When I attended Bead&Button in 2011, 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 was it luxe and gorgeous, but I couldn’t figure out how it was made. I wanted to know more about this technique and I figured other beaders would, too, so I asked Anneta to be an author, and here we are, a year and a half later, with her book, Soutache, just hitting stores.
Want to find out more about Anneta and her lovely jewelry? Read on! All photos in this blog are by permission of the artist, and any errors in translation 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. 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. [But wait until crafters get their hands on Anneta's book: that's going to change things! --NM]
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. [Notice in the piece below how Anneta sometimes also incorporates beadweaving into her jewelry. --NM]
I don’t have formal art training, so I follow my intuition. I look for inspiration in nature, but also in things made by mankind, like architecture, paintings and music. I really like gemstones, and own a large quantity of them! I use a lot of Swarovski crystals, the sparkle is without equal. I always try to use the highest quality materials; they’re better to work with and the quality shows through in the end product.
Before starting a piece of jewelry, I often make a sketch to get clear on the shape and the movement. Sometimes I also draw in the details, but most of the time I only have a vague idea of what I want to make. For example, let’s say one day I want a green necklace. I’ll pull out everything I have in that color and play with the stones and the beads. All of a sudden, they’ll speak to me and give me a very specific idea. Sometimes I buy a beautiful stone and I know immediately what I’m going to do with it; in that case, I look for other beads that will work with my idea.
When I work on a piece of jewelry, I imagine the woman who’s going to wear it–her fashion sense, her lifestyle, the ways that the piece will best show off her looks. I don’t make art jewelry destined to stay permanently in showcases. I like to mix up materials, colors and techniques. I love eclecticism! In a general way, I follow my stars in an ongoing search for visual harmony.
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. When Lark approached me, I was working on a book in Russian that has since been published. It’s possible that other people working with soutache have their own techniques.
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, such as Colette L’Hôpital-Navarre and Isabelle Penciolelli. I really like the work of some American beaders, as well as the excellent taste and fine workmanship of some Russian artists, particularly Guzel Bakeeva, Alla Maslennikova and Olga Shumilova. 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] Lately, there’s been a lot of interest in micro-macrame.
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? Last year, two of my pieces were chosen as finalists: Mermaid Dreams and Ishtar, which won second place in the Finished Jewelry category. I give instructions for both of these pieces in Soutache.
Have you attended Bead&Button? Does a similar type of event exist in France or in Europe?
For the last three years (I think), the magazine Perlen Poesie has put on a big event in Germany. This is probably the European equivalent of Bead&Button.