Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Winds of March...and April Showers

Outside the window of my solarium is a glorious magnolia tree. I can look forward to it bursting forth with a profusion of pink each spring. It sits amidst a mini forest of pine trees. It's a valiant tree that is still standing, still proud, but not as resplendent. The storms we have had in the Northeast in the past few weeks have devastated many of our trees. Whole trees have been uprooted from the fierce winds that followed just a few weeks after a snow storm. It was that storm, leaving feet of heavy wet snow crushing branches, that has diminished my magnolia.

My friend and neighbor, Janet, and I cut some of the branches from the fallen limbs--and I have been trying to force the bulbs. I didn't realize how much water I had put in the metal container--so much that I couldn't lift it yesterday to get it near a sunny window on the first sunny day we've had in a spell. But with a little ingenuity, I did manage. And now the valiant bulbs are trying to bloom. They are further along than the tree. It's a rebirth after the storm that makes me happy to see. March winds bring April showers...

Speaking of which, I hear from my Rochester, NY friend, Karen, that she has found a fabulous site featuring gorgeous umbrellas: Karen is not one to hold back enthusiasm, but I think you'll agree with her that these are special, and worthy of note and carrying to shed those April showers that are sure to come your way.

I have two big umbrellas--bought in France during my Victoria days--that are treasures. They came from the Cartier Foundation and I bought them from necessity when we were shooting at a story nearby. At Versailles' Little Hamlet we were deluged with rain, but we had to carry on, only having a few days to complete our story on toile jouy fabrics. These French blue umbrellas have a huge wing span. They will keep the rain off--but on a windy day you might just take flight trying to hang on to one of them! I held one over Toshi Otsuki as he and I both stood in water up to our knees. (Oh, the glamorous life of a magazine editor!) We positioned the models, as best we could, under eaves, etc. so they would be dry while we shot. Then, under the blue umbrellas, we all scurried to a dry place. One of the guards at the palace lent me his raincoat until he had to go back on duty. Bless the lad. These umbrellas as so ample, one could easily use them on the beach, but I would never want the color to fade. It is just my favorite azure shade.

This particular story has always been one of my favorites. Maybe because of the difficulty in the shoot, but more because we were able to share with our readers the history and development of a fabric we all know well, but do not know how it came into being. The scenes of toile come from artists' renditions of scenery in the area. They created romantic little tableaux from the bridges, rivers, trees, and streams around them. When we use a toile fabric, it has a very romantic history to bring with it. There is a lovely museum in Jouy-en-Josas, and they have published a glorious book, Toile de Jouy. When you peruse the fabrics or the incredible plates in this book, remember that these are real places with real inspirations.

This month, this March of fierce winds with the promise of spring, is the 250th anniversary of the printing of toile. It's as beautiful today as it always was.


  1. Nancy, my mother made me wear a dress of toile my grandmother made me. I thought it was old and fussy looking. Now I love toile and would give eye teeth to have that dress in my possession! I wanted her to make me a dress with stripes. I wish I had other things my grandmother made me: an azure velvet dress with glass buttons, an intarsia sweater with a reindeer. But nothing gets to me more than the rememberance of that cream and mint green shift depicting a farmer and his wife in a field of clover. I do recall the made up stories my grandmother told me about the couple...Adore toile now and recently saw it on the cover of a notebook and I scooped it up as mine.


  2. Although there is no toile at Linderhof, it is a love -- it's a beautiful fabric and my mouth waters every time I see it -- alas, next time I redecorate . . . .

  3. Dear Nancy: Leave it to you to take my impassioned "you'll love this" email and make a wonderful story from it!
    I adore this tale of toile and Toshi; especially as it shares some behind-the-scenes memories of one of my all-time favorite fabrics! My cozy bedroom is anchored with black and white toile curtains & bedlinens: these are accented with black/white sketchy florals and narrow stripes--I caught the fever from that very article you mention!
    The outfits, the lovely models, the horse (!), the wonderful information divulged about the fabric and its manufacture--I cherish that issue and now I know some of the backstage secrets.

    Thanks over and over for sharing it and please, keep these Victoria stories coming!

