You know that POW; that heart-stopping feeling of oneness that grips you when you see a kindred soul? I do! That was the reaction I had the first time I saw an artist making soutache jewelry. It was fun, funky, and bohemian. It WAS awesome!
People will often ask, “What is soutache and how do you say it?” Soutache (pronounced SOO-tash), also referred to as “Russia braid,” is a common element in the French art of passementerie. Developed in the 16th century, passementerie encompasses a wide range of trims, braids, and tassels used as decoration on haute couture, draperies, and furnishings. To make the “galoons” most often seen on military uniforms, swirls of soutache are stitched flat. In soutache and Bead Embroidery, however, lengths of soutache are “stacked” to create a more solid visual element and a stable base for the addition of beads.
Soutache can be curved and shaped into many patterns and because it is essentially a textile. The threads/trim used to make a soutache come in many colors and are often made of natural fabrics such as silk and wool. Synthetic, semi-synthetic fibers, and metallic threads of silver or gold may also be used. As military styles change and evolve, the decorative braids may be seen adorning jackets and coats as well as epaulets, fabric, or metal trim sewn onto a garment’s shoulders.
Cotton caftans and tunics often have soutache embroidery as well and have been traditionally worn by people all over the world including Russia, West Africa, and Morocco. Mariachi uniforms, worn by musicians who play the music originating from Jalisco, Mexico, are known for their colorful soutache braid work designs as well.
In my opinion, the best application of soutache is when it is used to make jewelry! The loops, swirls, and beads all combine to make the most colorful, lightweight, unique, stunning jewelry. Soutache jewelry has two wonderful properties; it is extremely light-weight and, like a well-made piece of clothing, it will conform to the wearer’s body.
Some artists’ work in this medium is a colorful explosion of joy and radiates bliss. Other artists use it to create unique macabre masterpieces. No matter what your personal style is, you can express it with this fun medium.
The video above is part of a seven-part series. These videos will get you started with the necessary techniques and hopefully give you that zoom pow kick of excitement that comes with creating something new. After you master the techniques, it will be time to run wild with colors and various textures. Another plus to soutache is it is a great indoor project for a rainy day.
The real fun comes when you start incorporating gemstones and funky beads. So open up your craft drawer and enjoy creating!