A Year in Brocante 1: Feedsack Fashion, Sugarbag Style

In France, we have Brocantes, which are antique markets, Marche aux Puces which are Flea Markets, Braderies (street fairs, often with local vendors selling goods on trestles outside their shops at a reduced price) and Vides Grenier (“Empty the Attic”) which are garage sales. There are also Antiquitiés (a bit posh) and Vente Aux Enchéres (auctions) and bargains to be had in Depot Vente –salesrooms – and various other Marches which might just be for books or stamps or toys, and Bourses which can either be an organized exchange market for bicycles or skies or a Stock Exchange…but we don’t go there.


In the southern part of France where the weather is clement, village Brocantes are held throughout the year. In our area – the north east near the Swiss border – the Brocante season proper doesn’t start until March/April when the weather gets warmer, and runs through until October. That is why I am starting my chronicle of A Year in Brocante at Eastertime. I am very dedicated, pretty canny, not very wise and do very well.


Many of my finds and purchases are not ends in themselves, they are merely a means to an end, which often has nothing to do with their beginning. They can also be enhanced or enhancements (I am the woman who cuts up the designs of the Spanish clothing company Desigual to make them more patchworky and who pin-tucks styles by the Japanese designer Issey Miyake to make them more pleated.) To protect my sources, do not always expect the exact location of my finds….vague is my default mode.


I first came across the use of feedsacks as sewing fabrics as a child, reading – I think – the “Little House on the Prairie” books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and have long admired the ability of American women during the Depression years – and later – to made quilts  quilts and clothing from the cotton sacks in which the household flour, sugar and animal food was purchased. Originally, the sacks were printed with the contents, provenance and weight of the contents. When the producers realized that their bags were being recycled in homesteads for furnishings and clothing, some put the details on paper strips which could be washed from the bags and dyed  and printed the cotton with feminine and farm related designs.


In March, at the large twice weekly Brocante at Plainpalais in Geneva, I found two sugar sacks from Cuba and though they had already been cut open and had some rust stains, I bought them for Chf 5. There was not enough material for an entire dress and the pattern had to be altered somewhat to highlight the printing, so I cut and pieced the front and used the end of a pair of Ikea curtains (a tip learned from Scarlett O’Hara) for the back.










The Cuban sugar sack at the 9 Locks in Beziers with friends Martin and Síle and Himself.

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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