Phoenix Member, Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé, is passionate about fabrics, and she uses them to great effect to create her contemporary hangings, panels and sculptures, which she makes by weaving together soft furnishing fabrics and incorporating layers of abstract shapes in knitting or crochet-work. Her interest in architecture is evident in the design and structure of her work.

In fact, she has been fascinated by textiles from a very early age. At twelve years old, it was her ambition to become a fashion designer, so she asked her mother to teach her the first steps of sewing. She started studying design at a technical college in France, where her artistic talent was noticed and she was advised to enter an art school.  During her time at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts of Nantes she experimented with weaving, using a variety of materials such as hemp, lengths of 8mm film, ribbon cut from fabric, and painted cardboard tubes.

For our recent exhibition, SeenUnseen, Marie-Ghislaine created a body of work, comprising three large-scale abstract pieces, which explored the concept of “the Space Between”.

Lock Down (fabric and zips)

Tissage 5 (linen, cotton and silk)

Monochrome Weaving (mixed fabrics and polypropylene twine)

However, as well as being a talented artist, Marie-Ghislaine also runs a successful business making curtains and soft furnishings and has written a blog for Phoenix describing how fashion in soft furnishing haS changed from the 1980s to current times, using images of her own work from her portfolio for illustration.

Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé

Fashion is a domineering despot, and its capricious fancy is not accidental. Originally it was the preserve of the upper classes, as a way of demonstrating their wealth, and often captured the mood of the times. But from the early 19th century, the inventiveness and designs of upholsterers were widely available all over Europe, through magazines and journals. In England, Rudolph Ackermann began to produce one called The Repository of Arts in 1809.  Later, the opening of the Liberty’s stores in London in 1875 and Paris in 1889, brought fashion in textile designs to the notice of the middle classes.  Several decorative styles were popular at this time, most notably the vogue for Japanese design but also the romanticized Gothic, and quaint Arts & Crafts styles.

Having been involved in soft furnishings for a large part of my working life, I have witnessed several changes of fashion in the world of interior design, window-dressing and bedcovering, all of which have affected the choice of fabrics, prints and colours.

The 1980s and Country Freshness

During the 1980s old chintzes were painstakingly reproduced and a generous repertoire of new designs for chintzes emerged from designers all over the world. Chintz is a good quality cotton fabric with a resin finish often printed with designs inspired by traditional Indian woodblocks. Both reproduction and modern flower fabrics were available in soft colours with pretty designs that were redolent of the country garden.

This window has been dressed with curtains that have been inspired by a traditional shape. The curtains themselves are simple but have been adorned with frills applied to their opening edges.

A shaped pelmet or a deep, soft pleated valance, sometimes with piping of a contrasting colour, might also have been added, illustrated by this Austrian blind in a black and white pattern adorned with black bows to make a strong statement for a dull modern kitchen window.

If the design of the fabric is particularly exuberant, the pattern of the print is best revealed by a simpler curtain and narrow shaped pelmet design as in this example:

The design of the window dressing can also hide imperfections in the architecture, as in this case where gentle festoons form a valance in floral chintz to detract from a misshapen window in a Victorian house:

From the 1990s onwards

Towards the end of the 1980s, an inevitable reaction against the frills and fuss took place. The fashion dictum of this period was to dress windows to look as appealing as possible, whatever the size of the windows, which should never be hidden beneath a torrent of fabric. The proportions of both window and curtain should be optically correct. The misshapen window could be disguised by a soft pelmet, a larger blind, or a more generous pair of curtains.

The window of this Georgian house bedroom is built very low in the wall. The deep portion of wall on top is hidden by a Roman blind; the blind and curtains hung just under the cornice make the window appear taller than it really is:

In Georgian houses, the tallest windows are usually on the first floor. Such rooms and windows offer opportunities for both traditional formal treatment and simpler design.

Current trends see blinds playing an important role in window design, excluding light and draughts when used under dress curtains, as well as highlighting and completing a window treatment. Used alone, roller, Roman and Venetian blinds suggest a streamlined modernity and come into their own in rooms such as the bathroom and kitchen, where the amount of fabric for curtains would be dangerous or impractical. Blinds can also be used for other practical purposes around the house: as an alternative to a cupboard or wardrobe door, or as a room divider.

In this Victorian House, separate Roman blinds are used for each section of a bay window; the clean lines of the window frame give a strong, contemporary look to the treatment:

Improvements in glass-making technology over the past few centuries have made it possible to have a huge variety of window styles. Sometimes known as “picture” windows, well-designed wide windows reduce the impact of large areas of exterior and interior wall.

Advances in technology with the development of new products have resulted in new styles of curtains. Eyelets, for instance, are a simple but effective device that can turn the most ordinary curtains into something special. Simple chrome eyelets allow the designer to minimize bulk so the curtains can be flat panels hung from a pole.

A show flat in Pimlico

The design and composition of bed coverings have also changed. The traditional bed cover is made of a flat top panel with gathered or pleated sides. The invention of polyester fibre wadding has made a great change to the way of dressing a bed. A thin wadding could be used to line the top part of the bed cover, adding warmth and comfort without great weight. Modern designs use a thicker wadding for a large rectangle-shaped covering falling to the ground.

As a lover of fabrics, I consider it sad that the latest trend by architects is to dispense with curtain dressing altogether. Window glass panels can now be manufactured to be completely insulated and even to include sunshades and blackouts at the push of a button.

By Marie-Ghislaine (ed. Maria Walker)

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