When I attended Bead&Button, I was absolutely bowled over by the pieces on display in the Bead Dreams showcases. One necklace that really wowed me was Helen of Troy, by French beader Anneta Valious. Not only is it luxe and gorgeous, but it uses a technique I’d never seen before.
Back at home, I found Anneta’s website, clicked through it, and discovered she describes her designs as being soutache jewelry. That still didn’t tell me much. I resolved to find out more and emailed the artist, proposing to share this technique with all of you. She accepted. Here’s a translation of our Q & A. All photos in this blog are by permission of the artist, and any errors in explaining what she said are mine!
What is soutache?
Soutache is a type of trim or gimp, and more specifically a flat braid with a groove down the center. Soutache began to be embroidered onto garments beginning in fifteenth-century France, becoming quite popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [Think of the military uniforms of that era, festooned in braid. --NM] Soutache enjoyed a brief resurgence during the macramé craze of the 1970s. Today, it’s used mostly to embellish lampshades. It’s less well known for making jewelry.
Can you describe your soutache jewelry technique?
It consists of sewing and embroidering the braid around, and to, beads and stone cabochons. It’s possible to stitch to a base fabric, as you would do for bead embroidery, but most often there’s no base. The beads are attached directly between layers of trim, creating jewelry that’s very lightweight and airy in appearance.
This method allows for many design possibilities. You can create geometric shapes, or waves and arabesques. You can mix any number of colors. And you can construct volumetric pieces because the soutache weighs nothing compared to beads.
How did you learn this technique?
I started beading near the end of 2007, after spotting some beaded jewelry on the Internet and becoming captivated by silver Bali beads. I had absolutely no background in this craft. I’m Russian, and I studied Psychology at the University of Moscow. Life’s little twists and turns brought me to France, where I married and had two children. Although I’m devoted to my family, beads have changed my life. I can’t imagine myself without those little bits of glass!
I started by learning beadweaving and bead embroidery. Again on the Net, I came across photos of jewelry by Dori Csengeri, who uses soutache techniques. I remembered having seen similar jewelry in galleries in Moscow. If others can make this, I thought, I need to try too! So in spring of 2008, I completed my very first piece using soutache. There were no books on the topic, no instructions on the Internet—in fact, even now there’s hardly any information out there—so I invented my own methods. It’s possible that other people working with soutache have their own techniques. People often ask me for instructions on doing soutache embroidery, so I’ve posted a tutorial for a bracelet on my blog. And I’m currently working on a book, which will be released by a Russian publisher.
Where do you sell your work?
I sell finished pieces in my Etsy shop. I also do custom work. I love the idea of making a piece of jewelry that’s designed to coordinate perfectly with a specific dress or outfit.
Who are your beading heroes?
In the beginning, of course, I was influenced by the work of French beaders. There are many who make marvelous work but who are unknown outside of blogs and beading forums. Two of my favorites are Colette L’Hôpital-Navarre and Isabelle Penciolelli. I really like the work of some Russian and American beaders. These days, I also look to fashion runways and the collections of high-end jewelers for inspiration.
When I last spent any length of time in France, quilting and knitting seemed to be the most popular crafts. Have the French discovered beading? Are there many beadstores? Are there well-known designer-authors, like Sherry Serafini and Laura McCabe?
Felting, crochet, scrapbooking and quilting are very popular here, but so is beading, especially beadweaving with seed beads and jewelry using crystals. A lot of French designers are writing project instructions for jewelry and posting them on social networking sites. As far as I know, only two of them, Marie Le Sueur and Marie Géraud, have written books. They specialize in beadweaving.
[Marie Le Sueur has written Bijoux en cristal: Dentelles de perles, which translates as Crystal Jewelry: Bead Lace. As far as I can glean on the Internet, you don’t need to know French to understand how to make the projects in this book. Marie Géraud’s book has been translated into English. —NM]
How did you learn about the Bead Dreams competition?
After I first got interested in beading, I became a member of several beading forums, and that’s where I heard about Bead Dreams. I admired—and still do admire—all the pieces that get showcased in that contest, so I thought, why not enter my own work? The first year I sent in submissions, two necklaces—Allegro Apassionato and Lys Bleu—were selected as finalists. And of course, in 2011, Helen of Troy was a finalist, too.
Have you attended Bead&Button? Does a similar type of event exist in France or in Europe?
I’ve never been to the United States. Maybe someday my dream of traveling to Bead&Button will come true!
There’s no equivalent of the Bead&Button show here, possibly because there hasn’t been a sponsoring magazine. The German beading magazine Perlen Poesie has only been published for about two years. This month, however, the first beading salon takes place in Hamburg, Germany.
Well, thanks, Anneta!