Dior Couture with Lesage Embroidery

Since beginning this blog, I have intended to write a post about embroidery. It's a particular interest of mine, as my sisters and I spent much of our childhood attending embroidery classes at The Embroider's Guild. Once a fortnight we would spend two hours on a Saturday afternoon being instructed (along with other girls aged between 7 and 14), in various embroidery stitches, working our way through the set projects until we graduated. It is only as a Mother myself that I can now appreciate exactly why my Mother thought this was so important. Firstly she managed to get all three of us out of the house for a few hours on rainy or very hot weekends, plus we were learning a life skill. Win/win.

Lacroix jacket with Lesage embroidery

The embellishment of clothes and household linens has been around for centuries. Long gone though, are the days when to while away the hours Ladies would spend hours embroidering and embellishing their homes and wardrobes, or would prepare for marriage by embroidering a trousseau of household linens and clothing for their new home. Embroidery is a dying art, and has not experienced the same resurgence in recent years as knitting and patchwork have. This is perhaps because it requires more skill. Embroidery is something that takes years to learn and improve on, and it also requires excellent fine motor skills… Knitting and patchwork equally require skill (and can get quite complicated), but a basic scarf or square block quilt can be knocked out by a relative novice by comparison.

 Christian Lacroix with Lesage embroidery

 detail on a Balenciaga dress

from a recent collection, Oscar de la Renta dress with machine embroidery

In this age of mass consumption, the enduring trend in Interiors and Fashion relate to the handmade, the detail that is difficult to replicate by a factory and to sell down market to the chain stores. An example of this is the hand made wallpapers by companies like de Gournay and Gracie - no mass company has been able to replicate a hand painted Chinoiserie pattern successfully to date, and so these wallpapers still have the allure of the special and the unattainable (unless you have plenty of money, in which case they are perfectly attainable). With embroidery, certainly you can buy machine embroidered passementerie tapes to edge curtains with, but the truly luxurious use of embroidery is in the curtain that has the embroidery sewn into the design, rather than applied retrospectively. Similarly there is a vast difference in appearance between an embroidered Monogram on bed linen made by, say, Leontine linens, and one made by a mass market company such as Pottery Barn.

hand embroidered monogram 

Lesage embroidery on Porthault linens for Aristotle Onassis's yacht

Fashion and Interiors go hand in hand, and there have been several specialist embroidery companies through the ages that supplied the detailing to Couture dresses and to Interior Designers. Some embroidery is still entirely hand made at the couture end of the spectrum, but much is now machine made for the Pret a Porter ranges. There is still skill in understanding how the various stitches will appear and respond, so there is still artistry involved, and the machines are so specialised that they cannot produce en masse.

Lesage hand embroidery

Lesage in Paris has supplied couturiers throughout the 20th Century with their embroidery needs. The business was recently sold to Chanel (as part of their purchase of the Petites Mains), in order to safeguard the future of the Embroidery house - many of the other specialised embroidery houses disappeared over the past 50 years as demand dried up for their skills and machinery was instead used. Lesage combine work in their Paris atelier with hand work done by embroiderers at their studio in India. They also opened up a school of Embroidery that services both interested home embroiderers as well as professionals. It's run out of their Atelier in Paris. 

Chanel dress embroidered by Lesage 1996, one of the most expensive pieces ever made by Chanel

In Interiors, there are some embroidery houses still embroidering to order the edges of sofas or curtains or bed hangings. When I was working in London we used a single woman who did the most exquisite appliqué detail for the leading edge of curtains and their pelmets. Her contact details were jealously guarded so that other Designers would not be able to copy the look.

Villa Savoia embroidery

The current issue of Architectural digest has an article on an American Embroidery house called Villa Savoia (one of the few items of interest in this month's otherwise horrible issue). The designs shown in the article are contemporary in nature, and show embroidery versatility - it's not all flowers and frills.

If you're feeling inspired, and don't have the funds to commission either couture from the French fashion houses, or expensive linens from Porthault or Leontine, then perhaps consider taking classes from the Embroider's Guild (there are branches in each State), or if you're lucky enough to have the time and ability to spend some time in Paris, from Maison Lesage. Certainly the richness and tactile nature of embroidery can add so much to a contemporary or traditional setting, it's all in how you use the details.

All images via my Pinterest Embroidery board
It's been a busy few weeks. I'm not sure why life can be relatively quiet most of the time, then we manage to pack in a bunch of trips away and social things all in the same month.

A few weekends ago, we had eight friends to dinner. This was our first 'big' Dinner Party in the house, and I certainly felt a little out of practice having had a 3 year hiatus between big Dinners.

