Bryce Reveley turned her hobby—passed down from two generations of women in her family—into a lucrative career more than 30 years ago.
“My grandmother knew how to make lace and quilts. All the women in my family, when they had some free time, had some type of needlework device in their hands … crocheting or quilting,” she says.
As the owner of Gentle Arts, along with her daughter Leigh Reveley, she has garnered quite the reputation as being the go-to-person in the city when it comes to restoring and cleaning vintage textiles.
Leigh Reveley restores a piece of lace.
“People started getting in their attics and trunks and started uncovering their personal histories tied up in textiles. They had kept old uniforms for some reason, wedding dresses, first communion dress and ceremonial gowns. People wanted these things cleaned or restored,” says Reveley of her decision to turn her pastime
into a business in 1975.
Reveley is an expert in her field. She works as a textile specialist for William Doyle Auction Gallery in New York. She also does consulting for museums, historic homes and is highly sought-after for appraisals.
Reveley and the company’s 11 specialists works on everything from flat to two-dimensional textiles, to battle flags and massive tapestries.
“We can do almost anything that needs to be done—even an old piece of fabric. We work on things from the 16th to 20th century,” she says.
A lace blouse, circa 1900, displayed on handmade hanger covered with an antique pillow case.
The fascination with antique fabrics and linens is a sentimental one. People are attached to heirloom quilts, dollies, tablecloths and the like, Reveley says. These pieces often conjure memories that point back to a tender time in childhood or cherished family traditions.
“I have a loyal band of male clients. They bring in tablecloths and remember their family sitting around the table or how good grandmother’s oyster dressing was,” she says. “I found men are sentimental about their grandmothers’ things. Really, it might be the only thing they have left specifically for them to physically treasure from that someone dear to them.”
Post-Katrina, Reveley’s business underwent a rush of New Orleanians seeking its services to restore what they had left of their storm-battered possessions. She says she’s seen mildew in all the colors of the rainbow.
She’s restored a tablecloth from a home in the lower Ninth Ward. Stashed in a dresser during the storm, the covering with white and blue stitching was the only thing the family could manage to salvage. It was three needle point pillows for one Lakeview couple.
“It’s all about the memories,” Reveley says.
looking for linens and other cloth pieces
The market for vintage linen in the Crescent City was much bigger before Hurricane Katrina, says Allain Bush of Bush Antiques. And although the market is significantly smaller now, she says, there are still diehard collectors interested in antique textiles “who love them and always will.”
Irish lace curtains, circa 1900 to 1920.
Old French linen and tapestries remain among the most popular items, Bush says.
A tapestry in good condition from the 1700s and 1800s, factoring in size and intricacy, can cost anywhere between $20,000 to $100,000, explains Bush of the hard to find objects.
Reveley adds, “People here like lace.”
Samplers—needlework from schoolgirls practicing their alphabets and learning to sew at the same time—are big with collectors. These embroideries were also of Bible verses.
“If you are lucky, the verse will be in French,” says Reveley of such a piece that if in fair condition can fetch as much as $5,000.
Vintage clothing is big in New Orleans too. Mardi Gras is a huge draw for old costumes, Reveley points out.
“Classic vintage clothing is something that never goes out of style. The prices have gone up significantly,” she says.
Bush offers the simplest advice for those with an affinity for vintage linen: “Collect what you love. Different people love different styles.
“Part of the beauty is the way antique linens fade and wear. The fading from daylight, I think is beautiful.”
Embroidered map from 1952 made from a kit. This piece could be a pillow cover or framed piece after being brought in for cleaning and remounting.
in a fix
If you have antique or vintage linens that need some TLC, Bryce Reveley and Leigh Reveley’s Gentle Arts can come to the rescue. For information, call 504/895-5628.