Thursday, July 14, 2016

Meet Me in Fargo!



I am so excited to be traveling to Fargo this fall to teach three workshops for the Quilters' Guild of North Dakota!  A Weekend with French General will feature an evening lecture on Thursday, September 22nd.  I will present the history of our 20 (yes 20!) year old company, how I find my inspiration in the South of France (not difficult!) and how we created a company that has become a staple in rural French design.
On Friday, September 23rd, I will teach two workshops - a jewelry class in the morning - featuring one of our vintage kits along with some special antique beaded friendship bracelets.  

 
After lunch, I will teach an embroidery workshop using one of our new floral patterns and our collection of floss.  All materials are supplied for both workshops.
 On Saturday, September 24th, I will be teaching the magic of shibori and indigo.  This all day workshop will teach you how to make an indigo vat, prepare your fabric using different shibori techniques to create patterns, and how to turn your textiles a brilliant shade of indigo blue.
It's sure to be a weekend of inspiration, craft and friendship - I hope you can join us if you're visiting or live in the area!
As an added treat, Mogull will be coming along to run the French General Pop-Up Shop...filled with our quilting fabric from Moda, our exclusive jewelry and embroidery kits - as well as the first opportunity to try out and purchase our new French Hoop!
Feel free to write me at notions@frenchgeneral.com with any questions or to sign up, visit the Quilter's Guild of North Dakota.
See you in Fargo!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Molly, The Magic Coat and an Ikat

This post was originally published on January 24th, 2012

A couple of summer's ago in France, we were digging at a flea market in Caylus, and I came upon an old quilted coat. I wasn't sure if I liked the idea of a quilted coat, but I loved the idea that there were two different fabrics, the liner and the outer fabric. Both fabrics, I thought, I could use for our Moda fabric collection. I took the coat back home to the chateau and showed it off during our show and tell time before dinner. Molly immediately gravitated towards it (or did I make her put it on?) and modelled it for everyone to see the beautiful details and masterful stitchery. We laughed and laughed and then, somehow I put the coat away and almost forgot about it.
Until a week ago, when I was sorting through a pile of old fabric from France, looking for inspiration for our new line, and found the coat. The first thing I did, was put it on and was instantly reminded how much we laughed that summer in France when Molly would wear the coat - just to stay warm at night! We made up fanciful stories about the old, grand chateau owner, who had no heat and resorted to having one of his 18th century quilts made into a robe or smoking jacket...just to stay warm.
Pulling the magic coat out, I realized I had forgotten that inside the lining of the two fabrics, was yet another fabric - one that had been covered up by a 19th century floral. I spent a weekend (yes, a whole weekend!) completing the task of pulling out each and every stitch so I could remove the outer layer of fabric and get to what had been hiding underneath. I had no idea what I would find, but after seeing a small corner - I knew I liked what I saw.

What I found was an 18th century French linen ikat - in perfect shape, not a hole to be found. I think it had probably been covered simply because someone was tired of the design and wanted to update the quilt.
An ikat fabric is woven using a very complicated dyeing technique. The dyes are applied to the yarns prior to weaving which will create designs on the finished fabric. Depending on the pattern, specific areas of the warp and/or weft threads are are protected from dye to prevent them from absorbing color. When the threads are dyed, each thread will have different color pattern along its length. When the threads are ready for weaving, each thread has to be lined up perfectly on the loom. The warp thread is first to be set on to the loom, and then one must keep all threads in position very carefully to achieve the desired pattern in the final weaving of the textile. There is natural movement in these threads, which give an slightly feathered, or blurred look to the final textile.
To say I was blown away - is to put it mildly! Funny how one little textile can create so much excitement and then spur me on to search for as much information as I can get my hands on. The funniest part of the magic coat story is that I would have never known the little gem that was hiding inside had I not been curious...and taken the coat apart. So, I guess the moral of this story is....always look deeper, there may be something beautiful hiding inside!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Woad Day

