French linen Shopping

One of my favorite parts to my business is shopping/hunting/scouring the world for antique French linens.  Here is a little back story on how it all began…In 2015 I tackled my first upholstery project, it was chair that I purchased off of craiglist for $5.  Being inspired by pictures of chairs with grain sack material, this is what I wanted to attempt.  And that was the beginning.  I had very little kids at the time and did very little shopping, most especially at antique shops.  I intially thought that I could just run to my local antique mall and grab some grain sacks. Nope.  It is not out of the question that your local antique mall carries a couple, but I quickly found out mine did not, and finding the right vintage fabric was a process.  A process I really enjoy, but there is some work involved.  I was lucky enough to find a lovely grain sack from a seller on ebay, and the outcome was good.  I wanted another project. So next I found a vintage French style sofa on craiglist. It had beautiful lines.  I had committed to buying it, when the seller got a higher offer and threw me to curb.  I was sad, I had grown attached already.  But it finally ended up being mine when the other buyer never showed to pick it up.  It had a lot of potential, but needed a complete overhaul.  My vision was to upholster it using antique hemp linen sheets.  So now I had to get my hands on some…That brought me to here:


Around this time my husband had a business trip in France, he asked me to meet him in Paris for a weekend.  Eveything aligned, that mostly meaning my sister was able to watch my kids, with childcare in place all the other details are easy.  It was a pretty special weekend, I think back on it with fondness.  We wandered, ate crepes, stayed in a nice hotel, and even the book I read on the plane made me happy.  But what was really quite a big deal for me was I needed some antique European hemp sheets for my sofa, and Paris was a promising a place as any to find those.  I did as much research as I could online figuring out where precisely I needed to go to shop for the sheets.  I flew in one morning and my husband couldn’t meet me until the evening. My research steered me to the Marais area, so I set out on my own in this direction with a mission.

 There was a courtyard like area tucked in to a block that had several quaint antique shops, I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I really enjoyed myself. I wish that I had taken more pictures.  One of the shops I visited was this one, its a treat to just look at their website and dream about picking through the lovely collection of textiles and ribbons:

-photo credit Au Petit Bonheur la Chance-

-photo credit Au Petit Bonheur la Chance-

I was not disappointed that I didn’t find my linens on the first day, because I was feeling really hopeful and excited about my luck at a Paris flea market.  There are several flea markets in Paris, there is Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, which according to the internet is the most famous flea market in the world. But I found information warning me that the prices were very high, and it wouldn’t necessarily be the best for linens.  From what I could gather from my research was that Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves was a bit more causual with better prices and plenty of linens.  So Saturday morning I set out early on the metro by myself to buy linens.  Antique shopping is not my husbands thing, and I really prefer to not have to drag an unentertained person through stall after stall. In addition I kind of like shopping alone, so it worked out.  We bonded over French pastries later.  

See THAT is an example of an assortment that served us well.  Back to shopping, although, a proper shopping trip should always include snacks and nourishment.  In my experience sugar is best to keep up the longetivity of a shopping trip, its science :).  French pastries do their job well to keep a sucessful shopping trip going. 

Okay, now back to shopping, I arrived early due to an internet recommendation.  A bit too early in fact. Some stalls weren’t welcoming shoppers yet, and even if they were I am not convinced it was necessary.  The atmosphere was not of a hustle to score the best pieces.  It was more like a social event.  Everyone seemed to be leisurely enjoying themselves.  It was lovely.

I speak very limited French. I took French in high school, which equals me being able to introduce myself and order a crepe.  But I did read up on how to ask for a price so I was prepared.  My pronunciation was often not understandable and it was one of those experiences out of my comfort zone, but I tried.  I always had warm feedback because I made an attempt.  The vendors would either start speaking English to me or if they didn’t speak English they would write down the price for me.  Even though I could sort of ask what the price was, it didn’t mean I could always (almost never) understand the response.  But it worked out. The mutual goal of a sale and the fact that I tried to speak French in France we worked through any communication barriers.  

