Managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Paris last month, the sexiest city in the world, which of course included an essential trip to the pinnacle of wool shops, La Droguerie in Rue du Jour. I lived round the corner for a short but blissful time and bizarrely it’s one of the things I miss most about the place (although to be fair it’s a pretty long list).
There are 10 branches throughout France (and 6 in Japan) – I’ve only visited this and the one in Toulouse so I can’t compare with the others, but for me this particular shop has all the excitement and buzz of walking into a small hip record store. Customers excitedly discussing the possibilities suggested by gorgeous knitted garments hanging next to the vast array of yarns, rows and rows of buttons, beads, ribbons, feathers, accessories … a tricoteur’s heaven.
They solve the storage problem of large stock to fairly small shop ratio by displaying the yarn in skeins on the wall, then once the customer’s made a choice an assistant goes to the back of the store where the bulk of the stock’s kept to wind it into balls. I even managed to persuade my non-knitting friend Sibilla to buy some gorgeous powder blue alpaca for a scarf … now all I need to do is teach her to knit!
So this was my haul – 6 x 50g balls of yarn to feed my stash-monster. Haven’t got a plan for them yet but I love the cool tones and the yarn itself has got a great story behind it: it’s recycled (38% wool, 22% cotton, 40% ‘other’!) and came with a useful information card about the source – it’s made from unwanted jumpers and knitted goods donated to charity which are sorted into colours and fibre, then unpicked and broken down. The fibre is then then re-spun, atomised and washed … no dye is used, the colour you see is a result of the broken down fibres. Fascinating stuff eh?
Paris has had a long love affair with all things vintage and there’s plenty to love – decades of top-notch elegant fashion and design to plunder, but typically Parisians have tended to aim for the top end, so it’s nice to see some jumbly vintage shops popping up. After a steer from Sibilla and much elbowing in Freepstar I surfaced with a couple of great vintage dresses for 10 euros each, a cute red vanity case from down the road (which is going to double up as a knitting or crochet bag) and a rockabilly red gingham shirt from Kiliwatch.
Our last morning found us at Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves where I picked up the excellent Marie France magazine from February 1952 (see post header) for 1 euro – special knitting edition natch.
Pretty good shopping overall, and my love intact – adieu till next year Paris.
Fragrant Theatre Characters
I’m writing this feature with a certain amount of jealousy. The subject is the incredibly gifted and prolific Maker/Artist Ana-Luisa de Cavilla Scrutton who goes under the name of Running Hare. We’ve been selling some of her gorgeous hand-sewn items and gifts in the shop since she introduced herself with a box full of one-off Christmas decorations … needless to say we quickly sold out. She has this way with a needle which makes each item look like it’s been sketched in thread by an artist with an impressionist’s eye, and each one is completely unique. The use of sustainable, natural, organic materials combined with vintage fabrics and trimmings add to that individual feel.
I think what really makes her stand out is her choice of subjects … Punch & Judy and ‘Noah and his family’ sit alongside gardeners and shepherds at work, without a hint of rural tweeness.
Favourites? I’m spoilt for choice, but I love the ‘fragrant theatre characters’ series (main picture) and the linen hare buttons.
Did I mention she also paints and sketches? Some people are just born with it … if you’re stuck for gifts, chances are you’ll find something special on the Running Hare website.
The Make Lounge
I know from my Sadler’s Wells days that Islington’s a bit of a craft mecca … the Craft Council, Loop, the Contemporary Art & Design Fair, I could go on but won’t. So I wasn’t surprised to see a piece in the paper the other day about The Make Lounge, a cool craft place “where you can ‘meet people and make stuff,’ through evening and weekend contemporary craft workshops”. According to the founder, Jennifer Tirtle, she needed more tactile experiences after hours of being glued to her computer in her day job as a journalist so started The Make Lounge. The idea behind the concept is a series of short craft courses for people who don’t want to spend a fortune on lengthy evening or day courses.
