Massachusetts-born UK-based antique textile dealer Katharine Pole is one of the most knowledgeable and respected experts in this area of the trade. She shares the stories of two extraordinary objects: her greatest find and the piece she'll keep forever.



Katharine Pole's stand at the Battersea Decorative Arts Fair 2024 


Katharine Pole has been dealing in antique textiles for more than 30 years, with an emphasis on French 18th and early 19th century pieces and a particular fondness for French indigos, whether quilted bed hangings or farmers’ smocks.

Born in Massachusetts, she arrived in the UK as a teenager in the ‘60s and studied textile design before setting up her own textile printing studio. She turned to antique dealing while her children were young, and was inspired to specialise in textiles by other dealers, in particular Bryony Thomasson who became her mentor.

Now a mentor herself as one of the most knowledgeable and respected dealers in this area of the trade, she exhibits three times a year at The Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea, and has a London showroom open by appointment.

My Greatest Find:  Indienne 'robe a la francaise'

"A few years ago I was at a flea market in Vannes on the southern side of the peripherique and a dealer who had some indigos and workwear I was interested in brought out an 18th century dress to show me. It wasn’t cheap but I knew I had to have it and rushed off to get more cash out of the machine to pay for it.

"It wasn’t pure, pure pure, in that the bodice had been altered at some later stage in the 19th century, but it was a nearly-intact sack-back Indienne ‘robe a la francaise’ complete with its petticoat and dating from the 1770s.

"The fabric was a block-printed cotton with a lovely design of big flowering boughs and wonderful colours - bleu de pastel, madder red, and brown. The collar and sleeves were edged with ivory silk ribbon - it was heavenly. And also kind of rare. People tended to keep and treasure their silk dresses but this was a more everyday dress that could easily have been cut up and the fabric used for something else, and I loved that about it - that it had been kept all this time and somehow survived. I sold it at auction, but now rather wish I'd kept it - there was something so immediate and personal about it."


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The Piece I'll Keep Forever: 18th-century indigo quilt

"I think my love of indigos can be dated back to my childhood. My father was an academic and we moved from America to North Nigeria when he got a job at the university in Kano. Every night the Tuareg would arrive on their horses to guard the compound and drink mint tea. They were known as the ‘blue men’ because of their indigo-dyed robes and turbans. Ever since, there has been something about the look and feel of indigos that resonates with me - it’s visceral.


Katharine's Keeper: an 18th-century, paste-resist indigo quilt


So, one of the things I would never want to sell is an 18th-century, paste-resist indigo quilt that I bought years ago somewhere in the South of France - I can’t remember exactly where - and which I use on my card and website, so it’s almost like my logo.

"There are two recurring patterns for French indigos of this date - pomegranates which are from the south and known as toiles de Nimes, and the scrolling acanthus leaves which are toiles de Rouen; a Ralph Lauren version of the pattern has been used on the cover of Cabana. Mine is acanthus leaves but it’s very unusual because there are little birds on the leaves, and I have only ever seen one other like it. 

Its backing is a faded ‘bleu de pastel’, which is a lighter blue than indigo. All these different dyes have their own character and depth of color. I keep my quilt folded up on a shelf, but really I should have it on display and hang it over my banisters."


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