Many of you know that I greatly enjoy quilting. I took a class when we lived in Vermont 28 years ago. Then I signed up for a refresher quilting class at my favorite Cary quilt shop, Etc. Crafts, about 5 years ago when I wandered into the shop to simply buy some thread. (Note to NC quilters, Etc., is closing after 37 years in business! Quel dommage!) Since then I have made 2 quilts for our kids’ graduations, a new quilt for our bed, a few crib size quilts that have been either given as gifts to friends or that keep us warm on cold winter nights, and a number of wall hangings and table runners.
Because of its weight I realized that I would not be able to bring my beloved sewing machine with me to France. (Steve offered to be my sherpa and schelp it for me, but I don’t want a husband in France with a bad back!) I resigned myself to life without it for the year in hopes I could pick up a new hobby here. I have long admired those I know who knit. My Aunt Terry (Schmitt), Aunt Barbara (Melchiskey), Debbie (Broatch), Sally (Eckert) and Raymonde (Koonce) have knitted gifts for us or our children in the past or have shared their beautiful pieces. (Note to Raymonde: I have already worn the hat you made me. It was a blessing this past cold, windy and rainy Monday!) So before we left the U.S., I had thought about learning to knit in France.
I had noticed a few embroidery/knitting shops around Grenoble, but had not been able to catch them open when I would happen by them. (Remember, shops close for lunch for 1- 1½ hours.) One Saturday, as we were returning from a trip into Grenoble Centre Ville, we walked by a mercerie, Christinia’s, that is diagonally across the street from our apartment. I had never noticed it before since out of habit we usually walk on the same side of the street as our place. I pointed out to Steve the needlework and cross-stitch books and samples in the window. The store looked closed, but when Steve tried the door it opened.
We found a man and a woman standing behind the glass counter. “Bonjour, Messieursdames“, they greeted us. We smiled and greeted them in return. They looked expectantly at us. Oh, boy! What do I say next? I certainly did not want to introduce myself as a baguette like Steve did at the boulangerie. I communicated to Madame that I was wondering if she could tell me where I might find someone to teach me to knit. She pointed to herself. She would teach me à tricoter. Really? Yes, if I bought yarn from her, she would instruct me. Okay, when? Right now!
Her husband helped me find suitable yarn. I wanted to make a purple éscharpe en laine. Madame said I needed huit skeins! I saw the perfect violette yarn in a little cubby hole above me. Monsieur brought out a ladder and climbed to get it. I cringed at the rickety ladder and this elderly gentleman climbing it. There were only huit skeins left. It was meant to be! Madame fingered the laine yarn and ambled over to les aiguilles à tricoter and selected a packet with the right size inside.
Steve paid for the yarn and needles (a veritable bargain at 17€) and said he would see me back at home – I think it was time for a biére and a soccer match for Steve, well, at least the biére part. Madame led me to the backroom. She not only sells yarn, knitting and embroidery accessories and craft books, but also does alterations, button replacement and other clothing services. Her little back room held trays of buttons, embroidery floss, a sewing machine, an iron and an ironing board. She pointed to a caned chair for me to seat myself. She pulled up a stool and slowly lowered herself onto it. “Oh, no, Madame, you sit here”, I said. She smiled at me with silver encased teeth and shook her head.
Madame took one of the needles and started to show me how de monter des mailles. I am not a quick learner. I fumbled along, and she patiently took the needle back and showed me again. I was not getting this. Finally, she took pity on me, and she cast on the yarn and began to show me how to start my scarf. I would have difficulty learning to knit from someone explaining it to me in English, but here she was instructing and cajoling me in French! Her patience was truly amazing.
As we sat there, I started asking Madame some questions in my simple French. She wore thick glasses and told me she had had 9 retina operations. I told her I was amazed that she could continue doing the close work that I’m sure is required in her business. She laughed, and she praised the Grenoble hospital that had performed the operations. I then asked how long she had had this shop on the corner of Cours Jean Jaures and Rue Général Janssen. She answered “Quarante Ans.” 4o years! In the same location. Her hair held some gray, her husband’s as well. She said her first husband had died in the war. Monsieur and she had married and opened this shop. She told me about ses trois enfants and ses quatre petit-fils. Then she volunteered that she was quatre-vingt quatre ans (84 yrs old). Her husband was soixante-dix sept ans (77 yrs. old). They have no plans to retire! I guess they had not been following the news on the strikes here in France.
The shop was open until dix-neuf heures trente (19h 30 = 7:30). We had walked in at around dix-huit heures (18h= 6:00). The lesson would take about un demi-heure (half-hour) she thought. (She didn’t know ME!) I walked out of the magasin at around dix-neuf heures (19h: 7:00). I was on my way to being a Knitting Wizard!
I’m sure that when she sees this first attempt she will politely refrain from abject laughter or from shaking her head at it. But besides the basic lesson in knitting that I received, I also got a glimpse into these two old french lives that are happily spending their days in their little old-fashioned shop on the corner. As I was leaving, Madame pulled some knitting pattern books out to show me what wonders could lie ahead for me. There was a 1980s woman’s magazine and some knitting books yellowed with age, and from the models’ hairstyles, they looked to be from the same era. I guess knitting hasn’t changed much for Madame through the years.
I told them about our blog, but they said that they do not have un ordinateur (a computer). I’m not sure they know what a “blog” is, but I plan on bringing my computer over to show them once this entry is posted.
Monsieur and Madame typify the great kindness that both Steve and I have been shown by the French people, and others, who have helped us since our coming to Grenoble. People on the street may not smile at you when they pass, but once you enter their doors, you are greeted with politeness, and they’ll go the extra mile to make you feel welcome here in Grenoble.
I’m including a picture of my almost finished product (artfully arranged in a Martha Stewartesque pose to hide the holes and mistakes that Steve caused when he interrupted me from time to time to talk and my own ineptitude). The arrival of the cold weather is pushing me to finish it this week. I’m gonna need it! Now I only have to learn how to get it off the needles. Otherwise, I’ll wear it with them attached and risk being mistaken for some Goth, sans black hair, sporting protruding metal from her neck.
To see some of the quilts I’ve pieced go to Maureen’s Quilts. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
mercerie: haberdashery, but here, notions store
Bonjour, Messieursdames: a concatenation of Messieurs + mesdames, widely used when a man & woman are greeted together
à tricoter: to knit
éscharpe en laine: woolen scarf
les aiguilles à tricoter: knitting needles
de monter des mailles: cast on the stitches
ses trois enfants and ses quatre petit-fils: her three children and her four grandchildren