Susan Deliss shares her love of hand-stitched textiles and tells us how she collects and cares for them
What sparked your interest in textiles?
My initial passion was for Old Master paintings. I won a scholarship to study Art and Restoration in Venice and, while there, I saw many wonderful textiles. This is probably where it all started – think of all those fabulous silks and damasks in Veronese’s paintings.
How did your business evolve?
One of my earliest lightbulb moments regarding textiles was at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, where I saw a 4th-century Coptic textile. I was blown away by its age and beauty. Wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve collected carpets, kilims and ceramics. And a!er lots of travelling and many cups of very strong, sweet co"ee, I’ve established sources of really high-quality suzanis. I mostly sell modern or recent examples, but they’re made in the traditional way, generally with colours that reference old textiles. I also sell old kilims and #atweaves; antique hemps and linens, o!en dyed by hand in natural pigments; Greek island embroideries and hand towels, and silk coats all made during the O$oman period (1453-1922). My principal interest is in textiles from the Islamic world, as there is a re%nement of pa$ern, colour and scale that I %nd very pleasing. My test for buying anything is always: ‘Could I live with it if I couldn’t sell it?’. So I only trade pieces that I have a genuine liking for.
Do you have any tips on caring for and displaying delicate textiles?
If something is really old and valuable or fragile I would frame it. But, generally, these textiles were not made to be framed. I like to feel and touch them and move them around. Light damage is only a problem if the textiles are displayed in direct sunlight. Moths should be taken really seriously – there is only one rule: elimination if you have them and then prevention. If you don’t get rid of them the problem will get worse and worse. You have to blitz them. Mould marks are very di&cult to get rid of, but the only way textiles will get mouldy is if you leave them wet or damp. Always leave textiles stretched out when they are drying and check that they are completely dry before folding and storing.
What advice would you give to anyone new to collecting antique textiles?
Somebody once told me: ‘You have to buy to learn’, which is certainly true. There is nothing quite like handling textiles to build up an understanding about them. But I would strongly advise a novice collector to go and look at textiles in museums so they develop an eye for top quality. Also read specialist textbooks to build up knowledge.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece in your collection?
A long, 18th-century red silk and velvet panel with appliqué and also a baroque example with %nely embroidered coloured motifs. They aren’t in perfect condition but they are both beautiful.
Susan Deliss has filled her house in France with antique textiles. Suzanis, such as these, which are embroidered with Ottoman motifs, hold a particular fascination and are available in her shop (susandeliss.com).