The north of France is the traditional area for textile and thread production. Among the most mythical of thread brands, Fil au Chinois, a brand which would have disappeared without the tenacity of two manufacturers, Olivier and Bruno Toulemonde, who bought it in 2007. In collusion with Frédérique Crestin-Billet, all the packaging was revised and new products created.
Even if the brand has a particular connotation at present, the brand Fil au Chinois is very old: it dates from the 19th century, a time when orientalism was very much in fashion. This vintage formulation “Au Chinois” signifies simply “illustrated by a Chinaman”.
Read the history of Fil Au Chinois in Madame Sajou Diary.
We are lucky to have such a vast range of quality threads made in France. Linen, cotton, metallic, elastic, invisible etc. We are aware it is not always easy to find what you are looking for, so we have regrouped a diverse selection of threads for different purposes. A tour in this section will certainly in this section will fill your head with ideas.
How is the thread thickness calculated? We are asked this question on an almost daily basis. It is not simple, especially as the calculation differs in function of the thread. In principle, France uses metric numbering (NM) since 1942 for cotton yarn: a thread measuring 1,000 metres with a constant weight of 1,000 grams. Thus a N°1 is a thread which weighs 1000 grams for 1,000 metres and, for example, a N°40 is a thread weighing 1,000 grams for 40,000 metres. But, for historical reasons, not all the producers follow this rule.
You will find a detailed article in Madame Sajou's Diary.
Our all purpose sewing thread is a made of polyester. For those who wish to know what they are using, polyester is a plastic material obtained by chemical synthesis. It was patented by two English chemists, Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson, in 1941, but the product was made public in 1946 due to wartime secrecy restrictions. Each country developped their own version, thus in the UK ICI produced Terylene, Dupont produced Dacron in the USA and Rhone-Poulenc brought out the French version, Tergal.
This is a textured polyester thread which is stretchy, resistant and puffy. It is used for sewing flexible fabrics such as jersey, Lycra and knitwear. This thread is called overlock or serger thread, because it is used on these machines. It is also extremely soft which is why it is used for underwear, swimwear, clothes that are worn next to the skin and washable baby nappies.
Attention: this thread can melt when ironed if you do not use a damp cloth.
Fil Au Chinois patchwork thread is a polyester core wrapped with cotton, rather than a mix of these two materials. This waxed thread was specially developped with patchwork in mind. If patchwork has today become a veritable art form with codes and rules, it must not be forgotten that it was originally a home economics reflex - the recuperation of all sorts of fabrics to make into warm bedspreads or insulating wall panels. The technique is as old as time, and was extremely popular in Victorian Britain. The great waves of emigration took this tradition to the United States, where it was particularly adapted to a less industrialised country where all products were scarce and precious. After the Second World War, patchwork crossed the water again to become very fashionable in Europe.
As the name states, gloving thread was used in the past for sewing and repairing gloves. It used to be sold on small wooden bobbins, which we have now reproduced and can be found in our Miniature Wooden Bobbins section. Uses have changed, but the name remains the same. Nowadays, gloving thread is used for patchwork and appliqué hand stitching. Its a waxed cotton, n°120, both fine and solid.
You can find our explanation on thread numbering in Madame Sajou's Diary.
Our n°40 metallized thread is for hand or machine stitching. It is made from a thin gimped metalloplastic strip. Metalloplastic signifies that it is not made of metal, but a metal-like material. A gimped thread is made of one thread wound around another in a coil. On this thread, the coil is so tightly wound that there is no space between the coils, which is why it remains intact, even when used on a machine.
This polyester fancy thread comes in shaded colours or interesting blends of contrasting colours, perfect for patchwork and decorative embroidery. This 100% polyester thread is a filament yarn. Whether natural , artificial or synthetic, yarns are either spun or filament. With the exception of silk, most natural fibres are spun. They have to go through numerous treatments before being transformed into thread. However, polyester being a synthetic fibre can be treated by filament. The liquid base matter is passed through a channel (forming the thread) and once cooled forms a continuous fibre.
Rayon used to be known as artificial silk. A law introduced in France the 8th July 1934 put an end to this practice at the request of natural silk producters, in order to avoid all confusion in the public mind. In reality, this ""artificial silk"" has nothing in common with real silk apart from the appearance. It is also known in industrial terms as continuous filament viscose. It is made from wood pulp so it is an artificial fibre but it is not synthetic, (petroleum produced fibres). It is a lightly twisted thread with a lovely sheen and characteristics close to cotton – it is not very elastic and the same dyes are used for both.
Perlé silk thread is glossy and resistant. It is traditionally used for buttonholes as well as topstitching on fabric or leather. It can also be used for cross stitch, bobbin lace or braids and trimmings. It was also commonly used in days gone by: in tapestries the finer details like the faces and hands of the figures, the centres of certain flowers or animals eyes were sewn with silk threads to obtain a contrast with the wool.