    My favorite "just for looks" umbrella, while not quite as snazzy as some in the website, is a gem found by my daughter (a tireless Goodwill hunter)--it's a vintage mid-50s, red and white polka dot with a gemmed and tassled handle. It has been a prop in more than one community play and strikes awe and envy into almost every female heart it enounters.
    And you even mention magnolias (sigh)...we had a pair of magnolias in front of the Cape Cod I grew up in and I used their petals for powder puffs and dolly dishes, and their leaves as placemats for all my tea parties as a kid.
    Here's a spring hug,
    Karen Marline

  4. I love toile, but don't have it in my home. I might have to reconsider. I once had a golden yellow toile silk dress and still remember how much I love it.

  5. My heart is full of "Victoria" this week for many reasons. First, I received my two copies of "My First Best Friend" and absolutely loved it. Marline, I so enjoyed your story and Nancy yours was very touching and went right to the heart of childhood friendships. My first friend's copy will be on its way to her today with an added picture in the front of the two of us. She will love it. Earlier I made her a scrapbook of our many escapades since I was always the photographer.

    Another reason for my Victoria week is the three days I spent going to cattle sales. We live on a small farm where my husband was born and he has always raised cattle. I never go anywhere without my reading bag so I gathered my spring Victorias and off we went.
    While the auctioneer was working, I was lovingly reconnecting with Diane Ackerman's "Deer in Springtime." Thank you for introducing me to Diane. I now have several of her books. I was inhaling Maryjo Koch's beautuful art and Toshi "First Day of Spring." I love any memories you share with us about your travels with Toshi. If you could entice him to put together a book of his wonderful art I know all of us would love it.

    I noticed a rather muddy cattle buyer peering over my shoulder and I had to wonder if he thought I was out of place or he was also enjoying my magazines.

    I have a friend who likes to say she is broadening her horizons and that is exactly what you and your wonderful staff have done for me. Lauren Mills "Leaves -- A Kindred Spirit" made my heart soar yesterday. Then I came home and helped to unload our little spring calves and truly felt the magic of spring. Always thanks for your lovely sharing, Jean

  6. Thank you for taking us "behind the scenes" or, as it were, "under the umbrella" with your Paris photo shoot of yore, and for such a wonderful lesson of toile. I have a renewed appreciation for the art rendered in these pieces.

    The umbrellas look so wonderful. I now have a lime green one, that merits comments for its brightness. I bought it out of necessity. I was forever losing my black ones - actually, leaving them behind and then couldn't find them - and the lime green one, well, it certainly stands out in a crowd of umbrellas.

  7. What a wonderful tale! I loved learning about toile (and so much else!) from Victoria, and it sure is fun to hear the insider story of how these wonderful features came about. I am currently reading through the March 1992-94 issues, marveling once more at how wonderful and timely they remain ...

  8. Nancy, I fondly remember that article on toile, and as a young bride at that time it was all very new to me. Oh, the places I "traveled" and the things I learned through Victoria. I was instantly drawn to the beautiful monochrome scenes on the fabric. And your post is timely for me, as just last week I purchased the elements for an "idea board" to go in my new art room. It started out as a piece of plain corkboard in a sleek black frame. I purchased some black and cream toile to cover the corkboard, and now I have exactly what I envisioned. I actually did a post about it on my own blog last Friday. It was a tough decision for me between the French blue on cream or the black on cream. But the black seemed to go so much better with the lovely frame. How fitting that I should choose that on its 250th anniversary! Thank you again for sharing your wealth of knowledge and for another inside look at how that article came to be. You are a jewel!!


  9. I love this post of yours, Nancy-- and on the Umbrella link- I really like the cream or white Battenberg lace ones - I have been pondering the idea of using an umbrella hanging upside down over a light fixture from the ceiling in my guest room for decoration- they are all so pretty!- I can't really justify buying one to use outside, as we rarely get any rain here in Reno, Nevada.--

    I love Magnolia Trees- & your pink one looks just beautiful!

    I did buy one of your New book , but haven't read but three pages in it so far,because I finally got a Victoria "Spring 1988" issue and Christmas 1988 issue and have been totally spellbound reading them! All of the magazines and books by you and "Victoria" are just the best!-looking forward to reading "My First Best Friend",as soon as I get more time.-- Love,Valery

  10. Nancy, oh how I remember that wonderful feature on toile. It is one of my favorites in all of my Victoria issues. It is fun to hear the behind the scenes of a shoot at Versailles. It really is romantic even if you were up to your knees in water!

    On another note, I have started reading "My First Best Friend" and I am having a hard time putting it down to do all my weekend chores. I am enjoying it so much! You are, in a way, like a best friend since the very beginning of Victoria. So here's to you old best friend, for bringing so much joy and beauty in a life so ordinary.