I set the table using our Silver, and our usual Villeroy and Boch china. To dress it up a little I used our blue water glasses (also a wedding gift), and then we had to do the usual and run out to buy new wine glasses… the smash rate is rather high in our house and we could no longer accommodate more than 5 drinkers at any one time.

I used my white linen table cloth and napkins and decorated the table with lichen covered branches that I collected with the children during the week from my Dad's garden in Stirling. I borrowed the snow ball votives from my Mother in Law, as I thought they'd work well with the wintery theme. I love a lot of candles around when having people to dinner - it adds so much atmosphere, as well as hiding a multitude of sins decor wise (don't fret GSL - the lights were all suitably dimmed when the guests arrived!).

Dinner itself was mostly cooked (again) out of Ottolenhi's "Jerusalem" and "Ottolenghi" cookbooks. No entree (lots of different nibbles instead), and then I did three sides and two mains and set them out buffet style on our sideboard. The mains were the Saffron Honey Chicken with Hazelnuts and a slow roasted shoulder of lamb with Moroccan spices that I got the recipe from when attending an Outdoors on Parade cooking class last year. I have to say, I'm always amazed at how much people eat when they are faced with a buffet! There was pretty much nothing left over at the end of the night, the males all went back for seconds and piled their plates high. If I'd been plating up meals myself I'd have put half as much on there.

Chocolate tart was for dessert. I always do a mix of cooking and cheating when I entertain - who wants to make it too much work (although I do love to cook)? The tart was very easy -I bought the chocolate shortcrust pastry (Careme brand, which is a small South Australian pastry company that produces excellent pastry), made the filling from a Jamie Oliver recipe and decorated it with the sugared violets, white chocolate balls and chocolate straws all from Bottega Rotolo (local gourmet deli).

I find the Ottolenghi recipes work well as they can mostly be prepared in advance and then just combined at the last minute. It means that I don't end up spending much time in the kitchen, and do a lot more mingling with guests instead. It was a really fun night, and as we farewelled our guests at 1.30am and the Recycling bin clinked rather a lot when I dragged it out later in the week for the Rubbish truck, so I think you could say that a good time was had by all.

We were in Melbourne a couple of weekends ago and saw the Italian Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado exhibition at the NGV. There are five roomfuls of works by Titan, Correggio, Raphael, Tiepolo et al… as I don't get to travel to Europe much (at all, sadly) this is the next best thing. I also find the big museums overseas can be slightly overwhelming after a few hours- so many masterpieces that you start to get fatigue and not take it in. This was a large, but manageable exhibition.  So many wonderful paintings - I was particularly drawn to the latter period ones that were Grand Tour themed (a long running interest of mine). Definitely go to see it if you're able to.

Last weekend I went to a High Tea with some friends. I wore this black and white wool dress, which looks a bit Chanel like with the belt I matched with it (the belt is a very old Country Road one and has a camellia on it). The dress is from Oscar de la Renta, and was a recent purchase (second hand via Ebay) and an absolute bargain. A lot of people don't seem to wear their clothes much, particularly in the US it seems to me, and this dress is a good example of that. It looks immaculate, but was probably 1/10th of the original retail price by virtue of being worn maybe a handful of times. As it's a classic shape I can't imagine it going out of fashion too badly in the near future.

The guest speaker at the Tea party was Monique Bowley, who is a Blue Ribbon prize winning Baker at the Royal Adelaide Show, a former contestant on "The Great Australian Bake Off", President of the Adelaide Metropolitan CWA (Country Women's Association) branch (the largest branch in South Australia by virtue of it meeting at night so that women who work can join), a former Australian Basketballer, tireless Charity worker, and award winning Radio Producer. Oh, and she's 32. So aside from feeling inadequate at what she's managed to pack into her life, her talk was so engaging and interesting essentially about the power of saying "yes" rather than "no" as we women are all being told to do. She says that pretty much her entire life has evolved from the opportunities that arose from saying Yes to things, and the positivity that that word brings into her life.

Anzac Biscuits

Monique also shared with us her prize winning Anzac Biscuit recipe. For overseas readers, Anzac Biscuits were sent to troops in WW1, as they keep well (as they had to survive a 2 or 3 month transit to the front line in Europe). I made a batch yesterday, and they are delicious.

