Inspirations - Maryse C. Raynal-Robbins

Introducing Maryse Claudine Raynal-Robbins from Un Chiffon Fon Fon (it's a play on words around chiffon which means remnant in French.) Her philosophy is beautiful:

I like to celebrate life from morning to evening every day. Georges Bernanos, a wonderful French poet wrote, “Little things are almost nothing but they give peace. In every little thing there is an angel.” I believe that. Coffee is better in a cute cup, as well as wine is in a nice little hand cut crystal glass!

You can see some of her designs at her Etsy shop, C’est Si Bon. She also offers monthly classes in Tucson at The West on the 3rd Friday of each month, as well as classes at her home by appointment. Her next class at The West will be on Friday, June 21st from 10am to 5pm. For more information about classes or her art, you can contact Maryse at or by phone (520) 302-2235.

Where are you from?

I was born in France and I spent about 40 years there between Paris and the Southwest country side near Toulouse. It happened that I came to Tucson, Arizona for a few weeks with my company, to participate in some workshops. That was 17 years ago and since that time I decided to stay, eventually moved to Tucson with my two teenage children Matthieu and Cécile.

What do you create? 

I am a cartonnage designer.

What is Cartonnage?

Cartonnage, pronounced car-ton-ahj, comes from the word “carton“(kartͻ) this means cardboard in French. Don’t try to find an English translation, there isn’t one! This Art is known in France since the 18th century, and is very popular these days, numerous persons are making cartonnage. It applies to any item made from cardboard. This is what it is all about, how to create beautiful things from this very humble material that “carton” is and how creative it could be. It seems pretty new here in United States, and I am strongly promoting this art.

This art form allows you to create masterpieces to be used every day and to suit your interior and life style with elegance as well as jewelry boxes, office desk sets, trays, lamp bases, little shelves, herb tea boxes, magazine racks, game boxes, doll’s furniture’s, writing cases, fortified castles, Noah’s ark, picture frames, CD racks, bookstands, tiny dressers, sewing kits, glass cases, bookmarks... Once you get the bug, anything could be cartonnage!

When did you first become interested in creating cartonnage?

One day, in France, in March 2005, my longtime friend Corinne, has offered to me the most beautiful cartonnage I have ever seen before. It was a square box that she built just for me, it was upholstered with very nice natural linen, as a top lid she used the embroidery part of an heirloom pillowcase from the castle where I was living as a little girl. Corinne was supposed to frame it, but she came with this outstanding box and that change my life forever, I remember, my eyes could not move from this box, I turned it in my hands million time, until this moment I thought for myself: I would love to do that…Imagine, I made almost 500 pieces since that historical (for me) day! I cannot stop. Voila! This is one of my favorite things!

What other interests do you have?

I nourish a fantastic passion for fabrics and I love to create from them anything that makes life beautiful! Since I was born I have been surrounded by simple but very well done things, color, design, quality, every piece of linen was pure linen, cotton, wool. I could not remember any synthetic in this loupe. I wish my desire to create my “practical art” will never end… it is such fun!
I am pleased to create little things that I could use myself in my daily life, because I am not a really good shopper, especially in shopping centers where mass production is everywhere. I really do appreciate the unique, real and well done in anything. I am naturally thinking that it is also true for my customers! I like to create for them beautiful piece of linen like apron, kitchen towel, napkin, napkin holder, place mat, pillow, pouch, bag, totes…and more… using old, vintage or gently used natural material for a true filling.

I also like to use old wood, like palette wood, to make frame, lamp base, small shelving… The grey patina is really nice and makes each piece very special. I love to refurbish old furniture as well and using different media, playing with color to create a unique look. I like my special finish with natural bee wax, the smell is so enjoyable, and it makes the wood so smooth!

What types of items do your customers request?

Sometimes people bring their own heirloom material to me, they do have ideas in mind to celebrate a special person or a familial event, and they do appreciate my expertise to turn their cherish pieces on something very unique...Yes I get some very special demands that challenged me!

I remember one day, a customer and friend of mine arrived at my studio with under her arm a remnant of her Mother’s wedding dress and her Father’s wedding tie. Her parents were long gone but, her and her sister wanted to celebrate them, also she asked me if there was any way to incorporate these treasures into a little box to put together their parent’s wedding rings, I did it, and my friend really likes it.

Another time, it was a customer who just came back from a trip to France, she bought there at a flea market, a very nice baby crib sheet with it a matching pillow case, it was white cotton with pure linen border with the alphabet manually embroidered. She asked me to make a dress out of it for her 3 year old granddaughter, I have made the cutest little dress ever and I made a little ruffled purse with the baby pillow case…more than my creation I am bringing happiness to my customers, and this is beyond any expectation, actually it is priceless!

Where did you spend your childhood?

I have been fortunate enough to be raised in a beautiful castle in southwest of France, where authenticity and simplicity were anywhere, and were everything, my entire life is guided by these sincere values. The castle is named Viel Vayssac, in Languedoc dialect that means: Old River and it was running along the edge of the domain. The castle is nested in the neighborhood of the 2000 years old medieval town named Rodez in the country side of the Aveyron region, south of Massif Central and on the way to Saint Jacques de Compostel, so pretty close to Spain, a lot of history is linked to this beautiful part of France.

If it happens that you visit France, you can come to visit “My Mother Castle” as I like to say referring to this beautiful novel from one of our famous writer Marcel Pagnol. Maman has never been the former owner but she lived and worked there for many years as the intendant of the domain, she met my father there and eventually got married and had two children, me and my brother Dominique.

What types of things did your mother do while working at the castle?

