Sunday, April 14, 2013

Les coiffes catalanes

In France, in the Pyrénées Orientales, the region of France located south of Narbonne bordering Spain and Andorra, there was a traditional head gear, or cap, worn by women called a Catalan.
Click here for more information about this type of head gear.

This cap is trimmed with lace either, across the rim, or the bonnet piece in the back. As with all things lace, when the cap wore out or the owner no longer needed it, the lace was salvaged and stored away for future use. Not long ago, I came across a set of 6 of them. The woman who sold them to me told me that they were Calalan so, taking her word for it I will assume that is in fact what they are and where they are from.

All 6 are very different. After washing the patina of mold off of them, I removed the tie ribbons across the back that once held the cap tight to the head. After ironing, assessing damage and observing how they were made, due to a challenge at my local patchwork club, I decided to use them to make my challenge entry. More about that later. First let's look at the Catalan's pieces.

The first one is really nothing new. It is as a matter of fact quite common for it's era. It is made of wide machine manufactured cotton edging. It was hand sewn together so that the curvy part of the edging shows as it was sewn to the next piece. Finding edging used in this manner is common. I have a theory, or rather an observation as to why edging was used and not insertion. I have noticed at flea markets that edging is more widely available and a lot of it was unused. In garment or household item construction, The interior of the item is where the insertion would have been used. Normally there is much more of the insertion used for those inside design areas then there was needed for the edge areas. In the age of small shops and not many choices, if edging was all that was available, edging is what was going to be used. 

Looking at it from another angle, if a shop bought stock of equal number of meters of insertion and edging, there would be more edging available at the shop because the insertion would sell out first. More is used most of the time. Even in modern stores I have noticed that there is a wider variety of edging than insertion. Edging has more uses. 

Observation based on what I have found at flea markets is that in the recuperation process, many times more in the interior of the item is damaged. Yes the edging may be damaged, but more often it appears to be the insertion not the edging that is worn. It is also harder to recuperate the insertion but it is easy to recuperate the edgings. 

Here is a picture of the machine edging Catalan cap bonnet piece:

The rest of the pieces are more interesting and are absolutely beautiful. They are constructed by hand and some of the laces are done by hand as well.

The second piece is the smallest of the group. It consists of a purchased cotton insertion and an insertion which has hand embroidered flowers and vines on what appears to be finella. Finella is thinner than batiste almost like a fine silk in it's see though quality.

The third piece, similar in construction is also made from a machine lace insertion and a hand embroidered insertion also on a fine fabric like finella.
The next piece, the forth piece, is very interesting. It appears to be embroidered netting. Looking closely it is actually embroideries that were appliquéd to the netting.

 Here is a close-up of the back. You can see the stitches out of a rather heavy thread holding both the  design and the "insertion". This is all one piece of netting with the appliqué laid on top.
The last piece, the fifth one, is the same construction technique as the fourth piece only it is constructed on finella.

Here is a close-up of the back. You can see the stitches again out of a rather heavy thread. This is all one piece of finella with the appliqué embroidered pieces laid on top.

I have seen this before where the embroideries are done first and them are appliquéd onto a fine fabric. Here is a corner of a small doilie. 

Now look at the back of the item:

 Notice how it is appliqued in place and the inside of the leaves are added now keeping the leaves to the background fabric.  This same technique was used on the coiffes.

One last picture, from the top you can see where some of the grapes are beginning to come loose.
Now back to my project, for my challenge I needed a 50cm (20 inch) square finished block using only one color. So if I had chosen blue, I could use as many shades of blue I wanted. Being the queen of vintage lace, I desired to chose white. That would mean I could go from bright white all the way through shades of off white or ecru. For the support  behind my lace masterpiece I chose a vintage piece of cotton I salvaged off of a table runner. I envisioned some a sort of crazy patch of lace. The last part of the challenge is that we need to accessorize the block in some way. For me that would mean using vintage buttons, textured ribbon and trinkets.

First I painstakingly disassembled all of the coiffes. Interestingly I found that in several of the pieces that the mechanical lace was dry rotted. The handmade lace pieces were fine. I ended up with a pile of dry rot. 

I set it aside. I am so excited! I now have something to use with paint for another project I have been collecting pieces for! I bet you have never seen anyone so happy to find dry rot.

Then came digging through the stash for some pieces of lace that would make interesting additions. I had to find some buttons and beads.

Then came digging through the stash for some pieces of lace that would make interesting additions.

I started to lay things out and then I saw a blog by Lilla Le Vine. From there I found that she has a number of youtubes you can watch so I began to watch them while I was sewing. She in interesting. She is a Francophone living in Hawaii, here I am a non-francophone living in France. Odd world we live in.
I recently came across a couple of "La Mode Illustree" magazines from the late 1800s.

  Inside the magazine was a wealth of information, all clearly written in French, as well as fashion drawings on how to wear the latest fashion. If you are lucky you can get the pattern that was included with the magazine to attempt to reproduce an outfit in the magazine. I took Lilla's method of transferring designs to make copies on paper of some of the pictures I really liked from the magazine. She uses Mod Podge. I looked for it on line, it is available in France only I could not find it. While in Lyon a couple of weeks back I bought something called "Paperpatch". They make one for fabrics. I bought the brush that was recommended as well. It appears to be the same thing.
I started laying out the pictures and the lace to figure out what I wanted to do.
This was one of the projects that I knew what it would look like before I started.
I started in one corner
and worked to the center
and then down, hold your breath while you cut up one of the pieces. 
and around to the other side.

The top is now complete, it has a backing, a stabilizer, batting and the top. It is now ready for additions of button and beads.

I decided to put it all together first before I embellished it since I want to use some of the additions, like the buttons as a sort of quilting to hold it all together. I will also be doing a little machine quilting to the top as well.

Expect to see the finished product in the next couple of months. It has to be completed by September.


  1. Very sweet to say "the Patina of mold." ; )
    I like what you've done so far. I was wondering if you have any pics of the cleaned caps, from before disassembly.

  2. Gorgeous quilt block. Love it!

  3. Loving it. What a great way to use/recycle your treasures.

  4. The quilt is lovely and please feel free to use my ideas
    aloha Lilla

  5. Hi! Saw your post on CQI...welcome! I had to laugh when I saw the background to your blog...I have the EXACT same tablecloth! which was my mother's/grandmother's...and yes, we're French. My family is from the St Vallier area around Grenoble, but I live in Canada.