French country fabric, especially country French fabric, adds a unique charm, richness and warmth to French country interiors.
And that's at a fraction of the cost of French reproduction furniture - to say nothing of genuine French antiques!
I "discovered" Wendy Lewis on a search for French country fabric to buy. She runs the most on eBay, selling superb vintage and antique European textiles.
I was struck by Wendy's encyclopedic knowledge of country French fabric, but even more by her obvious love of these textiles. There was a deep understanding, a sense of kinship with the people who used to own these fabrics in the past.
And I was not at all surprised to learn that she consistently receives 100% positive customer feedback from more than a thousand customers per year.
So I wanted you, dear Reader, to meet Wendy in person, and I invited her over for a little virtual afternoon chat over coffee and tarte tatin.
Renate: Wendy, thank you so much for dropping by! I know you've just returned from more than a week of Antiques Fairs, you must be exhausted!
Wendy: Whew, you can say that again! This coffee is just what the doctor ordered ... thanks for inviting me!
Renate: Well, I'm totally chuffed that I'll get to ask you loads of questions today! And to jump right in ... Wendy, I know you spent 12 years in England, but then you fell in love with French textiles! It's of course tempting to run with, "what's wrong with us Brits?" but I'm going to resist that ;-) So ... what was it about vintage French country fabric that got you so hooked?
Wendy: Ha! Well, it's a very interesting question, and perhaps one that most Francophiles might struggle to put their finger on, exactly. There is a certain quality and a certain attitude to life that French design seems to embody for me.
When I discovered my first early French textiles, the drive to understand was so intense, it felt as if it wasn't a choice ... it was a need. The first early 18th century textile that I found, I carried around with me for weeks! Moving it from room to room, trying to understand what it was about it that spoke to me so deeply!
I could feel that this textile was steeped in history, poetically designed, exquisitely crafted ... the combination for me was irresistible ... This led me to research ... and research and research these textiles.
Renate: And then you took the obvious yet super daunting leap from passionate to professional! How often do you travel to France to buy fabrics? And I'm curious ... is there anything specific that you most look forward to when you step off that plane?
Wendy: I was travelling every 3-4 months back to Europe, but a recent move slowed my schedule down a bit to every 6 months. However, this year I should be back on the 3-4 month schedule, luckily!
The honest answer to what I look forward to when I step off the plane is a pain aux raisins! It's only after I've had my first pastry and great French meal that I can focus on my quest for textiles!
Renate: Awww, yum! And I imagine it must be an incredible high to return home with your new treasures. What do you do? Do you sew at all?
Wendy: Yes, I do sew! I taught myself to sew early on in my textile obsessive years.
My children were babies and I had a strong urge to surround them with, what I felt were the very best "objects" in the world ...
... for me, this meant objects that have lived lives before ours, well crafted and beautiful enough to capture an imagination, make an impression.
So, I started to sew quilts, pillows, wall hangings etc for my children.
However I have to say, I am much more of a collector than a designer, and I envy the fabulously creative ideas that the people that source from me come up with! It isn't what I would call my talent :-)
We've recently moved to a magical 1812 Federal house and my personal collection is screaming to let them come alive! The most difficult thing for me is making the final decision on what to use ...
Renate: Now that's a gorgeous problem to have! And how often does it happen that you take a fabric into your heart and find you're unable to part with it? Like, "I'm not selling you. You're staying. You'll go on this wall here, or over my bed so I can see you every morning when I wake up."
Wendy: More often than it should! My personal collection is vast and extremely important to me. There are textiles in my collection that I could never part with, or even use!
There are also textiles in my collection that I know that I'm only temporarily holding on to, until the overwhelming urge to share comes over me. There are many many textiles that I take into my heart, and would simply love to keep, but as a dealer, I have an urge to share and show that allows me to let go. The knowledge that someone will cherish it as I do is, for me, the joy and privilege of what I do!
Renate: You know, I absolutely adore the color co-ordinated you sell in your shop! Such a fun idea, and what a great way for people to enjoy authentic, antique & vintage French country fabric at a low cost! Do you remember when you first came up with the idea?
Wendy: Thank you Renate! ~ The project bundles have been such a joy. I have collected many many small pieces, damaged pieces etc over the years, the volume was unbelievable! I had wanted to create these bundles for years, but never found the time.
Two years ago I created a few, and they were very well received, so this winter I took the opportunity to get the collection of bits out, and play.
I was a bit nervous about them at first. My usual style is to detail size, tone, condition with great detail.
But luckily, people have really embraced the idea and trusted that the value would be there when the bundle arrived on their doorstep! I've had many wonderful emails from people about the bundles, a total joy for me, knowing that these pieces will be seen and loved once again!
Renate: Wendy, your knowledge of antique French country fabric is amazing. Does your interest in textiles go way back, or did it all start in France? Do you remember the moment? And what's been your favorite way of learning about vintage French fabric?
Wendy: As a small child, I remember being aware of fabrics, and the draw was there, but I certainly didn't understand it!
My love for antique textiles hit me (like a freight train!) when I was in my 30s, about 10 years ago.
I am an avid genealogist and family historian, so the connection to the past was already there for me.
I found a pair of printed linen panels that simply took my breath away. I was intrigued and simply HAD to understand them. This led me to discover other printed fabrics, and as I was living in the UK, I was travelling to France regularly for holidays and my car stopped at every opportunity to discover more!
My favourite way to learn about these textiles is by holding, touching. I'm constantly seeking out like minded people and adore spending time "talking textiles". Museums are a wonderful resource for information, too. I research constantly, never ever feeling as if I have learned enough ... some wonderful piece of information is always just around the corner!
Renate: Are there any specific museums you would recommend to someone traveling to France?
Wendy: My three favourite museums in Europe are:
♦ Musée de la Toile de Jouy, Jouy-en-Josas, France. Simply amazing ... my Mecca! Also, the
♦ Musée de l'Impression sur Etoffes, Mulhouse, France, is simply not to be missed (while there, go visit the Musée du Papier Peint in Rixheim as well!)
♦ Of course, closer to home and very very dear to my heart is The Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Renate: Textile heaven indeed! Next time you're in London, let's go chill at the Victoria & Albert! I wrote all my University papers at the V&A library, it's one of the best places on earth. Wendy, thank you soo much for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience! Much appreciated! Now, before I let you go, I'd love to know if your customers ever send you photos of what they've done with the French country fabric they bought from you?
Wendy: Yes, they certainly do! It's one of the reasons that I simply adore my "job" ... Knowing that these textiles will have another chance to be seen and loved, and looking at the wonderfully creative ways that people use these textiles makes my heart pound with joy! Keep the photographs coming!