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Introduction to Soutache

June 20, 2018

Are you a fan of beadweaving? Do you like bead embroidery as well? Then we got something else for you that might catch your eye: Soutache Embroidery.

A little bit of history…

From the historical point of view, soutache is nothing new. Some sources say that the word itself comes from a Hungarian word sujtás which describes the artistic decorations on sleeves and trousers of Hungarian national folk costumes. The history of soutache is tightly connected to European history where the trends and fashion, among other things, were influenced by the ruling country or house, in this case by the Habsburgs. From there, the “French fashion effect” spread through the whole empire, reaching Turkey, Hungary, and even Russia.

Soutache braids were, and still are, used in the French art of passementerie where delicate and elaborate trimmings and edgings from braids, beads, precious metals and silk are applied to clothing or furnishing. This kind of art is very old. Let’s take for example the Czech Republic where our European warehouse is and which is also a country which produces soutache of excellent quality The first guilds that worked with braids, lace and other similar materials formed already during 12th and 13th century. Nevertheless, true passementerie (or in Czech pozament) was first produced by the guilds in the 16th century. These guilds survived here until today, in the city of Krnov, where the factory producing soutache (among other passementerie supplies) still operates. The origin of soutache itself is also dated to 16th century.

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Clematis – a headpiece made by me in 2016

What is soutache

Soutache braid, sometimes refered to as “Russian braid”, is a decorative braid, a type of galloon, made from both natural and synthetic fabrics. Among natural and semi-natural materials used for soutache are silk, cotton, mixture of silk and wool, and the nowadays most popular rayon. You can also find soutache made from metallic bullion thread, acetate, nylon or polyester.

Soutache braids were used in trimming of clothing, drapery, furnishings, and also bookbinding. The most popular use was of course for purposes of passementerie which because of the high prices were reserved for the social elite of that time – royalty and aristocracy, high-ranking military officers or religious figures. Nowadays, soutache is popular in haute couture or you can see it used on historical costumes in movies or TV shows.

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Circinate Vernation – a piece inspired by nature, water and plant (fern), 2014

Get ready, it takes time

I started with soutache embroidery in 2012, which is now almost exactly six years ago. My friends were nagging me to try it out, sending pictures of other authors’ works, challenging me to start already. I was afraid that I will fail. And I hate failures. There were very little tutorials, nothing in Czech (not that I would care), so all that was left for me was the method of trial and error. I gathered my courage… And I did it. I don’t know who was more surprised that I actually made something – me, or my friends

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One of the first pair of earrings I’ve ever made, 2012

Time issue #1

If you are lucky, you might be one of those people who master this technique faster than the others. It’s not a technique that you will learn in your first session, it takes a lot of practice and time, but with enough devotion and effort I am sure everyone can do it. The problem is not many people are willing to invest so much of their time to learn one technique. I understand that, I am just giving you a fair warning

Time issue #2

You don’t need many materials for this: soutache, thread and a needle will become your closest friends. But what you will need the most is time and patience. High prices of garments with these kinds of embellishments and trimmings were dictated not only by the expensive materials, but also by the fact that it took ages to finish something. And it still does. Even when you master the technique itself, the actual jewellery making is time-consuming. Which, of course, raises the price of the finished piece.

It is not necessarily a bad thing. It teaches you more than you would think. To consider carefully the quality of materials you are using. To think twice about the design. To work efficiently. And last, but not least, it teaches you to value your work.

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Baroque – a soutache brooch with satin ribbon, 2017

Important soutache trivia

I hope I didn’t repel you from trying soutache because it has one amazing feature – it’s light. It’s a textile braid, so most projects made with soutache are incredibly light. If you are a huge fan of huge earrings like me, this is your must-learn technique. Combined with stainless steel or silver/gold findings, the earrings do not harm your ear lobes at all, not even when worn all day. The same goes for necklaces, bracelets or headwear. Everything is super-light and very pleasant to wear.

Working with textile braids brings one danger though: things can get dirty. For example, if you wear make-up, the edges of your earrings or necklaces can get stained. That can be easily solved by adding beads on the edge or using some waterproofing treatment. Remember, you can’t wash the jewellery. Water is a no-no for soutache. When wet, it swells up and stretches all your stitches thus ruining your work. Don’t worry too much, though. During my six-year-long soutache career I only managed to dip my soutache work once. Luckily nothing got destroyed except my cucumber salad.

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Prepare your soutache stash

For soutache embroidery, you will need 3 mm soutache braids, braided in the herringbone pattern (most of them are) with a line in the centre. At Potomac Beads, we already offer soutache braids, either manufactured in the Czech Republic (from rayon) or in the USA (from polyester). You will also need a beading needle, usually size 10 or 12, and some kind of beading thread. It doesn’t matter much if it’s Nymo, S-lon, KO thread, Hana or Illusion cord. For beginners I would not recommend Illusion cord since you can barely see it. This is the reason why advanced beaders use it, though.

Depending on the design of your project, you will need various beads. From seed beads, to pressed rounds, fire-polished beads, glass pearls, crystals, cabochons and other Czech glass beads. You might also need some beading foundation: Ultrasuede, Alcantara or leather, and some findings to finish your work. And glue.

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Shahrazad – mixing soutache and tassels, 2017

Glue? No, thank you

Glue is a big topic in soutache. I don’t like it. I use it in necessary cases: gluing a cabochon to secure it in its place before I bezel it, applying glue to the soutache ends to prevent them from fraying, or using glue to attach backing material before it can be sewn down properly. Those are ALL the cases where I use glue. Everything else is pure needlework. I have seen a lot of projects where glue is used to replace the needle. The purpose of this is, naturally, to save time. I get it. It’s also ugly and disgusting. It is cheating. I am not sure the French aristocracy would wear dresses covered with glue-soaked braids to show off  their superiority. Not to mention they wouldn’t pay for it.

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Lavender Snakeskin – soutache bracelet finished with a beadwoven clasp, 2016

One more thing

A lot of time passed since my first soutache earrings. I created various projects, blogged about it, began to teach soutache and make patterns, and during that time it became my most favourite beading technique. Before I say goodbye though, I have a message for you.
Hear my plea, don’t use glue to glue together the soutache braids. Soutache is a gentle material, it deserves proper handling and storing, love and kind work. Let’s not butcher it with glue

See you next time,
-Tereza
Potomac Beads Europe


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