Friday, July 31, 2009

The Late Winner

In June I wrote about our craft bags that we had made up for the Chateau Getaway - including our vegetable dyed alpaca roving for needle felting. I forgot to pick a winner and send out a kit before I left! So - if anyone out there is listening....the lucky winner is Karen from Recycled Rita. I'll send out a bag of wool, needles and some foam so you can give it a try- just be sure to concentrate - getting stuck with the needle will take your breath away - and not in a good way! This sweet book, Little Felted Animals, by Marie-Noelle Horvath, is a great source of inspiration and techniques - it gives step by step photos on how to shape the sweetest small animals. Pick up a copy if you are dying to learn this craft - you won't be sorry!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Back to Work

We've returned home, back from our summer holidays in San Sebastian and our Chateau Getaway in the South of France. Coming home always feels so strange at first - as if we don't really belong in this old house of ours - we're just visiting so don't touch anything. Slowly things return to normal. I made it to the market to pick up food, we started swimming off our jet lag and waking up before noon. Although I love to travel and see new places - I love coming home even more. Waiting for me when we returned were some of my favorite things - our new book with Chronicle and a new collection of strike offs from Moda. Our new book, Handmade Soirees is all about entertaining and making your events special with a few hand crafted projects - as well as lots of food and plenty of pictures of friends and family. Our new collection from Moda, Rural Jardins, won't be out till Spring 2010 - but it is even prettier than the first collection, Rouenneries, which comes out this fall. Strike offs are a funny thing. I received hundreds of small scraps of color, prints and stripes and I have to narrow it down to 70 pieces. It's exciting and frustrating all at once because you feel as if every one is special and should make it into the line - to have to eliminate some is just not fun. After a couple of attempts, I was able to narrow it down - to what I hope will be a beautiful collection of woad blues, faded reds and soft greys. Pictures to come soon!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Scent of Friendship

A while back I wrote about an old friend, Neville Trickett, who I met in New York over ten years ago. What I didn't write about Neville, was something he gave me - a small, delicate hand-blown glass vessel with a glass stopper, etched with the words Saint Verde Holy Water, and filled with a scent that has haunted me for years.  Neville describes his perfume as matte, soft, powdery, and dusty - he goes on to say....
"A while back I was developing a new fragrance and all the perfumers submissions were just to "common" I was looking for a cross between dusty old books, raw hardwood, old flowers and biblical frankincense, sort of like an old church. The perfumer said what I was looking for was "a dusty" composition which was very difficult to create. I never got what I thought was perfect so it never got further than a dream."
Luckily - he did produce a very limited amount of the scent ten years ago - which he gave to me in the small vessel, which sat gently in a lead base, which he had also made. This lovely gift was part of the old shop on Crosby Street for years - a strangely familiar scent that I was hesitant to use for fear I would run out of it. Then, one day the little vessel toppled out of it's lead base and broke - sending the precious oil splattering all over the old wood counter. I mourned the loss of the perfume - thinking I would never be able to own it again.
Today, I received a present from Neville. Not only did he send me a treasure box filled with samples from the old notion warehouse he has discovered in Johannesburg, but he included two (!) small vessels of St. Verde Holy Water, sealed with wax to protect the oil on the journey from South Africa to California.  When I opened the box, Sofia said, "It smells just like an old church on Holy Thursday!" and my first thought was - exactly - that's what Neville was going for!  My second thought was - a daughter with a nose - how French!
(Photos are from Neville's blog)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Word Game

On the last night at Chateau Dumas, after we had eaten a lovely dinner of chilled salmon with dill and lemon, we played a word game. I asked everyone to name one word that summed up their feeling of our week we spent together. Molly gave me the grand idea to enter these word into wordle to make up my own artwork. Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. I think it turned out super duper - I'm tempted to make a poster to hang in the new French General.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sofia Loren

