Serge de Nimes or Denim?

Recently we took a day trip to the lovely city of Nimes, Fr (the “i” is really suppose to have a ^ over it but I’m not that accomplished with an iphone keypad). At any rate, Nimes is a huge city with a historic quarter where there’s a massive Roman coliseum from the first century AD.

Immediately after this photo was taken it began to pour buckets, so I have no more photos to share but there is some interesting fabric history in this city.

Denim fabric got its name from Nimes. Twill fabric began to be manufactured from wool in the 1600’s, both in Italy and in France. In France and specifically in Nimes, or was called “serge de Nimes”. In the 1800’s, the fabric was made from cotton only and continued with the same name, but was shortened to “de Nimes” (pronounced “neem”) or “denim”. In the world of Google Translate, “serge de coton” translates to “twill”, of which one type is denim, the most commonly worn fabric in the western world.

To close out this post I could show you a boring photo of denim, or a photo of the amazing Pont du Gard aqueduct which was also built in about the first century AD, to carry water to Nimes.




Lyon: A Gastronomic and Visual Feast

Yesterday we took the train to Lyon, Fr., for the explicit purpose of visiting the Musee des Tissus (Museum of Fabrics) and to have dinner in France’s gastronomic capitol. It was a delightful day. We started with dinner at La Picadilly, a block from Place Bellecour.

From the 16th – 19th centuries, Lyon was the European center for silk manufacturing. At me time more than 18,000 looms were in use.

As the silk industry changed in the 19th century, this museum was created as a way to maintain Lyon’s commercial advantage however eventually the purpose became preservation of the art. Currently the museum owns more than 2.5 million textile specimens covering more than 4000 years. Only a small percentage of the holdings are on display, focusing on the 16th-19th century.


On display were gorgeous silk dresses and men’s jackets, silk wallpaper, upholstery and drapery samples and of course religious garments.

Here’s the disappointing part – to protect the fabrics, rooms are dark and no photos are allowed. Ugh. In preparation for this post I looked for Internet images and there are few with high resolution. The following are a few photos and a link to items on display.



A dress currently on display
While I visited the museum, Kevin walked through the beautiful “Old City”.


What a wonderful day.

French Fashion (to be Copied Later)

This past week, the 8th week of our France experience, our DD Angela and family visited us in Avignon. What fun we have had, visiting the sites and simply experiencing Avignon. Kevin’s sister, BIL and niece were also here for the week and stayed in a nearby apt.

Angela celebrated her birthday, a memorable one for sure, with family and a bottle of Chateaunauf de Pape from her SIL and brother. They left it for her when they departed several weeks ago.

Mira and Cait wanted to buy some “French fashion” while they were here, as did Angela. Size 7-14 clothing is a bit difficult to find but at their favorite H&M they each found fashion galore. Mira got floral leggings and a black tunic, and Cate bought glittery high tops and a dress.


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the markets have been a great source for many types of dry goods and fashion is no exception. Angela found a beautifully styled cotton knit and woven linen dress with a pieced skirt. You can bet I’ll be copying this pattern. As seen the the photo, the sleeves, a front panel and back are ribbed knit while the remainder is linen.


Mira and I found a lace top with the split back, a common style seen in French clothing stores.

Mira loved it so much that she asked if I could sew one for her. For €18 I purchased the top and although I love it, I will likely take it apart, resize it and surprise her for her birthday. Of course I will also copy the style using a TNT pattern. Stay tuned for that post.



Buying Fabric in the French Markets (again)

By now it’s no surprise that Kevin and I love European markets. This week our DSIL and BIL visited us, so we had to take them to two of our favorite markets – Arles and L’Isle Sur la Sorgue. Both had lots of fabric vendors with fabrics of every type.





Oh, darn, how did that photo of our new GD, Genevieve, get into this post?


After all that shopping we had a picnic on the canal in l’Isle Sur la Sorgue.

Antique Sewing Supplies in a Very Old French Town

Last Sunday it was Spring in Provence, so we took a short bus ride to the gorgeous little L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, which like all Provincial towns, can clearly be classified as an antique. With it’s many canals and water wheels, some have called it the Venice of France.

I’ve previously referenced the tradition of town markets but this Sunday market was incredible – not only meat, fish, olives, cheese and other delicious things to eat but also it had a huge number of vendors with every possible type of fashionable clothing. In addition there was a large antique market.


Unlike most antique markets, this one had numerous sellers with antique sewing supplies. While I wasn’t in the market for these items, they gave me a glimpse of France’s lost sewing industry. Here’s a look at some of the lovely items. From top down; shiny thread bobbins (rayon?), huge wood print blocks, cording and miscellaneous.





Enjoy this look into the past.

Where to Buy Fabric in Provence

Considering that we’re living in a city of approximately 100,000 people, sewing supplies and fabric are amazingly difficult to find in the Avignon area. There is one fabric store in Avignon (Tissu Rotonde I think) which has a reasonable supply of all types of fabric and some patterns but no notions. In our neighborhood in the old city there is one sewing machine shop that sells zippers, some needlework supplies,
nylons and tights. There’s also a haberdashery with adorable buttons and trims. For better or worse, as far as I can tell there are no national chains stores. The important question is: “Are there no home sewists or ???”


