Quality French Table Linens Made in Provence
It isn’t easy (for me) to walk by a market vendor in Provence that carries table linens without at least a quick stop. The array of bright colours and attractive patterns are like a magnet drawing me in close – even though I should know better! Unfortunately, these products (table cloths, napkins, runners, etc.) are often not fabricated in Provence or France. However, the good news is that you can find quality French linens made in Provence here.
“Of course, nowadays we find the Provencal prints on the markets (not only in Provence), but one must be wary of the proposed quality. Some items are not made in the region but come from foreign countries … The quality of the fabric and the finishes are not at the same level as the goods made in Provence.” ~ by Marie-Helene owner of the online boutique Remember Provence.
Learn more about authentic cotton products in her the article below.
But, first, here are a few French words to know before going any further:
- Table cloth = nappe de table
- Napkin = serviette de table
- Table runner = chemin de table
- Apron = tablier cuisine
- T-towel = torchon
Quality in Provence
Currently, several brands make cotton products in Provencal prints for clothing and decoration. Among them, Souleiado, Les Indiennes de Nimes, and Les Olivades, which is the last company to print the indiennes in Saint Etienne du Gres, in the Alpilles.
While Marat d’Avignon® is perhaps a lesser-known manufacturer, it was established in Provence in 1948. Today, the company creates a line of products for table décor from their stock of traditional and figurative motifs. Striving to rejuvenate old Provencal patterns imported from India, Marat d’Avignon® produces technical fabrics for tableware and home decoration.
Imports from India
Today’s bright Provencal prints originated from imports from East India in the 16th century. Jean-Baptiste Colbert (Minster of Finance under King Louis XIV) allowed free access into the Port of Marseille, and trade activity increased as imported goods arrived from the Indies. Among them were cotton fabrics with bright floral patterns with colourfast dyes. These so-called Indiennes gained immediate success with the local population.
Cotton Fabrics and Patterns
In 16th-century Europe, the fabrics used were hemp, linen, wool for the poor, silk, and velvet for the wealthy. These vibrantly patterned cotton imports from India are a novelty. The demand for these Indian block-printed fabrics spread quickly in the region, then throughout France. Popular with noble ladies who love fashion trends, the Indiennes of Provence start conquering the kingdom. Then came the imitations, protectionist measures and manufacturing under the Papal authority in Avignon.
Modern Table Linens
With manufacturing techniques today, it is now possible to coat printed cotton with a thin layer of acrylic, making the item more stain-resistant. This modern technique has a real advantage for everyday use: less laundry and ironing. For example, coated tablecloths maintain their appearance and clean easily with a sponge.
The genuine piques of Marseilles used formerly mainly as bed linen are today replaced by quilted goods, machine stitched, in the typical shops. Unfortunately, these patterns are not as charming as hand-stitching, but vendors call it boutis without understanding the genuine Provencal boutis as it is a different stitching method!
Boutis refers to the needle used to stitch two pieces of fabric together to form the Provençal whole cloth quilt. The stitching patterns generally follow intricate designs. Each motif has a meaning; a flower represents beauty, an olive branch peace, and a cluster of grapes prosperity. This quilting technique for hand-stitched bedspreads comes from the 17th century. All local markets and many tableware stores in Provence sell boutis. While it’s rare to find boutis done by hand, you might see some examples at local brocantes. The technique is lovely and makes beautiful placemats, table runners, pillow covers and bedspreads.
Printed cotton mats and oven gloves are helpful at the table and in the kitchen because the thickness isolates heat from hot dishes. Less thick and more regular than the quilts of yesteryear, quilted cotton fabrics are perfect for several uses: placemats, oven gloves, tablemats and table runners.
Art de la Table
We all know someone who has a creative touch, and their dinner table always looks fabulous. Whether it’s napkins shaped like swans or choosing the perfect flowers, there is a technique to dressing a table that verges on an art form. Of course, the food needs to be good too because art de la table encompasses the entire idea of entertaining. The process starts with determining the menu and wine selection, which dictates the china, flatware, glasses, and serving dishes. Lively diner conversation is not entirely spontaneous, but it may occur naturally depending on where guests are seated. The table dressing and décor need to be pleasing to the eye but not divert attention from the meal or the discussion. Perfecting a diner party is certainly Art de la Table.