Before I got to my haute couture embroidery class at Ecole Lesage in Paris, I did a little damage ogling (and purchasing) textiles in the south of France.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about visiting Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding area, as my husband and I drove around in circles while two competing navigational systems – Miss Moneypenny and Miss Google Maps – bossed us around, and our teen son hid in the back programming a new million-dollar app (at least, I hope that’s what he was doing – though it sounded a lot like he was playing Fruit Ninja).
This time it was summer, and though it was beastly hot, once again we gave our son the thrill of driving from one charming and virtually identical village to another and wandering through brocant (flea) markets in the pulsing heat, until he finally informed us in that fun teen way that he’d had enough.
What? You don’t like hours on end of rooting through vintage textiles? These pajamas are classics!
Silk thread, kiddo!
Enjoying the view from a charming cafe painted by Van Gogh – with 800 other tourists!
We decided just to stay in Aix-en-Provence one day and stroll to Cezanne’s workshop, which the hotel assured us was a 15-minute walk. Even though it was 97 degrees, my husband insisted we go.
Unbeknownst to us, the 15-minute walk was straight up a hill.
But what a great sewing studio! (I mean painting studio…)
With a giant fabric-drying rack! (Or is that a massive easel? With no air conditioning, we bailed on the one-hour lecture on Cezanne’s super tight friendship with Emile Zola.)
Fortunately, our hotel, The Aquabella, was built on the site of old Roman baths with supposedly healing waters. So after a day of sweating through culture, I was able to retreat to “take the waters” in the spa, where basically a cute little thing smeared me with mud, mummified me in plastic wrap, then rinsed me off in a relaxing way by blasting me with “fraiche” water from a fire hose. (Of course, I forgot that “fraiche” means “cool” and not “fresh” in French. Quelle surprise!)
Then I went into the “experience shower” which said something in French about a jungle. I pushed the button and a warm mist emanated out, backed by the soothing sounds of condors and vultures coming to rip the flesh off my body. This was followed by a typhoon of “fraiche” rain downpouring on my head. After that I had to retreat to the pool where, after my endorphin level returned to normal, I felt like speaking to my husband again.
So freakin’ relaxed from exhaustion (and local wine).
(I think that’s the writer Frederic Mistral photobombing me up above the gargoyle water fountain. And I’m not really leaning on the bias, but I think my photographer was.)
Even though my fabric stash-guilt, brought on by KonMari, kept me from buying more yardage, I did indulge in some fun textiles.
The Provencal company Souleiado has taken traditional textile designs and created modern scarves and garments that reflect the boho soul of the area. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to their museum, but I did spend a lot of time concentrating on their prints in their shops.
(I think you can see why my husband was relieved of his duties as Jet Set Sewing’s official shutterbug during this trip. Rose’ and photography do not mix.)
I found some beautiful traditionally-woven textile bags from the Basque region, by Tissage de Luz.
But the most intriguing find of all was this piece of vintage embroidery I found in the market in Aix-en-Provence:
A little 20s flapper/odalisque – all hand-embroidered with beading and cutwork.
It needed a few touch-ups, but otherwise it was great. Was it professionally done, or stitched by a hobbyist?
I put the photos up on Instagram, and remarkably had my answer within a half an hour. My online sewing pal, Marie Noelle Lafosse of the French blog La Machine a Coudre, spotted my find on my Instagram feed, and a few minutes later, posted a similar printed embroidery kit from the same era that she had in her collection. So it was definitely a kit for an enthusiast to use to make a pillow cover, but wow, what a level of skill needed to pull it off!
So my plan is to touch up the damaged embroidery and frame it. When I mentioned on Instagram possibly putting it back on a pillow, I swiftly heard “quelle horreur” from sewing peeps around the world!
Anyhoo, after living through embroidery school, I returned to the comfort of the Martha’s Vineyard sewing shed, ready to get to work on a bunch of projects with my “Swiss Intern,” AKA Karl the sewing machine. He’s been helping me out for three years, on loan from Bernina.
But then he said those horrible words:
“We need to talk.”
