Sunday, October 4, 2009


In this recession, a lot of us fret about our work or lack thereof. I'd call this "fretwork" but I can't because that means something entirely different in antiques.

So what do I call worrying the day away? Being a "Nervous Nellie". And I sure don't want to be one of those, so I try to think positively and never watch the local news. But I have to admit this economy is getting so bad that it can bring out the Nellie side in just about anyone. Sad. But getting back to fretwork:

Fretwork is a carpentry technique of cutting thin pieces of wood with a fine-bladed saw (called a fret saw) to form shapes or patterns. The fretwork pattern might be left "open" (meaning you can see through it), as often seen on mirrors (see above table and the mirror below) or table galleries, or it might be "blind", meaning it's carved into or applied to a solid surface and therefore can't be seen through. Here's an example of blind fretwork on the top of an English chest on chest:

And here's a terrific 1760 English Georgian Gothic Revival mahogany tea table with open fretwork gallery, legs, and apron detailing:

Open fretwork is also sometimes backed by fabric such as pleated silk or by mirrors, as shown here on an 18th century Italian Rococo giltwood looking glass:

Fretwork was a favorite technique of Thomas Chippendale, especially on his Chinoiserie pieces. See my earlier post on Chippendale and his furniture. Chippendale would often have multiple tiers of open fretwork stacked on top of each other. What most people don't know is that Chippendale never duplicated any fretwork patten when he did these multiple tiered layers. On a real Chippendale piece, each layer was completely different as shown here:

Although fretwork is most commonly associated with English furniture, it was used throughout Europe and Asia as a decorative technique. Here's an 18th Chinese Huganguali dressing cabinet and mirror stand, from the Qianlong period:

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