Cordonnet is a thick synthetic thread, perfect for topstitching, buttons, thick fabrics as well as for costume jewellery. Made from polyester, it is rot resistant which makes it ideal for tarpaulins and outdoor canvases. In French, cordonnet indicates that it is a thick thread, as it means "little cord". This thread is also available for professional use on 750m spools called Special Cordonnerie.
Linen thread is the historical thread of the Fil Au Chinois brand. When the company was founded by Philibert Vrai in 1847, sewing machines did not exist and linen thread made up the bulk of their sales. This explains the existance of different presentations, either on classic spools, capsules or even star cards, each with a different length of thread. When Toulemonde took over Fil Au Chinois in 2007, they were keen to conserve these different presentation, which constitute part of their historical heritage.
Our invisible sewing threads can easily be used on a sewing machine. However, care must be taken when ironing. This is a polyamide thread which cannot withstand heat. Make sure your iron is set on synthetic and avoid over-ironing the stitching.
Tacking thread, as the name indicates, is used for tacking together different pieces of fabric before sewing them together definitively. Traditionally, the colour of the tacking thread is in stark contrast to the colour of the fabric, making it easy to see and remove. As it breaks so easily, it should not be used for sewing purposed other than tacking.
The Fil Au Chinois waxed cable linen is a luxury thread for high-quality leather work. As indicated in the name, this thread is cabled, signifying that the threads have been twisted a first time, and then these threads are assembled and twisted a second time. The term "câblé", or corded, signifies this double twist. This obviously increases greatly the solidity of the thread, but also makes it more rounded, particulary adaptable for leather work. We have five thicknesses of lin câblé: the N°332 (0.77mm diametre), the N°432 (0.63mm diametre), N°532 (0.57mm diametre), N°632 (0.51mm diametre), and the N°832 (0.43mm diamètre).
The Special Maroquinerie thread is made of high-resistance polyester which is coated with cotton fibre. It is then assembled and twisted in three strands. The thread is then tinted and waxed. A waxed thread means that it has passed through a starch bath to which bees wax has been added. It is then brushed with horse hair and stretched. These operations ensure a thread which is smooth and resistant for the most rigid stitches.
This Special Cordonnerie thread is the same as the Cordonnet thread, but with a larger, professional presentation. It is a polyester thread, which has the advantage of being extremely resistant to humidity. It is perfect for leathers which will be exposed to the climates, such as shoes or saddles. It is also perfect for jewellery making, as it is solid and dries rapidly, which is not the case for cotton or linen threads. This thread has been waxed by passing through a bath of starch and beeswax, making it more resistant with a certain stiffness which makes it easier to use.
Our display cases are made of wood, directly inspired by those found in haberdasheries of yesteryear. These display cases are available for almost all of the Fil Au Chinois sewing threads as well as our embroidery threads. Depending on the number of colours available in each range, you can choose between different versions, selections of the most popular colours or the whole collection.
ATTENTION: for lin câblé display cases, it is best to contact us before placing your order. These threads are extremely popular and it is difficult for us to have all the colours in stock. Sometimes the delay to receive a complete display unit can take months.
Lebaufil is a French brand of sewing thread. The company is situated in Roubaix and was taken over by Ets Toulemonde in December 2015.
In the style of the period, the Lebaufil brand was created in 1946 basing their name on an older company: LEpoutre-WiBAUX FILs. Lepoutre was founded in 1860, specialising in waxing cottons and making twisted threads for textiles. In 1880, François Lepoutre took over from his father and was joined by his wife, Jeanne Wibaux.
The Lebaufil brand was invented for the development of a new activity, notably elastic thread, extremely modern in the 1950’s. They were sold under the name Lastex.
As the name suggests, these Lebaufil threads are made of metal. Not to be confused with the Fil Au Chinois metallized threads which are metallo-plastic.
The gold, silver and copper are available in three diametres, the other colours in two. These threads are used for jewellery work and can also be used in crochet.
Both the elastic and metal wire threads are a speciality of the Lebaufil brand, who have been making them in France since 1946. This company was taken over in December 2015 by Ets Toulemonde, already the owners of Fil Au Chinois, Laine Saint-Pierre and the Decouvit brand.
Two types of Lebaufil pearling threads: the classics in six translucent colours and also the famous Cordelastic which is slightly stretchy. This very resistant thread is perfect for bracelets, the elasticity enabling them to be worn without needing a clasp.
The Lebaufil special cotton N°8, in white or ecru, is used for emphasis in boutis or trapunto. The roving is acrylic and is used for the same but for stuffing larger designs.
Boutis is a technique of Provençal quilting. It consists of sewing a motif on two layers of fabric, usually white, and then stuffing the motifs to make them stand out. Generally, boutis, also known as Marseille quilting, is done on two identical fine fabrics, to give an illusion of transparency. It is similar and apparently inspired by the Italian trapunto, where the fabrics are thicker, so do not have the same translucid effect.