Les pures couleurs / Pure colours

source url It’s difficult to think of southern France without thinking of colour. The quality of light here emphasises the rich colours and subtle tones of the landscape, deep purple shadows contrasting with blazingly strong sunlight. And anyone who has visited a market anywhere in southern France can’t have failed to notice, alongside the bright colours of the local produce and artisan wares, the stall selling goods made from a fabric long-associated with the South – place-mats, tablecloths and the ubiquitous lavender sachets sewn from the brightly-coloured cottons with such familiar motifs as olives, sunflowers, cicadas, pine-cones and, of course, lavender. They have become, perhaps, over-familiar to the more sophisticated traveller, clichés which can be overplayed, but they should not be written off as just colourful tourist-bait: behind those fabrics lies a fascinating history.

follow link The story starts as long ago as 1648, when cotton material from India, printed in bright colours and known as ‘les indiennes’, started to be imported into France. By 1664, the prints had become quite the thing amongst the haute-bourgeoisie, with no less a character than Madame de Sévigné herself (when not writing the letters for which she is known) cutting a dash in gowns made of the new, colourfully patterned cottons and starting a fashion at the court of Louis XIV.

watch By 1685, with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, only the more traditional French-produced fabrics (linen, silk and wool) were allowed, with the making, selling and importing of printed cottons forbidden. Marseille (which, together with Arles, Avignon and Nîmes, had profited greatly from the trend) resisted, some of the skilled ‘indienneurs’ leaving for Avignon, where papal jurisdiction paid scant attention to royal edicts. The resulting economic damage led the King in 1703 to reinstate Marseille’s right to make and sell French ‘indienne’-type prints however, but only if they were to be sold abroad and in the French colonies: they remained forbidden throughout mainland France.

Having been banned, of course, and despite ever-harsher penalties, the fabric became even more valuable and sought-after so that the industry survived and in 1754 there were no fewer than fifteen separate businesses connected with it. The Seven Years’ War and subsequently heavily-taxed imports of Indian cotton cloth led to a fall in production, but, where there is a will, there’s a way, and the creation of new Provençal -inspired motifs kept it popular in the South.

manfaat obat provera medroxyprogesterone acetate 10 mg We had driven through Tarascon many times, usually on our way heading east towards Saint Rémy or Les Baux-de-Provence. Tarascon, on the Provençal side of the Rhône, stands opposite Beaucaire on the western Languedoc/Occitan, side: the imposing white castle, built by King René, stands formidably high above the river, making a clear point about observing the difference.The impressive gateway to old Tarascon, similarly, is surmounted by an impressively large gold statue of Our Lady and is now hung with swags of the distinctive prints long associated with the town. It is well worth visiting, especially as it has the authentic feel of a true southern Mediterranean town, the air infused in the quiet, early afternoon with couscous spices and cheroots, and at its heart is the fascinating and charming museum of textiles, housed in an elegant ‘hôtel particulier’.

One of the businesses which has survived is Tarascon-based Souleiado. The most notable in a series of astute businessmen, and aided perhaps by fate, was Charles Deméry, who created the marque in 1939, in a Provençal word describing the moment the sun breaks though the clouds after rain: ‘l’ensoleillade en provençal, ce moment ou le soleil perce les nuages après la pluie.’ He was inspired to create a fashion house by his wife, a couturière, and later helped by a good client who stocked the creations in her St Tropez boutique: by his death in 1987, there were more than two thousand Souleiado outlets worldwide.

In the following year, the museum opened.  It’s a fascinating and delightful collection, displaying a mixture of Souleiado fashion collections through the decades, Provençal culture (including room-sets with heritage textiles and quilts), and, in a nod to the Catholic heritage of Provence, religious objects. Since 2009, a new team has taken over the company, keen to exploit the rich heritage associated with ‘indiennes’ prints, following the discovery of archives going back over 360 years. They have since brought out gorgeous collections and opened new boutiques in Aix, Avignon, Cassis and Arles – I admit to having been greatly tempted by their A/W 2017 collection, sold in their on-site boutique.

My piece ‘Les Pures Couleurs’ is a mini-quilt wall-hanging, combining hand and machine sewing, and measuring 65cm x 72cm. I hadn’t made patchwork for many years, and I felt quite nostalgic reusing the old, zinc, hexagonal template, last used to make covers for my babies’ cots years ago.

This time, as I cut the hexagons (I used traditional, hand-sewn paper-piecing), they were to represent metropolitan France, often referred to here as ‘l’Hexagone’. I used pieces of the fabrics I found here in our house after we bought it, as well as a few of this season’s beautiful prints from Souleiado – one a wonderfully deep indigo (more of which in a blog to come), and another depicting the beautiful tiny violets which appear at the start of each glorious southern spring, when intermittent showers of rain are broken by the warming, life-giving sun. The built-up hexagon is oriented, not in the traditional manner, but point-up, to signify the shape of France.

The sun and the border of the quilt are of fabric made from natural fibres, which I dyed with turmeric, an appropriately Indian spice which I find delightful to use as a dye-stuff – the smell is delicious (I often use it in cookery too) and the take-up in various fabrics (here, linen, cotton and bamboo-silk) differs slightly, which I also like, turning from deepest orange in the process to shades of clear yellow. Above all, I love its bright, sunny colour, which lifts the spirits on the dullest of winter days. I used polyester wadding before quilting the fabric and backed the piece in natural linen, which lends weight.

 

 

The background prints are based on fragments of the patterned fabrics from different periods I found here hung as curtains, made up as bedcovers and cushions (which were even stuffed with scraps), sometimes inserting different colours to give a rich effect of bright, distinctive colour, without the distraction of the familiar motifs. I was pleased that the vertical stripes resembled rolls of printed cotton as they appear off the rollers as they are manufactured.

The printed lines reflect the simplicity (although I wouldn’t say ‘naivety’) of the prints: a much-loved verse by Théophile Gautier, it has long been used in teaching children to write the accepted French cursive style, which is suggested by the font. It alludes to the bright sunlight of spring after a shower of rain, and to the violets at the centre of the piece.

NB The taking of photographs is restricted in the museum but there are many to be found on their website, together with further information: www.souleiado-lemusee.com

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