In line with the Anzac theme, I watched the ABC series that started on Sunday night "Anzac Girls" about the nurses that went to the front lines in WW1. While the series is excellent (fictionalised, but based on the letters and real life stories of 6 of the nurses from that war), I had difficulty suspending belief, as the entire thing was shot in Adelaide and surrounds… so a building that is supposed to be in Cairo was entirely recognisable to me as the historic house Carclew, and when they were up on the balcony supposedly admiring the view of Cairo, I was instead just mentally seeing the view of the Adelaide Oval and city. Much of the tea house and garden scenes are shot in the Botanic Gardens, with the beautiful Victorian Palm House serving as the tea house. Mr AV then asked me if the Botanic Gardens usually do afternoon tea there, as it looked so pleasant (sadly, no it doesn't… it's usually just a palm house).

The Palm House in the Botanic Gardens, doubles as a tea room

In between travel, dinners and teas, we've had several bouts of the Plague descend on the house. I have spent a lot of time at home as a consequence, which is not entirely a bad thing. In between nursing duties for my sick brood, I've been making progress on the Library bookcase design and drafting, and filling in some of the other blanks in the house and garden.

Finally, the swimming pool has been approved by the local Council. This has taken more than twice as long as the entire extension took to approve. I'm not sure entirely why - one part was going through the Heritage department I gather, which seems overkill given that the pool is in the back garden and not visible from the street. With approval finally arriving, it's been full steam ahead this week, with the approval granted on Monday, and the digger rolling in on Wednesday. We now have a large hole in the back garden. The concreting will be done at the end of next week.

We were in Sydney a few weeks ago, and I took the opportunity to do a speedy 5 minute shopping detour into Parterre in Woollarah, where I bought these spouts for the pool (I had already sussed it out on the net at home). They're going on a wall at the back of the pool spouting water into the pool and are made of aged bronze. I rather like them as they go with the new/old mix I've tried to achieve with the back of the house. When I hauled them back to our apartment (they are extremely heavy) and unwrapped one excitedly to show Mr AV he commented that it looked a bit like a "big droopy d***" (less polite term for looking a little phallic). The 8 year old was in the room when this judgement was passed, and of course he fell about laughing hysterically… so I suspect now that my beautiful bronze spouts will forever be thought of as being something else by the males of the house. So sad…!

Ours is the largest...

Not a lot of other progress on the garden front - the side garden was planted out and I've heavily pleached the trees. In the back garden the lawn has taken root, but we have been waiting for the pool to start before more work is done. A few plants were put in, but there's a lot to still go.

MyPlant Torture bible

So exciting times with the pool finally underway. We've been intending to put one in since we first moved in 3 years ago, however we kept pushing it back due to costs on the renovation of the house and wall. So finally having work start on it seems quite miraculous. Of course with this starting my mind already turns to the next project to tackle… the ugly shed that is standing out like a sore thumb. But that will take another year or so before I start the lengthy Council approval process on that.

Hope you have a good weekend
I was vaguely thinking that I was due to update my wardrobe with a new handbag. I haven't bought a new bag in probably 4 years (evening clutch bags excepted). This is for a few reasons. One is that, as I've previously explained, I'm not really a bag person (more a shoe person), and the other reason is that none of the bag offerings of recent years has really prompted me out of my ambivalence toward buying a new bag.

So in my tentative web explorations of the latest designer handbag offerings I found the following:

Firstly, that there aren't any bags that really knock me out. Secondly, that a lot of bags are being inspired by somewhat interesting consumer products this season.

Take, for example, this Alexander Wang bag.

via Alexander Wang

I'm not hugely fond of those "get the look for less"  columns in magazines and blogs, but frankly, if you'd like to get the look for less, try going to the supermarket for this one. You will be able to buy a pack of 10 of them for around $5. True, they'll not be made out of supple black leather (rather stretchy plastic), but you'll save yourself thousands!

Then I noticed this charming The Row bag.

via MatchesFashion

Mothers the world over will be looking at anyone carrying this and thinking the other woman's got a baby stashed in there, rather than her wallet and keys. I lugged (they were heavy) two of my babies around in something to this and frankly am happy (due to back issues) that I'll never have to use something like this again. Weirdly, in the style notes they say that it was inspired by a baby papoose (are Mary-Kate or Ashley pining for a baby?). So in my "look for less" series you can buy a baby sling for just under $100, and save yourself $2,900 on the cost of this bag.

Free the baby!!

Moschino have a whole range of "Sponge Bob Square Pants" bags out this season.

via MatchesFashion

Words fail me. What adult wants to carry this around? I'm pretty sure you could pick up something similar in PVC for around $500 less too.

Anya Hindmarch has just released her new Autumn/ Winter 14 range. She was inspired by common household products this Season, such as boxes of Coco Pops that have been turned into a clutch.

via Anya Hindmarch 

And Frosty Fruits logos on the side of her otherwise classic bags

So in a get the look for less, buy one of those mini boxes of Coco Pops, eat the contents (or bin them, even better) and then turn it into a clutch for your next night out. I promise you'll turn heads.