You may know about the amazing European tradition of holding markets in small town. We have visited quite a number of these markets, which are the source for fresh fruits, vegetables and meat, but also the place to buy sewing notions and some fabric. At the Arles market there’s even a sewing machine repair man (above picture). Some vendors have notions.


Fabric is also sold in the local markets. Vendors have a van loaded with rolls of fabric, which are unloaded on market days. The vendors of course, have a limited supply of fabric and most is home decorator fabric.


As far as I can tell, the sources for fabric in Rural France, just like in the US. What a sad situation for home sewists. While it’s great that there still is a fabric source, it’s less than ideal. What’s a sewist to do?

Three Reasons to Visit Rouen, FR


Before this week, I naively admit that I’ve never heard of Rouen, France (north of Paris near Normandy). But now that I’ve been there are really more than 3 reasons to visit this beautiful city; to see the fabulous Rouen Cathedral,to see where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake or to walk through the old town, which is where we stayed.  Amazingly, there are two yarn stores and a huge button store within several blocks of each other.  This is sewing and knitting heaven.

Homo Roussel

this tiny store is up the street from the Joan of Arc Memorial as you go toward the Cathedral.  It has an entire wall of buttons. It’s admirers were just about lining up to get in the store. In particular, two women were there with winter coats with a missing button? my bet is that they found one to match.  In addition there is a small amount of yarn, some cottons and lots do sewing notions. Oh how I wish this store could be in my neighborhood.

In addition there were two knitting store – one a Phildar  store and another with a number of brands.



An Unlikely Maternity Coat

Well my blogcation was a little longer than I thought, but at any rate, I’m back – this time to tell you about my daughter’s maternity coat.  She lives in Minnesota and with a winter pregnancy, she needed a coat to cover our future granddaughter.

Image 1When I shopped for the fabric for this coat, Megan said she thought grey would be a good color.  While at SR Harris in Minneapolish, I texted photos of the various fabrics to Megan. When I found hot pink the decision-making was all over.

Initially I thought I’d modify a regular coat pattern but on a whim, I did an Indy pattern search for maternity coats.  This coat on Deuxieme Arrondissement (“Second District” is the English translation) was the perfect match for  the pink wool.  So I sent to France for the pattern.  Actually twice,  as I mistakenly ordered a dress pattern the first time. (It was as cute as the coat pattern, but that’s another story).

Coat pix

Did I tell you that the directions are in French?  On first blush it was a daunting thought, but not knowing how to speak or read French was less of a deterrent than I thought.  I used Google Translator, typing the text from the directions until I was pretty sure I got a general idea on how to proceed with the coat construction.   It worked amazingly well.

The Zipper


A rhinestone zipper seemed like exactly the right embellishment for this coat.  With black piping and a black/pin tweed under collar and under cuffs, a black zipper with rhinestone teeth was not only practical but also adorable.  Megan was thrilled when she saw it.

What About the Pattern?

As I mentioned, the pattern instructions are written in French. Overall the construction methods are fairly simple.  There are also fairly simple sketches of the pattern pieces and construction methods.  While not as clear as photos or computer generated graphics used by some pattern-makers, the sketches are sufficient.  One of the great things about the pattern was the marking of the cuff pieces.  The pieces are fairly small and it would be easy to place one incorrectly.  to prevent this, the sides of the pattern pieces and the corresponding sleeve pieces are marked with “a”, “b”, “c”, etc.  I’ve not seen this method used previously but it’s definitely a winner.  Last of all, the faced slit pockets show the contrasting black/pink tweed fabric – a lovely design feature.

If you’re searching for stylish maternity patterns, give Deuxieme Arrondissement a try.  She has some very stylish patterns.

Here is my review on

More Photos

To round out this post, here are a few more photos of this unlikely maternity coat.  Best of all, she plans to wear the coat when she’s no longer pregnant.




Faced pocket reveals black/pink tweed contracting fabric.

Now we can’t wait to see what’s under this coat. Maybe before Christmas?

Bad Irons: It’s my Turn

For those of us who sew and bear our souls about the sewing experience, bad irons are a common topic.  Many of my fellow bloggers have taken their turn at complaining about the quality of steam irons and the need for frequent replacement.  Even my husband knows of this problem – right after telling me that tennis shoes were $2.00 when he was a kid, he tells me that his mother only owned one iron in her whole life while I need to purchase a new one every year.


Oops, I had the iron on this fabric for a nano-second.

A Smoking Iron?

Last week, when I was pressing some garments I sewed for a woman, my one year old $80 steam iron (brand name rhymes with mark) nearly burned the house down.   While ironing it started to sizzle very loudly.  Confused by what was occurring, I thought I’d test it on a scrap of cotton and in a second it burned the scrap as well as the ironing board cover.  Then more sizzling followed by smoke coming out of the seams of the iron.  At that moment I unplugged it and opened the windows to relieve the room of smoke.  Can I tell you how grateful I was that the burned item was a fabric scrap and not a garment I’d just finished sewing?

