And so to bed with the Duke

The stuff of ... antique linen bedclothes and French traditional quilts.
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The Independent Online
Antique linen sheets that once graced the beds of French nobles are the unusual speciality of Nicole Fabre, a vibrant Frenchwoman whose shop in London's King's Road draws a discerning clientele.

Many of the coarser antique linen sheets can be made into curtains and cushion covers, and some have been dyed the rich blue colour of "king's gold" - l'or bleu - in the time-honoured French way, using a special pastel paint.

But the finest linen, with hand-embroidered monograms and motifs, is bought to use as sheets. Some of these pieces date from 1860 and are sold singly at prices between pounds 85 and pounds 140, depending on the quality of the embroidery.

Upstairs, the shop has an eclectic collection of antique French furniture on display. But downstairs are shelves stacked full of linen and French toile quilts known as indiennes - the French equivalent of chintz. All date from around 1880 and are in a range of delicate colours, often favouring Provencal design.

"I go to France regularly to stock up, but I won't touch anything I don't like personally," says Nicole. "Everything I buy is hand-washed with soap and water, and laid out to dry on grass in the sun. If it is winter, and there is a stain on the fabric, we use the ancient way of dealing with it. You must lay the material out to dry at night, when there is a full moon and a frost - and I promise you in the morning the stain will have vanished. People think it's an old wives' tale, but it works."

All the linen is passed through an old-fashioned mangle before making its way to Nicole's London shop. Here many people ask her advice on how to decorate their homes with a country farmhouse look. The coloured quilts can be used as wall hangings, or thrown casually over the back of a sofa.

Nicole's piece de resistance is not for sale. This is a full set of magnificent bedclothes made in 1762 for the Duke of Orleans, brother to Louis XV of France. For this the town of Orleans has made her an offer she cannot refuse - and so the royal bedlinen will shortly be on display there in a museum.

The shop also sells waste-paper baskets (pounds 52 each) and replica 18th- century trays and tissue boxes (pounds 25 each), covered in a range of pretty toile fabric.

Nicole Fabre is at 592 King's Road, London SW6 2DX (0171-384 3112). Her shop is open Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm, and Saturday, 11am-5pm.

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