Handmade & Vintage Blog

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  1. I’m often asked where I find my fabrics and how I know what they are. I find them...everywhere. Auctions, markets, attics, lovely people who email and ask if I want to buy them, family members turning out airing cupboards, other dealers…


    The answer to the second question is more complicated. Sometimes it’s straightforward, so if I have some Noddy fabric and it has a printed selvedge then I follow the trail. Let’s say it’s a Fothergay print, I can research Fothergay – when were they operating? What licenses did they have? Which Blyton artist was illustrating Noddy at that time and have they done the illustrations? You get the idea. It can be time consuming but it's often rewarding. Occasionally though, I get stuck and then the fabric becomes a bit of an enigma.


    I bought some vintage linen a while ago because I loved it (see previous entries – this happens often). The fabric is glorious and slightly odd, but it was the marks on the selvedge that really intrigued me.

    “Prentedoek – RAINBOW CHILDREN - design – PIET WORM – adoption – JOSEPHINE BAKER”

    The print shows children of various nationalities climbing ladders. Looking at the design there are 25 different images of children shown as a repeating pattern, but only 11 children’s names – intriguing.


    I start with trying to pin down where it's come from, Prentedoek and the name Piet Worm sounded like words from the Netherlands to me and so it proves. Google translate helpfully offers “princess cloth” or “printed cloth” for Prentedoek and I plump for the latter. Piet Worm was a well-known Dutch illustrator of childrens’ books including one, which comes up again and again, called The Rainbow Children ("tribu arc-en-ciel") written by Josephine Baker. Now I'm even more intrigued...is it really the Josephine Baker? What is she doing with her name on some children's fabric?

    Louis_Gaudin_-_Casino_de_Paris_-_Josephine_Baker_1930(picture credit: Louis Gaudin - Casino de Paris - Josephine Baker - 1930)

    This sends me into a whole new world of interest because, although I knew that Josephine Baker was a celebrated dancer, singer and Cheetah owner, amongst many other things, I had no idea that she also adopted 12 children from around the world. She housed them in her castle in the Dordogne, the Chateau Milandes, and named them, The Rainbow Children. Baker's work with the Civil Rights movement in the 1950's started her idea for a family that she called the Rainbow Tribe. She wanted to prove that, "children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers." The outcome of her plan was to be complex and not without flaws but it makes fascinating reading.


    And so we have the answer to the design. These are the children depicted on the ladders, with their names and the costumes that tie them to their countries of origin. Some are shown twice, in different outfits so that accounts for the fact that there are 25. But Josephine adopted 12 children in all and there are only 11 here. My best guess is that this was printed before Stellina, the final child to be adopted, was added to the family in the mid-sixties. Since the penultimate adoption happened in 1959/60, this means I can date the fabric to between 1960 – 1965. So far, so good.


    My next question is who printed it and why? Is it a spin-off from the book? Was it made for commercial use or just for the chateau? So far it’s a blank. I’ve asked the Textile Museum of the Netherlands and they have no record of it and no knowledge. I’ve found similar prints by another well-known Dutch illustrator of the time produced by a firm called Dehnert & Jansen, but they are long gone so I’ve no way of checking. Google searches only bring up the book, never fabric and I can’t find any other records of this design. I’ve hit a wall.

    The hunt goes on…

    Needless to say, if you know anything about this fabric please get in touch!


  2. claires-quilt

    I love vintage fabric. I mean… I really love vintage fabric. Where has this come from? If I see a piece of fabric and the pattern speaks to me I am lost. No matter if it’s full of holes, filthy, faded down one side, I must rescue and rehabilitate it. I know I’m not alone. The world (and the web) is filled with like minded soles who are following their own fabric path. I’m always justifying my buys too – I’ll make a quilt, I’ll use some and sell some, this’ll be perfect for that small curtain… You know how it goes. But today I read an article about the ethical fashion movement, and I realised that we fabric junkies are good people whose passion will help to save the planet. It takes between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton and one of the ways that this can be offset is to keep textiles in use for as long as possible. Some of mine date to 1890 – I am a green champion!


    My current project is helping to keep them going a bit longer too. This year, I decided to start making  ‘friendship quilts’ and the first three have been completed and delivered. I thought a while ago, that I wanted to make something for my women friends that said, ‘thank you’. I wanted it to be something that I made, something that would last, something that would remind them of me, and so I have embarked on this project. I decided to make them with fabrics that would reflect them and their interests or loves and so I have the joy of hunting down bits of fabric that I think will ‘fit’ a quilt. Each one is different of course and all have some poetry and text added to the fabrics to make them personal.


    I took a while to decide what format the quilts should take and in the end, I decided that I would make them all as improvisational pieces, in other words I would piece them as I went, adding and discarding fabrics and shapes depending on what the quilt seems to need. There is a freedom to this method of working that allows me to connect with the recipient all the way through the making process. Somehow I felt that sticking to a design or template would feel like a barrier… I’m starting a new quilt soon and I’ll document it for the blog to talk about the process and the pleasures and pitfalls.


    In the meantime, a piece in the weekend paper caught my eye that was called, “How Crafting Wooden Spoons and Welldoing Can Save Us All.” In short, it would seem that in the era of mindfulness (makefulness?), whatever the question, making is the answer. Of course, there are quite a few of us out here who’ve known that all along.