girl sewing

The chances of my being interviewed for a Proust Questionnaire–those Q&As so popular in trendy magazines wherein the celebrity being profiled dishes on their likes and dislikes, favorite quotes, the contents of their handbag and most tellingly, their most prized possession–are small to nil, yet I can’t help but ponder what my responses might be if asked.

This reflection never lasts very long because other than remembering my favorite movie (To Kill a Mockingbird) on other questions I largely go blank. I console myself by saying I’m too busy living life to keep mental notes on it…and frankly, opinions are so changeable…but I admit it nags at me a little.

The other day though, I had a bit of an ‘aha’ moment when I realized there is one thing at least that, if not quite my most prized possession, is certainly my most hardwearing, longstanding and loyal one (if inanimate objects can be considered loyal). That would be my Bernina 1005 sewing machine, the most basic model available in December 1988 when my husband bought it for me as a present for our first Christmas–and our first one in Switzerland–together.


A previous project: Making a set of eight cushions in contrasting, but complementary colors and patterns using Villa Nova Italian cotton/linen fabric found at Maison A. Gras. (1) sewing in the invisible zipper; (2) pressing a zipper flat; (3) one finished set; (4) and another.

Sewing is a family affair

Sewing runs in my family, my maternal grandmother having been a self-taught seamstress who made most of her four daughters’ clothing including my mother’s beautifully tailored ‘going away’ suit. The sewing genes passed down through my mother and then my older sisters, all of whom had their turn at my mother’s sensitive but sturdy little Necchi, housed in its own wood sewing cabinet, that is still in use today at my sister Virginia’s Vancouver home.

Needless to say, what my older sisters did I was also going to master and I took up the needle at age 11, making a simple, A-line polyester tennis dress with only five straight seams and a hem to its name.

I gradually took on more complicated patterns and learned about the selvage, the bias, the grain, inter/facing and buttonholing and became well acquainted with fabrics both in yards and metres, as well as with the pattern making houses of the day (Butterick, McCall, Vogue and one from Germany called Burda that became more familiar to me later on).

So my very own Bernina became a very welcome addition to the household back in December 1988 and has remained my steadfast little workhorse ever since through thick (size 12) and thin (size 8), through job changes (corporate: tailored suits to freelancer: sporty chic outfits) and household upheavals: Basel, London, Geneva, Zurich, and Vaud (cushions, curtains, throws, bedspreads, more clothes).

cat and self-made sewing
My sister Virginia’s sweet cat Flo relaxes on cushions I made for her mama’s new apartment.

Sewing through thick and thin

It has empowered me through the ups of expat life (social and professional get-togethers) and sustained me through its downs (separation from family and loneliness). I’ve pushed it much too hard out of urgency, frustration and fatigue and have justifiably earned in return miles of broken thread, shattered needles, and exhausting hours of angry stitch ripping.

I’ve spent months at a time hunched over it during “a sewing phase’ and months away from it when it only came out to hem a skirt or slacks or to take in (or out) a waistline. It hasn’t judged me and still puts up with my fits of pique. It’s asked very little of me (two tune-ups in 25 years) and returned more than its initial cost many times over. If that kind of constancy doesn’t earn it a place on my Proust Questionnaire, then what would?

cat and cushions
Not to be outdone, Flo’s sister Victoria also tries the cushions out. She seems comfortable enough!

Tips for sewers, knitters, quilt-makers, etc – fabric, wool and notions

In recent years I’ve noticed a number of Geneva stores have done away with their fabric departments, but thankfully there are still a few remaining as well as excellent online sources of fabric and other sewing supplies. These include:

