Freshly arrived in the San Francisco Bay area from Indiana, Dianne Ayres was working in a fabric shop when she met Timothy Hansen. “I figured any guy who was into fabric was a good catch,” says Ayres, whose grandmother was a seamstress. Soon she and Hansen, who later married, were shopping for Arts & Crafts table rounds, runners, and pillow covers at local flea markets. (Many items from that now sizeable collection can be seen in American Arts and Crafts Textiles, a 2002 book written by Ayres and Hansen together with Tommy and Beth Ann McPherson.)
Attracted to “the colors and big bold designs, and the handmade-ness,” Dianne started making her own period-inspired textiles. Some pieces were patterned after the originals she and Tim collected, or patterns in old issues of The Craftsman magazine, which she found in the stacks of the UC–Berkeley library. Soon she was sewing pillows that sold for $200. “It was a huge amount of money back then.”
That was the start of Arts & Crafts Period Textiles. Early commissions included a table runner to dress the 1903 Stickley sideboard for which Barbra Streisand famously paid $363,000, in 1988.
From the beginning, the roses, poppies, pinecones, ginkgo leaves, and grapevines Ayres embroidered on pillows and table linens were her own interpretations. Designs evolved in ways that seemed simple and natural to her. For example, she started out making the pinecone pattern in appliqué. “Then I realized if I conventionalized it more, I could embroider each scale of the pinecone.”
The pillows and table linens she and her team of embroiderers make are popular—as are the do-it-yourself kits. But “most of what we do is custom curtains,” she says. “And the hardware. The brass curtain hardware has been like bread and butter for us.”
Meticulous, handmade craftsmanship is what makes her custom work so special. “If you look at premade linen curtains, versus having us make something for you, plus the embroidery, it’s a real bargain,” Ayres explains. “Our curtains are not inexpensive, but people definitely get their money’s worth.”