Many brands of both sewing and embroidery threads disappeared during the 20th century, often after mergers between the different manufacturers. Many brands in France are now only known by collectors of vintage haberdashery: Ferdinand Suzor, Cotons Louis Viarmé, Maurice Frings, all absorbed by Cartier-Bresson who merged with Thiriez to be bought out by DMC in the 1960's. In such a context it was a challenge to launch Retors du Nord in the 21st century!
Choosing a name for our embroidery floss when we created it in 2009 was a delicate affair. The name had to reflect the product without being too complicated. As usual in this type of case, I plunged into my collection of vintage haberdashery and came up with the name "retors". In French, this is a synonym of "mouliné", a term already used by DMC, meaning twisted. As it is made in the region known as "Nord", the name became an evidence. After relatively few years of existance, this thread is more and more appreciated and the name has been adopted by embroiderers as if it has always existed.
Initially the illustrious Laine Saint-Pierre darning wool was from Lyon. It was bought out by Maison Vrau in Lille in 1971. It belongs now to Ets Toulemonde, also owners of the Fil Au Chinois brand. The 1847 Collection marks a revival for this product: the cards and packaging were re-designed by Frédérique Crestin-Billet with their original look. The name is a reference to the year the brand Fil Au Chinois was registered New colours were dyed to offer a permanent range, notably for use in traditional embroidery and cross stitch.
Tonkin embroidery thread has been produced for a long time by Ets. Toulemonde, but it was mainly sold to industrials and had not been named. One day I saw this thread when I visited their works and was convinced that it would be perfect for embroidery. A few weeks later, this was done but we had to find a name, which is never easy. After much thought, I found it amusing to give a nod to the Fil Au Chinois brand and find a name reflecting the Orientalism that was popular in days gone by. Tonkin is the name of an ex French protectorate which was part of French Indochina in 1884.
Sashiko is a Japanese embroidery, Sashiko meaning “little stabs”. Although it is now principally ornamental, it was originally purely practical: it was used in rural areas to reinforce wear and tear on work clothes. It was also used for assembling worn clothes together to make new garments. Most Sashiko motifs represent stylized designs inspired by flowers, plants, animals and nature in general. Traditionally, this method was embroidered with white thread on indigo fabric, but since it has become more decorative, other colours are now used. In principle, the motifs are designed to be followed simply and economize on thread.
This very original thread is gimped which means it is made up of different strands with another thread wound tightly around the exterior. This one is strands of white thread gimped with black thread. Like our Tonkin thread, this thread was originally used by professional embroiderers and notably those working in Haute Couture. It is made of Dralon, a synthetic fibre with a wool-like aspect which does not pill. Another advantage is that it is fast-drying. To use for making jewellery with beads, Brazilian bracelets, scrapbooking and all sorts of crafts. This thread is called Rochefort because of its corded appearance and because this small town in Charente Maritime is home to the spectacular Corderie Royale.
Ribbon embroidery is also called rococo embroidery, an architectural term for volutes and garlands full of fantasy. Ribbon embroidery exists in France since the 17th century. The ribbons were silk, the only fabric available in ribbon form. They were very fine and called comets, because of the resemblance to comet tails.