Of course, the warranty had expired, although the company offered to repair it for $42 plus shipping.  Having now “burned” through 2 irons in the past year, I  searched for other options.  Thanks to fellow bloggers and sewists, it became clear that I needed to make the jump to a gravity feed iron.  At under $100, the Hot Steam SGB-600 seemed to be a good option.

Before the new gravity-feed iron arrived I borrowed a 25 year-old made in Germany Rowenta from my mother who used it when she was a quilter.  As you can see by the following photo, it must have been dropped a few times so the steam doesn’t work but the iron is great.  Even without steam, it pressed better than the [rhymes with mark].


The New Arrival – Hot Steam SGB-600

When the package arrived, it was a little daunting.  Would I ever stop unpacking?  Many of the components were obvious but what about all of the pieces that aren’t pictured in the manual?


After reading the manual the cobwebs in my head cleared, though there remained a few plastic adaptors not described or pictured in the manual.  It seemed a little weird to think about a huge bottle hanging in my sewing room.  Maybe I needed to get my own IV pole?


SGB-600 all set up


Steam:  Although I’ve only used it for a short time, this iron is amazing.  The burst of steam is generous and at a setting of “3” every item has been incredibly well pressed, usually with a single swipe of the iron.  Some reviews have said this setting works for nearly every type of fabric.  I’ve used it on wool, cotton, cotton-poly and polyester and it worked well.  The iron is definitely heavy and it’s unusual to not set it on it’s heel – just a matter of learning a new behavior after years of doing it another way.  Also, the water valve on the tank needs to be turned off after every use.  Hope I don’t come home to a flooded sewing room some day.  Heats to the desired temperature in several minutes.

Silicone mat:  The mat is very thick and the heat doesn’t radiate to the bottom of the mat.  Some have recommended placing a tile below the silicone mat, however at this time I don’t see the need.  Some sellers do not include the mat with purchase however Wawak includes this and the sole plate with the iron.

Cord: The cord is very heavy and the length sufficient.  It is important to keep the water tubing connected to the electrical cord.  Four connectors come with the unit – some of the parts not described. Because the iron is so heavy, the weight of the cord moves freely with the iron.

Hanging method:  Mine is hung from a ceiling hook and the type of chain that is used for hanging lamps.

Auto shut-off:  There is no auto shut-off, which will be another behavior change and it might be a tough one.

This whole setup wouldn’t work well if you have a temporary sewing space however in my sewing room it is great.  At this point I’m pretty high on this iron.

Hemming a Tulle Skirt

It’s prom time and one of my dear nieces asked me to hem and alter her dress and to sew a really puffy petticoat for under the dress.    Absolutely beautiful and a skirt of yards of tulle.



The first and most time consuming step was to remove and replace about half of the lace applique and bead-sequin trim.  While this took time, it was straight forward.  On the other hand, I knew that hemming the tulle was a once and done affair.  If not done correctly the first time, removing stitches would result in damaged tulle.  Here’s what the hem looked like originally – a narrow turned over hem.


As you can see, it wasn’t sewed all that well when the garment was manufactured.  It was turned over twice and sewed close to the edge.  Originally my plan was to repeat that process after the dress was cut to the desired length.  Fate changed that plan.

On the day that I was finishing the dress alterations, one of my sewing friends came to my house to see how a serger works.  One of the finishes I showed her was a rolled hem. Immediately I realized that’s what I should use for the hem.  Why hadn’t I previously thought of this?  The result was a beautifully finished rolled hem.


How to Serge a Rolled Hem

While this process will vary slightly by serger, the general process is the same.

1. Remove the left needle.

2. Thread the right needle and the upper and lower looper with thread that matches the fabric.

Note: Because of the limited serger thread color selection, I used one spool of regular sewing thread and wound 2 bobbins in the same color. 

3. Set to a very narrow stitch width.

4. Set stitch length to a very short stitch – some sergers have rolled hem settings.

5.  Disengage the cutting blade.

6.  Place cut edge ~1/16″ to the right of the right needle.  This part will turn under and will disappear into the rolled hem

7.  Sew a sample one the fabric you’re hemming.

Note: The fabric should not pull or ruffle the edge. 

8.  Adjust tension as needed.

Note: This is the part that varies by machine so it’s difficult to provide specific directions.


The result is an amazingly beautiful hem and it takes only minutes to complete.  I was so thankful that I remembered to use this finishing method, which would work equally well for chiffon, crepe or many other fabrics.

Settings for a Baby Lock Evolve (or similar serger)

  • Remove left or Overlock 1 needle
  • Disengage cutting knife
  • Stitch width 3.5
  • Stitch Length 1.5R (Rolled hem setting)
  • Stitch Selector  – D
  • Upper Looper Selector – Up position
  • Tension – no settings as this is automatic on an Evolve