The courses sound great and interesting, titles such as ‘Survival Sewing’ and ‘Knockout Knickers’ kick the dull and dusty out of craft, but also have a practical use. They do parties too – sadly, that would be my preferred kind of hen party and I’d be sending any affianced acquaintances scurrying to the website, but most of my mates are married nowadays.
Cool website too, nice and clear, inventive header fonts …
I don’t get up to town too often at the moment but this would be worth the trip. They do gift vouchers (*HEAVY HINT*).
Cath Kidston knitting bag & needles
My dearest friend bought me these gorgeous bamboo needles and case by Cath Kidston for Christmas. I’ve been promising myself for years that I’d start a new collection of needles – I’ve always used my Mum’s old-fashioned metal ones (plus a few fancy plastic ones she must have splashed out on somewhere along the line) so it was a joy to find how beautiful and smooth these ones are. They’re textured enough that the stitches don’t slip off unnecessarily, but smooth enough to let them slide when needs be. Feel good on your fingers too.
Then to top it all she’s bought me a knitting bag for my birthday – did I mention she’s my dearest friend?!
I tried hard not to like Cath Kidston for a long time – her stuff’s everywhere and the designs seemed too obvious – but she’s really got a great eye for vintage designs and it’s hitting the mark at the moment, so I’m drawn into her Brighton shop whenever I’m there. There’s an interesting range of 40s inspired clothes at the moment and I’m never one to turn away from a retro vintage (inspired) dress or two. The website’s rather lovely too.
God it’s official, I’m a craft geek. Found myself in a quilting shop in the Needlemakers last week getting all hot and bothered about buttons, of all things. Half an hour later and a few quid lighter I was still sufficiently excited about the whole experience to take a picture of purchased buttons and write a post about them – AREN’T THEY GREAT? Put it down to retail euphoria …
Loving these sewing patterns straight from the US company Folkwear, particularly the storybook illustrations by Gretchen Shields. The Edwardian intimacies and the Poet’s Blouse made me chuckle, I might even give them a go (although I’m not sure they’d look so good with me for a model).
The story of the company’s an interesting one – started in the mid-’70s by three Californian women, sold to a corporate in the ’80s which helped to develop and re-instate the patterns, and is now independently owned by women again. Long may they continue!
Just got back from a beautiful week in remote Islay (Inner Hebrides). It’s well known for its bird communities which is why we went. Nah not really, although I am partial to a bit of wildlife bothering. We’d heard of it because of the famous single-malt whisky distilleries and we managed to drink our way through all of them. In between I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the ramshackle Islay Woollen Mill which was completely and beautifully devoid of visitors so I was given a quick tour by Gordon, the owner, and his 3 dogs (including a border terrier called Peanut).
It was of those memorable lost afternoons, wandering around chatting to Gordon about his Victorian looms and ancient machinery which is amazingly still in use (“just needs a daily oiling and a spare part or two from time to time”). He and his wife Sheila create their own designs and still take enormous pride in it, particularly when commissioned by famous clients – their designs have cropped up in the films Braveheart, Rob Roy, Far & Away and Forrest Gump. While I was there, Chanel phoned to confirm their latest order, and Gordon told me about the time the Queen turned up unannounced to say hello as she’s a big fan!
I helped him load some pictures onto his website and, on top of the gorgeous skirt lengths I bought, I was given a lovely scarf for my troubles too. Well worth a visit if you ever find yourself up in those parts. Whisky wasn’t bad either.
I keep seeing all these lovely retro fabrics crop up on ebay in the American ‘Fat Quarter’ measurements so I decided to search them out for myself straight from the source. They are, of course, from America and the variety is dazzling. Quilting is so huge over there and I’m warming up to the idea. Not a huge fan of the traditional patchwork stuff as I think I’ve mentioned before, but I like the idea of some tastefully put together fabrics with a beautiful sewn design.
Hugely envious of their choice in the US, so with the dollar so weak against the pound right now I ordered a selection myself from the fabulous eQuilter. My order came through the other day and although I had to pay duty on it, it still worked out pretty reasonable so I think I’ll try it again soon. Haven’t used the fabric for anything yet, but keep getting it down from the shelf and cooing over it. Must get out more.