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In 1985-86 I was a Fabric Librarian for Brunschwig & Fils, at the Washington Design Center in Washington, DC. It was the most colorful job I ever had and exposed me to high design and French textiles at an early age. It is there that I discovered my love for French design and French anything. I got obsessed with chintz, ball trims, luxurious silks and damasks, and everything that was B&F.
The B&F library at that time was a big mess, heaps of materials, bolts of fabric, and tons of squares and swatches all piled up in a back room on a few shelves. It was a little weird and daunting at the same time. My job, as I had a library background (not fabric but books), was to take the vast mountain of textiles and make it all easily organized and found. I categorized by colors & textures, mostly, and I vaguely remember giving everything a certain number system or alpha system, so any employee could find what they needed for a designer. No computers then (geez, I feel old), just a typewriter, paper, pens and a xerox machine to use for making color-coded labels for the shelves.
I may have worked in the back room, but I was the face of the library of B&F fabric, so designers would come to me with their orders of swatches and such and I would pull them out. I had to keep track of it all, sort of like a real library. It was all so mysterious and fun, and I really knew nothing about textiles before that time except that I liked hunting for vintage tablecloths at thrift stores and flea markets. That should have been a dead give-away to me, as here I am today loving my French tablecloths that I sell in my shop and keeping abreast of all things French.
Brunschwig & Fils was textile school for me. I found love in the color, texture, weight and flow of the French fabrics I handled every day. It was just fascinating. The people I worked with were extremely talented and knowledgeable about the history of fabrics and I learned a lot from each one of them.
I also thought long and hard about going to design school. At that time I was mixed up as to what I wanted to do next. I had spent many of my younger years in theatre (from age 14-25, at that time), on stage and back stage, and was trying to figure out if I could really make a go of it. I needed a real job then as I had been living without health insurance and got sick and was in the hospital for a spell. Fortunately, I had ended up at G.W. University Hospital in DC and I qualified for free health care as I was extremely poor. I was acting and cleaning houses and temping for a library services company, so little money for health care insurance.
So, this is why I answered the ad for "Fabric Librarian" in the Washington Post classifieds. To really put this time in perspective, this was before the existence of mass office computers, tweets, facebook or anything remotely technological. Not sure I knew anyone with a cell phone. This may all seem rather ancient. I looked for jobs by opening the newspaper, so it was kind of by need and by fate that I even worked for Brunschwig & Fils. But in the end it was the jumping off point for me and the beginning of my love of textiles and anything French.
Looking back at this amazing time in my life has been a great way to realize again that there are no mistakes in life. Every little turn of events can bring you something that is life-changing without you realizing it at that time. Only later does it all come full circle and you can see that everything that happened in the past was all too perfect. B&F had an interesting role in the creation of my shop, r.h. ballard---it's very Francophile and heavily influenced by color, texture, with touches of romance and uniqueness. I couldn't have planned that better if I wanted to.