24 Oct 2009

A Textile Heritage (Part 1)

My love for quality linen traces its origins back to my own origins… Intrigued? Find out why I am prepared to go the extra mile and pay the price...

As intimated on An Old Faithful Kitchen Companion blog post, I was born and raised in North East Picardie, France, an outpost of the textile industry - and more precisely in the town of St-Quentin, 'le Manchester de la France'. Many of my ancestors, on my paternal side of the family, were involved as weavers in (mainly) cottage industries throughout the villages. My great grandfather, Louis, worked in textile from the age of 6 until retirement, with a 4-year hiatus to fight the war in the trenches, hardly a much-deserved holiday break…

On my maternal side of the family, upon their arrival from Corsica in 1949, mémé and my grandad, Armand, also worked in textile, in town. Although the industry had been declining as a whole since the 1950s, it remained the main employer in the region, drawing in a skilled labour pool, providing a livelihood and contributing to the economic prosperity of my hometown. Bedlinen, elaborate curtain guipures and garment production requiring a multitude of skills were the main activities, centred around cotton and synthetics. Below is a late 19th century lithography of Société David, Troullier & Adhémar, a cotton mill (© Ministère de la Culture/ Région Picardie - Inventaire général/ Ville de St-Quentin).

Most mills traced their origins back to the mid-19th century, with the close-border geography lending itself to international ties, from Britain to the Netherlands, from Argentina to Germany. Names spoke for themselves: William Cliff, Vandendriessche, La Cotonnière, Daltroff, Touron, amongst so many others… Below is a letterhead (1900-14) for Société Albert Sidoux & Cie (© Ministère de la Culture/ Région Picardie - Inventaire général/ Ville de St-Quentin).

Factory shops were a shop-window of sorts, offering a sample collection of what had been produced in-situ. As a child growing up in the 1970s, I would visit them with my mum and I would be dressed - on a tight budget - on dégriffé off-the-peg couture (i.e. genuine designer garments sold cheaply in the factory shop where they had been made, with their designer labels cut out for legal reasons). I remember a much-loved purple folksy skirt and bolero ensemble produced under licence for Sonia Rykiel, which my mum had bought me for a few Francs. (to be continued)

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