I often wonder about the history of the bits and pieces of textile and thread I find at the vide grenier sales and charity shops. What stories lie in the creases and stain marks? You never know what you will find – it all depends on where you look. There are, in general, two kinds of stalls; one where the linens are washed, ironed, sometimes dyed beautiful colours, folded respectfully and priced accordingly. And the stalls with rumpled heaps of creased, sometimes stained garments which can go for a song as the brocanteur doesn’t have time or inclination to wash and iron.
I recently found a sampler and Cahier de Couture (a sewing notebook) at the bottom of a box of old sewing patterns. On the cover the owner’s name, Huguette and school year, 1950 – 4eme, is written in elegant cursive script. Huguette would have been about 14 years old in 4ème.
On the pages hand written notes about stitches and garment parts are illustrated with coloured-in figures, and rows of sample stitches march across the fabric pieces. I wonder was Huguette a good student? She did get 7 out of 10 for her illustrations which can be considered an excellent mark. French teachers are reluctant to give high marks.
The teacher wrote “Your stitches are too big” and “It would be better to use new material.” Was Huguette cutting up an old sheet to practise on?
So what did Huguette do with the sewing skills she learnt at school? Did she work as a seamstress? Did she later put her skills into sewing her trousseau? Did she hem her tablecloths with Jours au Point de Paris? Did she embellish silk lingerie with Point de Paris?
Le Point de Paris is a stitch that is used in both embroidery and sewing. It can be decorative or functional, securing a hem for example, or both at once. It gives a light, open detail; unfussy and classic. Look out for it on linen and cotton household items such as bed linen and table linen at the flea markets. Bed linen and table linen are easy to find and sought after.
Nowadays sewists can get a similar effect using a wing needle on their sewing machine. What would Huguette’s teacher, Madame Bramville, have to say about this?
And what would Huguette say to see the pleasure her work is giving today?
Point means stitch in this context.
Vide-grenier is a street market, equivalent to a garage sale, jumble sale, often a mix of locals and professionals.
Jours refers to the eyelet shapes created in openwork embroidery when warp or weft threads are drawn together tightly leaving a pattern of gaps or small holes.