When I was ten years old, I prayed that I would have a daughter that I could name after Sofia Loren. This afternoon, as we were walking through the puerto in San Sebastian and I took this photograph of Sofia, I knew I had my very own Sofia Loren. Whether she's ordering a Kas Limon from the tapas bar or tanning herself on the beach, I am so proud that she has been able to acclimate into both of her worlds - my Southern California culture and JZ's Spanish culture. She's been taking her Spanish classes everyday and hopefully she will be ready to spend a year studying here - I guess I'll have to make the sacrifice and move to San Sebastian for a year...oh woes me!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back in San Sebastian

Well, I have returned to San Sebastian to finish off the last bit of our summer holiday. Sitting in an old tapas bar last night, I felt as if I were back home. I am torn between Spain and France. When I am in France I feel the history of the land and when I am in Spain I feel the history of the Zabala family. Luckily both cultures are woven with the preparing and serving of the food and wine. Fish, cheese, bread, vegetables and vino...they are all staples in both countries. We celebrated JZ's 45th birthday at his favorite restaurant, Marinela, in the puerto on Paseo de la Muelle. Marinela's serve grilled sardines and more grilled sardines - with french fries and salad on the side and a bottle of the local cider, Txakoli. At the end of the meal, I had eaten 2 sardines and JZ had eaten 14 - nothing better than starting the year off right.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Chateau Wrap-Up

It's taken me about a week to come down off of the chateau cloud - there were just so many interesting days and wonderful people that were involved. I think Cathy M. said it best when she wrote that although she had never been to summer camp before - she had a feeling that when our week together in France ended - it must have been a similar feeling to leaving camp. Actually, Cathy has written a wonderful daily journal about the trip - and if she doesn't mind (??) you can read more here. Her photographs and descriptions of our days in France are a wonderful look back at our week together.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Here is our last night together as a group - everyone donned their woad clothes and posed in front of the lovely abode...Chateau Dumas! Thank you to everyone who took a chance and joined us on our first ever Chateau Getaway! To Lizzie and MamaJo - thank you for being the hostess with the mostess - you have created a wonderful home that is both inviting and relaxing. To Molly and Kick - I couldn't have asked for better assistants - thank you for jumping in and taking care of me and everyone else who joined us on our first getaway! 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday in Montauban

Our last full day has been spent in Montauban - looking through brocantes and antique shops. Margot G. actually said that I was like a truffle snuffing pig looking for old textiles, trims and bits. I'm not sure if that is a good thing...but it made me laugh and I kind of agreed with her! I found a beautiful Victorian wedding crown holder - made out of pressed metal and red velvet, piles of old religious cards from the 19th century, old embroidery pattern books and a handful of early agriculture plaques from local French farms. It's been a learning experience - shopping for treasures with 18 women - especially since most of us have our eyes on the look out for similar pieces. Tomorrow everyone packs up and heads home - it's been an amazing week with wonderful experiences had by all - I am already planning our next getaway...anyone game??

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day 6

This morning we took a nice 6 km walk to the medieval village of Montpezat de Quercy. Through fields of sunflowers, grapes and truffles the whole group walked along enjoying the scenery and each other. The village has been listed as a protected city, mainly thanks to its' 14th century college, which contains tapestries from the 16th century relating the life of St Martin. We took a short guided tour which led us through the town and then ended at the cathedral which housed the tapestries. In almost perfect condition, the tapestries are uncovered and hang at the back of the alter. After depositing our 2 euros for the lights, we all enjoyed the intricate designs and colors. Afterwards we had a wonderful picnic in a small park in the backyard of the priest's house, and then a visit to the local weaver, Janine Dassonval. Janine weaves beautiful tapestries on her floor loom. Each piece can take her over 2000 hours to complete, along with another 200 hours to tie off the ends.  Although there were all sorts of beautiful examples of her work hanging on the walls, my favorite was the aubusson tapestry she was working on. Filled with soft blues and greens, the image was a scene from an overgrown garden with lots of leaves and stems.  I was also taken with her box full of old spools and bobbins - the master's materials under the loom!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Woad Day

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?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Off to Cordes-Sur-Ciel