So I'm left feeling a little uninspired by the current new season offerings. Have any readers found any new bags that are tasteful, and don't appear to be a designer having some sort of in-joke at the expense of their customers? I'm thinking I may just hold off on any new bag purchases for another season at this rate...
I've hesitated posting the completed children's Playroom for a few reasons, one being the mess factor. I think a sign of a successful Playroom is that it is used and loved… which this one is. Unfortunately this means mess as well. So how much to show in the photos was the quandary. I decided to show it as it is, but reasonably tidy - this means it is not how it would present if it were photographed for a magazine. In that case, they'd remove all extraneous toys, clean off the blackboard wall and put up some more picturesque chalk drawings done by an adult, place scatter cushions around and generally make it magazine worthy.

The design of the Playroom was something I had plenty of opportunity to think over. For the year that we rented a house in Melbourne prior to moving into this house we had a room that we called the Playroom. It was the first room off the hall as you walked into the house, more of a study. Essentially it functioned as a toy storage room in the end - the children did not like being separated from us by playing in there - so they would drag toys down to the living area, and at the end of the day, we'd drag them all back there. 

This said to me that a successful playroom is one that is adjacent to where you are. I'm in the Kitchen and living area a lot during the day, so having it next to the kitchen was ideal. One the children are older (teenagers) I thought that I'd probably want to be able to keep a bit of an eye on them and their friends, so this also works for the future. The second point that I noticed with friends playrooms (and our first attempt at one) was that an internal room (as in, without a door to the outside) felt enclosed and did not get used as much by the kids. So access to the garden directly from the room was something that I wanted to incorporate. I'm also realistic about the amount of toys that kids have… with three children all with different ages and interests, there's a lot to incorporate, so storage was also important, but I wanted it to be flexible for their future, so no built- in storage.

The room has a dual aspect, which gives light throughout the day and provides either a view of the front garden and glimpses of the street, or of the back garden which is accessed off the veranda and a wide flight of steps down to the lawn. Once this room was finished, Mr AV suggested that perhaps this could be his study… while I also started to think about the possibilities as a Design Studio of my own… but the kids have won out, and it's most definitely theirs. 

They helped with the selection of the wallpaper. I'm not a fan of Design by Committee (always a compromise), but to give them some sense of ownership it was important to consider their views. In discussion they decided they'd like to have a "Where the Wild Things Are" feel to the room (one of their favourite books), so I found two wallpapers for them as options, and they chose the Cole and Sons' "Woods and Pears" which has beautiful gold foil pears dangling from the bare birch branches. This also covers the sliding door that goes into the laundry, so that it becomes a secret door. One wall was painted in metallic blackboard paint so that they could draw and graffiti to their hearts content, and also stick up their artwork with magnets. 

The flooring is the linoleum that is used throughout the extension. The furniture is mostly new for the space, excepting the sofa. The sofa is our 14 year old Jardan sofa which I bought slipcovers for around 6 years ago when it started to look tatty. It's still got a lot of life left in it, and just fits in neatly to the space. I didn't bother to put scatter cushions on it as they'd just end up on the floor permanently. 

The storage pieces are from IKEA, and are the Stuva range, which you can customise to suit. I did a fairly exhaustive search, but found that either things were really expensive and flimsily made, or just expensive, or just made in sizes that didn't work with the spaces I had. I have a bit of a love/hate thing with IKEA - while it is well priced, a lot of it is not well made and is pretty much future landfill, which does not sit well with me. These pieces are fairly sturdy though, and I'm hopeful that they have enough flexibility to last until the children have finished using this space and move out of home.... I chose three of the wardrobes which are 128cm high and fitted them out with shelves only. These pieces were good because they had some depth to them, but weren't the same depth as a kitchen cupboard. I could fit a lot of toys into them as a consequence but they didn't 'block' in that part of the room. The central unit has a small tv in it. I was not so inclined to give them a tv on display at all times - I find that they tend to want it on if they can see it. In a cupboard they don't get that visual prompt. This works fine, and we already had the small tv, so it was good to use it, although I can see a day in their future (teenaged) years where they demand a bigger screen. 

On top of the wardrobes I store the larger items of toys that don't fit in the cupboards. There's also a lamp from Freedom Furniture that works well in the space with its black shade and natural timber base. The coffee table is actually two more of the Stuva benches back to back with large drawers on rollers under them. They contain puzzles on one side, and games on the other. The benches are very sturdy. The other Stuva piece is the Art cupboard in their art and craft area. It has two deep drawers for all the craft sets they get given for birthdays by friends (to be brought out on rainy weekends), along with a caddy for each child's pencils/ textas etc. There's also all their paints, glitter, stamps, origami papers, stencils etc etc. This area is used the most by my daughter, who absolutely loves Art at the moment and spends a lot of time snipping small bits of glittery paper up and creating things. 