This post was originally published on July 8th, 2009



My favorite day so far! We spent our day learning about woad - an ancient blue pigment. Medieval Toulouse was built on woad, regarded then as a magical substance because it begins as green leaves and initially imparts a yellow dye which turns blue only when oxidised by the air. Denise Lambert, the Woad Master, mixed up the woad bath dye in the garden early in the morning. By 11:00 we were all dipping our linen nightshirts, bundles of lace and hanks of yarn. I threw in a hand full of sheep's wool for needle felting as well. As one woman in the group said, it was as if we were transported back to ancient times - quietly spending the day doing woman's work. Everyone worked together either dipping the fabric, pushing it down into the vat, wringing it out, hanging it on the lines to dry and then repeating the process for a second dip. Everyone was mesmerized by the simple process and the beautiful results. “It is a complex and difficult pigment, but it produces one of the most beautiful blues in the world,” Denise said.
We broke for a lovely lunch on the patio and then went back to work. No one could get enough of their pieces colored! By the end of the day - everyone had their arms full of the color of France - it was a beautiful day filled with imagination, creativity, and camaraderie - who could ask for anything more?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Day Two in France

This post was originally published on July 5th, 2009

The breakfast bell was rung at 7 and we awoke to a wonderful meal of fresh baked croissants, home made jam and coffee. Everyone piled into the coach and we sped away to St. Antonin for the early Sunday morning farmer's market. About 30 farmers come into to town every week to offer up their finest fois gras, bread, vegetables and fruit. We had a great time tasting some of the local flavor - as well as buying the melons, fruit mustard and fresh honey. With baskets full, we headed back to the chateau to drop off our market finds in the kitchen.
The flea market in Toulouse happens on the first full weekend of every month - Friday through Sunday. The vendors are local folks who have been selling their wares at this particular market for years - so there is a great air of friendship and familiarity throughout the loop. (The market is set up in a loop - like a track field with a sausage and frites "kitchen" at either end). Everyone went to work immediately - hunting for old textiles and digging for small treasures. Lizzie helped out with the French bargaining and I did my best with a pad of paper and a a bit of "Bon prix s'il vous plait" I think the vendors were happy to see us all and everyone in our group walked away with some great treasures.



Thursday, June 09, 2016

Convent Nighties

This post was originally published on October 28th, 2009

One of my favorite things to find in France are the old linen and hemp convent night shirts. Sewn throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, these fine linen nighties are sewn with an impeccable hand. All of the stitches are tiny and all of the details are precise - the scalloped edge along the necklines, the elegant monogram either in the center or over the heart, the simple cotton tie that gathers the sleeves - nothing was left untouched by the needle and thread. Usually I find these gowns at a flea market, in a heap on the ground, covered with years of age and neglect. I usually scoop them all up, because I know underneath the grime is a simple dress waiting to shine again. Many times the dresses will have a small repair where the fabric has been hand-stitched back together, over and over again - I am sure that once you were given a gown, you were expected to take care of it forever - not just for a year or two until it wore out. These gowns, usually sewn by and for the nuns in a convent, are cool to the touch and feel like silk - the result of years of well worn linen.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Old Hat Factory

This post was originally published on November 6th, 2010

There is an old hat factory in Septfond - a small town near the chateau we rent for our Chateau Getaway. I try to explain this hat factory to people and I can never get it quite right. I want to tell them how it's an abandoned factory - how one day, the workday bell rang and everyone put down exactly what they were working on and walked out. A cigarette, a half finished crown, the iron - everything is left - exactly where it was left 50 years ago. There are rooms and rooms filled with old horsehair braid, crinolin, buckram, unfinished straw hat blanks and yards and yards of old silk labels for berets. The owner, Guy, doesn't really think too much of his old warehouse - although pick up the wrong hat to buy and he will quickly replace it with another - regailing you with the time Maurice Chevalier came in and was personally fitted with that particular hat. Lately I find myself crossing my fingers and hoping that the old hat factory remains untouched until we return next summer. Not that I am worried about the stock being depleted - but more so about the character of the rooms being disturbed - I don't want anything to be cleaned up or tidied - I want time to stand still at this small secret stash in France.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Crafting in France

This post was originally published on July 20th, 2012


A big part of what we do on our French General Getaway is craft.  We craft in the morning, we craft in the afternoon, and those of us that have good eyes (myself not included!) even craft after dinner!  It's funny, when we originally planned these getaway weeks, we didn't leave as much time for crafting - thinking everyone would rather run around the countryside seeing the neighboring villages and markets.  But, we have found that when you have 18-24 women gathered in an 18th century chateau, crafting is actually a luxury - something that everyone wants to spend more and more time doing.  This summer we were honored to have a handful of friends and artists join us for a week each - including: Shea Fragoso and Debbie Murray from A Gilded Life, Charlotte Lyons, Jenn Texiera from EK Success, Susan Fuquay from American Quilt Retailer, Monica Medieros, Wendy Addison and Marcia Ceppos from Tinsel Trading.  Each brought their own unique craft and a bunch of wonderful kits so we could create to our hearts desire! Here's a look at some of the projects we worked on this summer, students in the studio, and a few of our friends that came to teach....











