When I visited Paris a few weeks ago, I booked a textile tour with the lovely Rebecca Devaney. She is an haute-couture embroideress from Ireland who studied at Ecole Lesage and worked for some of the famous haute-couture ateliers in Paris. In addition, Rebecca has a keen interest in the history of haute-couture and the psychological science behind embroidery and crafts in general. This makes her extremely suited as a tour guide and interesting discussion partner. I highly recommend booking a tour with Rebecca when you are visiting Paris! I for my part discovered some new to me embroidery suppliers. High time; as Brexit is upon us in only a few days time. Trading with Britain and travelling to London will get more complicated and more expensive. Thank goodness for the direct high-speed train connection from Munich to Paris :).
The tour kicked off at Ultramod on the Rue de Choiseul. These are actually two shops: a milliner and a haberdashery on the other side of the road. The milliner was established in 1832 and the haberdashery opened in 1920. The current owners bought both premisses in the 1990s and had the foresight to buy all the vintage stock as well. And what marvellous stock that is! Beautiful velvet ribbons, Duchesse satin from Lyon and buttons galore. The colours are so rich and unparalleled in modern equivalents. In addition: most things on display are no longer being produced.
Ultramod is a truly magical place from a gone by era. No fast fashion here. Instead, highly trained shop staff and craftspeople who developed long-lasting and intimate relationships with their clientele.
Next station of our tour was La Droguerie. This shop occupies the premises of an old butcher's shop. The walls show the typical white tiles and iron meat hooks and the old scales are still in place too. When you enter the shop, you are immediately captivated by all the beautiful colours of yarn on display. But this is not just a yarn shop. Nope. You can get beads by the spoon full. They have a very impressive collection. I bought some tiny real stone beads made of agate, rose quartz and tiger's eye. They also sell buttons of a wide variety of materials. This is a true Ali Baba's cave!
Next up was Mokuba, the famous ribbon and lace makers from Japan. I have never seen so many ribbons in one place in my life. And they are so beautifully displayed. Very orderly and they radiate a great sense of calm. Quenticencially Japanese. All Mokuba products are made in Japan by master-craftspeople. This is certainly a place I will do business with in the future. I was, of course, drawn to the most expensive ribbons in the house. The ones with the real gilt and silver threads :).
And now we come to Stitchers' Paradise: the saleroom of Au ver a Soie. They only open to the public one day a month. But with Rebecca, you are treated to a private visit to this wonderful place. All their silk threads, fine embroidery wools, silk ribbons, metallic threads and embroidery kits are on display. The colours are overwhelming! I left with a good supply of their wonderful metallic threads. They are of the woven or braided type and they are a dream to stitch with as they don't fray easily. I also fell for a couple of spools of silk perle ...
And last but not least, we visited Maison Sajou. The shop displays are really lovely. All products are made in France and ouze vintage charm. Maison Sajou is almost exclusively geared towards cross-stitch embroidery. However, I bought some glazed linen threads to use in underside couching.
I and my husband really enjoyed coming on this tour of the textile district of Paris. Le Sentier is a lovely area of Paris and we can't wait to be back to explore some more. Since we were visiting Paris during the strikes, we were forced to walk long distances between the city centre and our hotel. This meant that we discovered even more of Paris! If you are visiting in the next six months or so, do explore les grands voisins. This former hospital is the home of many creative people before the site gets redeveloped in about six months time. It also houses a fantastic bakery, a chocolatier and a cosy cafe. Well worth a visit! Good food can be had on Rue Montorgueil near all the textile shops. Personally, we went for a bite in a VERY small Lebanese eatery next to Mokuba. The food was amazing :). Can't wait for my next trip to Paris!
P.S. The first donations for the victims of the Australian bushfires have started to come in! If you would like to donate too and have a chance in winning an embroidered coaster, do check out this blog post.
In a minute, I'll take you on a trip to see some world-class medieval embroidery in the Musee Cluny in Paris. But first, I'd like to thank those generous souls who responded to my donation plea at the bottom of last week's blog. Thank you so much for sponsoring what amounted to a tank of gas! Very much appreciated.
Last week, I and my husband visited the exhibition "L'art en broderie au moyen age" at the Musee Cluny in Paris. The exhibition draws together medieval embroidery from the museum's own collection and from other collections in Europe. Private textile collections from the 19th century (such as the one from Franz Bock) got split up at some point and fragments of the same piece would end up in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Musee Cluny in Paris. It was great to see some happy reunions!
I encountered many new to me pieces as well as some 'old friends'. The exhibition was very popular with a wide range of visitors. And there was so much on display that we actually visited twice. Hence, I can't cover it all in one blog post. Today we'll look at the masterpieces from the Germanic lands and the Mosan region (the old Bishopric of Liege). These pieces are characterised by a Romanesque style which still contains many elements of classical art. They have an older feel to them. In addition, these pieces are often completely stitched in coloured silks on linen.
One of my favourite pieces of the whole exhibition was the altar cloth or antependium from Mechelen (now part of Belgium). The piece measures 82,5 x 186,5 cm and was made in the early 14th century. The piece depicts four scenes from the Saints lives: Saint Martin healing the infirm, Saint Mark being persecuted during Easter Mass, Saint John sleeping on Christ's lap and Saint John drinking poison in front of Aristodemus of Ephesus. The whole piece consists of counted needlepoint in silks and some gold on a linen background. The different parts of the design are filled with a myriad of counted needlepoint stitches made up of satin stitches. The stitches used for the background give it an embossed appearance. Look at the picture of the face of Saint Mark to see the fineness and the quality of the linen background used for this stunning piece of embroidery.
Another stunning piece is this frieze for an antependium made AD 1320-1330 in either the Mosan region or greater Paris. This piece was very hard to photograph due to the way it was displayed. The piece shows scenes from the life of Saint Martin of Tours. You can see him in the second picture sitting on his horse and cutting his mantle in half. The piece is only 19 cm high, but a staggering 256 cm long! The embroidery uses coloured silks and both gold and silver threads. Where the embroidery has worn away, the pattern drawing and the linen padding can be clearly seen. I especially like the treatment of the hair of the figures: very textured with a lot of tiny knots.
The third and last piece I like to draw your attention to is a beautiful alms pouch. It is made in the same counted needlepoint technique with silks and gold threads as seen on the antependium from Mechelen. The shine on the silken stitches is unbelievable! This particular purse was made around AD 1300 in either the Mosan region or the Germanic lands. As medieval clothing came without pockets, people wore purses like these to store their money and other belongings such as prayer beads, a book of hours etc. The name 'alms pouch/purse' refers to the common practice of giving alms to the poor as part of your everyday Christian duty. You can find an excellent article on these purses here.
There were many more beautiful pieces on display in this part of the exhibition. For those of you who were not able to visit in person, I can highly recommend the exhibition catalogue. It is packed full with good quality pictures and many close-ups. And for those of you who would like to try their hands at counted needlepoint in silk on linen: have a look at my very profane and modern embroidery kits for this technique: Autumn Pumpkin & Winter Snowman. More on my textile adventures in Paris in further blog posts!
Descatoire, C., 2019. L'art en broderie au moyen age. Musee de Cluny. ISBN: 978-2-7118-7428-6.
Müller-Christensen, S. & M. Schuette, 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmuth. No ISBN.
Wilckens, L. von, 1991. Die textilen Künste von der Spätantike bis um 1500. Beck. ISBN 3-406-35363-0.
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