Now what? Life in rural Ariege

Burblings about adjusting to life in the deep south west of France or "la France profonde" as they call it here and the challenges of restoring a ramshackle collection of tumbledown buildings. I mainly write about local festivals, events and celebrations and, most of all, the weekly ritual of combing vide greniers and brocantes for pre-loved vintage treasures.

10 December 2014

A breath of "le printemps"

Winter is closing in around us here in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The leaves are falling, temperatures are plummeting and the mountains are capped in snow. The ski slopes will be opening soon sans doubt and we've had the first flakes of snow here. The glorious warm autumn seems a long time ago now and "le printemps" feels a long way away.

I'm still busily scouring brocantes and depot ventes for stock for Histoires but last weekend I decided to go to a vide grenier in Lavelanet. I don't usually frequent the rather scarce vide greniers or marches aux puces in December as they are usually poorly attended and, to be honest, flipping freezing! Sure enough there were only a scattering of stalls with hardy or foolhardy (depending on your point of view) sellers wrapped up in ski suits and santa hats. I was not optimistic about finding anything wonderful but how wrong I was.

A pair of sisters were busily firing up a grill to cook chunky Toulouse sausages to feed the hungry hordes and had some boxes of china that they hadn't had time to unpack. This beauty was perched on the top of one of the boxes.

It's an asparagus serving basket by the celebrated Sarreguemines factory in the "Carmen" pattern.

Amazingly the box held a complete asparagus set comprising 12 serving plates, each of which are different, plus the basket and tray.

The plates are 1875 - 1900, the tray and gorgeous basket are later, some time after 1918. It was the sisters' grandmother's set and they believed she had it from new.

The pattern has a variety of hedgerow and spring flowers, dragonflies and butterflies. It is rare to find such a collectible set in an unusual colorway (it is more usually seen in blue and white). It's complete and in wonderful condition.

Such a breath of spring on a freezing winter morning.

I think if I still have this next spring I am going to use it, just once. I imagine that tender, steamed asparagus spears must taste exquisite served on these plates.

#sarreguemines #asparagus #french #faience #carmen #vide grenier #vintage find #histoires #etsy

17 September 2014

Hidden Treasure

It's happened again! I suppose it's inevitable that during my rummaging for vintage goodies for Histoires I'm going to stumble over secret items that have been deliberately concealed. My first hidden find was a couple of years ago when I discovered love letters concealed in a 1950s sewing pattern.

 Simplicity or duplicity? This 1950s Simplicity dress pattern has concealed a lover's letters for over 30 years.

It was not a particularly glamorous sewing pattern, a simple a wrap-around housedress and a dress with a matching housecoat. I was amazed when I checked to see if the pattern had been cut to pull out 2 letters which had been carefully concealed within the pattern itself. They were stored neatly in their original envelopes (one of which was post dated 1977) and I pulled one out to see if it related to the pattern in any way. I was confronted with a love letter from a Dutch sailor, Piet, to his sweetheart, Pat. The first letter began “My dearest darling Pat” and contained the telling line “I will not phone you anymore because Steve has arrived home”. The second short letter was sent while Piet was at sea and he wrote “I still cannot put you out of my mind” and that he “is waiting for you in Exeter at the central station”. Did she ever meet him again or was the affair over? Either way what better place could there be to conceal billets doux from your lover than in an old dress pattern? Her husband would almost certainly have never stumbled across these by accident and she always had them nearby as she did her sewing. 
And last weekend it happened again. I was at a Vide Grenier and spied a lovely mid century mint green coffee pot. I lifted the lid and could see there was something inside but I did not remove it to take a look as the pot was half filled with water and the object looked rather black and slimy. I showed the owners who laughed and did that oh-so-gallic shrug before telling me the water and "thingy" were free but the pot was 10 euros. After a little bartering I left with the coffee pot and its contents. When I got home I tipped out the water along with the blackened object. I had thought it was probably an old kitchen measure or possibly an old metal filter, at the very least I had reasoned it must be something to do with coffee. How wrong I was!

It is, in fact, a child's christening or baptism cup. It has a gorgeous frieze around the base of pedal cars, rocking horses and toys. It is marked on the bottom "metal argente" (silver plated). I estimate it dates to the 1950s or possibly the 1960s. 

