Saturday, October 17, 2015

To Do List

We've hung the chandelier I purchased at the second hand store.  I like it.  With 8 days left before our return trip home, we are committed to crossing off every little thing on the to do list.  We will not be back for 10 months...



P.S. It's cooler this October than it was last year but the sun shines bright still.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Quilts of Provence

Many years ago, I purchased this book because I love fabric and I have a particular appreciation for the quilts of Provence or boutis as they are often called.  Boutis is a

Provençal word meaning 'stuffing', describing how two layers of fabric are quilted together with stuffing sandwiched between sections of the design, creating a raised effect.

These quilts whether intact or in pieces, are difficult to find as collectors have been scouring the region for many, many years...  I was telling my friend C. that antique French textiles are like cash to me.  I do not have any antique quilt pieces but I do have some antique flax and linen and their weight and texture remind of the long process women undertook to create essential linens to keep their family warm or to use in the kitchen...

Photos via Kathryn Berenson
This week, Corey brought over her collection of antique quilt fragments and we pieced them together to make cushions for her bed. Needless to say, I was a little humbled by the idea of sewing 18th century fabric.  The stitches, the filling, the fragility of the fabrics and the beauty of the dyes were a treat though.  (I have since read that often, the filling used in many boutis is silk.  This October in Provence is atypically cold and I understand the need for the warm and insulation of silk in bed linens.)
In the end, we made two shams in an Ikat print (back right) , a neck roll (lower front),  a small rectangular envelope of boutis (light blue pillow) with a red print inner pillow and a square pillow with blue and white ticking and on one side and Kelsch, a navy and cream check. Kelsch is a traditional linen from the Alsace region of France. See upper left hand corner of the photo.  The floral blue and red fabric on the right is from a quilt and remains to be sewn into two small pillows.

Corey Amaro via Instagram

There is an informative video about French provencal boutis/quilts with Martha Stewart and Kathryn Berenson, author and collector,  here.


Friday, October 9, 2015


I was going to have a restful day because yesterday we were in Aix all morning and all afternoon at the market and in the shops.  Aix is a royal treat because it's a stunningly beautiful little city and because the weather was mild and sunny and because the shopping is so good.

I was going to putter around the house and do little jobs like vacuuming the cupboards and straightening out the contents of the entryway dresser.  As I was making this list of little things to do, the phone rang.  It was my friend Corey who was at a chateau and invited me to come over, help a little with tags and such and have a look around.

Despite the big day in Aix and the little sleep I got last night, I acquiesced, knowing that it was going to be magnificent.

And it was... Although the ruined chateau was heartbreaking, it provided a splendid backdrop for rummaging through antiques, lunch in the back yard by the reflective pool and general goofing around, oohing and aahing about this, that and the other 18th century or 19th century thing.

I came home after five hours that flew by like five minutes with my treasures: antique wallpaper and matching trim to make a panel for the downstairs loo, baskets for the top of the kitchen cupboards, a grain sack, a pretty cushion made with red and white ticking and a partial plaster cast of a woman's face.

I marvel at what exceptional experiences life throws my way and feel humbled by my good fortune.


Friday, October 2, 2015

My Ancestors, the Percherons

Amongst my ancestors from France, are the ones that come from Perche in Lower Normandy.  I also have ancestors from Upper Normandy, Paris, Poitou-Charentes and Brittany.

On this trip, we visited the region where several of my 11th generation grandfathers and some grandmothers, come from.

Le Perche is only about two hours west of Paris.

This plaque commemorates the Tourouviens who immigrated to Canada.  Mine are the Gagnons.
This is the Gagnonnière, the original Gagnon farm with outbuildings

 The three buildings today are inhabited by Parisians who seek the quiet and natural beauty of the countryside.  While we were there, the owner of the original house above welcomed us with great patience.  There are many, many Gagnon descendants who visit La Gagnonnière.

Indeed the Perche is perfectly pastoral and will soften the heart of the most hardened city dweller in less than half a day. We were immediately taken as well with the kind-hearted, Canadian-loving Percherons who have long been aware of the close ties that unite us.



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Story

My friend Rose is the one who introduced me to Vaux-le-Vicomte via a beautiful coffee table cookbook she had at her store, Wellington.  A couple of years later, I picked it up at a used bookstore online and wrote about it here.

Rose also told me about a writer Ina Caro, who had a novel approach to visiting monuments and castles and the like in France, by century.  I discussed this book here.

We have just now returned from our annual triplet as described here.  We went to Vaux-le-Vicomte and had a blast whizzing around the huge gardens in a golf cart as proposed by Caro in her book.

Vaux is owned by the comte de Vogüé and his wife.  His mother was a Sommier and the chateau has been in the Sommier family since 1875.

For the sake of the story, notice the dépendances (outbuildings) on  either side of the castle.

After Vaux, we headed to Perche country, where many of my French ancestors come from.  We had a reservation at a 17th century B & B run single handedly by the lovely Jackie. 

Before we left her house after our second day there, we talked of Vaux and what a beautiful place it is.  Jackie then said that she had never been there but her uncle Emile lived in the chateau's dépendances because his father was a coachman for the Sommier family.   She then recounted that old madame Sommier had a liking for Emile and kept in touch with him until her death.  Jackie said: "As a matter of fact, when he did his first communion, she gave him a missal that she had specially engraved.  I think I have it around here somewhere..."

Loosely translated, the message inscribed says that she will never forget him and she hopes that the missal will help him remember her.

How's that for a (his) story?