The table is from Pottery Barn Kids, and is the Carolina Craft Table. It's really sturdy and solid - I've been really pleased with it. I purchased small replica Eames chairs as they were much cheaper than the Pottery Barn Kids ones, and they match our Eames chairs in our dining area. I bought 6 of them so that they could sit here with their friends as well.

The little kitchen is from IKEA as well, and was a gift a few years ago. The youngest two love playing in the play kitchen, but all three will often set up a cafe now, where the patrons have to sit at the Art table, and the menu is written on the blackboard wall. 

The main light is a pendant light, and has a little bit of natural timber at the top of the fitting, which works well to introduce a nature element to the room. There's also one set of LED down lights directly over the craft table.

All in all, this room works really well. The kids love the space, and when they have friends over I can keep an eye on what is going on without having to be in there with them. There's a large sliding door from the kitchen into the playroom, so if the room is a horrible mess at the end of the day I can just slide it shut and ignore whatever project is being created in there. It's nice to let them create something that is an ongoing project without them having to pack it up at the end of the day too. 

So, the details

Flooring: Forbo Marmoleum from the Dutch Design range "Piet Hein Eek" M0512
Wallpaper: Cole and Sons "Woods and Pears"
Storage Furniture: Stuva range from IKEA
Table: Carolina Craft Table from Pottery Barn Kids
Chairs: Replica Eames Kids chairs
Sofa: Jardan (discontinued design) with slipcovers from the Slipcover Shop
Pendant Light: Coco Flip

On the weekend I was in Melbourne, and made a pit-stop in Hermes to see the new store. They've recently moved a short distance down the block from their old Collins Street address to Harley House, into the ground floor space that previously housed a National Australia Bank branch, in a building that was originally built for Medical rooms (hence the name). It is a much larger space with beautiful classical features. It fits with the new store aesthetic very nicely.

I was interested in looking in for a few reasons - one is that I like to see new retail design in general (you can often find interesting details that work in a domestic setting), but I was also interested because Hermes had used some of their in house Artisans to produce some of the detailing specifically for the store.

Window display

Unfortunately, I forgot my phone, and therefore my camera. But I've found a few shots on Instagram that show some of the things I found interesting via Karin Upton Baker (Hermes Australia Managing Director).

Firstly, there was this balustrade detail - the handrail is finished in taupe (Etoupe) pebble grained leather wrapped around, invisibly seamed, and topstitched. It's so simple and minimalist, but textural and luxe at the same time. The end point is finished in a polished round of timber (not seen in the photo above). This would translate beautifully into a modern home interior. I'm not sure that you'd actually want Hermes to produce it for you, it could well end up costing as much as a renovation I'd suspect, but a local furniture maker or joinery company could well produce a similar aesthetic.

one of the arched windows at the top

The other detail that made the space was on the upper level (it is two storeys, with Scarfs, Equestrian and Menswear on the Ground, and Women's clothing, leather goods and china/ home wares on the first floor). The upper level has beautiful arched windows, part of the original Architecture of the building,  that give very much a light filled atelier type feel. They really highlight how important Architectural detail is. You can find the tricked up Interiors in a mall-bound store interesting to some extent, but they suffer from lack of detail and authenticity in the end- they definitely have the sense of the manufactured and temporary, and suffer from a lack of natural light (which is a constant problem in Mall design in my opinion).

The flooring was also of note - at first glance it looks original. It's mosaic in a pale green and creamy stone tones, however the Hermes logo is the give-away that it was done new for the store refit. The central logo is in micro mosaic.

Aside from the Architectural interest of the new store, they had released some of the new scarf designs for Autumn/ Winter 2014. Having written a post recently on the use of scarfs as Art when framed in a home, several of the new designs struck me as being particularly suited to this. They weren't quite so geometrically attuned for tying alone, so I think would translate quite well with framing. The colour ways would look particularly good if you're looking for some colour in your interior.

First is Cheval Fusion, shown here in the orange or pink colour ways.

Then Zebra Pegasus could look good either in the more colourful or restrained colour palettes.

It reminds me a little of the Scalamandre Zebra wallpaper that is so popular and that has graced Guest Loos and Bathrooms the world over.

Le Bal des Oiseaux would also look good. Black backgrounds are always very striking.

Lots of Design inspiration in one little store, and definitely worth a browse if you're in Melbourne any time soon.

All scarf images via

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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