This morning we headed off on a field trip to the fortified town of Cordes-Sur-Ciel. Built in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse, the town was revived in the mid-20th century, by artists and other visitors who noticed the towns beauty. Albert Camus visited it in the 1950s and remarked that “In Cordes, everything is beautiful, even regret”.
So up the cobblestone streets we walked to a small studio owned by Rowena Maybourn.  Rowena is a textile artist who carves medieval images and prints onto Irish linen - a process that sounds pretty straightforward, but has taken her years to master and now, is the only artist who uses a special layering technique to creat her designs inspired by the middle ages. Rowena's studio is located in a 13th century home - filled with light and color. We were given a short tour and then taken up to her studio on the second floor where we were all able to block print on a small piece of linen.  It's been so inspiring to see these local crafts and the process the artists go through in order to produce their work - it gives a whole new meaning to French inspired crafts.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Day Three

We had a bit of a leisurely sleep in this morning - had a wonderful breakfast out on the patio and then retreated out to Lizzie's craft room - an open space with natural light which she has built in the barn adjacent to the coach house. After looking through our craft bags, we decided to give wool felting a try first. Ever since I took a class at Reform School in Silverlake, I have been hooked! I filled everyone's bag with natural dyed alpaca wool roving - and gave everyone a quick warning about the needles. Before I knew it, everyone was creating a small beauty - without too many needle stab sighs! A local lunch filled with pates, cheese and fruit - and a spot of local wine.
After lunch we headed over to Septfond where we visited Chapeau Willys - one of the oldest hat factories in the areas. Since the factory was over 200 years old, I started looking around for the old stuff. I looked and looked and couldn't find any trace of the old flowers or straw or stamens or ribbon - where were they hiding it?? Eventually in my very bad French, I asked the owner, Isabella where the "old stuff" was and she told me the sad story of how about four years ago there was a robbery and then a fire and the fire had wiped out the fingerprints so there was no way of knowing who robbed the building. Tragic! I looked down on her desk and noticed piles of old spools of ribbon and flowers and wondered if she would part with a few. Without a beat, she told me that this was all that was left and they were her memories of the past - she wouldn't part with one - and I understood why.

We took a fascinating tour of the factory and learned about the production of the panama hat as well as Willy's specialty, the braided straw hat. Cathy spotted a vintage straw hat hanging on the wall and was dead set on buying it - but alas, Isabella wouldn't part with anything that was made before the fire. So....she offered to make Cathy a hat just like the old straw hat hanging on the wall. We all got so involved with designing the hat - from the color of the straw, the grosgrain ribbon around the brim and the vintage washed out flowers for a spot of color - before we knew it we had been at the factory for almost three hours! It was a fascinating day!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Day Two at Chateau Dumas

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.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Chateau Getaway Begins!

Well, we've arrived at Chateau Dumas and all is well! I spent the day Saturday meeting everyone in Toulouse and then we drove the hour north to the small town of Auty. Waiting at the airport, I spotted a few of the women right off - Cheryl and Sandy from Moda, a great old friend Cathy from Santa Barbara and a couple of gals who had taken a workshop at French General years ago. Everyone else who walked off the plane spotted me and soon we had our whole group - not one missed flight or connection - just a lost luggage that still has yet to be found! Chateau Dumas is everything you imagine a 17th century chateau to be.....grand, old rooms appointed with period antiques in the foyer and comfortable couches in the sitting room, oversized windows with pale blue shutters and lavender everywhere. Each bedroom has its own personality - some with great views of the lake and others with a view of the coach house. Chateau Dumas was originally built in the thirteenth century and was burned to the foundation during the French Revolution. It was rebuilt on the original footprint in the late nineteenth century. The Baron, who owned the Chateau, was a card enthusiast who continually gambled away the local farms he owned. His wife would then repurchase them the following days.
Our first meal together was shared outside on the veranda overlooking the local farms - fields of grapes, wheat and sunflowers. We sat down for a hand cooked meal prepared by Mamajo - Lizzie's mum - the resident chef.  Plenty of local wine to ease into a good night's rest. An early night to bed - tomorrow we are up at the crack of dawn for a trip to the St. Antonin flea market and then down to Toulouse to my favorite flea market. Bonsoir!