I can only guess at why it was hidden away in a coffee pot. To keep it safe perhaps, a coffee pot is an unlikely storage place for valuables that would surely never be discovered in the event of a burglary. Maybe there was some connection between the pot and the cup, possibly they were both souvenirs of loved ones, cherished family items stored together. I'll never know for certain, what do you think? 

I'd love to hear if you've ever discovered concealed items...

21 June 2014


I love most aspects of running Histoires, my online French vintage shop, but probably my favourite part is "le shopping". Today, I had the pleasure of the company of 2 like-minded ladies who arrived to collect me at 0830 in order to be at my new favourite shopping haunt at 0900 as it opened.

Now, I can shop. I can really, really shop. But these 2, Linda and Iris, they can really, really shop too!

Just take a look at the little red car and picture, if you will, the following:

3 ladies
1 fold up table
3 large fruit picking baskets
2 huge zinc containers (approximately the size of small dustbins)
And in additon an assortment of tins, crockery, enamelware, 6 pairs of crochet curtains, embroidery ephemera, a vanity case, an aluminium kitchen utensil rack, a demijohn and, well those are just the items I remember.

The boot was crammed, bien sur. I had a fruit basket full of "le tresor" balanced on my knee and Iris was enclosed in the back seat by her gorgeous chippy fold up metal table! Didn't we do well!

There are plenty of lovely items that will be on sale in Histoires in September after I reopen after a long summer break. Here's a taster...

Beautiful art deco spelter bookends on black marble bases with a stag and a doe and fawn

art nouveau irridescent glass inkwell with bronze lid and original glass ink bottle

such an unusual round gold metal wire box, lovely and tarnished

1960s retro kitchen wall clock by Japy

A simply huge monogram stamp for the initial E

Tall blue graniteware enamel water pitcher

And there'll be plenty more...

I think we'll take a van next time :)

8 April 2014

Pour les brodeuses, for those who love to embroider

I find many lovely examples of embroideries on my weekly hunt for stock for Histoires. From tiny cross stitched initials on old tea towels, to huge monograms on sheets, to jolly shelf trims and bold pillow covers. Some are simply marks of ownership, others celebrate marriages and family. Some are purely decorative, others are decorative but intended to conceal, what are to the French mind, ugly shelf edges and mantlepieces.

Fully worked embroidered panel with peacock design, probably intended to be a cushion cover 

Cross stitch intials embroidered onto linen damask serviettes

Large monogram initial from a hand loomed dowry sheet

Sheet with blue iris embroidery and monogram, circa 1950s.

They hark back to the days when generations of ladies would spend their evenings sewing and stitching. Before radio and television. Before the internet. I cannot look at a piece of old embroidery without thinking about the many hours it must have taken to make.

I had a very unusual find on Saturday. I acquired a number of unworked mid century embroidery patterns. They are all printed in soluble blue ink on natural linen. Simply embroider over the lines and then wash it to remove any ink showing.

This is shelf trim which has the original store label attached. It was sold by the meter and has a lovely pattern of birds perched on power lines, on branches and in flight. Ready to work in the colors of your choice

A really unusual large oval shaped pattern of Sainte Therese. This would probably have been framed once worked.

Sweet small pattern of 2 geese promenading with an umbrella or parasol. Lovely nursery decor

Yellow cotton printed with a pattern for a lingerie case. "Bonne Nuit" or good night. It has 3 folds so that it could be stitched up once embroidered to form the pouch to slip your lingerie and nightwear into.

A dresser scarf or table runner pattern with more birdies!

Another large oval shaped pattern "Sacre Coeur". Such an unusual religious theme again probably to be used as a cushion front or to be framed.

I know that there are still ladies (and men too) who love to embroider, who enjoy the hours of stitching. If this is you, why not consider one of these mid century patterns for your next project.

12 March 2014

The steel is in... enfin

I've been lax about reporting on our progress but yesterday was another milestone for us.

The huge 8 meter long steel beam that has been in the garden for nearly 2 years is in place in the building.

For once I'm going to let the pictures do the talking

There were some tense moments!

A combination of muscular men and machine power lifted it into a horizontal position. Next to thread it through the opening in the stone wall at the front. Then carefully slide it along the specially constructed wood channel running through the building. Then rest it in position in the back wall of the building.

C'est facile n'est ce pas?

Nearly there!


Here it is in all its glory

Next step is to remove the 2 remaining old wooden beams and the remainder of the floor.

Then floor construction in this building can begin :)