Brace yourself, this post is rather long, but I had such a good time that I had to share as many details as possible…

Back in the middle of May or June, I stumbled upon a website for a chateau in France that offered week long creative courses on things such as jewelry making, millinery and reinventing French textiles. I sent the link to my mom as a joke saying, “we should do the French textiles trip.” Lucky for me, my mom, a quilter and all-around creative, thought my joke was not a half-bad idea.

Fast forward to October 1. Sheila (a.k.a. Mom) and I found ourselves flying to Toulouse to catch a ride an hour outside of France’s 4th largest city to spend the week sewing, creating, rummaging and dying fabrics at Chateau Dumas.

Lizzie Hulme, the owner of Chateau Dumas, wanted to put together creative ways for people to unwind and escape. For this particular week of reinvention, she enlisted the help of a new found friend, Ros Badger, to share her creativity with the group. Add a day of traditional woad dying with Denise Lambert and we’ve got ourselves an amazing week’s worth of experience and inspiration.

Here’s how Sheila and I, along with 4 other guests, plus a few extra friends of the Chateau, spent the week…

Chateau Dumas on Flee Fly Flown

Saturday :: An introduction. After settling into our rooms, we set about exploring the grounds around the Chateau, the small neighboring village of Auty (pop. 125), and the Chateau itself. Through every door and around every corner, another visual treat lay before us. The 18th century Chateau was turned into an inn 4 years ago when Lizzie purchased it. Her eye for design and the ability to combine the old with the new in unexpected ways creates an appealing and inviting atmosphere in which to find inspiration and relaxation all at once.

Before dinner, the group gathered for an introduction in the studio. A room above the chapel and across the courtyard from the main house, Lizzie’s studio is every crafter’s dream. She has lovingly collected fabrics, ribbon, books, buttons, hat labels from the old local millineries, and much more to be generously used during our class. Ros and Lizzie also gave us some tips on what to look for during the next day’s adventure, the Vide Greniers. Look for old tea towels, garments and lace for dying, buttons, fabric. Look beyond an objects original use, don’t show excitement at a good find and be sure to bargain.

Day 1 :: Vide Greniers Sunday morning, after an early breakfast, the group set off in search of a few vide greniers. The term literally means “empty attic” and these sales happen throughout the summer all over France as a way for people to sell antiques and other odds and ends. Our group, once warmed up, was like kids in a candy shop. I could have easily left with much more than I purchased, unfortunately, I had no way of getting the big items all the way home. But I did come away with some nice linen towels, bits of crochet bunting, lace, vintage buttons and a slew of other miscellany I planned to use during the trip and after. More on some of these objects in another post.

Vide Greniers with Chateau Dumas and Flee Fly Flown

Day 2 & 3 :: First days of sewing. The only day of inclement weather was Monday, which was fine by all of us since we were eager to get started on our first sewing projects. On the first day in the studio, we created everything from fabric hanger covers, lavender bags, cushion covers and more. On our second day, we started on all-purpose bags made mostly from old French linen tea towels. Throughout the day we also helped with hanging our vide grenier finds that had to be washed before dying on Wednesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few of us took a trip to the nearby village of Montpezat to stretch our legs and explore a little. It is beautiful hilltop village that felt like we were stepping back in time. Take away the cars and we very well could have been walking around in the 17th century.

Sewing at Chateau Dumas

Day 4 :: Woad Dying. Woad is basically what the region around Toulouse’s claim to wealth was, centuries ago. It is one of only two blue pigments found in nature; the other being indigo. Because blue was so hard to achieve, it became a thing of beauty that only the rich or the royal could afford. The process of extracting woad pigment, long ago, was a much longer and complicated process that eventually died out. Fortunately, Denise Lambert and her late husband, Henri, found their calling in preserving the tradition and have revitalized the process into a sustainable industry.

Woad Dying at Chateau Dumas

Denise and her assistant, Annette, spent the day with our group, giving us a brief history and sharing the traditional techniques for achieving the right shades of consistent blue. We had an wonderful day of dying everything from t-shirts to teddy bears, the one requirement being that the materials had to be natural, not synthetic. The group also experimented with tying screws into their fabric, wrapping scraps around pipes and tying knots to achieve various effects. Some of the ladies were dying up until dinner and into the next day, they couldn’t get enough!

The group during a day of Woad

Day 5 :: Sewing + trip to St. Antonin After our day of woad, we were back in the studio finishing up our bags and starting on new projects, this time, using some of our newly dyed fabrics. We also took another afternoon adventure to the small town of St. Antonin. This time heading closer to the Pyrenees mountain range.

Day 6 :: Hat factory tour and final day of sewing projects. On our last full day at Chateau Dumas, we spent the morning touring a nearby hat factory, Chapeaux Willy’s, established in 1824 and one of the oldest millineries still in business. We saw how the hats were made, and steamed in their molds, and even got a  peak at the archived styles, everything from cloches to broad brimmed hats and more. We had some fun trying on the different hats and I ended up buying one. Now I need to return to the Chateau for their millinery workshop! After the tour, we headed back to the Chateau to finish up our projects and, sadly, pack to leave the next day.

Chapeaux Willy's tour with Chateau Dumas on Flee Fly Flown

On Saturday everyone headed out at various times throughout the day to catch their flights. Sheila and I headed to Toulouse to explore for a day before heading to Sweden to visit friends. More on these days to come.

Showing off our wares at Chateau Dumas

My week at Chateau Dumas was unforgettable. I came away inspired and ready to return to some of the things I’ve left at the wayside throughout the years (and dive into new ones!). I had the pleasure of spending time with a group of extraordinary women, each bringing their own ideas to share and inspire the next. I learned many lessons during the week, both on sewing and otherwise. I can only hope that I run across these ladies in the future and continue to be inspired by their work.

The end to a perfect vacation at Chateau Dumas

And if just reading about my own experience isn’t enough, you’re in luck. Lizzie and Ros are already planning next year’s courses.  Stay tuned, I’ll post those soon, or you can keep track of what’s happening at Chateau Dumas on their Facebook page and website.

Thanks Ros & Lizzie (and the group) for such an unforgettable week!

- Colleen