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.....

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Sans Plomb or Gazole?

This post was originally published on November 28th, 2012

This is a true story...but I couldn't change the names or faces...because they make the story!
This past summer while at the chateau we had a guest that suddenly had to leave mid-week, much to our unhappiness, as we had become totally smitten with our new friend from Savannah.   On the departure day, Mogull (as always) quickly offered to drive our guest to the Toulouse Airport, about 45 minutes away from the chateau.
We should have known that things were going to go a little haywire when her car wouldn't start - this, by the way, was her third car in less than 2 weeks...the first two had to be exchanged for technical problems.  So, Mogull jumped in my car, the trusty Renault, which had an empty gas tank. "Don't worry Mogull," I said, "you will be able to get to Montauban to fill up the tank - no problem."  Fifteen minutes later, I received the call - "We filled up the tank in Montauban, but the car stalled - we are on the side of a very busy road - help!"

our first idea...didn't pan out too well

So, Christopher, our trusted man-about-the-chateau and I jumped into his car and off we went to rescue the girls on the side of the road.  When we got there, our new friend jumped into Christopher's car and off they sped to the Toulouse Airport...hoping to make her flight.
Meanwhile, Mogull and I tried to figure out the problem.  "You did fill it up with gas - right?"  "Yes, yes, yes, we filled it up - and all was fine until it just kinda sputtered out less than 3 blocks from the gas station."  "Hmmm....and you put in diesel...right?"  "Yeah, yeah, yeah sans plomb - diesel - right?"
At that point I wasn't totally sure...was diesel sans plomb or could it be gazole??  "Well, let's call Eurocar and get the mechanic or tow truck out here right away."  The temperature was rising, the day before had been 104 degrees, and we had no water in the car.
I called Eurocar and was put on hold, then I called back, but the French woman from Eurocar couldn't quite make out what I was explaining to her - that we were stuck on the side of a very busy road in a stalled car and needed help - asap!
I called Eurocar again and this time spoke with a very nice young Frenchman, who, after hearing my whole story a couple of times, with the word DANGER thrown in a few times for good measure, said "First of all..." I hung onto every word, first of all....what??  We are coming to rescue you, we will be bringing you another car, we are so sorry for yet another technical difficulty with one of our cars....?
"First of all....take care"
Take care?  First of all - take care??  What in the world did he think we were doing??  Mogull and I laughed so hard I thought we were going to pass out - right there in the overheated car with cars whizzing by at 100 miles per hour!
Eventually we composed ourselves and were able to continue our conversation with the nice young Frenchman.  Within about 15 minutes, our tow truck pulled up and we thought the drama was over...little did we know it was only just beginning!
The mechanic who spoke no English, immediately diagnosed the problem:  wrong kind of gas was put into the car.  At that moment, we learned a valuable lesson....diesel cars get filled up with gazole and unleaded cars get filled up with sans plomb.  (Reread that sentence if you are traveling to Europe and plan on renting a car.)  The mechanic hitched our car up to the back of his chains and loaded the car up onto his flatbed and then, motioning to the front of his cab, basically said "Get in."  At this point, I had to try to explain to him that we just couldn't "get in" - we had already called my sister Molly and she was on her way, right now, to pick us up.  Due to a mishap earlier in the week, we knew that if we were not where we said we were going to be - there would be hell to pay!  We continued to plead our case to the mechanic, and even brought the young Frenchman from Eurocar, who was still on the phone, into the conversation (heated exchange?).

the car on the flatbed

Before we knew what was happening, the mechanic was reversing the ramp on his flat bed and our car was being taken off.  "Wait a minute!!  You can't take our car off - we need you to help us!"  And that's when he basically told us that if we didn't get into his truck right this minute, he would unload our car and leave us, and our car on the side of the road.  That was the turning point, I gave Mogull a bit of a shove and said "Get in!"  I figured Molly would have to check her cell phone at some point and realize that we had no other choice than to comply with the rules of the road and our mechanic!  That's another story....

the car coming off the flatbed

Mogull begrudgingly getting into the cab of the truck

From here, the story gets better...and worse!  Barrelling down the country roads, the three of us, Mogull, myself and the mechanic, all got along like a house on fire - strange since minutes earlier we were yelling and shouting on the side of the road.  The mechanic said his garage was about an hour which point Mogull and I nudged each other and thought "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into??"
Eventually, we pulled up to his garage and were met by the mechanic's wife who invited us into their service shop, which was spotless and air conditioned!  She offered us cold drinks and maybe even some was like we had died and gone to heaven.  She said they would have to pump the full tank of sans plomb and the estimate was about $250!  After about a half an hour, the wife told us we should go to the cafe next door (which reminded me of something out of the movie Bagdad Cafe) because it would be a while till the car was ready.

the French mechanic

the French mechanic's wife

We obediently walked to the cafe and ordered a much needed cafe au lait.  Through the window, we saw the mechanic taking two full gas containers across the street and we snickered about how he was probably selling off our mistake for a profit!  We laughed, we told stories, we tried to figure out a way to not let everyone know that it was a gas mistake!
Eventually, we headed back to the garage, where, since it was noon, the gate was closed and locked.  Of course it was...when the French eat lunch...everything closes down.  All of a sudden the gates magically opened and we were let in.

the shop gate opening for us to collect our car

We entered the service shop and the wife and mechanic were there behind the counter, eating lunch.  
We were handed our bill for less than $100 and told that the mechanic had siphoned out the sans plomb, filled up the tank with gazole and given us a credit for the gas he had sold off to the gas station across the street.  What??  So...many lessons were learned...but probably, most importantly...if you have to go through a car break down in the middle of France, on one of the hottest days of the to have a friend like Mogull to go through it with you!