Thursday, 29 August 2013

De Nîmes à Gênes * Textiles in the Musée du Vieux Nîmes * Not Forgetting Buffalo Bill ...

I am a great lover of old pattern books and when I saw these pages in the Musée de Vieux Nîmes, I knew I was lost. The museum itself is located in the beautiful late 17th century bishop's palace in the heart of the old town and brims with textile treasures. Nîmes was famous in the 17th century for its production of woven silks and you can see many examples here. The silk came from the silk worm farmers of the Cevennes. Waste silk - chappe - was mixed with cotton to produce filoselle (and when you buy filoselle for stitching today that is exactly what you are using.) This filoselle was used for warp threads as it was strong and resilient.

It was also used for producing serge which originally was used for sail canvas before being adopted by country folk and those employed in labour that took its toll on clothes. Blue was a colour traditionally favoured by peasants from Greece to the Atlantic seaboard of Spain and so the blue serge became a feature of Nîmois production. But the fabric was not shipped to the New World from Nîmes. The de-nim(es) was transhipped from Cadiz for South America or from Genoa (in French, Gênes) for North America. And that with Mr Levi-Strauss is now history

Folco de Baroncelli like Frederic Mistral was a great amateur of the Occitan way of life and he promoted the cattle herding of the gardiens (cow-boys) of the Camargue. To draw attention to this revived way of life, in 1905 he invited Buffalo Bill and his Sioux chiefs to Nimes, where they set up a huge tent. Baroncelli took the Americans to bull sorting and branding near the village of Gallargues, about 8 miles from Nîmes, in the Camargue. There the Americans were so taken by the event they joined in and the tale was written up in the journal Provenco of 6 January 1906. Ironically, blue jeans are anathema to the gardians’ outfit: Baroncelli insisted the gardiens wear cotton moleskin pants in grey, beige or black!

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