorative interiors event,  the number of cushions should at least be equal to the number of visitors in attendance.  In fact, so consistent was the anecdotal evidence on this matter, that a team of crack mathematicians at the University of East Russetshire were researching the phenomena with a view to publishing a learned paper with full stastical proof.  Visitors to any fair in Southern England pooh-poohed the need for such laborious investigation - they knew that cushion overload was a very real problem and that the evidence was clear to see to anyone with eyes.

Many stallholders saw running-up a few cushions as an easy way to utilise their limited sewing skills and to enjoy the creative process involved in machine sewing up four seams and inserting a zip, buttons or other more elaborate fastenings.  And cushions filled up stall space, were nice and easy to pack and transported squashed around less yielding goods such as rusted garden furniture or large woodwormholed cupboards.  Cushions could also be crafted from a limitless selection of otherwise unselleable textiles including old grain sacks; linen sheets too far gone to be repaired; distressed and fraying kelims and rugs; scrappy patchwork quilts; old woollen blankets made obsolescent by duvets and other sundry offerings.  In fact all manner of textiles, old and new, were being re-purposed into cushions to suit every taste and pocket.

The cushion genus took many forms.  In its lowest manifestation, the product would be fashioned from some rather poorly designed, garish and inevitably synthetic "vintage" print.  The envelope fastening indicated the lack of sewing skills of the novice maker - zips and buttonholes were simply a step too far.  Remnants of said fabric would then be turned into bunting - the edges pinked to save sewing and the flags tacked to bias binding.  The cushion pad would be polyester, with not a feather in sight.  However, the lure of the gaudy colours and bargain prices would be irresistible to cushion-hunting virgins, as yet unschooled in the whys and wherefores of prestige cushionery.  And how lovely to be able to buy matching bunting, too!

Further up the ladder of cushion acquisitions, the more savvy buyer would seek out classy numbers featuring a combination of aged linen, patched with a favoured designer fabric.  The mid-range status cushion would be one that boasted old soft linen, adorned with a scrap of Cauliflowers & Posies "Faded Floribunda" range.  The canny cushion crafter would ensure that every leftover scrap of this "Faded Florrie" would be utilised for heart-shaped lavender bags; tiny, unusable pencil cases and miniscule make up bags.  The correct response of the afficianado, on seeing such a cushion, would be a series of small shrieks and moans, "Oh, oh, oh....look at that darling cushion - that gorgeous's sooooo pretty!".  And as the process of making a cushion was not dissimilar to making a shoulder bag, the stall would also proffer a range of bags, similarly decorated with scraps of the desired fabric.  No cushion on this stall would be supplied with anything less than a feather pad.  The cost of such padded perfection was eye-wateringly high, but each buyer would be convinced of its uniqueness and beauty.  Quibbling husbands who were suffering from cushionitis would oft be heard objecting - "Not Another Cushion". Naturally, their wives would ignore such petulant grumbles.

The pinnacle of cushion excellence was rarely to be found amongst the sea of cushion mediocrity or downright ugliness.  However, the hawk-eyed cushion doyenne would be able to spot a glimpse of vintage Sanderson or finest crewel work at a thousand paces.  Like a bloodhound on a human trail, said doyenne would hone in on the stall where such precious bounty was to be found.  Cushions of this calibre involved a series of challenges that would put the labours of Hercules in the shade.  Firstly, the vintage Sanderson, faded Victorian patchwork and ragged samplers would be tracked down at obscure country auctions or specialist and inaccessible textile fairs.  The exquisite antique linen backing material would be sourced from France, via a specialist dealer who was a "dear, dear friend" of the cushion artiste; maker would be too lowly a title for such dedication and creativity.

Each cushion was a work of art, repurposing the fragile and the frayed into an object of loveliness. As the artiste's skill level was on a different plain to the average cushion crafter, further customisation ensued involving monogrammed initials cut from old French smocks and chemises, tiny mother of pearl buttons, hand sewn ruffles and frills and exquisitely embroidered flourishes.  The completed artefact would be worthy of a showcase at the World Heritage Cushion Museum, if such a place existed.  This cushion was the creme de la creme, the piece de resistance, the Cushion Olympics Gold Medallist.

