Lavender in Provence Creating New Artisans
Exploring the Provencal market stands piled high with seasonal produce, fragrant fresh fruit, buckets of just-picked flowers, table linens and bright pottery is pure delight. However, it’s not always rewarding for market vendors facing early mornings, erratic weather, and fickle crowds. Determined to carry on an artisanal tradition, Elsa Lenthal, the founder of Fuseaux de Lavande de Provence, chose to produce lavender wands in these markets as her summer job. She has turned that summer gig into a full-time activity promoting an old Provencal custom.
The lavender flowers are “trapped” in the centre of a fuseau shaped like a spindle, a wand or a baby’s rattle. Fuseaux are made with fresh flowers and finished with brightly coloured ribbons weaved through the stems. They can last a lifetime.
Discovering an Artisanal Tradition
Organized lavender farming in Provence began at the tail end of the 19th-century. Before that, wild blooms were gathered and used to treat wounds and other ailments. The flowers were also collected to make fuseaux. In the Middle Ages, Provencal dowry chests often contained fuseaux to lightly perfume clothes and linens, which was of great importance when hygiene was an afterthought.
Handcrafted lavender spindles (fuseaux) were rare finds when Elsa was a young girl. It was Elsa’s grandmother who showed her this 18th-century handicraft. Elsa made her first lavender wand at the age of 12, with fresh flowers from her grandmother’s garden, and she has never looked back, establishing Fuseaux de Lavande de Provence in 2015.
The work is 100% manual; there are no shortcuts. Lavender spindles are only made in the summer months when the lavender is in bloom. The process begins immediately after harvest, as the stems must be flexible enough to be bent. First, you create a bouquet of lavender, tie a knot around the stems with ribbon and delicately fold each strand over the flowers. Then a ribbon is weaved through the branches encircling the lavender flowers. The flowers dry inside, capturing the fragrant dried seeds.
Re-Establishing Provencal Roots
Elsa Lenthal was born in Paris, but her roots are in the South of France. The family moved to Les Baux de Provence when she was a 1-year old toddler. Living in the Alpilles, Elsa says that she grew up surrounded by nature, exploring the garrigue-covered hills.
At the age of 19, she headed to the French capital for university. Hypnotic Paris held Elsa in its grip for 13 years as she explored artistic pursuits in graphic arts, set design, and eventually as assistant director on fictional feature films. A desire to explore other cultures took Elsa and her partner to Asia for seven years. He was working for a French NGO in the Philippines and Cambodia.
Each summer, she returned to Provence for family visits and managed the market stands during lavender season. Descending from the TGV in Avignon, the southern sun, the cigales’ song, and the fragrant herbes de Provence invoked an overwhelming emotional response. There is nothing like home. In 2015, the couple moved back to France and established their family in Arles.
Growing Artisanal Awareness
Look for the Fuseaux de Lavande in the St Rémy de Provence and Gordes markets during the summer months. Elsa imparts the artisan technique with the students manning her stands. In a short timeframe, Elsa has expanded her lavender product line to include essential oil, aromatherapy relaxation pillows, eye pillows and scented candles. These products are available on her website or in artisan co-operative boutiques in St Remy and Arles.
Elsa is incorporating a social aspect to her business, offering workshops to the Salon de Provence detention center’s inmates. Following the training, she encourages these women to make the lavender spindles during the season. Those interested received fresh lavender deliveries twice a week for the handcrafted fuseaux, which Elsa then purchases. This activity provides these inmates with a modest salary and a way to regain self-esteem through craftsmanship and the first step towards social and professional reintegration.
June through October, Elsa offers workshops for people wishing to learn how to make lavender wands. These private workshops are for groups of at least five (5) people. The workshops last about two (2) hours, and the attendees leave with their handcrafted spindle.
There are 4000 new lavender plants in Les Baux de Provence. By summer (2021), the new Fuseaux de Lavande workshop will open to the public in the same location. Enjoy the video:
Where to Buy Lavender Fuseaux?
All the Fuseaux de Lavande products are handmade, with lavender that grown organically in the Alpilles and French-made ribbon. These beautifully crafted items are eco-friendly and allergen-free.
Order online at Fuseaux de Lavande (shipping globally).
Le Savoir Faire des Alpilles
1bis Bd Marceau
13210 St Rémy de Provence
Located in the centre of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence Le Savoir Faire des Alpilles is a bright, airy showroom. The boutique represents the creations of about 15 artists and food producers who live in the Alpilles. The boutique opened three (3) years ago, showcasing artwork, fashion accessories, home décor items, and gourmet food that is “100% Alpilles.” Read more here.
25 rue du 4 septembre
Image credits: Virginie Ovessian