Rue de Choiseul

In Stitching up Paris we take you to rue de Choiseul for a treasure trove of old fashioned haberdashery at one of our all time favourite stores: Ultramod. This street is much more than a one-shop stop on a stitcher’s day out in Paris. Around this cosy neighbourhood we’ve got snippets of history and architecture, and a story of socially minded entrepreneurship to share with you.

Opposite the metro station (on rue de Quatre Septembre) look to your right for the large Haussmannian building now called Le Centorial (currently trussed up with scaffolding for another facelift).

Le Credit Lyonnais

It is part of the original magnificent headquarters of Credit Lyonnais that was constructed between 1876 and 1883 on the prime corner block facing rue de Quatre-Septembre, bound by rue Gramont and rue de Choiseul on the sides and running right through to boulevard des Italiens. It is no longer the bank’s HQ, and following a large fire in 1996 the building was split into separate portions as part of the repair project. Earlier that year the building was used as the department store film set for the movie Le Cri de la Soie (mentioned on page 35 of Stitching up Paris). Funnily enough the original building was designed in such a way that it could have been converted to a department store in the event of bankruptcy!

The fire is just one of the notable events in the history of this building. On the exterior wall facing rue de Choiseul there is a plaque marking the damage from the explosion of a German “plane bomb” in January 1918. The current re-plastering facelift stops at the bomb scars and frames them, leaving the marks of history clearly visible; a sign of respect in the midst of urban regeneration. The past is always present in Parisian streets.

Credit Lyonnais bomb scars

Bomb d'avion

The bank building was designed from the outset to impress its customers and the public; it was open to anyone and was so popular visitors required a ticket. While it is no longer officially open to the public it is possible to enter up the steps on rue de Quatre Septembre, go through the first doors and stand in front of the security desk where you can see into the lobby behind the large glass doors. The security guard will greet you with typical French politesse and allow you to peer through the glass doors into the huge hall where light streams in from the arched dome above. The metal frame of the dome, and the high metal-framed windows were originally built by the engineering workshops of Monsieur Gustave Eiffel. These were some of the historically significant features of the building that were preserved in the post-fire repair project.

Sadly you will only see the unusual double-helix staircase if you are there for business with the companies that have office space in the building. The staircase design was modeled on the one in the famous Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley and allows the same staircase to be used by two people without them meeting each other on the stairs. Historically, one staircase was said to be used for management and the other for employees – and ne’er the twain would meet.

Back outside, cross over rue de Quatre Septembre to the other part of rue de Choiseul and wander down the end of the street to the entrance to Passage Choiseul. Just to the right is café Joyeux. A socially minded entrepreneur has established a number of coffee shops in France all staffed by people with Down Syndrome, autism and other cognitive disabilities. This cheerful cafe is a recent addition to the chain, providing opportunity for the staff to show their capabilities and earn a living.

Joueux cafe 2

The café appears to live up to its name with an atmosphere that is always buzzing with activity and joie de vivre.

Bonne visite…..



Weber Metaux

One of the highlights of our book research was exploring the cellars at Weber Metaux in the Marais district.IMG_5477

Then after the book was published, Weber moved to a warehouse not too far away at 66 rue de Turenne.  Having seen the extent of the narrow underground corridors full of potential treasures for imaginative designers and craftspeople we were a little sad to think of the end of an era for the rue de Poitou shop. What a job it must have been to pack up and shift!2017-04-04 16.45.41

To find the new place, look for the entrance way to number 66 rue de Turenne.IMG_0267

Head down the alleyway…..Photo 4-04-17, 4 40 18 PM (1)

Keep going….Photo 4-04-17, 4 39 53 PM (1)

The new warehouse stocks the same interesting array of materials. For the metallic threads and wires, go to the product stands in the right hand corner immediately on entering the shed. For chain mail or any queries ask at the central counter.


And on your way out don’t miss this courtyard scene…Photo 4-04-17, 4 40 38 PM

Or the traces of stitching that went on before at 66 rue de Turenne.Photo 4-04-17, 4 48 27 PM

If you’re a fan of old doors, there is a beauty just along the road, painted bright blue at the time we visited. IMG_0268

While you are in this neighbourhood you are only a few minutes walk from the Picasso Museum in the beautiful 17th century Hôtel Salé (named for it’s owner of the time who was the salt-tax man – the word for salty in French is salé.)  Exit Weber Metaux onto rue de Turenne and take rue Sainte-Anastase almost opposite the alleyway to arrive at rue de Thorigny near the entrance to the museum.