  • A friend and avid sewer recommends Textiles Acacias SA, at 45B route des Acacias, (1227 Les Acacias), which stocks fabrics for all kinds of sewing projects, as well as notions and patterns, and where I found a good selection of Liberty of London cotton fabric.
  • For couture fabrics as well as material for home or hobby, stop by Alja, with 43 locations across Switzerland including one in Geneva at Rue de Grenus 2, near Manor, as well as one in Nyon, at Rue de la Gare 45, right near the train station. On Wednesdays, sewing classes are given at the Rue de Grenus shop; please stop in to find out more details directly from them.
  • Speaking of Manor, the main department store near Cornavin stocks sewing (a small selection of fabric, no patterns), knitting and crocheting supplies in the basement, including thread, scissors, ribbons, zippers, knitting wool, crochet hooks, etc). Smaller branches, including the one at Chavannes, also sell a smaller selection of supplies.
  • Some larger branches of the grocery-household store Coop also stock sewing notions as do Coop City outlets.
  • Another Swiss fabric store chain, Modessa, has a small branch located in a commercial building at Bourg 11, CH-1003 in Lausanne. Tel: +41.21.312.59.35.
  • Also in Lausanne at 4 Langallerie, 1003, (at the corner of Rue Marterey) is “A Propos“, selling top couture fabrics and a small selection of designer clothes. Closed Mondays. Tel: +41.21.312.8704.
  • In Morges at Grand Rue 14 is the lovely shop “L’Atelier Mercerie – Les Toiles Fileuses” belonging to Béatrice Rietsch, that stocks a small but lovely array of fabrics as well as Liberty cotton bias tape, ribbons, thread and other notions. She also offers courses on her Bernina sewing machines for 9-13 year olds and for adults. Tel: +41.21.801.81.82 and Email:
  • Tissu & Co. in Rolle (please see below under “Ordering fabric online”)
  • And a little further away in France, but well worth the drive is Au Fuseau, at 16, rue de la République in Annecy, located just above the Parking Ste-Claire in the Old Town. This family-owned business offers luxurious couture fabrics, as well as patterns from McCalls, New Look and Vogue, some buttons and beaded braiding. Professional, friendly service, this shop is a real treat.
  • Located just nearby at 4, Passage des Bains, 74000 Annecy (tel. + is the lovely, large Mercerie Loisirs Créatifs, specialising in fabrics and yarns for patchwork and embroidery, as well as a full range of sewing notions. A smaller mercerie located just opposite Au Fuseau is Au Papillon, at 15 Rue de la République, 74000 Annecy, at tel: +
  • Mondial Tissu Annemasse has a large stock of fabrics for home decor, crafts and couture, but from what I’ve heard the quality is not on par with elsewhere. Still, it might be worth checking out in France at: 16 Rue de Montreal La Combette, 74100 Ville-La-Grand.
  • Another friend — and quiltmaker extraordinaire — recommends Au Coeur du Patchwork, at 9 Rue de la Colombière (1260 Nyon), which stocks lots of fabric, wadding (batting), thread and buttons for both quilters and non-quilters (some patrons use the fabric for couture). Owner Isabelle Mettraux also gives patchwork courses in the “country style”.
  • Not far from Au Coeur du Patchwork, at 17 Grand-rue (1260 Nyon), you can find another haberdashery, Mercerie Midinette, (022.362.00.59) that stocks a wall-full of buttons, as well as lace and fabric trim, ribbons, thread and small accessories for sewing machines.
  • Excellent haberdashery or notions (mercerie) stores in Geneva are Mercerie La Médina, at 5, rue de la Flèche (1207 GE), and Mercerie de la Madeleine, at 11, rue de la Madeleine (1211 GE).
  • Catherine B. is a lovely shop in Geneva’s Old Town that is largely dedicated to embroidery and tapestry materials and kits, but also stocks useful items for sewing including ribbons, gorgeous tassels and thread, etc. Embroidery classes are offered on a regular basis.

