Thursday, May 19, 2011

More French Connections!

In my last blog, about the wonderful shop French Connections, I mentioned a tiny cap I made in the tradition of French boutis. It is for a newborn baby. 

The inspiration for this came from a wonderful trip to Paris, with my daughter, her friend Elizabeth and my friend JoAnn. 
Elizabeth and Valerie at the top of the Eiffel Tower
Here's how it happened.  Jo-Ann and I both had airline tickets credits. The girls were going to go on their school French trip, but it was cancelled... so we decided to go!
the girls seeing Notre Dame for the first time
In Paris, when the Internet was still fairly new, we took a risk and booked a hotel online. 
the street where our hotel was found
And though I'll write about the many zany and amazing things happened as a result of that risk, right now, I'll say that it was in a wonderful location - the Latin Quarter and from there we found our way around Paris and to a the Rue du Bac. 

Now, I have to tell you that I wanted to go the Rue du Bac, not because I knew that it was a charming street that hosted even more charming shops, but because when I was fourteen and repeatedly after that I read a book called Désirée by Annemarie Selinko. It tells the life story of Napoleon Bonapart's first love. In the heartbreaking section when Désirée discovers that Napoleon is breaking their engagement to marry the powerful Josephine, Désirée is staying at a home in the Rue du Bac. Yes, I'm a book nerd.

So I dragged my little traveling party to the Rue du Bac and what do you think we found? 
We found a small shop-- Le Rideau De Paris. 32 Rue Du Bac, Paris. 
To say that we were enchanted is to speak moderately. 
The fabrics of Provence-dazzling, the quilting in the bright, whole-cloth quilts-inspiring... and then there was the baby's tiny cap.

It stood in the window and the shop-keeper took it out for me. I held it in my hand and felt as if the world was pausing a minute so that I could appreciate the exquisite handmade treasure. Rows of tiny stitches held the slimmest cording. It was not frilly, but the most lovely, elegant baby item I'd ever seen. The shop keeper said that now only very old women were making these caps; the art was fading. So naturally the caps were "très cher" which I translated in my head to mean,"very dear," because I loved it so much.

looking into the shop window

I had no married children at the time, no grandchildren, but I decided to buy it. I was enchanted by it.
That's when I found out what "très cher" meant. The cap cost over three hundred dollars. 
So, I didn't buy it.

When we left the shop, we found a patisserie a few yards away that also offered afternoon tea. While we devoured the pastries, I sketched the cap. 

I carry a booklet and pencil for just such très cher emergencies

Years went by and many things happened. I remembered the cap and wanted to make it. I thought about the very old, (older now) women in Provence sitting in their lavender-scented, sun-drenched gardens stitching the little caps, while La Tramontane whirled around their frail ankles. I was très busy, too busy to sew much, so I researched the skills and instead wrote about it in my novel, Solomon's Puzzle. The quilt store owner, Laurie MacBride (who accomplishes many things I wish I did or could) made an entire line of such wonderful things. 

But eventually... I did set my hand to it and I made one.

From those sketches, I made a pattern, trial and error,with lots of error...

 and finally finished this little cap in time for my daughter's first baby:

I lined it in the (washed and bleached) thin, soft flannel we used to drape around things at her October wedding.  

Now I'm making a little jacket and more caps.  They take a long time to make. But aren't they beautiful?  


  1. So beautiful! I also remember that gorgeous shop. And that wonderful trip! Thank you for that memory.

  2. Great memories of the France trip!

  3. Indeed, tres cher, tres dear! : ) Adorable.

  4. What a beautiful cap! I am so impressed that you can make those, let alone from a sketch. You are so talented!

  5. Yes you do carry a notebook with you and I have seen you write in it! It's one of the wonderful things about you, that and also the fact that your talent allows you to make this beautiful delicate little cap. Great story.