The Magic Buttons


Many autumns ago, before my daughter was even one year old, I knew an old lady. She had the look of someone who had led a life less ordinary – her hair tied up in a tidy chignon, sparkling earrings dangling about her face like crystal chandeliers, smoky eyes, a slip of pink lipstick, a purple fur coat.

“Allez-y, allez-y”, she would say in her husky voice as she shuffled her satin slippers over the floor of her brocante, setting down a lit cigarette in the ashtray by the shop entrance before picking up another she had lit minutes earlier further inside.

Glass cabinets full of curiosities welcomed you as you entered the grotto shop, a natural cavity in the walls of the cliff face that surrounded the little town. Tin boxes full of ancient sewing needles, nibs for pens, perfume bottles with labels peeling, post cards from the war, plastic flowers, embroidered handkerchieves, reams of antique lace, one white, leather child’s glove, candle sticks, oil paintings of flowers, bundles of silver cutlery, doll’s heads.

I would follow her deeper inside the cave as the bright sunlight from outside was replaced by ornate lanterns and bare lightbulbs hanging from wires. I would breath in her smoke, I would smell the rosé on her breath. I loved every moment I ever spent in that shop with her.

She seemed to know me well and would open heavy drawers and, as if by magic, present me with exactly what I didn’t know I needed. She had a knack for finding the perfect piece of lace, the perfect remnant of fabric, the perfect tea cup and saucer, a box of buttons, a knack I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to have been privileged to have been the recipient. She bewitched me, and never once did she charge a single cent more than anything was worth.

But how much is a box of buttons worth?

Fast forward ten years and I find myself again in France, not in a cave but in a beautiful Chateau surrounded by woodland full of boar, owls, deer.

Maybe, like in those fairytales where foolish boys are tricked into buying beans, the buttons that I bought from the old lady in the cave were magic. Or maybe, we make our own magic, whether we have all the silver and gold in the world, or just a box of old buttons.

I’m frustratingly bound from telling too much about my visit to the chateau where I held my sewing workshop until early next year, but I can tell you that if you are looking for a magical experience, with good food, good wine and wonderful hosts then I know a place…

If you enjoy sewing and would like to create something magical, be it an heirloom chateau doll, a sugar plum mouse or a woodland creature inspired by the surrounding forests, then keep a beady eye on my blog.

Whether a weekend, or a week long relaxing sewing retreat, you will enjoy excellent food, tea, cake and all hosted in the beautiful setting of a very special little chateau.


Oh…and case you were wondering, I found another lady who was willing to sell me some buttons…who knows what this batch will bring!


Published by Erica

Stitcher of beautiful, handmade dolls and children's author and illustrator.

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