It’s worth taking a coffee or tea break in the museum’s lovely roof-top cafe overlooking the entrance courtyard. From the rooftop you have a birds eye view of this cosy inner city neighbourhood.P1040539P1040537

The museum re-opened in late 2014 after being closed for 5 years for extensive renovations that doubled the exhibition space allowing many more works to be displayed.

The museum is open Tuesday to Friday 10.30am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9.30am to 6pm and entry is free on the first Sunday of the month.

St Catherine’s day fun

Saint Catherine’s Day – 25th November – is celebrated in France with a sense of fun. Saint Catherine is the patron saint of unmarried women, lacemakers, milliners, drapers and craftspeople (particularly those using wheels like potters). To honour Saint Catherine it was traditional for dressmakers to create fancy decorative hats and give them to single female friends or work mates to wear for the day. The purpose being to wish them good luck in finding a husband! It has become the day for milliners to show off their hats and hat making skills – often the St Catherine’s day hats are fabulously outrageous. Today it is still celebrated in just a few of the haute couture fashion houses, where staff make fancy hats in green and yellow colours for their young workmates.

In Paris you’ll find a statue of Saint Catherine on the corner of rue de Clery and and rue Poissonniere in the Sentier district. Years ago you might have seen the Catherinettes wearing their hats out in the street making their way to the statue to “pray to Saint Catherine for help in finding a husband.”



p1090154Strictly speaking, a Catherinette is a young woman 25 years of age or more who has not yet married. Along with wearing pretty hats it was also customary for these young single women to send postcards of Saint Catherine to each other too. These lovely vintage cards can sometimes be found in the street markets with Vive Ste Catherine atop a pretty bonneted mademoiselle. In other countries it was traditional to make and eat Cattern cakes.


In case you are thinking this is hardly in keeping with modern day feminism and the rightful pursuit of gender equality, it’s worth knowing a little more about Saint Catherine. According to legend Saint Catherine of Alexandria was a brilliant young woman of noble birth who went before Emperor Maximus to correct him for worshipping false gods and scolded him for his persecution of Christians. She called him out! He sent scholars and philosophers to argue with her, instead she convinced them of her faith and they converted to Christianity (and were subsequently executed). She might have saved her own life by allowing the Emperor to marry her, but she declined, and died a virgin martyr. Catherine’s punishment was death by torture on a spiked wheel, but the wheel flew apart, so instead she was beheaded. This is where the name of Catherine Wheel fireworks comes from.

So, on Saint Catherine’s day, wear a hat, have some fun and enjoy the legend of a young woman who stood on her principles.

Neighbourhood Notes: Les Halles – now and then


P1090026For the last 4 to 5 years the Les Halles shopping and transport hub in the centre of the city has been under re-construction. Stage by stage it’s now being finished and unveiled. There is still work to do on the park and gardens that form part of the project but already Parisians can marvel at the promised architectural masterpiece, La Canopée, and shop til they drop, even on Sundays, in the expanded retail space. The glass canopy swoops low over the cafés and retail stores and lifts up with a dramatic swoosh on the outer edges.P1090028

This part of town has throbbed with people and market activity for hundreds of years…..Les Halles history3

………and for hundreds of years St Eustache presided over all the comings and goings.


From the other side of the temporary work site wall, it still does. It’s dirty, worn Gothic exterior a solid, comforting and yet somehow thrilling presence that reminds us we are in the very neighbourhood whose stories fill history texts and best-selling novels.

Les Halles history2LesHalles history1

In this neighbourhood you can sip different time periods while you sip refreshments. From the modern cafés under the 21st century canopy, stroll a few steps along rue Montmartre to number 15, Le Cochon a L’Oreille to immerse yourself in 1903.

P1090051Here the decorative style is Art Nouveau. Wonderful ceramic wall tiles that were installed in 1903 depict scenes of market life.







More details about the Les Halles project here and here.

Something to savour in the Sentier

rue de Nil viewThe Sentier is a favourite neighbourhood of Paris for us – we know it well and visit often because it’s studded with fabric shops, haberdasheries and pretty much everything related to sewing. There’s always something to see here. Even in the streets that don’t sing out with street appeal at first glance you’ll find interesting people and entrepreneurial ideas coming and going as new boutiques, businesses, delis, cafés and the like open up in old spaces. Continue reading