Sewing machines and sewing (couture) courses / Knitting supplies

      • The Elna sewing store at the Balexert shopping mall offers a wide range of notions as well as sewing machines and sewing classes.
      • Nathalie Underhill of Naver Couture gives sewing lessons in Aubonne for adults on Thursday mornings and evenings in small groups and children’s lessons on Mondays after school, in addition to offering regular workshops and private lessons. She offers a repair service for all sewing machine brands and sells haberdashery and elna accessories. You can find her on Facebook and also on Instagram.
      • As stated above, Alja near Manor at Rue de Grenus, 2, offers sewing classes, as does Béatrice Rietsch at her shop “L’Atelier Mercerie – Les Toiles Fileuses” in Morges.
      • The Grand-Lancy branch of Ecole-Club Migros Genève offers a variety of sewing classes for different levels of learner. On the main page in the left-hand menu bar enter “couture” in the search window entitled chercher un cours and choose among the locations listed in Entrer un lieu.
      • Bernina has an outlet at the LaPraille shopping center selling their sewing machines, which they also service, and also haberdashery supplies and some quilting fabrics.
      • In Vaud Canton, I find the notions shop Wooly Tricot on the first floor of the Signy Center just off Highway 1, exit Nyon (direction St Cergue) to be very well stocked with all I need, whether that’s thread, tassels, zippers, ribbon or a wall full of buttons to choose from. However, it is first and foremost a knitting supply store and here you’ll find wool, needles, knitting books and catalogues and a ‘café tricot’ knitting group.


    Ordering fabric online

    I haven’t yet ordered fabric online but I’m thrilled to see that there are some excellent Swiss-based websites with a wonderful selection of fabric to choose from:

          • Tissu & Co. carries stylish, beautiful fabrics from top brands, modern sewing patterns (Colette, Sewaholic, etc), top quality sewing notions and tools and even kits for adults and children to learn how to sew. The site is in French and English. You can also follow owner Ana’s sewing blog. Note: She now has a new storefront outlet of Tissu & Co. in Rolle, just opposite the train station at Ave. de la Gare 18, 1180 Rolle. Please email her in advance to confirm her opening hours at:
          • I found Roth Lila Blau, located just outside Zurich, when searching online for a local source of US-made Art Gallery Fabrics, which I love for dressmaking. Owner Sue offers a large selection of fabrics suitable for fashion, home decor, patchwork and quilting. You can order from as little as 15cm of fabric. For up to 2 metres of fabric you pay only CHF5 for PostPac Priority (postal) shipment (from 2 metres, CHF10) and orders from CHF100 have free delivery within Switzerland). The site is in German, but Sue speaks both German and English and is happy to help if you need to get in touch. Click here for more info about payment and deliveries.
          • Cotton & Color, in Riehen near Basel, also offers a wide range of fabrics, sewing and quilting supplies, books and patterns. Order from a minimum of 25cm. Shipments from CHF100 are delivered free.

    Ordering patterns online

    Some Swiss fabric shops stock US and UK patterns, though not always with the English instructions included, e.g. Simplicity) while some shops will order these patterns in for you.

    You can also order online from US, UK and France; ordering your patterns during sales promotions can help to offset postal shipping costs. Also note that sometimes it’s worth ordering numerous patterns at once as the shipment costs are the same as they would be for a single pattern.

    Two online sites I like to keep my eye on are Sewdirect in the UK, which offers the full range from big-name pattern companies, as does in the US (minus Burda and Simplicity).

    Speaking of Burda, I’m not a huge fan of Burda patterns (last time I checked, seam allowances are not included in the patterns ordered from Germany but contact the site for confirmation before ordering from them). If you’re a fan then you can find some on the Burda Style site. They are also available from Sewdirect and I was told these patterns include the seam allowance.

    The French site, Patrons de Couture, offers a full range of sewing related supplies including patterns from the major pattern makers (as I haven’t yet ordered from this site, please contact them to ensure the language of the instructions included with the pattern is the one you need).

    Just for fun, or if you’d like to purchase a real vintage pattern, consult Wikia Vintage Patterns, where more than 83,500 vintage (over 25 years old, from the 1920s onward) patterns are viewable and in some cases can be purchased. Enjoy patterns featuring glamorous movie stars from the 30s and 40s.

    Share your tips!

    If you have any tips on where to find fabrics or notions in Geneva or your local area, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know by contacting me or sharing your info in the comment box below this post.

    (Original illustration of Crafty Sewing Girl by Togataki.)

    This post originally appeared on my blog Savvy Little Sparrow on 8 July 2013. The text has been updated to include additional tips and information.

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