He started to go on about how, even though we’d had a great time together, he could only be an intern for so long, and how it was probably time for him to go back to Switzerland and get a real job and…
I realized the horrible truth. “Are you breaking up with me?” I bleated.
“It’s not that,” he assured me, “It’s just – I need commitment. You’ve been taking me for granted. I mean, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
“But think about all of the great times we’ve had together, Karl,” I sobbed, trying to keep the snot from dribbling on his stitchplate.
“I know,” he said, choking up.
“Remember when you made me those corded buttonholes, while I had to lie on the couch with a cold compress over my eyes, because I had spent 40 hours on the Edith Head Bolero from hell, and if the buttonholes had gotten messed up, it would ruined it?” I said.
“But I pulled it off, didn’t I?”
“Yes!” I blubbered.
“Remember when you made fifteen feet of piping, using that big, hulking 9mm stitch width of yours, and attached it to the Claire McCardell dress I was making for my sister – the one she was going to wear to speak at the Fashion Institute of Technology?” I went on. And on.
“And you put the pocket in upside down?” Karl smirked lovingly. “You’d have been totally humiliated if I hadn’t Frankenpocketed it, and she’d been forced to appear in some tawdry retail thing.”
“And remember, when you powered through sewing a four-piece knit wardrobe with designs by Halston, Issey Miyake and Claire McCardell in two weeks for that Pattern Review Travel contest?” I sniffled.
“It wasn’t my fault you didn’t win.”
“I don’t think we need to go there right now, Karl. And what about the cute little phrases I used to put on your screen?”
But by then the only sound was the waves from the ocean of my tears flooding Karl’s bobbin cabinet. He started packing up his Barbie case to leave.
“You can’t go!” I hollered.
“Hey, you knew it was temporary from the start, babe.
“But I never knew how much I needed you!!”
At that, I burst out of the shed and tracked down my husband, who, as a lawyer, has a phone permanently implanted on his jaw. He was blabbing with a client.
“We need to talk,” I said, gesturing dramatically. He ignored me.
“I can’t live without him! I have to have him in my life!” I yelled. That got his attention.
“Is it another man?” my husband whispered.
“No, it’s Karl. I can’t let him go!”
“Oh go ahead and keep him,” my suddenly brilliant and level-headed husband said. “You’ll just be in there gossiping with another machine, and I’ll be stuck listening to you kvetching about not sewing on a Bernina.”
I ran to the shed with the joyous news. I kissed Karl on the top of his little bobbin winder and he accepted my proposal.
Our commitment ceremony was touching and chic. The Jet Set Sewing spokesmodels, Halstonette and YSL, were there as Maid of Honor and Best Man.
Karl wore white and I wore Chanel.
We pledged our undying love, and then – Reader, I purchased him.
But I was surprised that you weren’t there. I mean, I told the Jet Set Sewing graphics team, AKA the chipmunks who live in my kitchen, to send invitations to all of my readers. And you know how reliable they are.
So now that Karl and I are one, our sewing adventures will continue unabated.
Well, that should be the end of the fairy tale. But Karl, being Karl, informed me that before he could continue to star in my blog, he needed to spend some time in the machine spa to get his annual cleanse, lube and Botox touch-up. I could tell that he expected me to get upset, but instead, I just whistled as I went off to pick up the mail.
A little while later, I pulled up with a large box in the Jeep, and said, “not to worry Karl, go off and have your spiritual journey/tummy tuck. And take your time.”
“What’s in the box, sister?” Karl said in a mild panic.
“Oh, just my summer intern,” I said casually, as I unpacked the box.
“You got a TEMP?!”
“Yes Karl. Meet Coco. She’ll be filling your shoes and wearing your feet while you’re gone.”
Well, once Karl got a load of my pert and efficient new assistant, he left in a huff.
To be continued…
(To learn what’s really going on in the love triangle between me, Karl, and Coco, and how the nice people at BERNINA of America are loaning me a B 215 while Karl is away at the spa, click the Bernina Collaboration tab above.)