Such loveliness would come at a massive price - but the salivating cushion addict would loudly justify her purchase to anyone within earshot.  ""Well, it is my birthday in four months' time and Jasper can give it to me for my house present". Reverently, the artiste would place her masterwork, enveloped in acid-free tisssue paper,  into a large white carrier bag, rope-handled, of course.  With equal reverence, the cushion was borne away by its disciple and driven with great care to its final resting-place.  Once there, the cushion was unveiled and threats issued to anyone who sat, leant, slept or ate anywhere in its vicinity.   After all, you would not go to sleep or eat your supper by the Mona Lisa.  Jasper was none too pleased about the Queen's Ransom that he was expected to stump up for this early birthday present - he knew that this would soon be forgotten and that further gifts would be required for the Big Day. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The painted lady

Annabel was the proud purveyor of painted furniture - Painted Lady was her new enterprise and she had visions of becoming the next Rachel Ashwell.  Her addiction to the painted and distressed was triggered by an overdose of homes and interiors magazines depicting endless rustic boltholes, Georgian rectories and restored chapels.  Not a natural piece of wood or unadorned furniture were to be found in the pages of La Maison Francaise or Vintage Home Interior magazines.  Giles, Annabel's husband, sensing that she could be directed away from her previous interest of breeding Labradors, stumped up for a painted furniture course for her birthday.  Giles figured it would be cheaper in the long run to invest in painted furniture, rather than in  futures of Labrador puppies (go long on Labradors!) and the inevitable destruction that followed in their wake.

The Painted Furniture course was organised by an ardent disciple of the cult of the Lazy Artisan chalky paint range - affectionately known as Lazy A to those in the know.   Annabel was thrilled to learn that rubbing down, sanding and prepping were things of the past.  Lazy A paint would cover a multitude of sins with minimal effort - perfect!   Jilly, the efficient, no-nonsense tutor on the course, took the  ladies through a multitude of paint finishes and techniques, with each daubing and dabbing at their boards to get the desired effects.  At the end of the course, all were released back into the wild, having mastered stippling, stencilling, rag rolling, distressing and crackling.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and Annabel could hardly wait to experiment at home.  No piece of furniture was safe from her ministrations.  All went well until a very lovely Georgian mahogany tallboy, inherited from Giles' grand-parents, fell victim to the curse of the paint effect.  Annabel gave it the full treatment with a Boulevard Grey base coat, topped with Madame Pompadour Lilac.  Artful rubbing down and distressing lent the piece a suitably shabby demeanour, sealed by a thick coat of clear wax.  On discovering his heirloom's fate, Giles retreated to the 19th hole at his golf club for some gin and sympathy.

Having exhausted her home supply of items to decorate, Annabel became a regular visitor at her local car boot sales - a new and alien experience.  Dealers were delighted to offload their lumpen 1930s brown furniture, third-hand flatpack coffee tables and tannic orange Mexican pine blanket boxes.  No piece of furniture was too ugly for Annabel to makeover - upcycling had became her watchword.  The latest batch of Cinderella tables, chairs, bedside cupboards and the odd wardrobe would be squeezed into an already over-full garage awaiting their magical transformation. Giles' Lexus was permanently excluded from its quarters and had to live on the drive.  Annabel would set to work excitedly running through the paint chart to choose the best colours.  Her taste tended to direct her to soft greys and whites, but occasionally she would branch out and experiment with the Lazy A's latest paint colours - Jaundice Yellow, Poison Bottle Blue and Nuclear Orange.

Taking a stand at the Country Vintage Fair was Annabel's first foray into the world of fairs and markets.  Her expectations were high as she unloaded her hired van packed to the gunnels.   As she was the new girl on the block, Annabel was allocated a tucked away spot reached via stairs and heavy self-closing fire doors.  Her nerves were in shreds by the time she had unloaded all her stock and pulled it into some kind of display.  The public proved to be less enthralled by her offerings than she had hoped.  Most rushed past her stand on their way to buy coffee and cake or to the disabled WC; those who lingered opened and closed every door and drawer, perhaps with a friendly comment but no sale.  By the end of the day, her sales amounted to one folding chair and a small coffee table.  Some fairgoers had taken her card, promising to speak to their husbands about specific items - she was pinning her hopes on a rush of sales after the fair.

Back home, Giles' enquiries about sales and the possibility of getting his car back into the garage were met with somewhat sulky responses from Annabel.  And her froideur was further increased when Giles chortled about her paint-splashed arms and called her his very own Painted Lady.  Perhaps Labrador puppies were the easier option after all.