Thursday, December 6, 2012

Favorite Techniques: Soutache

If you love to incorporate fabric, fibers, or ribbon into your jewelry designs, or just want to try something new and fabulous, soutache embroidery may be just the technique for you. You may already be familiar with the beautiful, curvy designs created with this unique material. Today’s guest, Amee K. Sweet-McNamara, was recently featured on the cover of Bead&Button magazine for her gorgeous aqua soutache necklace, along with a soutache earring tutorial for beginners.

Inspirational Beading: What is your all time favorite jewelry technique?

Amee: Soutache & Bead Embroidery is my absolute all-time favorite jewelry-making technique. I've always lusted after fabric and trims - when I was little, I hoarded scraps of ribbon and rick-rack from my mom's sewing projects. I didn't know what to do with them but just having them in a box, taking them out and sorting them, rolling them up, running my fingers over them gave me joy. Soutache is really just a type of braid so, I'm essentially making jewelry out of the textiles I've always loved.

Inspirational Beading: How did you first learn about soutache?

Amee: I was an obsessive bead embroidery fiend for years. Searching for new ideas and patterns on the Internet one day, I stumbled over this grainy little photograph of - what? - I wasn't sure... Didn't look like beads... didn't look exactly like embroidery either... everything written about the image was in another language (Polish? Russian? Who knows?!) and the only word that was repeated more than once was the word "soutache." I had no idea what that was so, I started digging.

When I finally figured out that it was Russia braid, off I went to Jo-Ann's Fabrics where I was delighted to discover that I could have any color of soutache I wanted as long as it was white, black or red. Undaunted, I purchased my yardage and went home to begin experimenting, trying to wrangle these long, tangly cords into something resembling the mysterious image I had seen. I tried and discarded a number of techniques including but not limited to gluing, pinning and gluing down onto a substrate and trying to whip-stitch everything from the back like it was a basket or a braided rug.

It took a few months before I finally worked out the basics of the technique I use today. It's funny - I've been doing it this way for so long now but - in truth - the only other Soutache and Bead Embroidery Artists I've ever met are the ones I taught to do it... I'd love to meet another Soutache & Bead Embroidery Artist and see how they do it!

Inspirational Beading: Of all the creations you’ve made with this technique, which one is your favorite?

Amee: I make a lot of work and - in general - I don't build pieces I don't like, but my absolute favorites are the ones with unexpected color combinations. Right now, I'm working on series of pieces called "Bollywood Wedding" and each time I make something new in this particular colorway I think, "Well, that's it... that's the best one ever... " and then I pick up the colors and something even juicier starts to take shape.

Bollywood Wedding Soutache Necklace

Inspirational Beading: Can you share any tips for getting started with soutache embroidery?

Amee: Don't be stingy with your soutache! Of all of the things you will use in this craft - soutache, beads, Ultrasuede and, of course, your time - soutache is probably one of the least expensive! There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours stitching together a piece only to have it ruined because the very ends of your soutache braids are completely frayed. Always cut your lengths longer than you think you're going to need them. If you trim off a few inches and throw them away every time, you're doing it right.

Inspirational Beading: Do you have a favorite color to work with?

Amee: My mother's god-mother always used to say, "Just so you know... anything green is mine." There is something so wonderfully versatile about the color and its ability to shift from warm to cool. In particular, I am a sucker for Chartreuse. Give me any opportunity to slip a little of that into a project and I'm all over it. I'm also partial to Rust and Purple. Hmmm... I now feel compelled to go back into my studio and make something Chartreuse and Rust and Purple... I'll call it "My Interview Suit."

Inspirational Beading: What's your favorite type of bead or embellishment?

Amee: In Soutache & Bead Embroidery, most of the beads are essentially "wrapped" by the soutache which means that very little light can pass through them. Consequently - while I love crystal and translucent beads of all kinds - I am constantly on the lookout for opaque beads or pieces that have enough sparkle, decoration or texture to hold their own in the work. I particularly like the luminosity of freshwater pearls and mother-of-pearl beads.

Inspirational Beading: If someone had to choose to learn only one technique, would you recommend this one?

Amee: Oh, I would so recommend Soutache & Bead Embroidery primarily because - unlike many other crafts - Soutache & Bead Embroidery is in its infancy. New techniques are being developed every day and the possibilities are limitless. I regularly wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas and I simply cannot create them as fast as I can imagine them. Beautiful creations are being posted constantly so, there is an enormous space in which artists can make their own mark on the craft.

Inspirational Beading: In your opinion, what is the best way for beginners to learn this technique?

Amee: Everyone learns differently but one of the most important things to get across in Soutache & Bead Embroidery is the understanding of thread tension. A book with really good step-by-step photography can go a long way toward getting this across but there's nothing like getting to see the actual movement. A class is always great because a good teacher can accommodate a number of different learning styles and demonstrate the movements several times.

A video, on the other hand, is less expensive, more accessible and has the benefit of being able to be played over and over again. In my humble opinion, my 40 minute video Soutache & Bead Embroidery - Lesson #1 - Basic Harp Earrings is the best video for the English-speaking market.

You can see more of Amee’s incredible soutache designs, and learn about the techniques she uses on her website - Amee Runs with Scissors. She also offers tutorials, kits, and soutache embroidery supplies, plus resources for finding materials and learning more about soutache jewelry.

Copyright 2012 Inspirational Beading and Amee K. Sweet-McNamara
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  1. I agree there's nothing like learning thread tension and other techniques in a class. I purchased Amee's tutorial and played it over and over for each step and learnt heaps.

  2. I love her Bollywood pieces. The colorway is so joyous and happy-making!

  3. You should check out for some fun Soutache kits.

  4. I received her book for Christmas and it is soooo beautiful, a joy just to look at the gorgeous photos. Even the step-by-step photos are lovely. I now need to get the few supplies I don't already have from 11 years of self -taught beading, sewing, quilting, knitting...:)


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