In these old days, Maman was more involved in laundry processes, she was managing the laundry crew at the castle, and she loves fine linen. She is still an expert in fine linen, cotton, delicate batiste, damask, silk and from the “linge d’office,” which is the daily kitchen towels and so to the most elaborate handmade lace that decorates pillow case or table cloth. The dining table was dressed every day with immaculate monogrammed white damask table cloth and giant matching napkins 36” x 30”, for an informal dinner as well as to accommodate 30 guests around the table! When time was coming to maintain linen; Maman had a secret to make tablecloths and napkins always spotless and crisp, which made any table so neat and pleasant to embrace with eyes. I remember, as a little girl, I was always under her legs very interested by all of these manipulations; the famous “Savon de Marseille” always handy on the side of the stone sink is one of her secrets, and another one is the sun, the natural light of sun has the power to dissolve any spot on natural material and it is a blessing in France where we spend so much time around the table eating such good food!

How did she influence you as an artist?

She passed her passion on me; it started when I was a very little girl to collect any remnant Maman was giving to me to play with and eventually to sew clothes for my dolls, and I never stopped since the first time I have been able to handle a needle, I guess I was three!

I do have on my own these days a tremendous collection of fabric from that period of time, grain sacs, hemp and pure linen fabric, antique sheets, numerous French kitchen towels with their beautiful red stripes and their red monograms. Eventually I am using them for my work, and only when I am absolutely sure of what I am doing, and with a very clear vision of the final product in mind, I do not want to cut it inappropriately, or to damage even 1 inch of these pure treasures.

What about your father?

Papa accumulated many jobs. He was the chauffeur of Monsieur ‘Limousine, he was also the gardener in charge of these beautiful gardens called “A la Française,” with intricate patterns, specific designs, those were probably my first introduction to laces and fancy embroidery! For sure this is where my passion for aprons came too, those so big that they wrapped around his body, in this beautiful blue indigo color. I particularly love those with just a tiny monogram on the side. (Papa was RR for Roland Raynal and I am RR for Raynal-Robbins!)

Papa had another talent, he was a cook, and eventually he learned the art of cooking to suit “Monsieur” needs. He enrolled in the Cordon Blue cooking school, in Paris, in the fifties. When the movie Julie and Julia came to play and I heard about Julia Child learning at the same school as Papa, I would love to ask him if he had the opportunity to meet Julia, but he was gone at this time and I will never know, but it is my fantasy to say that he did!
I do have his class cookbook from the Cordon Bleu school’s master chef, Henry Pellaprat, and I am cherishing all of Papa’s handwritten recipes, even if I have to admit that I am certainly not half good as he was, I love to refer to those and… I eventually started to create recipes boxes!

Papa was also very good at working with wood, he was building all of these little stools, benches, wood boxes for shoes shine wax, or for tools, even a sewing box he made one time for me from a wooden wine bottle crate “Château Belles-Graves”, and of course…I have it here with me on my desk! He teaches me all of these steps that transform a piece of wood into something accomplished, smooth, polished and that you will enjoyed during your entire life because it is a unique piece, made only for you with love and fitting your needs at the perfection. Since that time, sanding has no secret for me, or nailing strait, gluing right the first time, or calculating measurements fitting any requirements even those from my Maman, and I have to tell, sometimes…it was not so easy!

What is the most important lesson your father taught you?

Papa passed to me his love of well-done regardless of any value.

Who else inspires you as you create today?

My Grand-Mère, my Papa’s mother, she is still after all of these years my continuous inspiration, she gave me the passion and the knowledge for embroidery, recycling, upcycling, those were popular by necessity in these times, and she got this unique ability to make new with old over and over! She was raised in a family where work was everything, nothing was taken for granted and each minute of her young years was devoted to an activity. She had 2 sisters, Irma and Aurèlie and she was named Maria after The Virgin.

I remember how as a little girl, I was spending hours watching her sewing, embroiding, cutting fabric, measuring…From her hands, deformed by arthritis, came out the most beautiful piece I had ever seen, it could be a set of 12 kitchen towels with her cross stitched initials, or a nightgown made out of a recycled linen bed sheet with a piece of antique lace that was making it adorable and classy, her creativity was endless, herself probably also inspired by her mother and grandmother.

She survived two wars and every time she reinforces her creativity maintaining her family warm and satisfied as possible. At the end of the Second World War, and when Paris as finally being liberated from the German invasion, she sewed her French flag to hang at the window as a sign of freedom. It was made from different quality of fabrics, but in “Bleu, blanc et rouge” with the RF for “Republique Française” appliqué in it middle, this flag is a masterpiece of precision and perfection as she was using the finest fabric in the world for some very important and mysterious purpose! I cherish this flag that I packed with me when I crossed the ocean and finally moved to Tucson. It is a family trophy and the symbol of my very strong grand-mère, her proudness, her courage, her ability on everything she made, and that I am carrying with me forever.

Your family had a tremendous impact on you as a child. Who motivates you now?

My grandchildren, Etienne 4 years old and Delphine 2 years old, just watching them playing, singing, eating, living their happy life…each moment is inspiring, I create for them lamps, clothes, toys, toilet item as well as linen, I always want the cutest for them and also the most stylish and practical to be maintained by their Mom.

What is the most rewarding part of being an artist?

To create any of my little treasures is my best therapy to enjoy every moment of life, my source of happiness and joy. I am so happy when my students, coming to my home for a cartonnage class tell me how good they feel to be there, learning such beautiful and accomplished art and how my place is inspiring for them.

Thank God for my beautiful life!



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The Chilly Dog: Inspirations - Maryse C. Raynal-Robbins
Inspirations - Maryse C. Raynal-Robbins
The Chilly Dog
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