Monday, June 06, 2016

Vide Greniers, Brocantes and Patrick Bru...

This post was originally published on November 10th, 2010

Although there are many places to dig for treasures in France, one of the best places to dig is Patrick Bru's backyard in Septfond. Patrick used to own a huge warehouse on the main road - filled with French antiques - but two years ago he packed it all up and moved it over to his grandmother's maison where he now lives with his whole family.
It took me a while to track Patrick down, after arriving in France one summer to find the warehouse totally emptied. I started at the local bar in Caussade - where I had seen him a few times. The woman behind the counter was suspicious of this American woman looking for Patrick Bru - but she said she would pass my name and number on to him next time she saw him. Weeks later, Patrick finally called and told me he had been in the hospital for emergency appendectomy - he apologized for the late reply....I think.
You see, Patrick and I speak two different languages - totally. He speaks French and no English and I speak English and very bad French - almost none really. So we communicate through lots of hand signals, universal words and general French chatter - which doesn't really get the deal moving very quickly. We do both love the old bits of French history - the unused stock - the piles of school books, the old boutis and the well used breakfast bowls. This past summer I knew enough to go looking for Patrick on our first swing through town. Sure enough, I spotted him right where I thought he might be - at the new local bar in Septfond - sitting at the outside cafe table having a cigarette and a glass of beer.
I rolled down the window and shouted "Patrick Bru - c'est moi" He kinda looked at me like - "What??" But eventually recognized the girl from California who travels with her mom and sister - and a whole lot of friends - and waved back. I quickly told him we would see him later and he responded with a thumbs up signal. We visited Patrick two - no three times last summer, and every time I found an armful of treasures. He now invites over other friends who are dealers and makes up a small brocante in his backyard for us - a pop up market for the afternoon.
Of course there are the vide greniers and the brocantes to dig through in France, but when you find an old house filled with a family history and the backyard barns stuffed with collections - you keep returning year after year. Patrick Bru is one of those rare French dealers who stumbles upon the daily bits of rural life and then passes it on for a steal. Au revoir Patrick Bru!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Charlotte and Tom

This post was originally published on May 7th, 2012

Years ago when JZ, Sofia and I first visited Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in France, we stayed in a 17th century townhouse called Le Sejour.  Tom, the Englishman and owner of Le Sejour, renovated the house from top to bottom leaving all of the charm.  Every year we returned to Tom's place and felt like it was our home away from home.  Then one year, Tom sold the place and moved to the Amazon - he wanted to explore the river and learn about indigenous cultures.  So...we had to find another place to rent, which was about the time we found the chateau where we now take groups of women every summer.  The second summer we rented the chateau, Lizzie, the owner of the chateau, introduced me to the hired chef, Charlotte.  Charlotte, who continues to cook for us every summer at the chateau is a beautiful Englishwoman who studied cooking in Paris, specializing in sauces - yes sauces!  Charlotte told me that on Wednesday her boyfriend would be coming over to do a barbecue and we would all eat outside under the stars.  On Wednesday evening I saw a crazy fast motorcycle pull up the long driveway of the chateau and I thought - must be the boyfriend, here to do the barbecue.  I eventually walked downstairs and in the lobby, to my surprise, was Tom - our old friend who we hadn't heard from or seen in years - we thought he was lost to a tribe never to be seen again!  I was so shocked I said "Tom - what are you doing here?" to which he replied, "I'm here to do the barbecue - I'm Charlotte's boyfriend!" I couldn't believe it - after all these years and we were back together again!  So now, Tom comes to the chateau every summer to help Charlotte, and just to say hello.  Last summer we had the chance to visit their bastide, just outside of St. Antonin, where Charlotte gives French lessons in between cooking for herself, her children and Tom.





And just a little peek at some of the wonderful food Charlotte cooks for us every summer.....