What's That French Line?

 French lines

By Curator Andrea Jackman

No, this blog is not about France’s border or a “line” you should never cross, or even a good  French pick up line. Rather it’s about a “historical” framing technique not often used by many framers known as “French Lines.”

French Lines are defined as:

“…a style of decorative matting created by carefully inking border lines using a ruling pen and subsequently filling the space between two of the lines with a watercolor wash.”

As some of you may know, Earls Court Gallery’s framing services have been around since 1970s, making us a dinosaur in the framing business. Bob has done many of these French lined mat commissions in various combinations over the years, and I have been fortunate enough to learn the skill. Though we do not offer this service lightly due to the amount of patience we need, it can be requested especially when trying to match a historical or previous framing project. 

In the step by step example below, with one single French Line, we were commissioned to match a mat to a pervious order done many years before.



Supplies for French lines 



Pre-cut mat to desired dimensions

Ink (Pen)

Corner Gauge a.k.a. French Line Ruler



Bob’s inks and pen

For this project we are using a flowing gold ink pen. Traditionally we use bottled inks that are blotted with this syringe like ink pen. It suspends the ink between two arms. The ink is drawn up by the pen from a small puddle, then apply at the same speed as the ink is released from the metal pen. In other words, way harder than using a modern pen.

 We still do it this way, but all of our gold ink from the 80s has dried out. Any other colour we use the traditional technique and inks.



Mat bar- dot

With the Corner gauge we measure out to dot 9, which will make a ¾” space between the cut bevel of the mat and the desired location for the French line. One dot is made at each corner.



Set up at the mat bar

Here I line up the dots so that a perfect line can be drawn. I must be careful not to go beyond the pencil markings as inks often absorb into the cotton mats making it impossible to lift with razer. There is no erasing.



Andrea Jackman French line

Take a deep breath. Keep the pen straight up. And draw the line at the same speed as the ink releases from the pen. DO NOT go beyond the dot.

Exhale and reset for the next line matching the finished line and dot of the next side.

Beware, some inks dry slowly, so ensure that the ink is dry before applying a ruler for the next line otherwise the ink will bleed.

I also recommend cleaning the ruler each time with a Kleenex as some ink may adhere to the edge of the ruler.



Bad corner- French line

Bad Corner- Ink Bled

Good corner French line

Perfect join of French Lines- Plus not dot is visible.

Yep, mistakes happen and that is how we learn to make perfect French lines.

Here is an example of a bled corner that is not a crisp 90-degree angle.

In some case, you can take a razor blade and lift the ink from the mat surface, as long as the ink does not absorb into the paper.



Finished one line

With many deep breaths and slow movements, I have completed all four sides of my mat, creating a flawless gold French line.

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Thank you for that remarkable display of that exacting practice of using a French line to embellish a mat in framing.
Thank you


Thanks. That was informative and fun!

Wayne Wakal

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