 I loved the flea market.  There were some curated stalls, like this whismical one filled with ribbons, textiles, and sweet vintage childrens toys.  Looking at these pictures makes me wish I had bought so much more.

There were also tables set up that were disorganized and random.  But there were always good stuff to be found.  The dishes!!! There were so many pretty ones!!  And the prices were very good in my opinion.  But there was only so much room in my suitcase.

It took the morning but I eventually found enough linen for my sofa.  I was thrilled.  It was a lot of linen, it didn’t make the metro ride back to the hotel easy, but I was beaming inside holding on tightly to my treasure.  Even the plane ride home I was very careful not to check my pile of linen, I carried it on and made sure it was never too far away.  

The quality of the linen made it possible to recover my sofa successfully.  I remember one moment working on an arm, and the fabric stapled beautifully in place without very much effort, it felt wild because I was fairly inexperienced with upholstery and most DIY projects I had done before did not cooperate so easily. Between the magic of a special weekend in a foreign land with my husband and learning that I had a developed a new skill and love and a true love for it, makes this a time that I hold close to my heart.

This is the finished product of my vintage linens from Paris and my craigslist sofa in our old house

These days traveling to France is not an option, and it wasn’t very easy pre covid anyway.  I have found shopping on Etsy gives me a little taste of the Paris Flea market experience.  It has turned into one of my favorite pastimes.  The hunt is for the perfect item is really, REALLY fun. Then there is nothing like receiving a package from France to make your day.  Sometimes I am just buying a fabric remnant, or some ribbon so shipping remains reasonable.  The items that arrive always make my project very special.  Here are some of the Etsy shops that I have had the most success with:

-First off is my friend, Cybele’s shop Au Pres de Mont Toi.  I purchased many French Postal Bags from her initially, but since I have bought some other beautiful treasures from her shop.  A bonus is that I have gotten to know her through communicating over the internet through google translate.  She is sweet, funny, and a mother like me. Last year I received a thoughtful note from her wondering how we were doing with the pandemic in my part of the world.  I hope that to meet her one day in person. From her shop I purchased the postal bags that made these projects possible.

Newfoundland Postal Bag Pillows

Another shop that I love is Sissidavril, this little shop has beautiful fabrics, ribbons, and French laundry tags.  Using the tiny  French laundry tags that I bought from this shop added a lot of charm to my little stockings I made at Christmas time.

Sissidavril also offered this extra special fabric remnant.  I love all the characters in it. I was able to make a couple of pillows and some Valentine’s decor with it.  It was a treat to work with it.

I just discovered MarieDecor1888, when I was searching for vintage ticking stripe fabric.  Browsing the shop is really fun, and I reached out to the owner in hopes that she possibly had some fabric similar to what she had listed.  She was very easy to work with and had just what I was looking to buy. I hope to use these pretty pieces to make some stockings when the holidays roll around.

 I have a package making its way over the Atlantic from FrenchVintageRetro right now.  I have yet to actually receive a package directly from them, but a friend who bought the fabric from this shop had me sew a pillow for her. She actually ended up with some extra French linen and I gladly took it off her hands. This particular fabric is pristine vintage French linen, it is c’est magnifique!! Also a virtual wander through this store is highly recommended, their treasures are not isolated to pretty linen, and their photography and presentation is beautiful.

Happy shopping or browsing or sewing or just dreaming about travel.  If you would like to see if I have any completed projects for sale using my French finds check my shop.  Also if you are looking for a project idea check out my stocking tutorial or bed upholstery tutorial.

2 responses to “French linen Shopping”

  1. Lana Webster says:

    Emily, curious about the Flea Market
    Where in Paris is it?
    Is it easy to find?

    • Emily Cleverly says:

      I am sorry about the late reply. Yes, the St. Ouen and Porte de Vanves are somewhat easy to find. They are both on the outskirts of the city. You can take the metro to both. The Porte de Vanves is a bit closer to the exit of the metro and the St. Ouen is probably a 10 minute walk. Or for easiest travel an uber works great.

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