Silk Threads and Embroidery Floss from Paris!
Chanel, Dior, Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier and you. What's the connection?
Each of these fabled couture houses, and many others, have incorporated these pure silk threads from Au Ver à Soie ("oh vair uh swah" which means "the silkworm") in their creations, and now, so can YOU.
Have you embroidered with silk before? Doesn't it sound decadent? It is...
But don't be intimidated. Like anything new, you have to jump in and try it. Don't think you have to be the finest of embroiderers to work with silks. I'm not, and I did! (You can see my first attempt below.)
I admit I catch myself just ogling them. (Is this the onset of true embroidery madness?) It's as if I just want them to stay as they are. Perfect, soft little shimmery skeins and glimmering spools...
So, how did this relationship with Au Ver à Soie begin?
Well, I was in Paris last winter visiting family and friends, after many years of being away, and I never miss a visit to this magical place:
Ultramod is the oldest haberdashery in Paris, having opened their doors in 1850. The walls groan with boxes of buttons and notions, needles and ribbons. You find yourself just ambling around with your mouth open, wanting a little bit of everything.
I had come across Au Ver à Soie's account via Instagram earlier in the year completely by chance. Oh! I bet they have some of their threads here at Ultramod! "Excusez-moi, do you have Au Ver à Soie?" For the first time I was helped by the owner himself, Jean-François Morin, who pulled out some drawers for me.
I was presented with a typically French, sweetly messy jumble:
Where to begin? Why are some skeins, and others spools? Which green do I like best? How should I start?
I set up by the light of the front window, and began laying out my favorite colors on a gorgeous old floss cabinet:
My go-to palette: two greens, three red to pinks, a bright blue, yellow or gold and white. I'll start here, I figured. Bring them back home with me, stitch around with them some and add them to my collection of threads.
But that's not what was going to happen.
We realized then that the Au Ver à Soie showroom was just a few blocks away from where we were. So we had lunch and decided to simply go over there.
It was intimidating. Do we dare enter? Dare I buzz? We don't have an appointment! Will some frozen-faced Madame be incensed that I disturbed their very important thread making with my silly American ways?
Gulp. We buzzed. They opened the door without a word, and up a winding, red-carpeted staircase we went.
Welcome to embroidery heaven.
We were greeted warmly and after explaining who we were and why we were there, Nathalie excitedly made the connection of having also seen me on Instagram. Their showroom is open only to wholesale accounts, and we said we were there to talk about bringing Au Ver à Soie to Sublime Stitching. Well, step right up...
Nathalie (who is extremely camera-shy) is the great-granddaughter of the founder of Au Ver à Soie, and she runs it today with her brother. Since 1820, they have been manufacturing the finest silk threads. The showroom we were standing in had been their same client showroom since 1860. It was like a museum, filled with glass-front cases of old products, advertisements, color cards and embroidered bits and ends everywhere. (Here's a brief video of Nathalie explaining this color card.)
One of the best parts was learning about the company's history with French couture.
Dior. Chanel. Jean-Paul Gaultier. For decades, the finest couture houses have turned to Au Ver à Soie for silk threads. (Who else had been in this room and stood at this counter?)
But the most exciting was learning about their relationship with Hermès:
Hermès ("air-mezz") world-famous silk scarves are known for being meticulously hemmed by hand. But they must be hemmed with silk thread, not cotton. If cotton is used, the edge of the scarf will crinkle and curl.
This is where YOU come in. You can embroider with the very same threads Hermès sews into their beautiful, legendary scarves. Je rêve...
Something that caught my eye, was this pillow kit, designed by Nathalie Dentzer for Au Ver à Soie:
How can you resist? Oh, and I had to get a picture of this, hanging in their showroom (because embroidered handwriting and notes are my favorite):
You may tell yourself, "Oh, I'm just a beginner. I can't possibly do anything well enough to justify embroidering with silk." Feh. Just get a slimmer needle, strip down to 2 ply and give it a try. Here's my first attempt:
I had no big plan, just drew some flower shapes directly on my fabric (that's a linen), and filled them in. I embroidered these guys with just 2 strands of the silk floss. Next to it, you can compare it to stitches made with six-strand cotton floss (stitched there with all six strands 'cause I like big stitches).
Try it. Just do it. You will ooh and ah and feel very fancy. Every stitch you see above you can learn here. (I mostly used stem stitch and satin stitch.)
So what are you waiting for? We're already running out of stock on Au Ver à Soie silk threads! xoxo Jenny
Soooo Lovely….so many good and cherished items.
What is the difference, if any, of threads on a spool ?
I think I would of thought I had died and gone to heaven if in that store……..the colors would sent me bouncing with joy and delight. I am a color person…..I believe in color, happy cheerful wonder color, shades of life and love and happiness…….Thank you for the trip to this wonderful store
Hi Jenny – preaching to the converted I’m sorry to say! I’ve been using silk threads for many years now, and try as I might simply cannot use cotton anymore. I find it too frustrating and it just don’t feel right! There are many suppliers out there, you just have to find out what suits you. Living in the UK, Soie au Vere is easier to get, but I think you have a better range in the States, surprisingly. Great blog.
What a wonderful glimpse into silk thread heaven. I use silk thread for hand appliqué for years and love it. Someone questioned me for using silk since, their opinion was that silk wouldn’t hold up over time. I am still use silk thread. Do you have any thoughts regarding silk versus cotton thread durability? ❤️ your blog!